William M. Valtos, Resurrection (St. Martin’s Press, 1988)
[originally posted 19Feb2002]
Late-eighties horror novels that faded quickly into obscurity seem to be becoming something of a specialty of mine these days; I’ve read more than I care to count in the past few months. I find that, in general, most of them had very good reasons for becoming obscure. Resurrection is no exception to that rule, but there’s something about it that sets it apart from your run-of-the-mill horror novel. There were some sparks of true potential running through here. If the reviews of Valtos’ most recent novel, The Authenticator, are anything to go by, it sounds like he’s realized that potential in later books. More power to him. If you’re a Valtos fan, this may well be worth picking up as a “where did they come from?” type book. If you haven’t yet been introduced to him, picking this up may, hopefully, make you want to grab the newer book (it did in my case).
Resurrection (made, incidentally, into a 1994 film called Almost Dead, starring Shannen Doherty. Draw your own conclusions.) is the story of Katherine Roshak, a young associate psychology professor from New York City. Katherine is convinced her mother, who committed suicide eight years before, has returned to life and is stalking her. She goes to the small town of Dickson, Pennsylvania, where her mother’s grave is, and finds the dirt over the grave scarred, as if something had dug its way out. Eventually, she manages to convince a local rogue cop, Dominic Dellaserra, that her story at least deserves checking, and they go out to the cemetery and open the coffin, to find Katherine’s mother’s body missing. From there, the book is your basic supernatural mystery—are the dead really coming back to life? If so, why? And would they be content with the nightlife in a town as small as Dickson? You know, that sort of thing.
Okay, silly plots aside, there really is a bit to like here. Valtos slips into a didactic tone every once in a while, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The guy knows of what he speaks, and he uses various scenes to communicate that to the reader. E.g., at one point Dominic takes Katherine to a funeral parlor in an attempt to convince her that once someone’s been embalmed, they’re not getting back up. Valtos has the funeral director give a relatively detailed account of what goes on behind the scenes. Fifteen years on, we’ve had a number of Discovery Channel films about the embalming process, and Valtos has the details right on. This attention to detail makes itself known throughout the book, which is reassuring (for no apparent reason that I can discern. Hey, I just have the reactions, I don’t know why). There’s also a refreshing lack of internal rationalization that plagues supernatural mystery novels. There’s not a single scene where a character finds himself believing things, then turning around five seconds later and not believing them. What a wonderful change.
In contrast to the book’s strong points, but not enough to drag it down too much, is the inconsistencies in a few of the characters, notably Dominic. While he’s as consistent as can be in his disbelief of any supernatural phenomena, his reactions to Katherine are somewhat less one-track. It just doesn’t quite resonate right, and there’s more than one scene where the reader is likely to wish the relationship between the two was a bit clearer. This is also the case with Dominic’s friend Eddie, an intriguing character of whom I’d have liked to see a whole lot more. It seemed as if Valtos was setting Eddie up to play a pivotal role that he never actually got around to playing.
Still, flaws or no, Resurrection is a relatively worthwhile book to hunt down if you’re a fan of the supernatural mystery; fans of the more out-there medical thrillers of F. Paul Wilson will probably get a kick out of this. ***
Almost Dead is fully on Youtube, albeit in pieces.