Review: Terminal (Robin Cook)

A few years ago, I'd have definitely rated Robin Cook as one of my favorite authors. But for some time now, I've had this feeling that his books have lost their charm and all that medical jargon that used to sound so unique and interesting feels too technical and unnecessary. Fever, Outbreak and Acceptable Risk were the earliest Robin Cook thrillers I read, and I loved all of them. But since then most of his books have been disappointing, and Terminal is perhaps the worst of them all.

A Harvard medical student gets an opportunity to work in a cancer research center with a cent percent remission rate for medulloblastoma patients. When he's not allowed to work on the cancer research project, he starts snooping around and finally discovers that the research center is itself causing the cancer that it later cures, so that the patients donate money generously for "saving" their lives.

Well, that was supposed to be the plot. It's difficult to notice, but if you read carefully enough, you'll find that plot scattered across the book. But for most part Cook goes on and on about -- to roughly quote one of his lines from the book -- "... the new commercialism that is poisoning science in general and medical research in particular..." I do agree that Cook's thrillers generally have a message within them, but this is taking it to a totally different level. This one sounds almost as if it's a preachy message with a thriller hidden somewhere inside it.

Okay, maybe I'm being a bit too harsh here, and having not taken a biology course in more than three years makes the book less easy to understand. But we must remember that the vast majority of this world cannot tell the difference between medulloblastoma and medulla oblongata. Many of the people who read Cook -- like me -- have a very superficial knowledge of the subject and mainly read his books only because they like his plots. (I mean some of his plots. Not this one.)

Robin Cook's strength is his fast paced narrative laced with some medical jargon. I've never read his books for their literary merits, and that's because they don't have any. They're just a story that you read only because the plot keeps you interested right through to the last page. So when the plot gets bogged down with too much of preaching, there's nothing much left in the book to enjoy. Right now I can only hope that the dozen odd of his books that I have yet to read are better than this one. Much better than this one.

My Rating: 3/10

Review: Pet Sematary (Stephen King)

Stephen King has this reputation as one of the best horror novelists around. Add to that King's claim in the introduction to this book that it's the scariest book he's ever written. So it's reasonable to expect that someone who's never read King before would be more than a little bit scared by this book.

Unfortunately, Pet Sematary doesn't succeed in doing what you'd normally expect any good horror story to do -- scaring the readers. And when it comes to someone who's considered the King of horror -- sorry about the pun there ;-) -- you'd expect something more than just good... it must be outstanding, which I'm afraid this book isn't.

The interesting thing that I noticed here is that King has relied less on gory images and more on uncomfortable ideas to create the horror. Yes, there is plenty of gore -- like Victor Pascow with half of his skull smashed in, or the accident that kills the little boy Gage Creed, or towards the end of the book where... er... well, read it yourself, I'm not revealing spoilers here. But that's not what creates the horror here. When you read about Pascow who's lost half a skull and is dripping his brains everywhere on a hospital floor, the curiosity about what he wants to tell Louis Creed overweighs the feeling of sickness over his condition. The questions that King asks are far more terrifying than these images.

And he does ask quite a few questions. Like, what if you could bring back the dead? What if you were in Louis Creed's place, would you have acted the same way? Would you care that your loved ones weren't the same as before, as long as they weren't dead? And why? Why would you do it if you knew that once they're back they'd be somehow... empty..?

Here I must admit that even though I'm not very fond of this particular book, I'm not writing off the author as someone I wouldn't read. I'm not even saying that it's not a good book. Although I don't consider it scary enough to qualify as an outstanding book of the horror genre, it's still a book I wouldn't want to miss. And it's hard to forget some of the mis-spelled lines from the book -- "Pet Sematary", "Smucky the cat, he was obediant" -- and Ellie Creed's screaming "Let God have his own cat..." when faced with the fact that someday her pet will be dead. And the ending of the book will definitely leave you wondering "What next?" After coming back from the dead, is Rachel Creed going to ever be the same person again, or...??? King leaves that question open to us to answer it anyway we like.

My rating: 6/10.