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by Peter Clines
Permuted Press, 2012
Paperback, 352 pages

Experts agree that the three most stressful experiences the average person will go through in life are death of a loved one, weddings, and moving. This third category has multiple levels that all affect stress levels.

First, there is the hassle of going through your belongings and coming face to face with so many memories, not to mention the arduous task of deciding what to keep and what to toss. It is spring cleaning at its worst. And then there is the move itself: wake up at dawn to greet the professional movers, watch over your boxes like a hawk lest anything marked “fragile” be treated less than kindly, eventually collapsing on a bare mattress in your new home. Finally, the adjustment phase, where you lie awake listening to the unfamiliar creaks and groans as your home settles at night, dreaming up all sorts of childhood bogeymen.

But what happens when your new home really is unsettling?

For Nate Tucker, moving into the Kavach Building in Los Angeles was a stroke of luck. With suspiciously cheap rent and a studio with a view of the Hollywood Hills, one might almost be able to overlook the irregularities of the building. Almost. Perhaps in part due to his mind-numbingly boring data-entry job, Nate rallies his fellow residents into investigating the peculiarities: the antique elevator that hasn’t worked in living memory, the mysterious suicides of apartment 16, the strange mutant-green cockroaches, and of course the namesake apartment 14, sealed up with multiple padlocks that have rusted with age.

With a Lovecraftian build-up—a slow pace that picks up speed with each unsettling detail revealed—and shout-outs to horror and sci-fi favourites like Clive Barker and Dr. Who, you just know that things are going to get absolutely mental before the end, and boy do they ever! Five stars to Peter Cline for creating a total head trip of a story. Once things got going, it was very hard for me to put this book down. I tore through it in only two days, a breakneck speed for someone who averages 1-2 weeks per book.

It’s a great book for those more interested in plot than character development. There were some things left to be desired, however, by the end of the novel. The dialogue is full of bantering quips that some may find a bit thin: it was reminiscent of a novelized horror-movie, and this book could be adapted quite well in the same vein as Cabin in the Woods. The frequent references to Scooby-Doo was a bit tiresome after the fourth time, but my cynical view is that this is actually pretty true to life: people run jokes into the ground all the time, long after they are amusing. In some ways this was one of the most realistic traits of the Kavach gang.

I love the punning of story and storey (of which the Kavach building has five) as the book is divided into parts evoking engineering blueprints: “Foundation”, “First Story”, “Second Story”, and so on. This leads our gaze upwards to the oversized machine room on the roof and beyond, creating further intrigue through the formal aspects of the book and complementing the plot.

The Lovecraftian style was well developed for the most part, but I would have preferred this influence to be more subtle than Clines treated it. It was appreciated until the later chapters, when a direct reference to H.P Lovecraft is given. In a way, 14 is like Lovecraft fan-fiction, and perhaps there are legal reasons he had to make this reference very clear (reasons that I can’t discuss without revealing huge plot-spoilers). The mood of xenophobia is strongly lacking, however, and we don’t get a sense of genuine horror from the characters but rather wonder at their situation.

The setting for the story was very fitting for this homage to Lovecraft. Let’s be honest, L.A is fairly well accepted as the mecca of weirdo cults. From religious revivals like kabbalah to the brainwashing antics of scientology, if a group of people were to worship Cthulu and the Old Ones, it is more likely to surface on the West coast than a quiet New England town—though this theory may be dismissed if one also takes into account Stephen King’s oeuvre.

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