Hand in hand with horror goes the exploration of the unknown – the dark and spooky castle – and those souls brave enough to enter and ply its secrets. Though the pastime of urban exploration is not new, it has only recently (within the last twenty or thirty years) come into prominence in the public eye. Entire societies of those like-minded individuals who see an abandoned building not as an eyesore but as a window into the past exist for this purpose. They go by many names: urban explorers, infiltrators, or even the pseudonym “creepers.”
The story opens up as Frank Balenger, a reporter, tags along with a group of creepers as they attempt access into the building before the city of Asbury Park has it demolished. Led by Professor Robert Conklin, he, along with creepers Vinnie, Rick, and Cora, is searching for whatever answers the old hotel holds about its reclusive builder and the guests that made it famous. From the beginning, however, it becomes apparent to the reader that all is not as it appears.
Morrell is best when describing the real central character of the story, the Paragon Hotel. Through his use of light and echoes, the old hotel is every bit as creepy and threatening as the most haunted castle. From the iron-shuttered windows to the mummified monkey found within, the reader can almost smell the stale air and taste the dust as it settles in his throat.
Creepers treats all the characters with similar respect, building real people that readers can care about and empathize with. The history Morrell concocts is also so well written that one might be convinced that such a place actually existed. There are, however, a few places where plot twists and turns are just a tad too convenient for many readers’ tastes. Without giving away any plot points, there are only so many coincidences that a reader can handle without breaking the illusion.
On the whole, the good far outweighs the bad in this book. It is such an intense work that, despite its length, one could finish it in one sitting without feeling the time pass. It also serves to intrigue the reader about a fascinating, although often illegal, hobby in urban exploration. While treating the subject with respect, it does not shy away from the real dangers that urban explorers can, and often do, face behind the doors of the abandoned buildings they love so much.
by David Morrell
cds Books, 2005
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