Paul Boorstin, Savage (Berkeley, 1980)
[originally posted 8Mar2002]
There was a trend in horror literature and film in the early eighties to make the whole slasher genre semi-realistic. That is, instead of using the tried and true mystery formula (you’re introduced to a number of folks, and you know one of them did it), the intrepid adventurers out to right the world’s wrongs have no connections with the killer, and while we might meet him at various times during the narrative (Rex Miller’s excellent debut novel, Slob, is the first good example of this I can think of; the most popular that comes to mind is the last Dirty Harry film, The Dead Pool), said intrepid adventurers don’t meet the bad guy until the final showdown. The idea certainly has its good points. Aside from the aforementioned realism, it also puts a stop to such dialogical insanities as “So, Professor Moriarty, we meet again!”
That said, a lot of the first attempts to marry the idea to the slasher genre were exceptionally bad. Savage isn’t quite as downright stupid as some (my favorite target is a 1981 film, later made into an equally bad novel, called Final Exam), but Boorstin tried to further hybridize the genre by giving us the stranger-killer who’s a few steps removed from the pool of suspects, and ends up with the same kind of forced twisting and turning that you get when you find, at the climax of the novel, that the protagonist has an evil twin who’s been committing all the crimes. Boorstin, thankfully, is not that naked.
Our heroine is an investigative photojournalist, Chris Latham, who is sent by her editor to cover the opening of a new luxury resort that just happens to be situated in a war-torn South American country (named Panagua in the book; the similarities to Nicaragua are a little too obvious to be overlooked). Because of the area’s sociopolitical instability, only seven of those who received invitations to the grand opening actually show up. It doesn’t take long before various members of the hotel staff and, of course, the guests, start showing up headless.
Savage might have actually been salvageable. Had an editor managed to get Boorstin to lop off the first chapter and a half, and had the last couple of chapters been handled just a bit more slickly (including taking out the subplot that bonds one of the characters to the killer), this might have crossed the line into “good enough to be noticed.” As it stands, however, it’s been out of print for quite a while, and not really worth going out of your way to hunt down. **