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Author Topic: Review of Pit-Stop by Ben Larken  (Read 1925 times)

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« on: July 18, 2008, 12:28:09 PM »

Pit-Stop by Ben Larken reviewed by Geoff Nelder

Paperback: 244 pages
Publisher: LL-Publications (1 May 2008)
Language English
ISBN-10: 1905091125
ISBN-13: 978-1905091126

Pit-stop is an extraordinary horror / noir thriller. It presents Ben Larken’s imaginative concept of a place we all dwell on but hope never to reside inside: the state of limbo. What really happens when we die? The devout among us may say they have no doubts and maybe some of the ten victims of fatal accidents on Route 66 didn’t either. Some would assume our atoms are given up to be recycled, and our intelligence, memories, spirit, soul, essence? They are not electrons even if we make use of them while incorporate. The fate of us all is fascinating, and Larken works us like an expert door-to-door salesman in making us want to follow his characters, yet run away from others.

   Waking up in the Pit-Stop Grill knowing quickly that you and the other customers have recently died on the same highway, mostly in gruesome conditions, sends a chill into your stomach. How come you still have thoughts, can feel, and hear, talk to the others? Who is the waitress, Holly, laughing at their predicament, serving terminal threats with the undrinkable coffee?

   With consummate literary skill, Larken crafts each of the characters so that you believe in and care for what happens to them even those who committed evil while alive. He uses the readers’ own fear of death and purgatory, along with their imagined freak-outs to tease and make us want to turn the pages. One of the two main characters is police officer Scott Alder, who tortures his memory to figure what he’d done so bad in his life to warrant such angst. Dustin is the youth who inadvertently killed him. He realizes that and so we have the intriguing situation of a young man who although he committed plenty of minor felonies when alive, feels guilty while in limbo. Marvelous. Those two occupy most of the points of view, and that’s fine. They are different in their alive experiences but have a common post-accident goal to cheat the devil. Did I say devil? A twisted inhuman being, Ramsey, comes to the diner to collect them on his bus to hell, Incredibly, and yet believable enough to pull you, dear reader, along, the tormented souls discover they can resist the soul-gatherer. They know they can’t succeed ultimately and yet it seems as if they might. Maybe they do. Good novels have a hook in the first few pages but this premise of cheating the devil’s coachman (bus driver) is a fishing line with hooks all along to the last chapter.
There have been many stories using our intrigue over the state of limbo. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, it isn’t a pit-stop grill but a castle, but there the similarity ends. There is a kind of divine comedy in Larken’s novel in that in spite of the nail-bitingly awfulness, some of the characters are able to bolster each other’s morale and often that is with just the right balance of ironic humour.  Another literary comparison is in an episode of the Twilight Zone where a clown, soldier, dancer, Scotsman, and hobo realize the large box they are in is limbo. Pit-Stop continues with more depth and satisfying horror than that TV episode.
A neat trick rarely found in debut novelists is to allow readers to learn about the characters through the eyes of the others. By showing us their physical descriptions and foibles this way Larken avoids the info dump pen portraits writers usually load onto their readers. Thanks for that and for using original metaphors and similes. I particularly liked Holly with the teeth the colour of old paper, and cloud shadows that slid across the desert floor like sharks beneath the surface. That particular image resurfaces, so to speak, later with the soul-collecting bus; a cunning reflecting literary ploy. Well done.

I can strongly recommend this book. It will shake your faith if you have one, make you wish you had faith otherwise. As an atheist and thus knowing there’s no hell or heaven, I now believe in limbo.


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