Role playing can be fun and revealing. Let’s play that you are a horror fiction reviewer. You get an unsolicited copy of a book which deals with an antique mirror that wields control over those who look into it. You think “Holy Dead of Night mirror sequence” and all the later permutations on that theme. Stoked when you start reading, and feeling somewhat satisfied at the onset, there’s cursory characterization and plot short hand that you choose to ignore. You hope despite reiterations of death and sex scenes that are at best obligatory and, at worst, are forced, all will be gratifying at the end. Unfortunately, the novel Mirror Image disappoints. Authors Michael Scott and Melanie Ruth Rose have written what may be a saleable screenplay pitch. Although there are quirky mythological and historical elements that could flummox even a seasoned film writer. Then you the reviewer think: How to compose the review given the book’s lofty hardcover status from a major genre publisher (Tor), the reputation of Mr. Scott as a writer of best sellers, and your subsequent overall letdown. Take a walk in the reviewer’s shoes on this one.
Jonathan Frazer, owner of an exclusive “by appointment only” Los Angeles antiques shop, purchases a mirror at a London auction for a fraction of its monetary worth. The piece is large: Seven feet in height, and four feet in width. Once ensconced in an outbuilding on Frazer’s estate, the acquisition starts working its malign magic. An art restorer and his assistant perish in two separate violent and bloody incidents involving the mirror. Blood and bodily secretions feed what lurks on the other side of the glass. Needless to say, the body count gets high. Luckily, Los Angeles has a large population.
The focus of the narrative is on Frazer who, to no surprise, becomes obsessed with the power of the mirror. His character is vastly underwritten. It is difficult to feel sympathy toward him as he spirals into a supernaturally driven psychosis. None of the characters have depth or are particularly likeable. They are expendable devices that service the plot.
And what a plot it is. Incorporating historical personages from Elizabethan England as well as figures in Greek mythology, the gory story attempts to be literary. The bulk of the book, however, consists of over the top carnage, and overwrought but unexciting sexual activity. In spite of much detailed description, the killings become predictable and cease to shock, and the multiple orgasms lack stimulation. The suggestion that this mirror is an instrument of voyeurism more than narcissism is interesting, but somehow gets buried along with the many mutilated corpses.
Because the tale is co-written, it’s hard to know who gets credit (or is responsible) for what. There are jarring exclamations points that are rather unnecessary. Regarding the prose, some passages are more insightful than others: “How could you live with someone for so long and not be able to visualize their face? When you stopped seeing them, he realized, when you stopped looking at them.” In contrast, there’s this heavy handed statement: “Now she could hear the song of its captured souls, and this song was Desolation.”
Back to you, Role Playing Reviewers: you have likely detected a notion that that one of the authors is resting on his laurels. There’s a sense of painting by numbers, but with pop culture acumen that recognizes what colors stand out. Mirror Image is lacking on levels that discerning horror aficionados will easily see. Which doesn’t preclude the novel from being a financial success; it just means that we savvy genre readers and inherent reviewers are cognizant of its weaknesses.