Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-61923-179-5
Max Crawford can read people’s minds and even take part in their dreams, and for the last six years, he is part of a secret program at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville. He gets into the convicts’ heads, make their relive their crimes, and in the process, lecture and nag them until they wake up feeling remorseful about their actions. Okay, it would probably seem less silly if you read this one and see Max in action. His patients mostly turn out well – they become well-behaved for the rest of their stay, and most remain model citizens once they are released.
His success rate compels the FBI to get his help in entering the head of William Knox, a suspected serial killer, and do his “I’m the shrink inside your head” thing to get that villain to confess his crimes. The FBI presses it deep a bit by telling him that his success would convince the state to keep funding his program. His wife is okay with him taking on this assignment, and… well… Max says yes. And so the story begins. Or what seems to be one.
The Monster Underneath is a story revolving around a concept, and the characters in this story are basically one-dimensional extensions of that concept. Max is the protagonist, but he doesn’t display any coherent personality. Often, he has to do this. or he thinks that. Why? Because the plot requires him to do so. But that’s okay, this is a psychological horror tale, not a character-driven drama, and I have to admit that the concept is interesting.
However, the author has Max often goes off into other cases in his past and so forth, to the point that he only genuinely interacts with Knox in the second half of the story. Everything before that is basically one long info dumping session, inserted in a manner suspiciously akin to padding, as much of the information is repeated a few times throughout the story. The author also doesn’t know when to stop. After the villain is stopped, the author throws in a last-minute revelation about his wife. What does this revelation serve to further the plot or Max’s character? Nothing, it’s just there, resembling padding a little too much.
This story is readable, but it also meanders all over the place, unable to focus tightly on its fundamental premise. As a result, the momentum never really builds up, and the story ends before the party really took off.