I’m not sure it’s a common lesson in the fiction I read or just fiction in genre, but I’ve noticed an awful lot of books that warn readers not to mess with things they discovered because there are always consequences. There’s Dr. Faustus, of course, and Jurassic Park. Actually, a lot of Michael Crichton fits here. There’s Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series. And now there’s J. Lincoln Fenn’s The Nightmarchers. In this incarnation of the “don’t play with that thing you found” genre-let, a botanist in the 1930s discovered something on a Pacific island somewhere near Hawai’i that has remarkable properties. Decades later, her great-niece Julia returns to the island to figure out what happened in return for a payout that will help her reclaim her daughter from her ex-husband.
Julia Greer is at the end of her rope when we meet her after a longish prologue that sets up the original discovery of a MacGuffin by Irene Greer. Julia is flat broke, unemployed, and suffering from terrible depression after her sudden, acrimonious divorce from her wealthy husband. Because she has no options left, she takes up a strange offer by her surviving great-aunt, a scientist who wants her to travel to Kapu, where Irene apparently went mad and died all those years ago. Julia will be rewarded with money beyond her wildest dreams if she can recover Irene’s body and take samples of the plants Irene was studying before her death. It’s odd, but Julia is desperate to get her child back. She says yes and is whisked away to Kapu.
In Irene’s day, Kapu was home to a small group of unidentified Polynesians; a pious, white Evangelical preacher; and an unsettling orphan named Agnes. In Julia’s day, Kapu is still home to the descendants of the Polynesians and the preacher—who have essentially become a cult—and the “spiritually healing” resort for the ultra-rich that the cult runs. The visitors are not allowed to take photos or souvenirs. They have to surrender their electronic devices on arrival. They are not allowed to talk to anyone except one member of the cult. It’s all very strange, but people put up with it because some of the guests have make impossible recoveries from cancers and such after a short stay on the island.
Most of The Nightmarchers is a speedy unravelling of historical and scientific mysteries. Julia and the other visitors to the island are only on Kapu for about a day before things start to go horribly wrong. There’s a vaguely plausible scientific explanation for it all, but this seems to function as a slight foundation for all kinds of running amok. The Nightmarchers didn’t gel for me; there was a little too much going on. I enjoyed the parts in which Irene and Julia connect to the island, but the parts about the cult were not fully realized and the villains might have made a stop or two on the way in from central casting before taking up their parts as single-minded, evil scientists.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 1 October 2018.