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Stephen Laws

New English Library

UK Mass Market Paperback

ISBN 0-450-58173-X

358 pages; £5.99

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002





The science-fiction horror story has been around since Mary Shelley first brought life to Frankenstein's monster. Stephen Laws hasn't been around that long, but he's obviously got enough experience to turn an office block into a monster-filled deathtrap, and he does so quite handily in "Darkfall", his fourth novel. Like most horror writers who venture into sci-fi territory, he doesn't do much more than a bit of hand-waving to science fictionally justify the terrors he visits on his characters. Combined with his skillful ability to describe a scene of terrorizing action, that's enough to provide a couple of sleepless nights of entertainment, at the mere expense of few fingernails.

It's Christmas Eve in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Laws' perennial stomping ground, and a storm of a different kind is coming. It's called 'Darkfall', it's being studied by the government, it's very dangerous, and people who are in buildings when Darkfall strikes generally disappear. They aren't snatched, they aren't killed and they aren't kidnapped; they're absorbed into the building itself, fused with the inert organic materials in a deft bit of Doctor Who-style wonky science. If they're lucky, if everyone's lucky, that's all that happens. They suffer the torments of hell until they are extinguished in the bowels of whatever structure they were touching.

But of course, sometimes they come back, and then, they're monsters. In this particular building, on this particular Christmas Eve, the government tactical force arrives on the heels of the local police, and together they get to watch hell itself literally break loose. As usual, Laws offers up some good characters to experience his terrors. A thief named Jimmy Devlin (who once saw a Darkfall and lived) and DI Jack Cardiff (whose wife and child were killed by the faceless driver of a careening automobile) are the main men who'll fight the monsters, with Rohmer the mysterious head of the government agency dedicated to studying Darkfall.

If what you come to "Darkfall" for is monsters, and you get them in spades, in walls, coming out of walls, mutating, speaking, making deals, and generally wreaking havoc while they attempt to feed on living human flesh. Laws' pulls out all the stops, but still limits the action limited to the office block, which keeps the novel tight and focused. It's a two day theme park ride, The Monster-Filled Office Block, come one, come all, Stephen Laws is going to show you how to have a very bad time. It all makes 'Die Hard' look pretty pedestrian.