Review of David Jacob Knight’s “The Pen Name”
Ben Little is a struggling author whose writing career is going nowhere. The copies of his first book, which he ordered for the convention he’s attending, didn’t show up. Add on to that the fact that he hasn’t worked a day job since being laid off by the phone company several months back makes for a very depressing situation for him and his family. But Ben’s luck is about to change. A famous author who is also at the show happens by his table and chats with him and later, after Ben returns home with his wife, a publishing agent with an intriguing offer knocks on his door. The famous author from the convention wants to work with Ben on a novel, but to do so he has to sign a very long and complex contract with no time to review it. He’ll get a $5,000 advance and another $10,000 upon completion of the work, but he either agrees immediately or the deal is off. Nervous but knowing that this could be life changing-the debts have piled up and his son needs special care for some physical ailments he has-he signs the contract.
From that point forward, Ben is under the gun to write his chapters after being emailed outlines from the other author. The plan is to finish the book within a month, even though Ben’s first book took him years to complete. It seems a daunting task, but one that could be life changing for him and his family. Part of the contract he signed but didn’t read states that the agent for the other author will be taking him on different research expeditions to give him a better feel for what he is supposed to write about. But these trips entail some rather grim journeys that have Ben wondering what is really going on with his co-author and the strange German publishing company behind the contract he’s signed. There is blood, violence, and blackouts that leave Ben wondering what is happening to him during and after these surreal field trips. At the same time, his mind seems to be unraveling as he digs deeper into the mystery behind his publisher, his co-author, and even some of the other authors who have been ghost writers for the publisher.
The Pen Name could be categorized as a supernatural thriller or a flat out horror, dependent on your perspective. Regardless, it is a taut, mysterious story filled with scenes of slowly mounting dread intermingled with abrupt, jarring, and disturbing action sequences. There are dark, supernatural forces at work but at the same time there is a taste of conspiracy that feels more like big brother than the work of the devil or some other malignant being. Part of what makes what is happening to Ben so disturbing is the fact that while he feels like a puppet on the publisher’s evil strings, their efforts to push him into creating his most compelling writing through their terror tactics does just that. Ben’s life is eroding before his eyes, his mind deteriorating, but he is doing the best writing of his career. And as the noose tightens around his neck, he realizes that he must finish the story he has begun, both the one on the page and the one he is living through, no matter what the consequences.
The Pen Name is an easy to read tale that keeps you intrigued throughout. The story, and Ben’s mind, unravel slowly, and leaves the reader puzzling over what is real and what is imagined. There is plenty to second guess and puzzle over concerning Das Verlag, the publishing house whose main exploit seems to be running livestock slaughter houses…especially the slaughter of pigs. Of course, not all mysteries are revealed, though there are some nice twists in the end, but I guess if I had any sort of complaint it would be to have better understood what Das Verlag was all about…or at least a little bit more. Even so, this is a well spun tale and an enjoyable horror/thriller well worth checking out.
The Pen Name can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00EK599ZS/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
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