Jim Hurst

Creative Arts Book Company / 200 pages / (November 1, 1998)

ISBN: 0887391206

You hear almost daily about how sitting in front of a computer is ruining your health and shortening your life. The screen is chiselling away at your 20/20 vision. That much radiation should never be that close to your body. Repetitive motions are making you the carpal tunnel poster child. Sitting in one place is giving you a beautiful pear shape. Well, at least the computer isn’t trying to kill you.

Oh! That’s right. Kurt Sloane is the one trying to kill you. And just about everyone else he can get to.

And he doesn’t even need to touch you. Talk about small mercies…

Something is definitely amiss in San Francisco, and Surety Insurance appears to be the epicentre of the troubles. It seems only fitting that the first person to suspect is Trib reporter, David Chan, especially since one of the clues almost flattens him during his morning coffee. Charging in to get a lead on the developing story, Chan senses danger in the normally dull insurance office, and puts a face on the trouble from the moment he meets the unbalanced, creepy, computer expert Kurt. Now, Chan just has to get someone to believe his fantastic theory before even more people die.

Subliminal persuasion isn’t a new topic; it’s been a charge made against advertisers for decades. Hurst, though, has put the plot device to good use. From the nightmarish first scene, he has your attention in a headlock and hangs on tight until the frantic final confrontation. (A too-neat epilogue weakens the impact of the closing scene. Do yourself a favour and keep your eyes off that page.)

This is an action story, through and through. A few attempts to explore the characters trail off in the rush of the next fast-paced passage. Readers get a better look at the twisted psyche of Kurt, although not enough to explain his strange behaviour. Forays into the mind and personal life of David Chan are interesting, but never actually penetrate beyond the events in Fatal Image. It is possible that this lack of information will be corrected in another installment. That’s right — I smell a sequel.

A deeper understanding of the sensitive, courageous Chan would not be unwelcome. Just think of the possibilities for a likeable reporter as a lead character!

Hurst has a way with action sequences. Fatal Image is a quick read, racing from one wild scene to the next, and piling up an impressive amount of gore along the way. Sex is not forgotten, either, and it comes in a wide range for a wider range of tastes. Did I mention this isn’t exactly YA fare?

Go read it for the action. If you want to read a character story, pick up Phyllis Gotlieb’s Flesh and Gold. If you have doubts about the true effectiveness of subliminal imagery, just sublimate them and go along for the ride. If you are already suspicious about computers, maybe you’d better just take a nap. Let’s not make things worse than they are in the paranoia department.