Darkness Falling (Forever Twilight, Book 1)
by Peter Crowther
Angry Robot Books (2011)
One of my favorite sci-fi movies from the mid-20th century is Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so when I checked the back cover of this book I realized I had an immediate want to read it. Whether aliens, zombies, or whatever the monster is, the concept of losing your identity and becoming part of a collective is frightening.
Darkness Falling starts off with a flash of light, piercing bright to a painful degree, and in its wake all but a few people disappear. Gone. Like a Rapture. Ronnie in particular, a disgruntled husband, has his world turned upside when his wife (and everyone else except two others) vanishes in mid-flight as they sit next to each other arguing. Ronnie's two companions in the aftermath are a little girl named Angel with an apparent quasi-clairvoyance and a cartographer in the cockpit with a tenuous knowledge of how to fly. After they crash land into a Barnes & Noble, something I found especially poetic given today's publishing climate, they exit the plane and find the world--or at least Denver--is absent of any human life. Actually, all life seems to be gone. Birds, bugs, everything.
Other characters are highlighted in the story, as their paths converge. There's the foursome holed up at a small radio station who venture out and find vehicles and buildings empty, as if abandoned a la Chernobyl, engines running and appliances humming. As they try to piece things together, they wonder if their proximity to the radio tower may have spared them from disappearing too, and worry if another flash of light will occur.
Then there are a couple of, shall we say, eccentric characters: Virgil, a serial killer with an affinity for wrapping his victims in fabric like a mummy until they suffocate; and Sally, a woman with some form of multiple personality disorder, with a head full of children's voices representing all the kids she wish she could call her own. These two, along with the sporadic mind-reading of the little girl, really amp of the 'weird' factor in this novel, and give the whole plot a smorgasbord of Twilight Zone elements.
And when the people who disappeared come back; sporting Bono-style shades and work gloves, and amble around as if they're just learning to walk or like puppets on strings; all bets are off.
On one level the book is a really exciting read with a rewarding level of mystery and menace. The action doesn't let up very often, especially as all of the characters near the point at which they all meet. On another level though, the book is aggravating. 'Book 1' is clearly emblazoned on the cover, so I expected some level of "tune in next time, folks!" but the novel left off feeling unfinished. I basically felt like I'd read the first act of a three-act story. Allusions to tensions within the whole group go unresolved and there are no real answers provided about the nature of the zombie-ish people who reappeared and started hunting the survivors down. The story was originally published years ago as a series of novellas, so maybe that explains it. Another irritant was the blocks of narrative that appeared more than once, but I'm willing to pass that off to the idea that I read an ARC copy of the book (I didn't see advance review copy or uncorrected proof printed anywhere on the book, though).
It's a good start to what I suspect will be a very entertaining saga, but even after four hundred pages I felt the book needed more, namely Book 2. I wonder how long readers will have to wait for that to come along.