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SKORPIO
By MIKE BARON (WordFire Press; 2013)

A nifty chunk of no-nonsense horror by a longtime comic book scribe. SKORPIO is NEXUS and BADGER creator Mike Baron’s third horror novel, and showcases a real gift for evocative storytelling. The prose is frank and hardboiled, though not overly so (the one sentence paragraphs are kept to a minimum), making for a book that’s never less than eminently readable.

     Vaughan Beadles is a successful Illinois based anthropology professor, at least until a student is bitten by a scorpion that crawls out of a bowl in a Native American history museum. Following this calamity Beadles is framed by a jealous colleague in a phony theft (which to anyone familiar with the cutthroat world of academia isn’t at all hard to believe) and the student dies. In short order Beadles’ job, wife and reputation are all taken away. To redeem himself Beadles becomes determined to track down evidence of the Azuma, an undiscovered Indian tribe located in Arizona whose existence has obsessed Beadles for some time.

     There’s also Summer, a young Indian woman on a quest of her own: she’s in search of “Shipapu,” apparently “the spiritual fountainhead of our culture and possibly a gate to other dimensions.” She’s also on the run from her psychotic boyfriend Vince, who enters the unfolding narrative after Beadles and Summer inevitably join forces. So does an unearthly creature who’s only active in the daytime, and who figures into Beadles and Summers’ respective quests.

     The introduction of the supernatural elements that come to dominate the book’s final third isn’t as jarring as it could have been, mainly because the gritty aura of the earlier portions is staunchly maintained. There’s also a good deal of well handled suspense and potent grotesquerie (with one character meeting a spectacularly gruesome demise that managed to startle even me) amid a crisp and well-drawn desert backdrop. I’ll admit I’d have liked a bit more of the hallucinatory Shipapu universe than we get, but found the narrative’s action-based thrust imminently satisfying nonetheless. 

     

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