Review of Vertigo by Michael Mandrake

Rating: 3 stars

London, England 1916. Dr. Hayden Curry is having a rough time of it.  He is a renowned scientist whose recent experiments have all failed and his longtime lover, companion, and assistant in the lab, Lawrence, has been committed to a mental institution.  Then there is the guilt Hayden is feeling of being the person who signed the papers locking Lawrence away in Dr. Gothersbury’s Clinic for the mentally impaired.  A  call from the city morgue interrupts his ennui and informs him that they have something of unknown origins for him to investigate. The “thing” turns out to be a dead body but is it human or animal?  It seems to have the attributes of both.  Intrigued, Hayden and his man servant, Berrows, collect the body and head home to the lab. Just as he is to begin his autopsy the thing comes alive, introduces himself as David, and asks for the Doctor’s help in finding out how he came to be.  Nonplussed Hayden watches in bemusement as David shifts from a manbeast into a gorgeous young man, the most beautiful he has ever seen.

The mystery of David interests the scientist in Hayden while the handsome man stirs up lust and desires Hayden had thought gone with Lawrence.  But is David really what he seems?  As Hayden becomes more befuddled and obsessed with David, David slowly takes over the Doctor’s life in every aspect.  Can Hayden uncover the truth behind David before it is too late to save himself?

Vertigo is an apt title as David succeeds in keeping Hayden Curry off balance for the duration of the story. The same can be said for the reader. And to my mind, it results in the same end for both of us.  As a reader and reviewer, Vertigo, stands for a succession of missed opportunities as well as the author never achieving a balance of plot and characterization.  There are several plots contained within this story, mashed together in a patchwork frame.  It starts out promisingly enough, with the thought that the author is going into a historial Werewolf in London theme when David’s original werewolf physique shifts back to human.  But that storyline is quickly dispatched as the plot sequeways into a Dr. Jekyll/Mr Hyde  whenever David’s plans/wishes/demands are not met.  When thwarted, David shifts back into the original creature whose threats and menace force Hayden to do as creature wishes, including having sex with him, drinking of his liguids (sweat, semen, blood) etc..  I thought we were looking at a gay take on duality of nature theme, which I would have loved to have read. Then as more of David’s backstory emerges Vertigo turns into a demon cast from Heaven horror tale and all becomes lost with a plodding story and characters whose menace has now vanished into a mawkish, and obsessive love.

Another problem is the character of Dr. Hayden Curry.  He is just an unpleasant man.  He is vain, selfish, self absorbed, and thinks society revolves around him. This would have worked in the story’s favor had it turned into a tale of comeuppance and the tribulations that await someone who gets what they wish for.  And the reader gets a glimpse of that now and again.  But clearly Michael Mandrake wishes us to sympathize with Hayden and the path he has chosen for himself, to walk along side his demon lover no matter the consequences.  The upshot of this is that I could have cared less what happened to either Hayden or David, or anyone else in their circle.

The only victim here is that of Lawrence who makes a brief reappearance late in the story and is the fulcrum for the remaining drama that is Hayden’s life at this point. Lawrence is an innocent, undeserving of his fate and as a object of Hayden’s love,  He is another missed opportunity as the only likable person introduced in the story. The fate the author has in store for him is dreadful while clearly intended to be the exact opposite.  He emerges from his captivity still in love with Hayden, trustful and ready to take up where they left off.  Instead, the tag team of David and Hayden will leave him with a gap in his memory and a suicide to deal with.  Not my idea of making amends for the terrible things both David and Hayden did to Lawrence and another misstep by an author who has lost their way with this story.

David is the final main problem here.  As a man, he is controlling,self centered and disagreeable, as a beast he maintains a sufficient threat as to be menacing  and is the most interesting in this form, but finally as a demon, well he is just not very demon like.  He had wandered the earth being the “rumination of man” then spots the child that is to be his eternal love , acts more petulant than obsessed, pouts and has bouts of sullenness. But a mighty demon cast from Heaven? No, that just does not figure into the equation.  He is just not that evil or should I say believably evil.   David the evil demon.  *shakes head*

All the disparate plot lines gather together into an preposterous ending where God is unhappy with the plot (as is the reader), takes away all their powers, and Hayden flings himself out the window on his way to death and a happy eternity spent with David doing Satan’s deeds.  No really they are very happy together. Well, except for the fact that Hayden is clothed in the garments he was buried in, but that is just a trifle.

There were minor issues such as modern American phrases and notions coming from a 1916 London setting and background.  I realize that this is a fantasy but a little homework would have alleviated this problem. Minor Rant Alert! I also have problems with the usage of the word “orb” when used in conjunction with or as a description of eyes.  There are blue orbs, fiery orbs, and so on.  I wish that every author using this as a noun  for eyes immediately select Find and Replace in the Tool section and use it to delete the word orb in every reference. This cannot go on.  I don’t know about you but when I look at a person I don’t think “What lovely orbs they have.” Most people don’t,  so why use it in a story? This cannot be solely attributed to Michael Mandrake as I recently read no less than two other books with the same issue. This was just the breaking point. So please no more orbs unless they are magical ones used by sorcerers.  End rant.

Vertigo is the second book I have read of Michael Mandrake’s and I think the author has promise.  Perhaps a good editor and some crit partners would be of assistance in eliminating some of the problems I had with this novel.  Vertigo has some wonderful stories buried within it, just not the one the author chose in the end.  And that is a real shame.

Cover: The cover is as confused as the story.  Vertigo takes place in London in 1916, so what are the modern cover boys doing here?  And that font is terrible.

By Scattered Thoughts

At over 50, I am ruled by my terriers, my gardens, and my projects. A knack for grubbing about in the woods, making mud pies, and tending to the injured worms, bugs, and occasional bird and turtle growing up eventually led me to working for the Parks. I was a park Naturalist for over 20 years, and observing Nature and her cycles still occupy my hours. From the arrival of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the Spring to the first call of the Snow Geese heading south in the Fall, I am entranced by the seasons. For more about me see my bio on my blog.

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