Kevin McCarthy,
with David Silva,
Into the Darkness
(DAW, 2002)

I've got a soft spot for inadequate horror movies. Give me likeable heroes, forgettable side characters and some good demons to menace them all, and I'm a happy girl. It may not be a wholesome habit, but it is an enjoyable one.

Into the Darkness gives the same basic pleasure and electric thrill pleasure as a good B-movie matinee. The second book in Kevin McCarthy and David Silva's saga of The Family, it follows Kevin McConnell and his adopted trio of psychic teenagers as they get used to life in Hollywood. The McConnells are helping track down a supernatural killer while themselves being stalked by Samuel Hunter, a rogue CIA agent. We know Hunter is rogue because he's referred to that way throughout the book. We learn Kate, Summer and James, the undercover McConnell kids, are psychic because they manifest powers occasionally.

And thanks to Into the Darkness, we learn Hollywood is evil. Hardly a character walks across the page without commenting on the shallowness and greed of its residents, the soul-stealing nature of the movie industry and the ambiguous other dangers threatening a nice wholesome supernatural family like the McConnells. The demon-inspired deaths that spur the McConnell's investigations are blamed, consistently, on Hollywood's evil nature -- oh yes, and maybe some of the victims gave their soul to the devil. The idea that non-G-rated movies are spurring a decline in world morality is advanced at least once, and by a high-ranking demon at that; a strange position for a psychic horror novel.

I haven't read the first book of McCarthy's The Family saga, but the behavior of the players through Book Two suggests that there has been, until now, nothing truly unexplainable, nothing that can't fit into science somehow. Into the Darkness moves straight into supernatural territory, pulling Heaven, Hell and demonic interlopers into the scandals surrounding a Hollywood studio. Kevin McConnells' attempts to deal psychologically with the implications of a true otherworld are subtle and well done, and capture the confusion most modern Americans would feel on having their myths confirmed.

Such subtlety and cohesion do not typify the book. Morality is oversimplified and strangely paranoid, with a heavy emphasis on moral lessons for teenagers: go out without telling your parents and the CIA will kidnap you! Most of the character development is revealed in blocks of explanatory text rather than actions, and the narrative never finds a clear voice, shifting between casual and coldly formal without warning or reason. Superfluous plot elements leap about like fleas. These stray subplots are little more than the dead-end hints thrown about in many detective stories; entire characters pop up, act for a few pages and submerge without ever contributing to the plot flow.

My favorite was the actor's agent Holly Conant, who falls under the McConnell's suspicion. Holly shows up long enough to annoy Kate and Summer, perform a painfully detailed protection ritual and start an offensive and unresolved debate in the McConnell household comparing Wiccans/witches to Satanists. And then she does nothing, leads the investigation nowhere and never shows up again. It's sort of realistic, since real life rarely ties all the threads together, but it does leave a book feeling scattered.

None of this makes for an unpleasant read. Like the best of the bad horror films, it's not edifying, but it is a fun ride. There's a hellpit in Hollywood! The government is carrying out Dark Experiments! Psychic teenagers are throwing scenery around like spitballs! Into the Darkness, for all it Hollywood bashing, would look great splashed across a drive-in screen. Luckily, it's been condensed into the more portable paperback format. Grab a tub of popcorn and enjoy.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 8 March 2003

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