4.0 out of 5 stars Taken the crime drama to a new level
As the creator and producer of all three CSI franchised shows, Anthony E. Zuiker needs no introduction. However, in addition to being an accomplished television producer, he's also an accomplished author. His novel, Level 26: Dark Origins, is a diginovel--a novel with an accompanying website that mirrors the events of the novel. Every few chapters, readers can use a...
Published on June 14, 2011 by Shroud Magazine's Book Reviews
41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting concept that is damaged by a less-than-stellar plot...
Interesting concept, but a plot that left much to be desired... Level 26: Dark Origins by Anthony E. Zuiker and Duane Swierczynski. This book showed up at the local library, and the concept was enough to draw me in... The book is termed a "digi-novel", in that there are a number of website video vignettes that are supposed to add to the overall story. For instance, an...
Published on September 27, 2009 by Thomas Duff
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting concept that is damaged by a less-than-stellar plot...,
Interesting concept, but a plot that left much to be desired... Level 26: Dark Origins by Anthony E. Zuiker and Duane Swierczynski. This book showed up at the local library, and the concept was enough to draw me in... The book is termed a "digi-novel", in that there are a number of website video vignettes that are supposed to add to the overall story. For instance, an international conference call is held to update the status on finding the killer. The web-based video shows the actual call as the author envisioned it. You can read the story without referencing the website at all, but it's supposed to add to the overall experience.
That's the "interesting concept" part of the book. The story itself is grotesque crime horror, but leaves quite a bit to be desired. Murderers are assigned a classification level based on the types of killers and their motivation. The high-end of this scale is level 25. But as the title would indicate, there's one killer who is more evil and horrific than any other in history, hence the level 26 classification. Many over the years have gone after this killer, nicknamed "Squweegel", but only one has come close... Steve Dark. But Dark lost his foster family to Squweegel in a particular nasty killing, so he's out of the picture. That is, until the secret government unit assigned to tracking down killers coerces him back into the game. Dark is pretty sure he's not going to cave into their demand, but Squweegel has different ideas. A few well-timed incidents proves to Dark that Squweegel is again after him, and Dark has no choice but to go back on offense to protect all that he's gained since his life was nearly destroyed the first time.
First off, a warning... If you don't like gruesome explicit violence, pass on this. It's graphic. With that out of the way, there are other reasons you may not want to read it. For instance, the plot has enough holes to drive a truck through. I never did learn *why* Squweegel had the mission and motivation he had for killing those he targeted. Childhood trauma? Who knows... if it was out there, I missed it. Next, there's no clue as to where Squweegel gets his money to support his crime habit over the years. He's able to go wherever he wants, plant electronic devices all over the place, monitor them 24/7, but how? And this dark agency that hunts down the killer... If someone fails on their mission or turns down an assignment, the head of the agency has him killed... say what? And the videos? Some are OK, but a few border on overly-ripe cheezy. Those issues, and a few others, made it difficult for me to really *like* the book. Yes, I did finish it in less than a day, as I wanted to know how it turned out. But did it have a compelling story and plot? Not so much...
Bonus star for the guts and effort to try something different. But it's not enough to bail out a plot that would be better suited for a 45 minute episode of a weekly crime series, not a full-length novel.
47 of 55 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Major Disappointment,
This book was disappointing on several levels. First, it should be advertised as "produced by Anthony E. Zuiker" as it appears that the actual author is Duane Swierczynski. Mr Zuiker seems to be cashing in some of his TV credibility based on the success of the CSI franchise to create some sort of social networking site based on a series of books, this being the "pilot". Sorry Mr. Zuiker: after my initial order of one episode, you are on the cancellation list. As other reviewers have noted, following the links provided in the books to see the interactive/internet portions of the novel is not a simple matter of typing the address into your browser and going right to the material. You have to register with a valid e-mail address, and even then you aren't given access to the material: you have to join their community. Appears to be a marketing data mining effort.
Second, in my opinion, the book isn't well written. The 406-page book is chopped up into 107 chapters! Great for readers with attention deficit syndrome, I guess, but not so good for character and plot development (there was none). The main character, the serial killer nicknamed Sweegel isn't believable at all and you really learn nothing about the character that would explain his financial independence, technological expertise, or the reason behind his God-complex killing spree. You are asked to believe that this fellow jets around the world killing people with ease, physically overpowering and out-maneuvering victims and special agents alike, planting technologically advanced monitoring devices within the most elite government agencies, and physically fitting into and out of spaces and situations with ease, all while being described as an "emaciated, ghost-thin man" and "a five-foot, six-inch, 126-pound stick bug". There really is no mystery to solve; the reader just follows the run of the narrative that takes us through his killing spree based on some sort of competition with the hero Steve Dark. In stereotypical fashion, the hero is forced to deal with tragedy and loss while battling not only the serial killer, but the evil high-ranking government official who routinely orders the deaths of anyone that fails an assignment or displeases him. Gosh, a Secretary of Defense that uses the Vice-President's plane, has a secret team of government assassins at his beck and call and is overbearingly ruthless and evil - was Jon Stewart consulted on this?
Third, the book was poorly researched and edited. There are so many holes in the book that just defy common sense and mistakes that could have been easily corrected if ANYONE had bothered to review and check the material. The one that was the most glaring to me was the sequence in the United Methodist Church and the subsequent deaths of the "priests". The Methodist Church has ministers and pastors, not priests; I'll leave it at that. Another reviewer has done an excellent job of pointing these mistakes out.
Something non-related to the book also bothers me. On another site, there have been numerous over-the-top positive reviews in the reader/member review section that make me wonder if the reviews are not being salted by people associated with the book and site. Here is one example of a "member" review I found:
>>The story is not gorey but plays on your own imagination instead. It gives you just enough details to set your mind off on picturing for yourself what happened. The suspense, the story, the cyber-bridges, forum, and website all contribute to this not-to-be-missed edge-of-your-seat page-turner! Beware: you may want to read it near a computer so you can easily jump on to watch the video clips, but it IS NOT NECESSARY to watch the cyber-bridges in order to enjoy this book! They are meant to enhance the experience, not 'complete' it! But is strongly recommended that you partake :) (yes, there will be questions at the end of the book....book 2 is coming in 2010 and book 3 in 2011, so expect a cliffhanger and don't let that distract you from enjoying!)<<
Hmmmm, how would a regular reader know the rollout schedule of Book 2 and Book 3?
49 of 58 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars If The Hardy Boys Were Former Alcoholics and Chasing Murderers...,
Allow me to start by saying two very crucial things: The first being, I will be spoiling parts of the so-called "plot". The second being, I am very tired and sleep deprived from working all night (god bless 3rd shift), BUT LET IT BE KNOWN MY HATRED OF THIS BOOK OUTWEIGHS MY NEED OF SLEEP.
*SPOILERS AHEAD* (I'm saying it twice to be thorough)
So, to start-I REALLY wanted to like this book. To such an extent, I was telling family and friends about it's upcoming release. The story sounded awesome and the online media seemed to be a swell idea. NOW, I have to apologize to every person I hyped the book to (my bad), because it is a far cry from what I expected.
For starters- let's examine the biggest cliche in the book: OUR MAIN CHARACTER. Steve Dark, a (former) "special" agent who loses it all, goes mildly insane, goes rogue, battles booze, blah,blah,blah...Can I be the first to say, Mr. Zuiker might as well have called him Doomy McDoom n' Gloom? Seriously, everything about Steve Dark made me hate him, even his name. Why? Because this type of character has appeared in stories of this genre for YEARS. (Max Payne?) The tortured soul, we get it. It's overdone. And to make matters worse, he's the only agent who ever got close to catching the villain a few years ago, nobody else in the present day wants to attempt catching him, and they pull the "nobody-else-will-do-it-Steve,-please-come-out-of-retirement-and-alcoholism-and-find-the-killer" card.
Next, we have the relationship between the killer (I'd spell his name but for the life of me can't remember how-oh well), Schqweguall and Dark. Have you ever heard the term Cat and Mouse? Good. Well, let's take that term, and BEAT IT TO DEATH WITH A RUBBER MALLET. Seriously, Dark is always one step behind, and Sasquatch is always two steps ahead with impossible technology, Cirque De Soleil escapes, and a knack for tacky buisness attire. After SO MANY PAGES of Swiffer escaping or evading or whatever he does, it got old. And of course, Dark LOSES HIS MIND AND SELF-ESTEEM (sort of).
*Plot spoliers! WOO!* You ever see the movie Seven? Oh, you didn't? Well-there's a killer goin around (played by the wonderful Kevin Spacey) and he's murdering people based off...the seven deadly sins! GREAT MOVIE (but that's a review for another day). Well, not to be outdone by such genius ideas, Mr. Zuiker takes it upon himself to have the killer have his artwork framed upon the 7 Virtues...I'll let that soak in. And in case you're wondering, the murders/crimes/etc... are very LOOSELY based on them. I understand, nearly every idea under the sun has been done, but this was inexcusable. Did he think we forgot that movie was ever around? THE ENDING IS THE SAME FOR CRYING OUT LOUD (save a few minor differences...and I mean VERY MINOR),
HA! Speaking of me spoiling plot (this will be humorous, because I'm spoiling Zuiker's plot spoiler!), I want to take a moment to mention, if you are writing a book and have a HUGE plot twist NOBODY is gonna see coming *clears throat* DON'T FRIGGIN' HINT TOWARDS IT IN THE FIRST FIFTY PAGES! Seriously, I nearly threw the book across the room when I read a certain line in the first portion of the book. *SPOILER* When it is hinted that Smiegel impregnated Dark's wife, I was OUTRAGED. Why? Because that was such an AWESOME twist, no matter the outcome, but he used it so dang early in the book! Had that occurred later on, say two-thirds of the way through, I would have been FLOORED. But, Mr. Zuiker thinks this is an episode of CSI and all cards have to be on the table in forty minutes before the last commericial break.
The Internet videos...what can I say? They were kinda creepy at first, but about five videos into the story, they progressively get worse and worse and OH MY GOD THEY GET WORSE. (Note-when I say worse, I don't mean gruesome or graphic. I mean, the acting is bad. The graphics are cheesy. And if you can't do it right, don't do it.) BUT, the first few videos are cool...so, I guess that's good right?
Okay, now to the main heart of my blood curdling scream of an argument against this book: the idea of content vs. writing style. When I spotted this book on amazon a few weeks before it's release, it seemed like a fairly adult book. I wasn't expecting something TOO difficult to read, but I was expecting at the very least, a challenge. Let me put it this way- it is a very accessible book. The reading is very easy- 12 to 13 year olds could read this (god forbid). HOWEVER, my complaint is that the content of the book is very adult. So, you have a writing style that doesn't mesh with the content. (As my title states-) If the Hardy Boys were former alcoholics and chasing murderers, THIS WOULD BE THEIR BOOK. I felt confused. Is this intended for adults or kids? If it's adults-fix your dialogue, up the ante when it comes to vocabulary, and make it longer. If it's kids, take out the scene with three teenage boys and make Dark wear a leather jacket.
Overall, this book failed to meet any expectations I had. I wanted to like it so badly, but it's like the author had a bunch of "yes-men" telling him he's a literary genius...there are so many things wrong with this book, and trust me, if I could write another fifteen paragraphs, I would. BUT, I'm tired and Amazon won't let me.
The saddest part about the whole darn thing, Zuiker's coming out with two other books in this series, and I'll still buy them, read them, (probably) hate them, and return them two days later. Because I, much like Steve Dark, have a knack for torturing myself.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Just Plain Crappy,
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Much has been made of the whole "digi-novel" concept and all, but many have neglected to mention the fact that this book is terrible. I am a big fan of mystery fiction in general, and serial killer fiction in particular, so when I saw that 'the scale of evil' was being used in a novel, I jumped on it. Turns out that this book is the most turgid piece of trash I have read since James Patterson started having other people writing his novels. (not that his own books were much better, with some exceptions) It is a compilation of all the worst clichés present in the genre. First of all, I'm getting really tired of hearing about how 'this killer is the worst we've ever seen', 'crimes too terrible to believe', etc. It's like watching horror movie trailers. The content cannot live up to the advertising. Secondly, I'm beyond sick of 'the damaged cop who never recovered from the blah blah blah...' it's been done to death, it has lost all value. We don't care. Third, the killer himself is completely unoriginal, serving as a plot device that keeps people busy in the novel. Not to mention the fact that no explanation whatsoever is given to this guys motives or any other facet of his personality. Like, he rubs four and a half sticks of butter all over himself before putting on his suit (yuck) but we get no explanation for this. As well as the fact that he can jetset around the world offing people, have multiple underground lairs, bug the FBI, yadda yadda. To me, it seems like the people behind this trainwreck of a novel came up with the idea of tying it into the internet in lieu of actually writing some decent fiction. Which brings me to the 'digi-novel' aspect. It sucks. The last thing on earth I want to do when I'm sitting comfortably in my easy chair reading is get up, go to the computer, log on to a freaking website, put in a CODE for crissakes, and watch a badly acted, meaningless clip of video. After the time I logged in just to get 'an email from Sqweegel' I gave up watching them. A fake phone with a fake text message displayed on it? For real? Anyway, just avoid this book. It sucks, the 'cyber-bridges' or whatever suck, and I'm pissed that I was dumb enough to buy it before I read any reviews for it.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Way Too Many Errors and Lapses of Common Sense....,
For a novel depicting the most sophisticated serial killer in history, written by the creator of one of the most factually-correct shows on TV (CSI), I was disappointed that the story contained so many glaring errors and often appeared so contrary to common sense. Spoiler Alert: the following remarks are intended only for people who have already read the book.
1) Page 19: Why 4 1/2 sticks of butter? This would be a thick layer that would immediately melt from body heat, leaving a trail of melted butter, or, even more absurd, the lower legs of the latex suit would fill up and slosh around clownishly. Why butter at all? Why not talcum powder? It simply makes no sense. Just put on the darned suit and commit mayhem. Also on page 107 you would NEVER be able to walk by two sleeping dogs. Anyone who has dogs knows that they can hear your heartbeat and breathing from 50 feet away, let alone smell you, particularly if you are marinating in 4 1/2 sticks of hot, melted butter.
2) The glass cutting on page 106 has several errors. One, no substance on earth including diamonds will cut "1mm" deep into glass with hand pressure. Two, scratching a circle on glass does not magically cut it for removal with suction cup. You have to tap, hard, around the perimeter to make a crack that follows the scratch. This would awaken everyone in the neighborhood. The described method of getting through glass simply does not work anywhere but in movies and some books. Ask any glass cutter. Three, it's a "double-paned" window, necessitating two cuttings, not just the one described.
3) Page 190: Broom handles are not 2" wide, this would be like sweeping with a log. They are generally 7/8" in diameter. The bat is said to have a "width" of 6" "around". Width is not "around", circumference is around. No bat has a width of 6" it would look like a caveman's club and kill the sodomized boys, not simply embarrass them.
4) Page 276: The "coolant" system in an automobile refers to the radiator, water, and water pump (look it up or ask a mechanic). The author meant the air conditioning system.
5) Page 313: The "vaginal cavity" was dilated 6 cm. It is not the vaginal cavity but the cervix which dilates prior to birth. See any episode of ER.
6) Page 401: Brenda Condor peels away her courier uniform to reveal a business suit underneath. This is absurd on many levels. Why would she do this? How can a courier uniform effectively conceal a business suit? Is she also a quick-change artist, moonlighting in magic shows? Why can't she simply carry on her mission in the courier uniform? I really think this passage was as silly and unnecessary as the 4 1/2 sticks of butter. Also, her name seems a bit over the top. How about Jenny Schwartz, or isn't that dark and mysterious enough? You already have a hero who is so dark he is named Steve Dark. How much darkness do we need?
7) Page 326: The waterbottle trick in which Constance somehow cuts and reassembles three water bottles into a watertight vessel with a hidden compartment in the middle, containing the secret message, all with just some "rubber cement", and under close surveillance all the while. This is absurd and completely unnecessary. Why couldn't she simply write the message on the label and throw the bottle away to be retrieved by Dark's messenger? Why the needless, absurd, and virtually impossible complexity? See Rube Goldberg.
8) Page 392: Wycoff, in a fit of compassion, has already exposed the existance of his teenage girlfriend and illigitimate son to all of the "Special Circs" operatives, facing certain punishment, even in DC where such shenanagans are commonplace. He is now very concerned about the fate of this "son". None of this is in keeping with his character. He is a cold-hearted murderer. The moment his teenage mistress became pregnant, endangering his career, he would have had her eliminated. He has already ordered countless executions with far less motivation, since when did he become a doting father? This goes completely against character, and is quite amateurish.
9) Page 393: How does the "sacrifice" of Bob Dohman in any way conceal the guilt of Wycoff? Would anyone in their right mind simply feel that since old Bob was suddenly dead, the complex problem was resolved? Corpses everywhere, millions spent, innumerable witnesses, slaughtered teenage mistresses, bastard sons....yep, it must have been old Bob all along. Never mind that he was probably thousands of miles away at the time. This is absurdly simplistic and makes no sense at all.
10) Page 166: The clergy of the Hollywood United Methodist Church consists of "priests". As a Methodist myself, I simply cannot recall any priests being around on Sunday. Perhaps they were all at the Catholic church down the street. Also, what a great coincidence that there were exactly 6 priests present to incinerate. Imagine if good old Father O'Mally had a spell of rheumatism and couldn't make it that night....the whole poem would have been meaningless. Instant re-write: "Five will burn alive". Absurdly favorable coincidence simply cannot pass for good plot construction.
11) Pages 308 to 311: Sqweegel resorts to midwife remedies Mexican food and laxatives to initiate Sibby's labor. Come on....for the greatest criminal mind in history, he is incredibly dense. Every school boy who watches ER knows a number of reliable medical methods, including oxytocin, to initiate labor. This section showed inadequate research and contradicted the feverish attempts to make Sqweegel appear invincible and all-knowing. A simple Google search would have come up with better methods to initiate birth, including the far more likely Caesarian section. Sqweegel liked to slash people and had no interest in preserving Sibby's life, so why not simply extract the baby with a chainsaw and/or hedge clippers?
12) Page 87: The Timex watch is described as an old, mechanical (wind-up) watch. The picture on page 92 shows it as being quartz. Quartz would make more sense, since it could lay under a tire for a long time as a motion sensor, while the mechanical watch would require stealthy re-winding every 24 hours.....which would be pretty silly. But more importantly, why was it left under Dark's tire at all? Obviously Sqweegel had unlimited surveillance methods and certainly wouldn't have to resort to an old, trite private investigator trick used by Jack Nicholson in Chinatown.
13) Page 151: It appears that Squeegel intends his text message to distract Sibby and cause a dramatic accident. How does he know that it will not kill "his" child and her, ruining his plans? Can he control the outcome of automobile collisions by some invisible means? He really must be a diabolical, albeit butter-soaked, super-villain. Another amateurish and absurdly favorable coincidence that makes for weak plot structure.
I will stop at 13 because more will be overkill. Perhaps some of my criticisms are subjective, but I contend they are still troublesome and have no place in a book touted to depict the most sophisticated mass murderer in history, written by the creator of one of the most factually-correct series on television. That said, I did enjoy parts of the book, but feel that a lot of additional editing, originality, and revision would have improved it greatly.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Should have been fantastic, nope....terrible,
The book seemed like a no-brainer: I love CSI, as well as the other author's work, sounds like a good thriller, neat concept with the whole Digi-book thing. Book is terrible, I mean absolutely terrible. It shouldn't of been, the foundation for what could have been a great, fun read was there. The problem is the constant resorting to shock value. The graphic descriptions of torture and violence are just over the top. Not 1, not 2, but 3 infants involved in or witnessing horrible, violent situations. It's just too much and is just in there for shock value's sake, it doesn't move the story. We get it, the bad guy is a bad guy, do we need to describe another brutal torture/rape/murder to get the idea? Or worse watch the snuff video during one of the online components of the book. Bottom line: if you like violent, graphic sick stuff you'll like this book. If you're a fan of CSI, you're not going to like this book, it lacks the intellegence and depth of character that CSI has.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't waste your time or money,
This book's main claim to fame is the "Digi-Novel" concept. A gimmick that hides lack of substance. Would you see Walter Mosley or Trevanian Or Thomas Harris resorting to videos (VIDEOS!) to assist in story telling? How many times have you heard people say, "I liked the movie but the book was better?" Do you really think cheesy video vignettes will IMPROVE the book?
Not that the plot of the book is any great shakes. Boring, tried and true evil dude with a tortured anti-hero trying to solve and eventually capture the freak. New, story line, yes? Oh wait and some thing bad happens to the people close to the anti-hero. Ooooh original!
If liked this book, you might want to move up a notch and try,say, Encyclopedia Brown for a mystery novel. Much more entertaining.
Don't bother with this book. I want my money and more importantly, my time back.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Interesting gimmick, bad book, worse execution.,
I picked this up because it was "the first diginovel", and I'm a technophile, so why not. Here's why not: Imagine watching a movie. The main character is a detective chasing one of the most dangerous serial killers ever. The serial killer sends a movie clip on a USB stick for the detective to watch. Just as the detective goes to put the stick into her laptop, she turns, looks directly into the camera and says "if you want to know what was on the USB stick, turn to page 43 in your book." The movie waits for a few seconds and the picks up with the detective talking to her partner about how incredibly awful the images in the movie were.
That's the way this book goes. You read the text until it comes to some point and then you're supposed to go online to watch a short film clip. Even if you happen to be near a computer at the time (and not, say, reading while on a break from work), the clips are not that insightful. But the book is consistently written so that you will get the impression you're missing something important unless you view the clips.
So, the diginovel thing didn't work out. What about the story itself? Meh. The author is the original creator of CSI. This story should have been saved for one of the CSI episodes as a long running arc (like the miniature killer from the original CSI). There is enough development in the story and pacing to sustain that. The book itself just seems to fall flat.
The good news is it's a quick read and won't take more than a few days to work through. The bad news is the ending is a desperate hope to be the start of a series.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Over-Rated and Disappointing,
I'm a big fan of this genre and greatly enjoy CSI. I was really looking forward to reading this book and experiencing the combination of literature, film, and digital interactive technology. So I was very disappointed at the sketchy, predictable plot and poor quality of writing. The online video, which should have added to the storyline, actually was redundant. As for the interactive technology, there was none, unless you count logging onto a website and clicking the play button on a video. It did not add much to the quality of the book and did not heighten suspense, but detracted from it. Those who have iTouch will not be able to access the videos, so keep near your computers, because you will need to access them about every 20 pages. The person who described being scared by a text message from the serial killer was referring to watching a video of a fake text message from a hand drawn cell phone which you view online. Hardly frightening. Dean Koontz, Stephen King, James Patterson, Vince Flynn, and J.D. Robb have nothing to worry about. Purchase their books instead. You will have well-developed characters that you will actually come to care about along with good storylines that have many twists and unexpected turns, unlike this book.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Really, really awful.,
I like many of the 1 star reviewers wanted to really like this book. The subject matter is right up my alley, but ultimately the book was a let down and made me chuckle several times at how serious it was taking itself.
This is most definitely a library book if you even want to waste your time.
If you do decide to waste your time, don't bother with the web site. It too takes itself way to seriously and as a previous 1 star reviewer stated, your own imagination can give you better clips of what happens next than the clips you are supposed to view.
Overall, I wish that I could give it a negative star review or zero stars.
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Level 26: Dark Origins by Duane Swierczynski (Audio CD - September 8, 2009)
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