The duality of man is a concept that has troubled us as a species since we first crawled through the undergrowth looking for sustenance. It's a simple concept that can be used to great effect to explore the complex nature of what makes us human. It is also a concept that is central to a lot of great horror stories and themes, from Robert Louis Stevenson 's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, to numerous werewolf novels the duality of man has been used to make us think about how we tick, and how even the most respectable of us can turn to animalistic ways at the drop of a hat.
Becoming David by Phil Sloman follows in the footsteps of Stevenson, Ellis and Endore, but does it tread over old ground, or does he break out and forge a new a path of his own in the literary world?
Richard like most of us has a public and a private persona, however, unlike most of us, Richard's private persona involves him being a serial killer and a cannibal. When he kills David, Richard's life begins to unravel. As things worsen for Richard, and the lines between truth, reality and personality start to blur, sending Richard on a journey that will change him forever.
Becoming David is a well written and well-crafted book, Sloman takes a thoughtful look at personality, and what makes us, us. What simply could have been another tale of urban serial killers hiding in plain sight behind the chintz curtains is lifted into an intelligent discourse on the nature of evil and the sense of guilt.
Sloman's striped and lean down writing style is perfect for this claustrophobic tale, the small cast of characters and the use of minimal locations allows the reader to focus on the emotional and psychological plight that Richard is put through. Despite the fact that Richard is a cold blooded killer cannibal, you can't help but feel for him as his spectre of David starts to loom every more heavily on Richard's life.
Sloman uses the haunting of Richard to provide a compelling look at the feeling of guilt, and how one's past life can suddenly change due to the intervention of one person. Is Richard being haunted by David, is David slowly taking over Richard's personality, or is Richard just an extension of Richard's guilt at the life he has led? Sloman handles these questions perfectly, so much so that Richard manages to turn from being the villain of the story to the victim of the story. While the reader will never fully get on the side of Richard, they will end up rooting for the bad guy.
The narrative is helped along with excellent set pieces, such as the scene where Richard first suspects that he is being haunted by David. This section of the book as a real sense of dread and suspense, with Sloman layering on the tension perfectly to create one of the most nail-biting scenes I have read in a long time. The utilisation of a narrative of two halves is sublime, and the claustrophobic restrained first half of the novella gives way to a more action orientated, fast paced second half that mirrors the fractured nature of Richard's psyche with great success.
As a lead character, Richard works exceptionally well, rather than going for yet another Hannibal clone, that is often seen in media featuring serial killers, Sloman has opted for want of a better description a rather ordinary leading man. Richard is a disciplined man, nearly devoid of grand personality traits; there is no charismatic American Psycho here. While this may sound like a negative thing, it allows for the story and the themes to breath without becoming drowned out by the character himself.
Becoming David is a powerful novella, it is intelligent, thrilling story that carves its own distinct path in a genre filled with far too many cliched psychos.