There aren't really any spoilers for this review but it is pretty in-depth.
Level 26: Dark Origins, a digi-book by the creator of the hugely popular forensic crime drama CSI.
What exactly is a digi-book?
Well, according to the blurb on Level26.com, "a digi-book is a multi-platform experience that moves the reader from passages in the books to videos and interactive content right on the website".
The idea behind this is unique and gives people that maybe aren't as avid a reader as some the chance to read something that will keep them intrigued and able to focus on the book with something that keeps them immersed in the pages moreso than perhaps reading a standard platform book would.
Level 26: Dark Origins tells us about the levels of "evil"; something that the reader would assume is based on, or linked with the scale that forensic psychaitrist Michael Stone talks about on the show "Most Evil".
Level 1 would be those who kill in self-defense and who do not show psychopathic features; these cases do not involve murder.
Level 22, at the highest end of the scale would be psychopaths who inflict extreme torture on their victims and then murder them.
The book goes further than this - we are told that there are in fact 25 levels - the other three are ones that law enforcement, government agencies and the FBI try their hardest to keep from our lives; in case we submit to our most basic fears and lock ourselves away.
However, there is now a new category - Level 26.
This is the category that our book deals with; taking us on a frightening journey in the mind of a mad man.
Although the novel has many characters and bit-players; I am focusing on two in this review - the characters of Steve Dark and Sqweegel.
Steve Dark is the man who has spent what feels like a lifetime to both him and the reader chasing The Monster. He followed The Monster almost to hell and back and lost family and a chunk of his life in the process. More importantly, it is revealed, he nearly lost himself - drowning himself in his own personal oblivion until something of an angelic presence pulled him up and showed him that there was something else for him.
This part of Dark is not over written; nor is it made too glaringly obvious or used as a justification on his character.
You know from the word go that Dark is plagued by his own guilt, his inner (and sometimes outer) turmoil and that the pain from his past is all too close to the surface of his skin and mind; kept hidden away and built up behind walls that only one person can (gently and slowly) take down brick by brick.
This gives Dark an almost understated, cautious and careful mannerism - something that is portrayed well by Daniel Buran.
The casting, in my opinion, was well undertaken - Buran lends a realistic and dangerous undercurrent to Dark; which subtly hints to the reader that that's the reason behind his ability to really get into the mind of those that he tracks.
Dark is reminiscient of a primal hunter; a force that is strong but not unbreakable, a presence that lives in the harsh light of day but can hide in the shadows and darkness waiting, ever-watchful and patient.
Sqweegel is our Monster; a well-written and strangely alluring character that draws you in, pulls you close and then shows you in one maniacal movement just how disturbing, horrific and twisted things are in his world.
He is a vicious, cold and calculating individual; a cruel personality seemingly without remorse, shame or sin - it is him that casts the first stone on his targets and him and him alone that seeks out vengeance on the wicked.
It is clear that this is no ordinary killer. Sqweegel is brutally clever, some would say genius and it is this combined with his knowledge of how to blend into his surroundings; how to move without detection and his mannerisms and movements that begin the
cold creeping fear settle in on the readers skin.
You want to know more, you can't help that - Sqweegel is an enigma that the you want to unravel to see what it is that drives him, makes him tick and then when you're settled into the small corner of his mind that he allows you into; you're shown something even more depraved; even more wrong and you're off, scuttling away as far as you can until that cold creeping fear has reduced and you feel that you can once more dip your toes into the dangerous waters.
Daniel Browning Smith does an excellent job of conveying the character on-screen.
His slow deliberate almost serpentine movements coupled with the sudden fast ticks and judders remind me somewhat of the effect they used on Jeffery Coombs in the 1999 remake of House on Haunted Hill - creepy and chilling.
If Dark is the primal hunter; then Sqweegel is something even older.
He is the fear that existed long before life evolved and he is the thing in the night that makes you bolt upright in bed and flip the light on to check that you really are alone in your room. Once you're calm and the light is off you remember that you're not alone - Sqweegel really could be anywhere; including, you feel, with you tucked into a corner somewhere without a trace of himself left.
This book has somewhat of an odd pacing that works well for the book.
It isn't the fast action-packed roller coaster ride that most readers would expect from a slick and sophisticated crime thriller; but what it lacks in that sophistication it more than makes up for with a steely grit that grips the reader and doesn't so much draw them in but drags them in and doesn't let go.
It does make the heart pound. Not race, but pound slowly and steadily - you feel the chilling terror that Sqweegels targets feel; you feel the cold determination that Dark feels and the courage that Sibby Dark feels can only be likened to that of a mother lioness protecting her pride and you feel them all the more with each Cyber-Bridge that the book directs you to.
As we reach the end (don't worry, I won't give it away) the pace quickens suddenly and we are almost plummeted into something so dark and desperate that we cannot quite catch our breath until the final page is turned and the final Cyber-Bridge watched.
Long after that last bridge is a feeling that I can only describe as gut-wrenching.
There is a heartbreaking symbolism, a rare moment of tender sentimentality that touches us and reminds us that although Sqweegel took us on a maddening and psychotic journey into the deranged mind of a mad man; there is and was something gentle and kind beyond that.
All in all, I would say that Level 26: Dark Origins is a uniquely interesting foray into the world of mixed media reading; a well written, well rounded and well thought out digi-novel that is a definite must-read - the second cannot come fast enough.