John A. Keel,
The Mothman Prophecies
(Tor, 1975; 2013)

John A. Keel was, by all accounts, a very strange man. Fascinated by the odd and the unusual, he studied the Indian rope trick and searched for yetis in India, two investigations that led to his first book, Jadoo, published in 1957. From there it was a short jump to UFO investigation, and he made the jump as handily as an Olympic athlete does the hurdles. He was one of the first to point out that UFO experiences happen in waves, and was the first to investigate all of the other phenomena that go along with the UFO experience, such as the "men in black" (he coined the term) and animal mutilations. According to Wikipedia, he supported his investigations by writing scripts for such random Hollywood fare as Lost in Space, Get Smart and The Monkees.

At first, he followed the standard notions, thinking UFOs were visitors from other planets, but as he got deeper into his research, he changed his mind and began to see links between the saucers and other supernatural occurences such as monsters, ghosts and demons.

And at that point, in 1966, a series of strange events began happening in West Virginia that strained credibility, actions so odd they could not be literally true. Naturally, if things that can't be so are going on, Keel had to be there. He went to Point Pleasant, W.Va., the center of the action, to investigate.

People there were seeing saucers, yes, but more often, they were seeing strange winged creatures, manlike but huge, with a giant wingspread and the ability to appear and disappear without warning. These sightings were usually followed up by visits from little men in ill-fitting black suits, who appeared to still be learning to behave like humans. The men in black were questioning, threatening and capable of planting recurring thoughts in the people they spoke to.

For more than a year, Point Pleasant exploded in strange occurrences, and The Mothman Prophecies is the story of what happened at that time and in that place. I won't spoil the reading pleasure by revealing what Keel concluded, but regardless of your point of view on UFOs and winged creatures, you will quickly be hooked into the story. When you reach the unfolding of Keel's ideas, you'll nod and think that he may just be right. It's a fascinating read.

The original edition, published in 1975, was a monster hit, quickly recognized as a classic in the literature of the unexplained, and it spent a long time on the New York Times bestseller list. This new edition, returning the book to print, is a welcome look back at the mystery.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

20 April 2013

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