Length: 216 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Alister Kunkle hasn’t spoken to a soul in over two decades. He lives in a small room in a mental institution and nobody, nor staff nor visitors, are allowed to interact with him – not even for as long as it takes to say ‘Hello’. And this is a condition that Alister Kunkle has chosen and enforced himself; because he can take no more deaths on his conscience.
Alister Kunkle is cursed – he’s a favorite of death itself. And it claims anyone and everyone who Alister knows. Even if a stranger stops to smile at him, Alister knows that he is doomed. Death takes anyone who acknowledges Alister Kunkle within the day, finally pushing him to do the only thing he can to save people – keep himself away from everybody.
But Dr. Anna Lee has a different opinion. She wants to meet Alister Kunkle and won’t take no for an answer. When the hospital staff is left helpless in front of her influence and position, she gets her way; and meets Alister. Alister knows that she is a dead woman walking from the moment she greeted him. Not speaking with her won’t change that. So, he answers her questions, and tells her that she has a few hours at the most before death claims her. When she leaves that evening, nobody expects her to be able to keep her word and return the following morning. But she does. And Alister is finally able to hope that maybe, just maybe, death has given up its hold on him. But has death truly given up its association with Alister? Or has it finally come to him in the form of a woman, ready to claim his life? Or is it as Dr. Anna says – is Alister not cursed, but only insane?
Although I give this book a 4 star rating, there are many things that it doesn’t have going for it. In fact, these are enough to really pull its rating down. The first problem was the few errors that came up in the book, grammatical and structural. Added to that was Rommel’s quirky way of writing where random dialogues seem like they came from a historical or fantasy book, instead of a psychological thriller – sometimes, the dialogue was crisp, and at others, it was drawn out in a very text-bookish manner. That contradiction made the conversation quite tedious in some spots. A similar contradiction is visible in the narration, where some scenes are really well written and some just manage to tell you what’s happening.
Another point that left me wanting more was the end. Although the book ends satisfactorily enough, I felt like it could have done with a couple of pages more, something that really explains everything. Maybe it’s just a thing with psychological thrillers to be slightly open ended or cryptic, but I think the end needed just a smidgen more than it gave.
And yet, with all its flaws, the book demands a 4 star rating.
The book begins peacefully enough – if blood doesn’t bother you too much, that is. It sets off at the center of the action and doesn’t really let up at any point. It keeps moving at a really good speed, making you turn the pages continuously; and you’ll probably go through it in one evening or a day at the most.
The fright quotient varies in the first half. There are some extremely scary and chilling parts, while the other parts are neutral. But the suspense is held throughout, never once allowing you to stop wondering, what is the enigma that is Alister Kunkle?
As the book progresses though, it starts getting quite creepy. From around two thirds in, you are going to feel the chills up your spine that won’t really go away. And then, it just gets better. It gets creepier, more vivid, and shocking, until you can feel yourself wishing you could read faster so you could know what happens next. Even the end, which in my opinion needed a bit more, adds to the sense to which it leads up.
What the book really has going for it is its story. You never really know how it’s going to end right up until the last page. Rommel keeps you gripped effortlessly and the story unfolds really well. In my opinion, a great debut by an author who shows tremendous potential. It does justice to the fear factor, gore factor, and suspense factor that you would expect from such a book. I bought the book because I’d heard of the movie adaptation and was intrigued by the blurb. That being said, I’m not watching the movie! The pictures that the book paints were vivid enough to be intensely creepy, and they left me looking over my shoulder for the rest of the evening which was followed by a disturbed night. There is no way I’m watching someone else’s interpretation that just might be scarier! But the book is definitely worth a read. And I will surely read more of Rommel’s work, especially the Thanatology series. His work flows really well when it is in the depth of the genre and is meant to scare the reader – clearly, he’s found his niche. And I guess the rest will fall into place. If you’ve been wanting to try a thriller, The Cursed Man is as good a place to start, as long as you’re willing to overlook some of the obvious problems. And if you’re a fan of the psychological thriller genre, then Keith Rommel is worth one shot at least.