Day 3 of our blog tour opens the curtain on Act 3 of Tom Pawlik’s Beckon, which steps us back in time a few days and introduces us to Charlie Wilcox, a wealthy entrepreneur who has brought his wife Miriam to Beckon. Miriam has Alzheimer’s Disease, and Thomas Vale has offered Charlie a cryptic invitation to visit his lodge and learn more about a promising but unconventional treatment. Charlie is desperate to find a cure for his increasingly-absent wife, so he’s willing to risk the chance that Vale is a flim-flam man selling snake oil to the gullible.
Vale is convincing, and Charlie allows him to administer a dose of “perilium” to Miriam, though he’s a bit unnerved by the revelation that the substance is controlled by a primitive Indian tribe which demands some beads-and-rattling by their priestess before they’ll offer it up.
To Charlie’s surprise and delight, the medicine works. Miriam is not only cured of her Alzheimer’s, she’s being completely rejuvenated, though she’s acquired an appetite for super-sized portions of meat, preferably uncooked. Vale insists it’s the body’s normal adaptation to a supercharged immune system, and again, Charlie’s fears are quieted. He certainly can’t argue with the results.
The only problem is, little disturbing issues keep popping up. Some of the other residents of Vale’s tiny community seem less than happy to be there. One of them insists she can never leave, for reasons she refuses to explain.
Then, Miriam has a brief relapse and requires another dose of perilium. It seems the drug’s effects can only be sustained with regular use, the only supply lies beneath Beckon, and Vale wants to keep a lid on the secret until he can synthesize perilium himself. If Charlie wants to keep Miriam healthy, they’ll have to resettle in Beckon permanently, and Charlie must use his influence to protect Vale from government meddling. Miriam’s regeneration begins to look more and more like a fountain of youth, and Vale finally admits the drug isn’t merely a cure-all. It provides virtual immortality with sustained use. Nearly everyone in Beckon is over 100 years old and in the prime of life. If Charlie will play ball and join Vale’s cabal, he can enjoy eternal youth with Miriam.
It’s a tempting offer, and Charlie even figures if he plays his cards right, he can steal the whole operation from under Vale’s nose. There’s just one hitch—Miriam wants no part of it. As she’s regained her faculties, she’s become increasingly tortured by guilt and misgivings. It all seems unnatural, and wrong. People aren’t meant to cheat death. There must be consequences lurking somewhere in this deal with the devil.
It’s not long before her fears are confirmed. Some late-night snooping in the chateau’s basement reveals a secret passage into the caverns and Vale’s holding area for Elina and the other kidnap victims. Charlie and Miriam promise to find a way to release the prisoners—but Vale catches them coming out of the caverns. The curtain falls again, and Act 4 begins.
But first, some brief comments on Act 3. This episode felt more like a standard set-piece—“Desperate couple arrives at isolated mansion in search of miracle cure from sketchy philanthropist.” The cure works, sort of, but the couple’s blundered into an evil conspiracy and are now trapped. However, Charlie is presented with a gut-wrenching dilemma: join the conspiracy, or watch his wife die by inches all over again. That’s the element that saved this part of the story for me. There’s no easy out here, even for someone with a strong moral compass. Charlie’s ridden the coattails of his wife’s faith most of his life, so he doesn’t have much faith of his own to help guide his actions. As Miriam grows more cogent, she senses a monstrous evil at the heart of this miracle cure, but she’s just as stymied because Charlie can’t see things her way.
Anyhow, all three of our protagonists are now in deep kimshi. What will they do?
On to Act 4…
I was wondering how Pawlik was going to pull these three perspectives together at the end. Now we’re switching protagonists every chapter, which also adds a sense of acceleration to the story’s climax as we flash back and forth from Jack to George to Elina, though not always in that sequence.
Jack Kendrick finally meets Thomas Vale, then George Wilcox is faced with yet another ethical dilemma and another nasty bit of information about how perilium works—and what happens when it’s withheld from a user. George makes his choice, perhaps too late.
Meanwhile, there’s something very special in store for Elina Gutierrez.
Everything comes tumbling out of the shadows in Act 4—the backstory of Beckon, the hidden tribe, the nature of the beasties lurking in the underground cavern, and the fate of Jack’s father. Jack and company find a reluctant ally, and the battle between good and evil is joined in an apocalyptic conflagration of blood and goo.
I’m getting to the point where spoilers are almost inevitable, but I’ll simply say there is a resolution at the end, and some closure, though I expect our heroes will have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do in a few days.
So, in summary…
I liked Beckon. It’s a taut, suspenseful thriller with plenty of action and some supremely creepy moments. Along the way, it raises some interesting ethical and spiritual questions about life, death, immortality, and the sorts of things that happen when we try to take these matters into our own hands. I may post a little more about this after I’ve had a day or two to process the story.
I didn’t have many gripes, and there were only a couple of missteps worth mentioning. I thought Elina started out as a very strong character, but I was disappointed that her promise wasn’t fully realized. She nearly devolved into what’s known in the trade as the “distressed damsel” (Scream Elina! Scream for your very life!).
There was also a moment very late in the story that veered into cliche’ and felt sort of tacked-on. I had to back up and read the sentence again to confirm the publisher hadn’t mistakenly stapled in a page from another book. Please tell me she’s not checking him out. Yep, she is. Sigh. And then a couple of pages later, Please tell me he’s not checking her out. Yep, he is. Sigh. Not that these sorts of things don’t happen, but it seemed like absolutely the wrong place and time, and it broke my immersion in the story.
Minor points, though. It’s a good read. Go, buy, and enjoy.
And don’t just take my word for it. Pay a visit to the other fine stops on this month’s CSFF Blog Tour:
Purchase Beckon – http://www.amazon.com/Beckon-Tom-Pawlik/dp/1414338732/ Tom Pawlik’s Web site – http://www.tompawlik.com/
Tom Pawlik’s Blog – http://tompawlik.blogspot.com/
Tom Pawlik’s Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tom-Pawlik/42692434035
Author Twitter account – https://twitter.com/#!/TomPawlik
(Wow, this guy is seriously networked)
Thomas Clayton Booher
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Rebecca LuElla Miller
>>This review is based upon a copy of the book provided to me free of charge by the publisher, a courtesy I appreciate, but which does not guarantee my recommendation. I strive to evaluate every book I review purely on its intrinsic merits.<<