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Onyx reviews: Bed of Nails by Michael Slade

Bed of Nails is the tenth book in Canadian author Michael Slade's Special X series of psycho-thrillers. Special X is a fictional division of the RCMP that handles crimes involving both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

Several characteristics give rise to the popularity of Slade's books, all of which come into play in Bed of Nails: gruesome murders, psychopathic killers, a clever whodunit, detailed research, intimate knowledge of state-of-the art investigative techniques and protagonists who may not survive the book. Slade's willingness to subject his series regulars to horrific abuse adds a level of nervous tension to his novels not present in most crime fiction. There's always a chance that he may decide to kill an important character that has appeared in several previous books.

Mounties aren't the only regularly appearing characters in the Special X series. Slade has cultivated a group of megalomaniacal killers who reappear every so often. In Bed of Nails, he returns to the Ripper, a deranged murderer who believes he is a reincarnation of Jack the Ripper. He also thinks that if he successfully completes a series of ritualistic slayings, he will gain access to the astral plane, where he could rampage freely through space and time.

However, the Ripper is currently confined to one of Vancouver's finest institutes for the criminally insane. To carry out his nefarious occult scheme, he enlists the help of a new minion, Goth. He also wants to exact revenge against RCMP Inspector Zinc Chandler, the man responsible for his incarceration.

Ripper knows exactly how to lure the Special X Mountie into his trap. Similar murders in Vancouver and Seattle - the crime scenes are tarot card tableaus - draw Chandler south of the border. He has a special interest in the case because the prime suspects in the first murder were killed in a car crash while fleeing from Chandler.

Carefully orchestrated clues lead him to the World Horror Convention, where two former lawyers turned rival authors are promoting novels inspired by the Vancouver murder. "Just what the world needs," says Inspector Zinc Chandler, "all its ghastly horrors convened in one place."

Slade, the pseudonym of a lawyer turned author, was Guest of Honor at a World Horror Convention in Seattle two years ago. This book is partly a tribute to his experiences at that conference and the plot was partially derived from a discussion he had with another author during a panel session. It contains numerous inside jokes and fictionalized versions of real people that will strike a chord with anyone who has attended a genre convention. (Yours truly appears as a celebrity murder victim.)

From Seattle, Chandler follows his diminishing group of suspects to Tangaroa, a South Pacific island, where the author instructs readers in the history of cannibalism, from the era of James Cook to Jeffrey Dahmer. Chandler, however, may learn about "long pork" first hand; Goth wants to consume as much of the good inspector as possible before he dies. Bed of Nails demonstrates how horror can be derived without resorting to the supernatural.

Slade never cheats by hiding clues. In taking the action to a remote island, he leaves only a few possible suspects, but he still manages to deftly manipulate readers' suspicions from one character to another and back again. The book is a roller-coaster ride across the Pacific and a superb entry in a series that is generating increasing interest outside Slade's homeland.

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