CARL KOLCHAK finds himself in a most unfamiliar place these days, being hailed as a hero for stopping a serial killer who’s been terrorizing Hollywood. It’s a nice change of pace for a reporter who’s accustomed to covering monsters of the supernatural variety, usually risking life and limb only to be mocked for his efforts. But Kolchak knows the respect and accolades won’t last. Experience has taught him that there’s always a new boogie man lurking just around the corner, waiting to reveal itself. Because when your name is Carl Kolchak, you’re doomed to discover things that no one wants discovered.
And so begins this 2013 novella from C.J. Henderson, published by Moonstone and based on the character created by author Jeff Rice (The Night Stalker). At only 124 pages it’s a quick read, and probably not something I’d recommend to the uninitiated. But for diehard fans, it’s a compelling chapter in the Kolchak canon.
After his success with the serial killer, Kolchak is invited by the U.S. State Department to join a small contingent of journalists who will travel to the Andes region between Columbia and Ecuador to cover a bloody drug war that’s threatening to spill over into a mysterious holy site. But there’s more to the story, as always, and even before Kolchak gets to the jungle he’s plagued by weird experiences and dreams that suggest something otherworldly is guiding his steps. But here’s where I must report that this is not the standard monster-of-the-week saga that Kolchak fans have come to expect. More than anything else, it’s a story about Carl Kolchak. The setting is exotic and the menace is real, but the whole thrust of what Henderson has done here seems to be in the service of his main character.
And he’s done it really well.
AS THE AUTHOR of a number of Kolchak stories, Henderson has obviously spent a great deal of time thinking about this character—about the flesh-and-blood man who lives underneath all that journalistic belligerence; the fact-finder who knows too much; the storyteller doomed to a lifetime of telling stories few will believe. By this point Kolchak must seem like a real person to Henderson, and it shows. Not only does he have the voice down pat, but, of all the Night Stalker stories I’ve read, this one inhabits Kolchak’s thoughts to the most intimate degree, revealing every bit of the wry cynicism we’ve come to expect, but, more surprisingly, a sadness of soul I had never really considered.
But it makes perfect sense. Over the years, Kolchak has seen and done things that would make anyone sad; things no sane human being could ever get used to. So by the point near the conclusion of this book where he breaks down in tears over the sheer madness of what he’s experienced, we understand why, and we feel his pain. This is a character study, albeit one that is set in a tale of intrigue and mystery.
And cheers to Henderson, I say, for managing to give me new insight on a character I’ve known and loved since I was a kid.
The book is available in print and ebook form from Amazon.