The Totem

The Totem - David Morrell The small Wyoming town of Potters Field is in the middle of cattle and horse country. When animals begin to get mutilated wild dogs, wolves, coyotes or even a cougar are the usual suspects, except the livestock is not being eaten, just eviscerated. Enter (appropriately named) Nathan Slaughter, transplanted Detroit cop looking for a quieter life, unsuccessful horse breeder and current sheriff. That quiet life is about to blown out of the water. Slaughter is eventually joined by a washed up, alcoholic reporter hoping for a big story to get his life and career back on track, a medical examiner with daddy issues and the local Mayor who refuses to give up his power no matter what the cost. As they muddle through the clues as to what might be happening up on the ridge strange events begin to happen in town as well.

I picked up this (audio) book for several reasons; I am a David Morrell fan, the book was listed in one of the volumes of Best 100 Horror Books, I was looking for a good scary story to read and by Mr. Morrell’s own admission he was not satisfied with the first publication of the book in 1979 so went back to the original manuscript and republished the book “the way it was supposed to be published” without the extensive editing and the publisher’s mandate that it include a “love interest”. I have not read the original publication but, honestly, cannot imagine that it could have been any worse than this edition. Believe me, it was difficult to write that sentence because I am such a fan of Mr. Morrell. When the story started I was anticipating a good horror story with, possibly, some elements of Native American folklore woven in – there was a tease of that, but it was never really expanded. Maybe it should have been? Then is took a sharp right turn into becoming a medical thriller. The story stayed on that course for the rest of the book, but it was a curvy road at best, drawing in elements that made me think there were going to be supernatural transformations (nope), or ghosts (nope), or at the very least maybe a mythical beast hanging out in the wilds of Wyoming (nope). Well, then there was this cult that set up a commune in the 1970’s that all disappeared … no that theme was never really tied up with any kind of satisfaction.

Wow, this was one confused book. The only story line that caused me a slight shiver and goose bumps was the little boy sneaking out of bed at night in search of a raccoon he saw. His fear of how his parents would react when they discovered he snuck out created a more tangible sense of foreboding than did any of the other so called horrors in the book. I loved being privy to his thought processes as he was scheming and worrying about how to keep himself out of trouble. Unfortunately, that whole episode went off the rails too quickly and then totally got lost in the muddled confusion of the rest of the book. I plodded along hoping eventually it would all come together in a huge AHA! moment at the end. Sadly, it didn’t. When the muttering blob came crawling down Main Street I threw my hands in the air (figuratively since I usually listen to audio books in the car) and just kept listening to see how on earth this was all going to end. In case you are curious – not well.

If you are looking for good vintage David Morrell pick up Creepers (scary), First Blood (action) or even The Spy Who Came For Christmas (humorous espionage) … don’t start (or maybe even bother) with The Totem.