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Spotlight on: The Chosen by Edward Lee

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The Chosen by Edward Lee Edward Lee, The Chosen

What an awful cover! I can't imagine who Pinnacle thought the market was for Edward Lee's The Chosen to have picked such a lurid picture and tagline -- certainly not discerning horror aficionados. Lucky for me (and, in turn, for you), several other things were working against that first impression to get me to actually buy it. First, I had heard of Edward Lee through his novels -- City Infernal, its sequel Infernal Angel, and the recent Messenger -- and I knew of his reputation. More importantly, however, this book was on the clearance table for $3.99 (of course, the blurb on the back from Cemetery Dance didn't hurt, either).

One or the other would not have done it, but the combination of the two found me leaving the bookstore with it while wondering to myself if I would ever have the nerve to read it in public (I did, as it turns out, just carefully hiding the cover from passers-by). Lurid covers on crime novels often, surprisingly, designate high quality (see, for example, the Hard Case Crime series), but on a horror novel, it usually represents the worst in the genre. (The same publisher did much better by Bentley Little's The Summoning.) Fortunately, there is a truly solid scarefest in these accompanying pages; one that doesn't skimp on character or carnage.

Reputed restaurant manager Vera Abbot -- through a series of unexpected events -- takes a job managing the restaurant side of the newly opened The Inn. It is all she ever dreamed of: triple her former salary, carte blanche on spending for staff and supplies, and free room and board at the suite of her choice. Oh, sure, The Inn used to be Wroxton Hall, an asylum where noted atrocities took place, but this doesn't bother Vera.

At least not until the dreams start, and other questions need answering: Why does the room service kitchen always outperform the restaurant, and why does the owner not seem to care? What are the strange noises coming from the supposedly-empty second-floor suites? And what's up with the surly, mute housekeeping staff? Meanwhile, a pair of fetishistic hedonists named Zyra and Lemi spend their time picking up swinging couples and having their way with them. Sex and violence are inextricably intertwined, as unsuspecting victims are pleasured (usually without their consent) and killed (always without their consent) with unflinching frequency.

Edward Lee is a master of extreme erotic horror. The Chosen pulls no punches and is not likely to be appropriate for reading at mealtimes. Luckily, character is at least as important to the author as blood flow. Sure he could have written a novel full of little more than carnage, but that wouldn't be nearly as interesting as getting to know the character before they're snuffed (and that includes nearly everyone). In particular, Vera's kitchen staff -- waitress Donna, chef Dan B., and dishwasher Lee (the author's doppelganger -- Edward Lee worked as a dishwasher at age 17) -- are given a lot of page time. The usually coarse Lee is even given an especially tender storyline, complete with "love interest."

Of course, nothing is ever as it seems and, in fact, one of the best choices the author made in The Chosen is that we know something is going on at The Inn, but that we don't have a clue what is going on until the final fifty pages. Having two of the characters turn out to be the same person was a special touch of genius. This isn't necessarily the kind of stuff I like to read all the time, but when you've got a taste for it, you can't do much better.

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