Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: horror, mystery, thriller
Published by CamCat Books on July 18, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
Leo: You’ll step out the door, prepared for a normal day. But you’ll never reach your workplace. You will vanish, without a trace.
Who is The Horoscope Writer? It’s not Bobby Frindley. He’s an ex-Olympic athlete who has fast-talked his way into an entry-level position at a dying newspaper. He’s supposed to be writing horoscopes, but someone has been doing his job for him . . .
On his first night on the job, Bobby receives an email with twelve gruesome, highly-detailed horoscopes, along with a chilling ultimatum: print them and one will come true, or ignore them and all of them will.
Working with a skeptical co-worker, Bobby investigates the horoscope writer’s true identity, but the closer he gets to the truth, the more the predictions begin to be about him. Has he attracted the attention of a cruel puppeteer? Or is it possible that, like any good horoscope, it’s all in his mind?
Human beings do their damndest to find patterns in things that don’t have them. The whole idea behind that concept, patternicity, is a huge part of what drives the plot and the people in the book Rabbits by Terry Miles, and its upcoming sequel, The Quiet Room.
We want the world to make sense, so we try to force that sense into the world whether it’s there or not.
Which may be part of why people faithfully read their horoscopes and believe the rather vague hints and warnings therein. Because it’s easy to make the predictions and warnings cover the events of the day after the fact, especially if one is looking for such coverage.
But in this story, the new ‘horoscope writer’ for a struggling regional newspaper in San Diego receives a full set of horoscopes from an anonymous ‘benefactor’ with an attached threat – or warning – or a bit of both.
If the horoscopes are published in full, only one will come true. But if they’re not, all of them will. While some are trivial, a few on the list are downright dire – but also very much against the odds. Former Olympian and hopeful journalist Bobby Frindley believes it’s all a hoax.
At least until the rare tiger leaps out of his zoo enclosure and kills a tourist – just as his horoscope predicted.
From that point forward, the story is off to the races as the horoscope writer turned fledgeling reporter becomes caught up in the global phenomenon of figuring out which of the day’s predictions are going to come true – and wondering who is trying to force the pattern and to what grisly end.
And whether that end will be Bobby’s, his friends’, his city’s, or just his soul.
Escape Rating B-: I picked up The Horoscope Writer because I reviewed the author’s debut novel, Intergalactic Exterminators, Inc. for Library Journal and had a blast, so I was hoping for more of the same.
I certainly got caught up in Bobby Frindley’s ride to fame and maybe fortune as he tries to cobble out a career as an investigative journalist in the waning days of newspaper journalism. But there were a couple of things that I kept tripping over as I followed Bobby’s trek out of the frying pan and into the fire as he latched onto one flawed potential father-figure after another.
The Horoscope Writer reads like the ‘evil twin’ of the late 1990s TV series Early Edition, where a kind of average guy receives a daily delivery of the Chicago Sun-Times (how the mighty have fallen) that is one day ahead. The protagonist has one day to right whatever wrong he reads in the prognosticating paper before it’s too late to fix.
But that early newspaper delivery turned out to be on the side of the angels, while the horoscopes that Bobby starts receiving are a lot more like horrorscopes, and that’s before the general public starts trying to make them come true – or at least the potentially ‘good’ ones, often with considerably less than good results.
Humans being human, because they are.
As much as Bobby as a character read like more than a bit of a ‘failure to launch’, he also read like at least one answer to a question that I’ve always wondered about, the fate of people like Olympic athletes in sports that don’t have long-term career prospects. He’s achieved a kind of fame and success that people dream of, but at a time when nearly all of his life is still ahead of him.
Bobby’s flailing around for a second act, and the one that lands in his lap turns out to be a doozy – or will be if it doesn’t get him killed.
Howsomever, while I found the story compelling to read in the earlier stages, particularly when it really seemed possible that the story was heading into true psychic or fantasy territory in some way, when Bobby started zeroing in on a more mundane agent – at least for criminally sociopathic definitions of mundane – it lost a bit of its fascination for this reader as it shifted fully into ‘bwahaha’ territory.
All things considered, The Horoscope Writer started out strong, and had some compelling dramatic possibilities along the way, but in the end wasn’t nearly as good as Intergalactic Exterminators, Inc. But I still have high hopes for the author’s next – especially if he leans back into SFnal territory.