Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Book Review: 'Caligula Reincarnate' by Steve Peek

Author Steve Peek and author Pat Conroy are first cousins whose families often shared their grandmother's house in Atlanta. Both wanted to be writers. Pat became a literary lion by the time he was thirty. Steve began writing semi-seriously in the 1980's,mostly short stories. Now he writes full time and his genres are many - The Boy in the Well (about Vietnam 1968), W-G-O-D: In your Dreams, All night, Every Night, The Island Builders, Your Money or Your Mustard, Longclaws, Alien Agenda, Coyote Dreaming, Otherworld, The Game Inventors Handbook – and now CALIGULA REINCARNATE. And despite the serious subject matter of some of his books, Steve maintains a sense of glib humor!

Attempting to classify CALIGULA REINCARNATE is a challenge. It is part history, part time travel, part paranormal and part suspenseful thriller. To appreciate the ‘reincarnate’ aspect of the spirit of Caligula the evil killer, Steve opens his book with an episode form 1854 in Louisiana – ‘He knew who he was. One instant, a barefoot twelve-year-old following a rutted dirt road to the Mississippi River, the next, someone completely different. Looking down, beyond mismatched knee patches on faded overalls, dust covered his bare black feet. He stopped swishing a cane pole through tall weeds browned by a hot summer and carried the pole more spear-like. He planned to meet Pete and Woodrow at the abandoned river barge landing, catch some catfish, swim, then sneak by the back of the Saint Jo Mercantile where black male slaves sometimes played dice for Liberty Head pennies. As he formed those thoughts, a slight pressure built at the base of his skull. It expanded up the back of his head, moved forward, then exploded in a flash of cognitive light, and he knew who he was. The leisurely plans changed. Just like that. Awareness of his true self always came as mental lightning, always at puberty. He knew two lives, his real one, the person he once was, and the young boy's life in which he was bottled until this moment. He could recall every detail of his own life up until the moment of his first death. The other knew everything about his new life—which wasn't hopeful. The fifth child of a Louisiana slave, his father kept him chopping sugar cane, which allowed no time for education. He could not remember anything about the other lives between his original life and this poor peasant's. They were leaves on a tree, forgotten and replaced hundreds of times. Maybe it was possible to change this boy’s destiny. He might make it work, to turn this poor slave’s life into something enjoyable. He felt he accomplished it before, but it required strength and cunning. But why waste time? Reaching the disused river barge dock, he decided. At least he would have some fun first. He walked out on the rotting planks and sat dangling his feet in the muddy water, waiting… [murder occurs]...’ I told you, long ago: I have existed from the morning of the world, and I shall exist until the last star falls from the night. Although I have taken this form, I am all men as I am no man and therefore I am a God. Caligula laughed.’ Steve Peek has captured our curiosity and fear!

The plot outline pares it down – ‘A madman with unlimited power gains crippled immortality. Each generation he is among us. Hail Caesar, Emperor of Murder. The insane Roman Emperor gains immortality by stealing a merchant’s soul. Instant reincarnation provides endless lives for a never-ending reign of terror. Two-thousand years later, a reluctant psychic releases the merchant’s essence. The merchant, living in her mind, convinces her of the truth. Together they set out to rid humanity of Caligula, the eternal serial killer.’

Grisly yet mesmerizing – this is a well written and very unusual serial killer story polished with historical truths. It makes a very fine novel. Grady Harp, April 18

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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