Regis Schilken, |
The Oculi Incident
(TurnKey Press, 2005)
The Oculi Incident by Regis Schilken has a little bit of everything: missing persons, multiple murders, mental disorders, miracles, extortion, deception and devils. With such a buffet of excitement, why does this book leave me with such an unsatisfied appetite?
The story begins in a monastery in 1995. One of the monks, Brother Anthony, disappears one night leaving behind no clue of his whereabouts, only a mostly empty room and his last project, the restoration of an ancient crucifix.
Jump ahead five years. Father Paul Logue and his entire congregation are left speechless as that same ancient crucifix begins to cry during one of the services. The first word on everyone's lips (and the last word Logue wants to hear) is "miracle." Calling on the help of police officer Timothy Comstock and an assortment of priests from other dioceses, Logue is determined to get to the bottom of this weeping corpus. Unfortunately, it seems every time someone gets close to discovering the truth of the crying Christ, somebody gets hurt or dies.
With news of the miracle, believers from all over the country begin pouring into Logue's church, dumping their bankrolls into the offering collection as well. Soon, the church has enough money to make the renovations it has needed for so long, employ two extra clergy and restart the parish school.
But then, things go from bad to worse when a being with an evil voice visits Logue in his confessional chambers and demands large sums of money to be taken from the church's account and left for him in various places around town. If the priest chooses to disobey his commands, the Voice will murder more of his friends. Confined by the sacred oaths of the clergy, Logue is unable to tell Comstock of the extortion and agrees to pay the man off. Logue's only hope is that Comstock will be able to put the pieces together to find the one who has confessed to the murders and determine whether the weeping crucifix is man-made, the work of Lucifer or truly a miracle.
Sounds good, doesn't it? I thought so, too. It is obvious that Schilken spent a good deal of time working on the plot of The Oculi Incident, perhaps at the expense of working on the other aspects of good storytelling -- that of characterization, point of view, tone and dialogue, not to mention more lofty ambitions like theme and symbolism.
Schilken's characters never come to life, but serve only as tokens to be moved around the novel like the thimble and racecar in Monopoly. None of the characters grow in the story, none change and only on rare occasions do they seem to act on their own like real people. Instead every character falls into stereotypical categories: the heroic police officer who saves the day, his supportive, always ready to roll-in-the-hay girlfriend, the happy-go-lucky sidekick, the steadfast priest, the crazy Vietnam vet, all the way down to the maniacal genius who actually holds a gun to our heroes at one point and says (with a straight face, I should add), "Any last words?"
The thing that ruined this book for me, though, was the dialogue. There was better dialogue in the old 1940s radio broadcasts when everything had to be explained audibly. Take for instance a bit of dialogue on page 14. Two of the missing monk's friends are looking for him. One says to the other, "Unusual ...his lights should be on, but I don't see any nor can I hear a single sound." Who talks this way?
At another point in the story, our hero is confronted by a bad person, who says, "Stop right there, flatfoot. Have you ever seen a black man die before? You will now, and you'll have a front row seat. Maybe I'll just shoot him in the leg first and, once he starts screaming and wriggling around, it will be your turn for punishment." Bad, right? Well, here's what ol' flatfoot thinks to himself after this, "Holy shit, the crazy idiot is going to kill him and, and then me, too." How intuitive of our hero to come to this conclusion one sentence after the villain has said it.
I'll admit, the copy on the back of the book made The Oculi Incident sound pretty good, but -- whether due to the poor character development, the bad dialogue or because the mystery is practically solved about a third of the way through the book -- I just didn't enjoy this book. Schilken has some wonderful ideas, but his execution is flawed, as though he has only recently decided to pursue writing as more than just a hobby.
On a nine-fingered scale, where one finger is atrocious and nine is excellent, I'd have to give this book a three. I don't know what it would take to turn this book into something more pleasing -- perhaps having it rewritten by someone with more experience at the craft.
by Gregg Winkler