14 is definitely my favourite of Peter Clines’s books—and I almost didn’t read it. I found a copy at the library sale a couple of years ago, shortly after I read The Junkie Quatrain. I’d liked Clines’ take on zombies and had enjoyed his characters. They fairly leapt off the page and though the stories were short, there was an incredible depth to them, as if I was reading about people I knew, or had known.
Earlier this year I was offered a copy of The Fold to read for review. Snapped it up, read it, loved it, reviewed it. 14 continued to languish on my TBR bookcase, largely ignored. Although the cover had first caught my attention, it also sort of put me off. It looked like a horror novel and I don’t really read horror.
Ex-Heroes was an Audible Daily Deal. I bought it, listened to it and quite liked it. Not as much as Clines’ other stuff, but it had all the good parts—relatable characters and deep story lines. But…zombies. I dunno. Clines’ zombies are cool. They’re different. And I really liked the hero aspect, but at the time of reading, I didn’t love the book. Might have been zombie overload.
Looking back after having read 14, I like it better. Why? Because I more clearly see what it is about Clines’ work that pulls me in so quickly and keeps me reading long after my bedtime. It’s that sense of otherness. The lost and hidden worlds. Not a new concept, and in the afterword for 14, Clines talks about how this book in particular has been knocking around in his head since he saw The Lost World at age eight. His discomfort in how and why these other dimensions and lost places manage to stay hidden. And his thoughts on just who does the hiding.
Now, I don’t follow every prophesy of apocalyptic doom, but hidden dimensions? Oh, they’re there and I’ve believed in them since I was eight years old and digging in my neighbour’s back yard for fossils after seeing Journey to the Center of the Earth. I don’t believe in ghosts or magic and I’m not even sure ESP is a thing, but I can comfortably fit the X-Men into my world view and I spent a lot of time opening the doors of perception in my twenties. 😉
Anyway, I’m reviewing a book, one I almost didn’t read. So, 14 was gathering dust on the shelf when Audible offered it up as a daily deal. Or on sale. Something. As I often do with books I want to read, but haven’t quite found the wherewithal or energy to crack the spine, I bought it and added it to my queue. I started listening a couple of days ago and quickly fell into the pattern that grabs me when listening to an exceptionally entertaining audio book. I stop engaging with real life. I walk around, finding things to keep my hands busy while my ears are plugged with story. People talk to me and I nod and smile and keep moving. I can’t sit and listen, you see. I must remain mobile or partly engaged, or my mind will wander. Whatever.
Soon I ran out of things to do and occasionally I am called upon to be a parent. So I unplugged, performed a few requisite chores and picked up the book from the shelf. I then lost the rest of the day to the couch.
It’s difficult to talk about the actual plot of 14 without giving away the magic, so I’ll be circumspect. Nathan Tucker hears about a building with unusually low rent and makes an appointment to check out an apartment. The apartment is small, but the view is amazing. The rent is ludicrous. As in, super cheap. He takes the apartment and moves in.
The building is old and quirky and small mysteries pop out at him on the very first day. A tenant moving out at the same time—of another apartment—and complains that he’d never quite felt right in the building. Thinking back, that reminds me of the time 14 sat on my bookshelf. I wanted to read it, but kept hesitating for some reason. Another mystery is the black light in Nate’s kitchen. Whatever bulb he puts in there, he gets only black light. Then there is the missing handle on the door of apartment 23 and all the padlocks fastened across the door of apartment 14. The overly large machine room on the roof for the elevator that hasn’t worked in at least 20 years. The brass plaques in the mail closet. The chained and padlocked doors near the laundry room. The green cockroaches with extra legs.
As Nate meets his neighbours, the mysteries of the building deepen. Turns out most of his neighbours aren’t oblivious to the weirdness, either. Some have cultivated a careful ignorance. Others chalk it up to the building’s age. But as they start comparing notes, the weirdness multiplies.
Then they start investigating.
This phase of the book would be my favourite. The neighbours all have distinct personalities and Clines uses them to build each character from the floor upward so that they’re living, breathing people. We don’t need to know their backstory because we know them. I don’t know how he does this, but it’s a hallmark of his work. Every book, his characters grab me this way. Maybe it’s the way they interact with one another and the consistency throughout those interactions. But you know how when you pick at a corner of loose paint and a whole piece loosens and you become obsessed with pulling it back in one big sheet? You fail, but are compelled to try again, and before you know it, you’ve stripped the wall? That’s this book. Those are these characters and their need to find out about the building they live in.
It’s utterly addictive and the answers, when they arrive are just…creepy and cool. Think H.P. Lovecraft—who gets several nods here—and Nikola Tesla (ala The Prestige, which also gets a nod). Mysteries of the ages! Apocalypses! Steampunk doomsday devices! Tentacles! (Okay, copying that line to paste at the top of this review.)
Finally, I really liked the idea we’ve visited places like these with Clines before. Or, given the publishing order of his books, that he’s revisited these places (and ideas) again, in other novels. It’s as if he’s circling something. Waiting for the story of that hidden dimension. The story that will need to be written from the inside out.