Detestable, far from stylish, but irresistible suspense thriller, with no shortage of the grisly and ghastly.
Nykanen, an award-winning ex-investigative reporter for NBC News, debuted with the fiendish Hush (1998), a story that turned on the theme of art therapy to overcome childhood autism and delighted in a sexual psychopath for whom murder was the lighter side of his joys. His second outing, however, is not easy to describe without giving away some of the better plot points that sell the work. Even so, most readers will foresee its gripping climactic episodes far, far ahead—there’s only so much you can do with a heroine in distress on the desert. Outstanding is Nykanen’s deep look into modern sculpture, which gives the story its weight, relish and richness. World-famous Ashley Stassler, the greatest living sculptor, is best known for his bronze groupings of figures in abject horror. He’s working on his ninth grouping, which features the Vandersons, a family he kidnapped: slack-bodied Roger; shapely June; their sexually haughty teenaged daughter; and young Sonny-Boy. The Vandersons are cast in dental alginate and then turned into naked bronze figures straining to escape the oncoming and certain death flooding over them. How do they get so strained, with such definition of muscle and vein? Well, kidnapper Ashley puts the caged family on diets, then on strenuous workouts with barbells and exerciser bikes, while feeding them excellent fare. All we’ve left out in this description of the artist’s working method is the sheer artistry he brings to pumping up the Vandersons’ terror, which lends even greater definition to their tortured musculature. Meanwhile, the earlier families he’s kidnapped and cast have been coated with lime, reduced to skeletons, and set up in a private parade of bones. Let us say that even this is the lighter side of Ashley Stassler, much of whose chokehold tale is told from within his own crazed mind.
Pages bronzed with horror.