Saturday, March 3, 2018

Book Review: 'The Scythe of God' by Terry Rich Hartley

Terry Rich Hartley comes to his consistently strange quality of writing of terrifying thrillers with a background as a professor of psychology, a research psychologist, and a keen eyed journalist who likely has witnessed horrors akin to the ones he creates in his novels. Having read THE OCTOPUS HOOK MURDERS, his eighth book, the opportunity to read his newest novel THE SCYTHE OF GOD affirms his other books are as creatively gruesome and spine-tinglingly frightening as this one: we have a literary Hannibal Lector on our hands. Writing of this caliber can either drive readers away in horror of pull them in like a seductive potion that drips into the psyche until the last page. I'm a to the last page category.

It could be a fine example of practice makes perfect, but Terry manages to better himself with each novel. He knows the countryside where he places his books (this story takes place in Reno, Nevada) and uses some characters form previous novels in this one, so we enter the dark basement of his mind with some assurance that the thrills will be equal. He takes his time getting into his story, as though he feels the need to establish motives and hints of ongoing madness in a subtle way (not that opening with a car explosion is subtle...!). But the story this time involves medical lingo and Terry's research into the medical aspects of this horror story is well prepared.

Plot synopsis, `When Fish and Game officers push open the door, they're confronted by a ghastly sight: two men, a woman, and a baby, cratered with smallpox-like pustules, have died horribly. The officers have no inkling they've discovered the results of a field test of EV-16 a.k.a. the Scythe of God Virus a.k.a. SGV. Man-made and self-replicating, SGV ravages the human immune system in mere hours, leaving its victims helpless in a world swarming in pathogens. Influenza, the common cold, and measles, might as well be Ebola. The Scythe of God Virus, named for its ability to cut down infidels the way a scythe does wheat, is to become the deadliest weapon in a war without boundaries. Investigators Gus Bolderjack and Mattie Hendrix are drafted into a conflict not of their making, with odds not in their favor, and with religious overtones outside their understanding. Yusuf Al'absi, a brilliant but embittered biomedical engineer, controls the offense. He is the father of the Scythe of God Virus and he is using a domestic religious sect to help him spread it throughout North America. An eccentric man called The Magician heads the defense. He's a shadowy figure with immense power when it comes to defending the republic. He and Al'absi know something no one else on earth does: SGV is an extinction level virus, and this is a zero sum game. Life. Death. Not both.'

Terry creates characters and incidents out of his psychologist's understanding of the criminally insane mind, and that is where he succeeds where others dip too deeply into bathos. His talent is rich, his writing skills are polished, and he is able to deliver a story that no matter how dark, he keeps a little light shining on his well-devised ending. Read with caution and if at night, with the lights on. Grady Harp, May 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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