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Daryl Frazell
\tEverybody knows what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. But what if something unknown happened? What if something was loosed upon the world that day, starting humanity on its long, slow slide toward upheaval, agony and disaster? That is the theme of my novel, Beast: A Haunted World. It explores the idea that a device can open a portal between the world of the living and that of the dead. This is not a formulaic ghost story. It is a fast-moving, twisty supernatural thriller like no other.
This bold, inventive thriller, Frazell’s debut, dares to imagine contemporary life—the world we inhabit today—as the dystopian nightmare engineered by a couple decades back. That sounds cynical, and the novel’s introduction plays up a connection to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, so that they loom like the Sword of Damocles over the life of Florida newspaper columnist Bill Lefhans, the narrator for much of the book. But Beast in truth is brisk, playful, and often funny, written with a zest for wisecracking dialogue and mind-bending conspiracies, as its counter-reality story kicks off in early September, 2001, with Lefhans getting embroiled in much more than he bargained for while working on what he expects to be a piffle of a story about Thomas Edison’s efforts to engineer a telephone to speak to the dead.

Soon, Frazell springs on readers a shocking death, some attempts on Lefhans’s life, a frightening connection to the Third Reich, and intimations that the Lefhans lineage is tied up in a grand secret, all amid hints that some feral beast stalks humanity—and the revelation that an inventor, Franklin Melby, actually created the device Edison couldn’t, an “Electoplasmic Valve,” a sort of Pandora’s box. The columnist, though, is a classic skeptic, even on the run, with Israeli spy Valli protecting him—and striving to get this “frivolous” man to take this all seriously.

Lefhans’s flipness keeps the adventure fun even as Frazell—and a pair of other perspective characters, separated from Lefhans’s account by years—is dead serious about the implications that all our fates hinge on the Valve … and that global chaos, environmental catastrophes, and the rise of fascism all have roots in Lefhans’s 2001. Frazell manages this narrative trick without cheapening the real-world roots of international crises. The Lefhans chapters can move so quickly that suspense and mystery don’t have space to develop fully, and the narratives-within-narratives result in some interruptions of momentum, but readers fascinated by conspiratorial alt-history noir will find much to love here.

Takeaway: This bold, playful thriller asks what if our world today is the dystopian future.

Great for fans of: Arthur Shattuck O'Keefe’s The Spirit Phone, Matt Ruff.

Production grades
Cover: B-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B+