Mark Charm is a teenage pyromaniac; he loves setting things on fire. Usually it’s only vacant houses, when he’s in a bad mood about something. Then his mother dies of cancer and he’s in a real bad mood. Time to burn down the whole neighbourhood.
The really interesting thing about this book is not so much the story I’ve just outlined, but the fact that Mark Charm is the central character – the hero. Everything is told from his perspective, and the reader is forced to sympathise with him. A welcome change from the usual nice-guy-beats-evil-guy stereotype.
Things get even stranger when Mark teams up with a girl he fancies called Jessa, who has the outlandish belief that it’s impossible for her to be killed. There’s nothing like a couple of weirdos to really keep a story interesting! But somewhere along the line, Mark finds out that there’s more to Jessa’s belief than a few loose marbles rolling around upstairs, and that’s when the weirdness factor starts to expand out of all proportion.
Once you get past the initial few chapters, this novel is a real page-turner. There’s enough material in this story that, if Stephen King had been the author, he would have filled six hundred pages. That said, Pike errs on the opposite extreme. The story is told in a mere two hundred pages, and whilst the fast pace felt good, an awful lot of detail was sacrificed. Ultimately the book felt rushed.
As the story unfolded I couldn’t help thinking that Pike had borrowed heavily from at least three popular sci-fi movies (I won’t tell you what they are, because it would spoil the story). Then, after noticing that this book was first published in 1998, I had the feeling that two of those movies weren’t released until after that year! If that’s the case, well done to Pike for getting there first.