David Morrell is a name which is almost synonymous with ‘thriller’. His first novel, First Blood, spawned the character of John Rambo and gave Sylvester Stallone something to do on and off for twenty-five years. Morrell also has written books that straddle the thin line between thriller and horror, and I recently read one of them, the 2005 novel Creepers.
Creepers is a fast-paced tale that takes place over the span of a single, bloody evening. A ‘creeper’ is a person who undertakes risky – and illegal – forays into abandoned and condemned buildings, solely for the sake of adventure and curiosity, sort of an ‘urban caver’. Journalist Frank Balenger decides to join a group of ‘creepers’, led by Professor Robert Conklin, on one of their most ambitious creeps: the exploration of the long abandoned and decaying Paragon Hotel in New Jersey. The Paragon, built in 1901 by recluse and hemophiliac Morgan Carlisle, had closed in 1971 upon his death and never reopened. Furniture, and even belongings, remained within, a decaying time capsule ripe for the creepers to explore.
Unfortunately, the creepers are not the only people interested in exploring the hotel, and events quickly spiral out of control into a series of violent and deadly confrontations.
Morrell does an amazing job of building and maintaining suspense throughout the novel. Every character has his own secrets, all of which come out over the course of the evening, and events are connected more than they appear. I could never quite predict where the book was going: numerous twists and turns keep the reader guessing, including at least one jaw-dropping event.
The book contains no supernatural elements, and so really should officially be labeled a ‘thriller’. However, the story contains its share of scares, and the Paragon Hotel is a far more atmospheric haunted house than most that appear in traditional horror stories.
Morrell is not a stranger to horror, either; one of his earliest novels, The Totem, is an ‘official’ horror novel (I’m in the process of rereading it). He has also written at least one wonderful horror short, “Orange Is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity,” compiled in Black Evening, which seeks to explain the inspiration for an amazingly creative impressionist painter.
I should mention that Morrell has written a follow-up to Creepers, called Scavenger. I haven’t read it yet myself; I’m afraid of ruining the good vibe I got from reading Creepers in the first place!