David Morrell's latest novel Creepers defies categorization--it is part thriller, part horror, part crime novel, and every word drips with harrowing suspense. It is the story of Frank Balenger, a New York Times Sunday Magazine reporter who is doing a piece on "creepers" -- history and architecture enthusiasts who infiltrate abandoned buildings using caving and climbing gear. They take only photographs and leave only footprints.
The group Balenger joins to get a firsthand look at creeping is led by history professor Robert Conklin, and includes Vinnie Vanelli, a high school teacher, and graduate students Rick and Cora Magill. The target is the Paragon Hotel in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The Paragon was built and designed by hemophiliac Morgan Carlisle and has been closed since 1968. Carlisle was an enigmatic genius and shut-in who lived his life through the lives of his guests: he built an impressive grid of hidden passageways throughout the hotel to secretly watch his guests in their most intimate moments. He built the Paragon to hold secrets, and the urban explorers will discover them in frightening detail.
It begins with the expected: dark, spooky passageways; rooms filled with furniture and dust. It is an invasion of the past. The group walks into a time forgotten: the inhabitants long gone, most of them probably dead. It begins this way, but it is not long before everything changes. The expected becomes the unexpected when the group discovers they are not alone, and their unwanted company is far from friendly. It continues when they find the corpse of a long dead woman, and then it climaxes with a violent clash of psychological and physical warfare.
The images Morrell creates are haunting. He uses simple language to create the illusion of the hotel, of the past. "Vinnie opened the closet doors wider and showed them a Burberry raincoat, its wide lapels drooping, its tan belt hanging." The lives of forgotten guests fill the place, almost haunt it. While there are no ghosts, the evils are very real, very human, and very much alive--the prose, the story evokes the feeling of a haunting. Almost as if the hotel is alive, feeding off the images, the ghosts, and memories of the past.
This rich atmosphere is created with seemingly little effort. While it is powerful and real, the main thrust of the story is the action and terror the group members face as they make their way into the hotel. The secrets--those of the hotel and the explorers--are revealed slowly and terrifyingly. The action sequences are done so well your heart rate will rise. They are written with a stark and bleak realism. They do more than tell the story, they show it in clear detail: "An impact jolted him. He rolled, stopping on his back, and struggled to clear his lungs as water sprayed behind him. Rats scrambled over him."
Creepers is a novel that will keep you reading late into the night and when you finish it will stay with you. It, like the Paragon Hotel, is filled with images of the abandoned past. There is something wistful, almost sad and melancholy in its allusions to the dying and dead--all of us--to the forgotten who once lived, and even to those who never really did. Creepers is that rare novel that will scare the hell out of you, and yet make you ponder your own humanity. It really is that good.