The Bottom Line: The Shining meets Dante’s Inferno. Level Zero is brimming with sinister surprises sure to keep horror fans up at night.
The opening chapters of Dan McDowell’s novel are a portrait of two broken relationships. In the first, radio station manager Chris Wilkerson attempts to console his wife at her mother’s funeral are soundly rejected. It’s no wonder, given that he killed a deer and smeared its blood inside his mother-in-law’s Mercedes, causing her to faint, hit her head on a rock, and die. Days later, Chris’ reckless boating causes his own wife to hit her head and fall into a coma.
This happens at the exact moment that financial adviser Todd Adams crashes his plane in a murder-suicide attempt, killing his girlfriend, Lorrie. Todd suffers from manic depression, but he’s also sadistic and manipulative. Unfortunately for Chris’ long-suffering wife, she and Todd are on a collision course.
The Hotel takes center stage when Chris wanders in and inquires about renting a room. The seemingly psychic proprietor, who knows everything about him and his life, offers to sell him the whole place. Chris accepts, and begins turning the hotel into Creepy Nights, a call center hotline where customers pay by the minute to hear horror stories.
Chris and Todd’s destinies become tightly intertwined as they are drawn into Oak Hollow’s labyrinthian inner workings. McDowell’s portrait of two self-absorbed, morally-challenged men — and the price of living life without empathy – is hard-hitting and utterly believable. Much of the book’s suspense id delivered through the supernatural wonders of the old hotel, its curious inhabitants, and the anticipation what punishment and torture it may dish out. Reminiscent of Dante’s nine levels of hell, which represented some of the Bible’s deadly sins in his classic novel Inferno, McDowell foreshadows what’s coming with a foreboding quote from Proverbs citing the six things God hates. Throughout the book, horror fans will have fun working out whether the hotel is simply haunted, possessed by a demon, represents purgatory or is actually hell on earth.