A horror novella that sets out its stall early on, Becoming David by Phil Sloman is a carefully constructed novella that investigates the mind of a perfectionist serial killer from both the inside and the outside.
To begin, we are introduced to Richard, a self-sufficient serial killer who has worked out and perfected his method of 'scratching the itch'. The anonymity of the Internet allows him to arrange dates with young men and lure them into situations where he can murder them.
Unfortunately, he hadn't planned for one of his victims to come back after being dissected and eaten. That victim, David, haunts him and possesses him, causing his carefully built world to fall apart.
There is a precision and meticulousness to Solman's writing which sets up the locations we are to revisit as events conspire against Richard. The tiniest flaws in his plans are exposed as someone starts to work against him. This is a force he could not have planned to counter. The supernatural element involved in this is kept to a focused minimum. We have no need to define the limitations of David beyond his own exploration of them in his campaign against Richard.
Additionally, the agendas of the two men, whilst set at extreme opposites to begin with are carefully used by the writer. Since David can live as Richard, will he choose to and in so doing, assume the face of the man who killed him? What if Richard comes back and reasserts himself as, occasionally, he seems to be able to do?
In many ways the connection between the characters, as hinted at in the title of the work retains both internal and external rationalisations. Are there supernatural forces at work, or is Richard a prisoner of his warped mind, working against itself? The dilemma connects us intrinsically and intimately to both him and David as we all try to work things out.
There are two difficulties with the story. The first lies in the defining of the two characters. The descriptive and supportive writing could change a little more to reflect the different attitude of David when his viewpoint is being used and then narrow as they integrate.
The second difficulty lies in some perspective change at crucial moments of danger. Sloman establishes certain supporting cast members as perspectives and it is clear that being with the victim as events go against them is the more chilling choice. This is the challenge taken on in electing to write from the perspective of the antagonist. The revulsion the reader feels from the described detail of Richard’s experiences is a sensorial strength, but without a character switch, there isn’t the same sense of threat, so you can understand the reason for doing this. However, mid scene changes back to Richard/David undermine this build of tension and also dilutes the struggle between the two personas of the main character in terms of the structure of the writing supporting its contents. If these quick flips were reserved for Richard/David, the premise would be better realised.
The resolution of the story is excellent, a neat truncation that satisfies the question of the narrative without descending into artificial achievement. In this, the uses of unreal concepts are carefully used and then put away to bring about a realistic ending. Sloman's Afterword explains his objective and the ideas that inspired him and this is an interesting read in itself, but to relate those here would soil something of the experience.
Becoming David is a great, accessible read that moves at pace and delivers a variety of sensory treats. Horror readers should note the name and devour the book as Phil Sloman builds on his growing reputation as an excellent writer.
Written on 29th August 2016 by Allen Stroud.
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