Author: Peter Clines
Publisher: Permuted Press
Peter Clines’ 14 reels you in from the moment you lay eyes upon the padlocked, forbidding door on its cover and allow yourself to wonder what might lie within. You stare at the cover, feeling uncomfortably as if it were a real door outside which you are standing.
Nate Tucker, a data entry operator at a B-grade Hollywood magazine, is keen on moving closer to his place of work. He moves into Apartment 28 of the Kavach building. It is a good deal. The rent is cheap; the power is free and the utilities cost a few cents. The sundeck is a great luxury and the view is great. But there is still something very odd about the building. For one thing, the entire place is infested with abnormally large mutated green cockroaches with emerald shells on their backs and seven legs.
Very soon Nate becomes acquainted with the neighbours and finds that each apartment in the Kavach building has a different layout, and that no two are the same. Nor are there any power cables extending from the building and connecting to the power grid.
Curious about this strangeness, Nate, together with his neighbours Veek, short for Malavika Vishwanath, and Xela, a blue-haired nudist, begins to investigate it. Nate, whose job is very mind numbing, begins to find a purpose in life.
Along the way, they rope in Tim, Roger, Andrew and the married Debbie and Clive. All the investigations must be done out of sight of Oskar Rommel, the caretaker of the building. The investigations bring out a lot about the curious going-ons in the building. Just when you think that the mystery of Apartment Number 14 has been resolved, the story takes a strange turn into the realm of sci-fiction, and here’s where, I must confess, I lost interest a little. Simply because I’m not so game for the sci-fi genre. Clines’ writing, however, lost nothing of its sharpness.
I had hoped the horror element would play out. Of course, 14 is not horror in the typical sense. There is no play of light and shadows, no unexplained noises or whispers in the dark or even creaky doors. Just an odd vibe about the place that people overlook in favour of the cheap rent.
There are minor mysteries too that get answered in the course of the book. What exactly does Veek do for a living? And how does Tim know all he does? Merely by publishing books on varied subjects?
Clines has shown a remarkable understanding of the inner grinding of buildings and his research and imagination yield a rich haul. It almost makes the Kavach building real, with a mind of its own. There are chills, thrills and hi-jinks here. The investigation itself, and Clines’ writing, holds your interest. The secret of Apartment Number 14 is enough to blow your mind. It literally breaks down the walls of your imagination.
There are two references to India, in the name and heritage of the female lead and in the fact of Kavach being Marathi (an Indian language) for protection or shield. Another point I’d like to consider as one of the book’s pluses is that romance doesn’t come in the way of the investigation. Nate, despite being surrounded by so much female charm, one of them a nudist at that, staunchly refuses to be drawn into choosing to be either Fred to Xela’s Daphne or Shaggy to Veek’s Velma. He’d rather be Scooby Doo, and concentrate on figuring out the mystery of the building. It’s another matter that he eventually succumbs.
Since it wasn’t Clines’ intention to write a horror novel. He has tried to stay away from the usual tried-and-tested tactics of horror writers. That saves us from reading about broken elevators that spring to life on their own and crazy caretakers with secrets to hide.
A few issues, however, affect the effectiveness of this novel slightly.
Most mystery novels involving multiple characters follow a particular literary device which involves leaving one set of characters at a crucial, even dangerous, moment, then breaking off to start a new chapter with another set of characters. The disadvantages of having all your characters do all their investigations together is that chapters end at the aforementioned critical point, a new chapter starts and the characters continue their business as if nothing had interrupted it. Often conversations are broken off mid-stream at the end of one chapter, and then resumed at the beginning of the next. As a literary device, it is disappointing to the seasoned mystery reader who actually enjoys the edge-of-the-seat excitement.
Also, a whole chapter is devoted to the back story of the credit-deficient Mandy, a most irrelevant addition to the novel considering that she plays no part in the investigations. Nor does she display enough gumption to be even a side-kick.
There are some minor questions that remain unanswered. While the professions of Veek and Tim are revealed in due time, I am still clueless about why so many people died in Apartment Number 16. Who knows why Craig, a character who leaves the building at the start of the novel, claims never to have had one night of good sleep in six months, when everyone else sleeps a deep and dreamless sleep every night? And why are the roaches green and mutated? Why do they die when taken away from the building? Why don’t they eat anything?
I received a free Kindle book version of 14 from NetGalley in exchange for this fair review.