In thrillermeister Morrell’s 26th, the game’s afoot big-time.
It’s a dangerous game—fatal, actually—for those unfortunate enough not to win. Scavenger, it’s called, and the sought-after prize has been hidden away by a nutcase who sees unmistakable resemblances between himself and God. He’s the Game Master, he tells the players, who are not exactly volunteers. At the outset, there are five, all brought to the starting line after being drugged and kidnapped. Drugged and drafted is the dauntless, durable Amanda Evert, a young woman with a difficult past (see Creepers, 2005). She’s the lover of Frank Balenger, who shares much of her history, but who, for plot-stirring purposes, has not been pressed into game-playing service. Drugged, yes, conscripted, no, Frank awakens on the site of an abandoned hotel in Asbury Park, N.J., Amanda gone from him. He’s frantic, desperate to find her, senses evil at work. Bit by bit, he puts together clues that point him toward a ghost town in Wyoming, Scavenger’s arena. In the meantime, Amanda and her playmates are counting the ways Scavenger has been designed to sow civil discord. There have been quarrels—savage and bloody—deeply relished by the ever-watchful GM. Amanda wonders if Frank can somehow come to her rescue. Frank wonders if he’ll ever again see Amanda alive. Beset as they are by the GM and his harnessing of inimical forces, both take time to wonder, “Why would anybody do this?” A fair question some readers will find insufficiently addressed.
Not much of this makes sense, but then, prolific Morrell has never been a stickler for seamless plotting.