Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Book Review: 'Queensboro' by Thomas Drago

Thomas Drago is a drama and English teacher living in North Carolina. He graduated from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. In addition to teaching drama Thomas has a long list of stage credits in his resume, having directed come of the finest plays and musicals since 1998 to the present. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association and has published a half-dozen short stories in various literary magazines including The Explorer, a local literary magazine. Crow Creek is his first full-length novel.

So drama is in his blood - as well as n his pen/computer. Thomas knows how to build a scene, paint the scenery, cast the characters in a manner that creates a sense of horror and evil as it effects small town folk. There is much to be said about his choice of proscenium arch curtain that grace the cover of his novel - a superb painting of a moth, a caterpillar and drizzles of blood. And, sensitively, he opens is book with a quote form Zhuang Zhou that brings the mysticism of the cover inside: `"Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man."

But it is the quality of Thomas' writing that makes this book/story so seductive - and so suspenseful. His `prologue' is titled `Amanda' and its importance will be revealed in the story, but to offer the imagination of Thomas' mind it is quoted here: `Amanda Simmons didn't leave Jacobs Court after lunch the day she freed Grayson Helms from his scaffold. The Red Queen was too excited about the next morning's Sector Six dispersal to account for which of her executives returned to Carolina EnTech for afternoon meetings anyhow. Amanda had moved to North Carolina for all the right reasons. The mild climate (the Pacific Northwest was dreary even for her tastes). College sports, especially basketball. Low taxes, thanks to the conservatives in office. Affordable real estate. Warm people. Good Christians with strong family values and dedicated support for private schools, free enterprise, and small government. So trusting. She could probably stay the rest of her life. She crept into the triklinion, the red python birthmark warming the back of her neck. Grayson was one of the early donors, if not the first, so they kept his bed on the third subfloor. The dining room was quiet, except for the buzzing machines, and sterile. Amanda punched a few buttons to override the system and silence the alarms. She couldn't take any chances. There were enough lab assistants and sentries to cause a stir, even though many of them weren't on the feed. Grayson lay naked and prostrate on the scaffold, his cock shriveled to a useless nub. Amanda found the human body repulsive and tossed a flimsy gown over him so she didn't have to see any more than she needed. When she unscrewed the first conduit, the fitting hissed. The connections hadn't been lubricated for a while. Grayson didn't move his eyeless totem-pole face, but Amanda knew life existed somewhere inside...etc'

The plot: `Ashley Smith attends Crow Creek Elementary and is the brightest student in Earle Pruitt's fourth grade class. She volunteers as line leader, captains the book club, wins the spelling bee, and never misses a day of school. Not in almost five years. Not until Schreck, the impish gravedigger at Holt County Cemetery, snatches her from her bus stop one spring morning. Shortly after Sheriff Brad Gleason organizes a search party, horror strikes from the nearby woods, claiming the lives of several locals. Mrs. Scott, who runs the town's sawmill, witnesses the attack. So does Curly, a gullible deputy. They can't believe what they see. Nobody can. The impending chase leads to Queensboro, an insidious town along the Haw River and home to Carolina EnTech, a medical research laboratory run by Margaret Ganis, whose prominent birthmark and ruthless fear tactics earn her the cryptic nickname the Red Queen in the local press. Recently, Carolina EnTech invested in Jacobs Court, luxury apartments they renovated for the corporate executives who displaced poorer inhabitants. And others, of course--many who disappeared without a trace.'

Irresistible setting and it just gets better. Thomas Drago has a most promising career ahead. This is a `keep the lights on' if you're reading this book at night. It is refreshing to come across a truly fine new mystery writer. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, June 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.