The Brink by James S. Murray & Darren Wearmouth
Human monsters take precedence over the creature type of monsters in The Brink (2019), the sequel to last year’s SF horror novel Awakened. (Some spoilers for the first book are in this review, but are also in the publisher’s blurb for this book, so they’re nearly impossible to avoid.) Awakened was pulpy fun if you like SF horror and mysterious, murderous threats lurking beneath the surface of the earth. The Brink mostly gives us Albert Van Ness, a diabolical mastermind of dubious sanity who was apparently imported straight from an old James Bond movie. The creatures are still there, but in a diminished role, mostly as an instrument of revenge in Van Ness’s hands.
Awakened introduced readers to a secret organization euphemistically called The Foundation for Human Advancement, led by Albert Van Ness. The Foundation had its genesis in the final days of WWII, when Hitler was hiding in the depths of his bunker. (“It’s always the damned Nazis,” commented Diego Munoz in Awakened. Truer words, Diego.) One bright spot in this book was finding out how Hitler really died.
In the aftermath, Hitler’s right-hand man, Nazi Colonel Otto Van Ness, formed the Foundation to both fight the underground, methane-breathing creatures and to threaten/blackmail national leaders into paying billions to the Foundation to fund their fight against the creatures, as well as Van Ness’s opulent lifestyle. Otto is dead now and his son Albert is running the Foundation, but Albert’s motivations seem to be more vindictive than his father’s. Albert Van Ness goes completely off the edge when the political leaders of the U.S. and Great Britain decline his demands for vast amounts of money.
Former NYC Mayor Tom Cafferty, his wife Ellen, ex-NYPD SWAT team leader Sarah Bowcut, and ex-gang member and technology expert Diego Munoz managed, against all odds, to survive the events of the first book. Now they’re trying to take the fight to the Foundation and Van Ness, but Van Ness is extremely well-funded and will stop at nothing in his quest for revenge. You can almost see him twisting his moustache and laughing insanely.
In The Brink, authors James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth take the same fast-paced, tension-filled approach that characterized Awakened, but the fear factor is weakened with the shift of focus from the battle against unworldly creatures to a mere human criminal mastermind. Van Ness’s actions are horrific ― The Brink unquestionably ups the ante there ― but the plot, while it has its moments, simply isn’t as compelling. It’s further weakened by sketchy and superficial characterization, and by wildly implausible events. [Here’s a spoiler, highlight if you want to read it]: Like breeding hybrids between these creatures and humans, and Van Ness having a vast army of faceless soldiers and staff who don’t blink twice at his massive crimes against humanity and our earth .
The final straw was a maddening ending that defaulted to another overused trope [here’s another spoiler]: (don’t kill the villain; you’re a better person than that) that required people to act in a way that was not only out of character, but created an additional huge, needless risk for humanity. Which risk, one may safely assume, will need to be dealt with in the next book in the AWAKENED series.
The Brink, like Awakened, is highly bloody and violent. It’s short (223 pages) and may appeal to readers looking for a quick, action-packed science fiction horror novel, driven by plot rather than characterization or scientific plausibility.