Sunday, February 24, 2008

"THE TOTEM" by David Morrell

In the introduction to "The Totem," David Morrell talks about how when the novel was originally published in 1979, the publisher made him change the manuscript considerably before it was released. This version (seen at left), published in 1995, is the complete, original version of Morrell's original manuscript.

The story takes place in the Wyoming ranching town of Potter's Field. The sheriff of the town, Slaughter, is a transplant from Detroit. An alcoholic reporter, Dunlap, arrives in town to do a 'then and now' piece on events surrounding a hippie commune that happened decades earlier... and then things start to get "hairy". The discovery of mutilated cattle and other, stranger, things lead Slaughter and Dunlap on a chase to find out exactly what's residing in the mountains surrounding the normally peaceful valley.

I really enjoy Morrell's style of writing; there's a minimalist quality to it that moves the story along very quickly, and yet injects the maximum amount of plot into the fewest words. I was a bit stunned right at the beginning of the story, when we're introduced to a veterinarian, a rancher, and his son, but no names are mentioned through the first twenty-five odd pages of the book. What was more odd about it, was that I actually 'cared' about what was happening to these characters, despite a lack of names. This unique technique - if that's what you want to call it - was refreshing to read.

In addition to a first rate horror-thriller story, Morrell's characters are great, too. Sheriff Slaughter is a character that develops slowly over the course of the book. Just when you think you've got a comfortable 'read' on him, new information surfaces to make you see him as bit differently. Dunlap, the reporter, was a lot of fun to read as well. As a fish out of water in more ways than one, the way he personally 'views' what's going on contrasts Slaughter's views perfectly.

Morrell is a legendary writer, a moniker that's well-deserved. If you haven't checked him out, make a point of it. I highly recommend "The Totem."

Rated: 4.5 out of 5

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