The first novel of Michael Rutger’s, which I read and reviewed for Cannonball last year, was an off-the-wall terrifying tome about a YouTube film crew getting lost in an isolated part of the Grand Canyon and stumbling upon a bizarre and terrifying relic of unknown earth history in the process. ‘The Anomaly’ was CRAZY and scary and addictive and disgusting and claustrophobic, somehow, laugh-out-loud funny at times. The characters were as close to flesh and bone as you can get in a spooky story and I ripped through the novel in days.
So you can imagine how excited I was when I realised in the first few pages of ‘The Possession’ that this book was actually a direct sequel to one of my favourite novels of 2019! Nolan and his ragtag team of ‘paranormal investigators’ were back to give me goose bumps and chuckles again… hooray!
Alas… this novel is largely rubbish. The plotting is all over the place and the central mystery not terribly engaging, as it’s revealed fairly early on what is at play. A teenage girl in a small California town goes missing and reappears 10 days later claiming that she ‘died’. Nolan’s estranged wife (who did not feature in The Anomaly) is a journalist who takes an interest in the case, for her own personal reasons. Nolan and his colleagues descend on the same town to investigate the strange and inexplicable stone walls that are littered throughout and around this town, including deep in the neighbouring forest. And, wouldn’t you know it, those two mysteries end up being closely connected.
Things start to get weird pretty quickly as characters get separated, start hallucinating, and half-glimpsed threats go ‘bump’ in the night. Themes of witchcraft emerge and are never fully explored or explained. Secret organisations, spooky walls, demon possession… Rutger throws everything at the wall and none of it sticks well. The thin story here is just not enough to sustain a novel, and would have been much better suited to a short story. I completely lost interest on about the 5th stumbling trip that the characters take on foot from the motel where everyone is staying, to the local pub, to the missing girl’s house and back again. It was tedious, repetitive, and uninspired. The payoff at the end is lackluster and the whole thing kinda fell flat for me. Even the character relationships, which were sparkling and punchy in The Anomaly, became tarnished and dull by the end of this novel.
Most frustratingly, all of the eye-popping earth-shattering revelations from the third act of The Anomaly are completely ignored in this novel. Without spoiling that ending – how on earth could these characters so easily return to their lives and professions after the events of that fated trip to the Grand Canyon?! The characters barely even mention what they learned in that novel, which threw into question the entire evolutionary history of our planet! It’s as though Rutger realised he had a winning team of characters on his hands and wanted to recycle them, without bothering to deal with the complex repercussions of events that kicked off in The Anomaly.
In any event, I recommend taking a wide berth on this one.
2 spooky stone walls out of 5.