A nature photographer stumbles upon an ultra-rare black orchid—and a deadly curse—in the first installment of Haase’s (Hotel Constellation, 2018) supernatural-thriller series.
The third wealthiest man in the United Arab Emirates gave American Sebastian Arnett instructions to photograph “the most beautiful, the most delightful, the most interesting” orchids on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo. There, Sebastian meets Australian Johnnie Walker in a bar and reluctantly accepts the stranger’s invitation to accompany him and his friends on weekend vacations inland. Sebastian, a heavy drinker who’s still mourning the death of his wife four years ago, thinks that the outings might provide him with opportunities to find more orchids. On the group’s fifth trip, they stop in a village where a mysterious, white-haired Dyak woman presents Sebastian with an extremely rare black orchid. The silent woman leads the group to an area to find more, where Sebastian receives a dart to his cheek. When he wakes up in a bamboo hut a week later, he’s shocked to find the severed heads of his travel companions, a tattoo of a spiderweb on his face, and, most disturbingly, the ability to kill people with his mind. Haase builds a compelling narrative, interweaved with poems and supernatural elements. At one point, an ethnologist tells Sebastian that “the spider web tattoo...houses a powerful spider spirit that requires occasional sacrifices to keep it content.” Various government operatives seek Sebastian out, which provides opportunities for effective meditations on military systems, as when a U.S. Marine tells Sebastian, “We talk about defending our country, but the reality is the way we do that is to kill the other guy before he kills us.” The story also features an intriguing cast, including Amanda Cox Campion, Sebastian’s love interest; and Chief Kahvah Att-un-poon-a-woon-ah, a Native American medicine man who tries to help the photographer battle the spirit. However, Sebastian’s actions will alienate readers at times; for example, he twice refers to the Native American chief as “William Walks-With-Something-or-Other,” and, at one point, he sleeps with the widow of a man that his demonic spirit killed.
An engaging thriller that successfully explores the implications of a wicked curse.