James Richard Larson,
The Right Thing
(iUniverse, 2007)

Elsbeth Malone wrote a novel called The Circle of Light and wanted very much for it to be published. She sent query letters with synopses to many literary agents and, like many not-yet-published authors, she received many rejection letters, most of which were polite and encouraging, but some of which were not. Elsbeth became increasingly frustrated, angry and depressed. She also began studying and, shall we say, "dabbling" in dark magic, with more success than she expected. Elsbeth eventually set into motion something terrible, that began with her own suicide, and continued on with the suicides of the literary agents on her rejection list.

After his wife's suicide, and his subsequent discovery that Elsbeth had experimented with the occult, Johnny Malone tried to rebuild his life. He never stopped missing his beloved Elsbeth, but Johnny slowly began to move forward. Then, something quite remarkable happened: he received a call from a literary agent, Diane Lane, who had rejected Elsbeth's initial query (the rejection decision actually was made by Lane's father, who owned the agency), saying that the demand in the genre of Elsbeth's book had increased, and The Circle of Light was being reassessed for possible publication. Johnny delivers Elsbeth's manuscript to Lane, and they promptly begin to fall in love. However, Lane's name is still on Elsbeth's rejection list, in her laptop computer! Will Johnny figure out what is going on with the mysterious series of literary agents committing suicide? Will he "connect the dots" fast enough to save his new love? What effect will the imminent publication of The Circle of Light have on the strange suicides?

On one hand, this is a very fast-paced thriller, with an array of interesting characters. After the initial premise is established -- with Elsbeth's death, the mysterious involvement of a "man in black" and the discovery of Elsbeth's occult experimentations -- the reader gets a series of subplots, each describing one of the literary agents who rejected the book, their unsettling encounters with a British publisher named William Bagnold and their subsequent self-destructions. Every once in a while, we hear how Johnny is doing. The direction of the book then changes twice; first, Johnny receives Lane's call about the book being considered for publication; second, Johnny starts to realize that the literary agents on Elsbeth's list of rejectors were all meeting with unfortunate ends. Those two developments recomplicate the plot, making it much more interesting. There is also a dramatic plot twist that gets delivered in the last four lines of the book, that also elevates the complexity of the tale and its entertainment value.

On the other hand, though, I feel that the flow of the story gets disrupted by the fact that we kind of lose track of Johnny Malone in the middle half of the book as we learn about the various suicides. I wonder if the book might have flowed more smoothly if Johnny had learned about the suicides, and began to understand what they implied, more gradually, with the reader being treated to more frequent updates of his progress on solving the riddle. This would have entailed more back-and-forth shifts in the story, but I have seen authors accomplish that quite adroitly.

I have a lesser quibble about the book, too, as some of the scenes come off as a bit melodramatic. For me, there were too many incidents of horrific realizations causing a character to lose his or her dinner or have his or her bowels turn to water. This tendency toward extreme reactions by characters in horror stories seems common in the genre, though. For my tastes, I prefer the quieter, more subtle horror, of tales like Thomas Tryon's The Other or Scott Nicholson's The Farm, where the reader gets to have the horror creep up and dawn gradually, instead of being overtly modeled by the characters.

Overall, The Right Thing is a good, creepy tale of horror that moves rapidly, albeit a bit disjointedly. I am glad that I had a chance to read this entertaining story.

review by
Chris McCallister

6 October 2007

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