"Paranormal thriller" is a category of novel that covers a lot of ground. On the same shelf you'll find murder mysteries where the occult is simply window dressing that a killer uses to hide their crimes right next to straight-up ghost stories that start with unexplained phenomena and end, typically, with an untidy pile of corpses. Cracking open a book from this shelf "on spec", so to speak, is to play a particularly broad game of chance. That's exactly what I did, however, when I agreed to accept the assignment to review Nine Zero One Three, the 2023 release from author Timothy Roderick. Luckily for me, some surprises are pleasant ones.
The action takes place (mainly) on Catalina Island, California. If you aren't from around there or just haven't heard of it, placing your story there immediately grounds it in certain ways. It's a small island renowned for its wildlife and natural scenery both above and beneath the waves. The population of humans there lingers in the low thousands, enough to sustain one actual town and a second, unincorporated enclave. Not to turn this into a geography report, but to the potential readers out there I think it's worth knowing; Nine Zero One Three has the same sort of claustrophobic dread to it that a particularly gruesome locked-room mystery would have. Gruesome? Heavens, yes. We've got a decapitation while the pages are still in the single digits. Granted, the worst of it happens "off screen" and, in fact, much of the violence plays out that way. Particularly squeamish readers might fare well with this book, so long as they only twitch at gore "in action," as it were. That said, there are corpses aplenty and characters facing all manner of gruesome sights and imagined images.
So, ok, bloody but not ultra-violent, but is it any GOOD?
Yes! Mr. Roderick knows his way around the English language and uses it evocatively. He paints a nuanced picture of life in 1976 in this small town, including the tenacious way that the nascent gay subculture clung on against all odds. I don't know that the book ought to be branded as "LGBTQIA+ fiction", but it's a prominent theme and to my eyes, at least, handled well. The occult portions of the story feature prominently, and here the author's decades of experience learning and writing about a variety of practices serves him well. I should note here that I do not include any practices from the Caribbean in my own life and am speaking only as an amateur student of the subject. That said, there certainly isn't the feel of caricature at any point, and these practices do feature very prominently. The mystery within the book is probably the weakest part, but then the author doesn't even bill the book *as* a mystery, so no harm there. What he does call the book is a 'paranormal thriller,' and I can attest to being quite creeped out at many sections, morbidly fascinated by what was coming next. In other words, Nine Zero One Three does what it says on the tin.
~review by Wanderer
Author: Timothy Roderick
Timothy Roderick, 2023
296 pp., $13.95