Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Scott & Rose, Mirror Image (2016)

Michael Scott & Melanie Ruth Rose, Mirror Image. Tor Books, 2016. Pp. 352. ISBN 978-0-7653-8522-2. $25.99 hc/$12.99 e.

Reviewed by Rachel Verkade

There have always been legends and stories about mirrors. From the magic mirror that Snow White’s evil stepmother chanted into to the mystic pool of Galadriel to the dark glass hidden in the back of a museum in Stephen King’s The Reaper’s Image, it seems that ever since mankind had thought to polish a piece of reflective metal the consequences of gazing too deeply within occurred to them. And the latest consequences come in the form of Mirror Image, a dark horror novel coming to us from authors Michael Scott and Melanie Ruth Rose.

Jonathan Frazer is an antiques dealer who finds a huge, centuries old mirror at a London auction. Recognising the price that such a large piece of Elisabethan glass could command, he purchases the item and has it shipped to his luxurious home in California. But almost immediately, things start to go wrong. Jonathan’s friend and trusted employee is literally crushed to death while working to restore the glass. Information about the mirror seems to be there one moment and gone the next. A ruthless, scarred man is dogging Jonathan’s footsteps. And with each unfortunate occurrence, more haunting and disturbing images appear in the glass, bringing with them the face of a strange woman.

It’s your basic story of a cursed object, purchased by a man seeking profit and/or amusement and with no idea of what he has awakened. And overall, the tale flows quite well. Events move swiftly from one to the other, with exposition woven naturally into the overall narrative. Descriptions are vivid and compelling, especially with regards to gore, and for the most part the characters’ actions seem natural and understandable (with the exception of a few moments handwaved away by “the mirror made them do it,” but I can forgive that, save for one that I’ll mention later). And some of the best parts of the book come in the form of little vignettes describing random victims of the mirror’s malice, which give a real feel for the characters involved just in time for the full wrath of the curse to come down on them, leaving the reader startled and disturbed. It’s a technique I’ve seen before, but if you’re going to imitate anyone it might as well be the literal King of horror, right?

With all of that said, is this a good book?

Don’t get me wrong, there are some very good aspects to it, and I certainly enjoyed myself reading it, but I don’t think it’s one I’m going to be picking up and delving back into anytime soon. The biggest issue that I had is with the characters. I can’t think of a single one of them that felt like much more than a cardboard cutout. The everyman protagonist slowly being corrupted. The superficial money-and-sex-hungry ice queen wife. The slutty but still Daddy’s girl at heart daughter. The lady police officer in a man’s world. The ruthless maverick who lost everything to the evil object and will now do anything to stop it. You could almost fill out a bingo card. And paradoxically, my favourite character, the lady cop, was also the one that annoyed me the most. It seemed like every second paragraph about her had to mention how hard she’d had to work to be taken seriously, she was a woman in a man’s job, she had it so much harder than her male colleagues. I have no doubt that these are genuine and serious issues, but it was being sledgehammered into every bloody line about her. Oh, every line that didn’t mention how masculine and “mannish” her appearance and demeanor were. I’m not sure if the authors were trying to avoid stereotyping by also making it clear that she was not a lesbian, but again, the lack of subtlety in it all had me gritting my teeth. Oh, and because she isn’t married and seemed so un-feminine, one of the characters assumes that she must be a virgin. Lesbianism doesn’t count or wasn’t even considered, nor was the idea that maybe she’d had a sex life of her own. The character in question wasn’t exactly in his right mind at the moment, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth.

The whole deal with the characters honestly felt clumsy to me, and that’s a good word for quite a few problems that I had with the book. For some reason the ancient astrologer/magician John Dee was shoehorned in there two-thirds of the way through the story, and even later we had some Greek monsters shoved in for good measure. An error by one of the main antagonists that still boggles me (you’ve been researching this for decades and you didn’t realise she had to be a virgin? Really?), as does the mirror’s sudden ability to erase financial records and memories. The appearance and disappearance of a few characters without a word of explanation… particularly the women.

That’s, I think, the major problem that I had with the book. I find it a bit hard to believe that one of the authors is a woman, because most of the issues with the characters are exemplified with the females among them. There are only three main characters that have any sort of depth to them, Frazer himself, the scarred man, and the lady cop. There are plenty of other women in the dramatis personae, but they’re so two dimensional they’re nearly translucent. I mentioned the bitch queen wife and the slutty daughter already, but there’s also the reliable-but-slightly-rebellious-you-can-tell-by-her-makeup assistant (she only lasted two chapters), the scarred man’s woman-in-the-refrigerator wife, the lady cop’s niece who comes in at the last minute for no other reason than to be a victim, and most egregious of all, one of the main antagonists. This woman features throughout the entirety of the book, and we not only find out nothing about her background or character (except that she likes to be naked), but she’s never even given a name. This is explained in the afterword by saying the name of the historical person she was (very) loosely based on is still unknown, but this really doesn’t cut the mustard with me.

This is not a bad book, not by any means. In fact, I quite enjoyed reading it and rushed through the climax in one satisfying gulp. But let me put it this way; had I gotten this out from the library, I would have returned it and not given it a second thought, and had I bought it myself, it might be on the pile to go to the local charity shop. A good, fun, quick read, but don’t expect anything of real substance.

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