My Sweet Satan, for the Hal of it.

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My Sweet Satan by Peter Cawdron

A review, just for the Hal of it.

My Sweet Satan cover

My Sweet Satan, by Peter Cawdron, is a science fiction novel with a whodunit twist.

My Sweet Satan begins with a young girl sitting on a porch. Jasmine is nineteen and busy calibrating the meaning of texts between her and Mike, her boyfriend. Did she say something wrong? What does his sending a smiley face mean?

Thank God I grew up before smart phones.

As she contemplates her future, Jasmine breathes in the summer air. She’s going to miss her home.

Soon, she and Mike will both go away to college. A brilliant student, Jasmine dreams that some day, she’ll be an astronaut. Mike has the same dream. Inside, her mother makes dinner as her dad and brother set the table.

“Stay with me Jazz!” Something jolts Jasmine away from the porch, shocking her back from edge of death into another reality.

Jasmine discovers that she’s part of a crew of six, on Copernicus a spaceship whose mission it is investigate Bestla, a small moon orbiting Saturn. As Jasmine struggles to connect with her surroundings, the last twenty years are a blank. She barely recognizes “her” Mike in the older man who revives her. Mike shows few traces of her hometown boyfriend. “Jazz,” the thin woman she sees in the mirror, is a stranger.

Jason, the ship’s AI, senses Jazz’s disorientation.

With Jason whispering instructions in her ear, she decides to keep her memory loss to herself. Jason sympathizes with her plight, sharing with her his dream of being human. After her vomiting ceases (remind me never to book a room on the Space Station), she explores her surroundings. Cawdron takes great pains in describing the ship as well what it would be like to navigate a place with little to no gravity.  He succeeds in putting the reader with Jazz as she makes her way around the ship.

In My Sweet Satan, Cawdron renders his few characters in broad strokes, including Jasmine.

Though some of the prose is lovely, you don’t know them as people, but more as a type. Still this serves a purpose. You’re more invested in the action than in any character’s fate.

There’s a major disagreement between crewmembers. An unmanned probe detected a message coming from Bestal: “My sweet Satan”. 

Mike wants to turn around; the others think it might be a miscommunication and are determined to investigate. Personally, thanks to those long ago catechism lessons, I’d be with Mike. Then, quicker than Ten Little Indians, accidents and deaths start to happen. Ultimately, as she fights for her life, it is Jazz who must confront the mystery of Bestla.

In his My Sweet Satan notes, Cawdron asks that any reviews not reveal the end of the book—meaning through the last page.

I agree that knowing the end would be a disservice to quite a good story.  There’s more to a mystery then simply discovering whodunit; there’s the resolution where we learn why, just for the Hal of it.

Helter Skeletons

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Last Days by Adam Nevill

Adam Nevill’s Last Days

A Review of Adam Nevill’s Last Days

Dem Bones, dem Bones . . . A 2012 supernatural novel by British author, Adam Nevill, Last Days

is a page-turner, a cautionary scare fest about what can happen when you trade your free will to be part of a group. The story shifts between 2011 and the late sixties.

Ah, the sixties, a time of free love and brotherhood.

They gave us raised consciousness, flower power, great music and Twiggy. The sixties also brought us riots, a raging war in Viet Nam and Charlie Manson.

In 1969 London, The Last Gathering was in its third year.

Guided by Sister Katherine, The Gathering was a community of young people searching for a meaningful life. Sadly, all that peace and love went away when Sister Katherine changed her soothing tune. Then came the ghosts and “presences.” People started having out-of-body dreams. And those teary confessions made in therapy group? Sister Katherine, the bitch, kept records. No one could leave. Eventually, Katherine dubbed her flock “The Temple of the Last Days.” And they were. In 1975 the cult died in an orgy of murder and suicide.

Now, it’s 2011 in London. “Have you ever heard of Sister Katherine and The Temple of the Last Days?” asks movie producer, Max Solomon.

“Yes.” Kyle answers. Kyle is a guerrilla filmmaker, specializing in documentaries that highlight the bizarre and the supernatural. “Last Days,” Kyle knows, was a Manson-like cult, ending in the 1975 death of most of the flock and the beheading of their leader, Sister Katherine.

Max wants Kyle to make a documentary about the Last Days.

Kyle knows there’s something “off” about Max, but Kyle is in debt. Each cult survivor is to be interviewed at a location once occupied by the cult. Reluctantly, Kyle accepts. And Max makes the calls.

Quicker than you can say Gloria Swanson, Kyle’s first subject, Susan, arrives at the old house where it all started.

As Susan uses high drama to begin her account of the cult, Kyle and Dan, Kyle’s cinematographer, stifle a laugh. The flower child has wilted into a bony old crone. As Susan remembers the peace she found in the early days, her eyes shine. But when she recalls the change in Katherine, the “presences,” the dreams and the Last Days, it’s no longer funny.

After Susan leaves, it grows dark.

As Kyle and Dan begin recording footage of the empty rooms, they hear sounds—bumps, footsteps, shrieks and growls. Something has entered the house, something with teeth. Terrorized, they scramble out the front door and into the night air.

In his shabby flat, Kyle reviews his footage, hoping that what had scared him was all in his head.

It wasn’t. The camera caught a stain on a wall, an image of something bony. There was also a shadow, “ . . . a pair of haggard legs beneath a shriveled groin . . .” Does he want to continue the project? Dedicated to his craft, of course Kyle does and Dan agrees.

Nevill’s account of the filmmaking process impresses, making credible Kyle’s commitment to his film in the face of mounting danger.

The next interview is Brother Gabriel at a deserted French farmhouse. Things go south, especially when Kyle enters Sister Katherine’s boudoir. The merde really hits the fan. Along with seeing lots of stains, Kyle feels something touch him.

He discovers that he’s been tagged. He is “it“ (bony stain-wise), a marked man.

Though fascinated by what he learns, Kyle is repulsed, scared for his life and afraid to sleep. His dreams have become a front row seat to the bony stain games of Katherine’s little angels.

After confronting Max about the mess Max has dumped on them, Kyle begins to dream of a hellish landscape, full of death and hunger.

Stalked by nightmarish creatures bent on his death, or worse, taking him permanently into the awful landscape of his dreams, Kyle begins a frantic attempt to save himself. But from what? What is Max not telling him? Why does Dan still think it’s all in Kyle’s head?

They fly to Seattle to interview Martha, a former member and tabloid “It” girl whose beauty has faded into grim middle age.

Martha reflects on the cruelty members inflicted upon each other to gain favor. She wonders why. A look at the social media doings of any group of middle schoolers might answer Martha’s question.

Determined to finish the film, Kyle swings from excitement to despair.

Then Dan disappears. Remorseful for having exposed his friend to danger, Kyle accuses Max of using them as pawns. Max tells Kyle that he and Max can survive by working together to destroy something hidden in a hell on earth, where the Last Days goes on and on.

Months after reading Last Days, I found myself rereading and enjoying it.

On a personal note, should I discover any suspicious wall stains, they can say hello to my little friends, soft scrub and Mr. Clean.