By Azam Gill
MichaelBrent Collings is the internationally bestselling author of didactic horror, western romance, a Bram Stoker finalist and produced screenwriter. SCAVENGER HUNT is his latest thriller in a distinguished pedigree of books under different names.
Collings’ own life challenges fiction in binaries that defy stereotyping—a Sunday School teacher and seasoned practitioner of overlapping martial arts, open in his opinions and relationships, once recruited as a spy, a writer of Western romance as Angelica Hart, a morality guru through the horror sub-genre under his own name, and “madly” in love with his wife.
The sumptuous critical response to his last novel, Terminal, in reviews ranged from “outstanding … fast-paced … hard-edged … brutal … captivating and frightening,” to “… suspense will have you on the edge of your seat … a gripping white-knuckler.”
There is every reason to believe that SCAVENGER HUNT, too, will stand as tall as its siblings, if not taller. Just take a look at the plot.
Five strangers have woken up in a white room.
A room with no doors, no windows.
A room with no hope.
Because these strangers have been kidnapped, drugged … and brought here as the newest contestants in the world’s most high-stakes scavenger hunt.
Run by a madman named Mr. Do-Good, the game offers only two options: win or die.
All they have to do to survive is…
… complete every task…
… on time…
… and not break any of Do-Good’s rules.
Playing the Game will bring the players to their breaking point and beyond. But play they will, because Do-Good has plans for these strangers, and their only chance to live through the night is to play his Scavenger Hunt.
Applied morality and its conflictual relationship with intention lie at the heart of SCAVENGER HUNT. Should compassion be exercised at the price of mediocrity? Or should heartlessness be allowed to feed the pursuit of excellence among the elite?
And, of course, the moral complexity of wielding power, as in the hands of Mr. Do-Good in SCAVENGER HUNT.
Even without an attack by another form of Dietz’s alien Hudatha, how political leaders engineer a society will actually affect their own shelf-life.
The theme of SCAVENGER HUNT hangs on the title by inverting the old folk games that evolved into treasure hunts. Although in the scavenger hunt variant nothing material is bought or acquired, the activity in itself feeds the baser human instincts of covetousness and dominance. It is the intention of achieving goodness by morally deplorable acts — the classic means and ends conflict — that SCAVENGER HUNT brings under scrutiny through a spine-chilling read.
“Hell is full of good wishes and desires” is attributed to the 12th century Benedictine abbot, Bernard of Clairvaux, who also provided the framework for the Rule of the Knights Templar in 1128 at the Council of Troyes in France. And, of course, the well-worn “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” referenced in Henry G. Bohn’s 1855 Hand-book of Proverbs, was obviously dismissed by SCAVENGER HUNT’s Mr. Do-Good.
This, then, is where SCAVENGER HUNT’s Mr. Do-Good and living, breathing but heartless political leadership cross paths. Seeking to strengthen their societies by natural selection within walled-in spaces will litter the wayside with rejected cyborgs.
This state of affairs is the content of headlines covering unrest from Asia, to Africa, to Latin America and the periphery of the West. Freedom of choice and of expression have been hijacked by the Mr. Do-Goods whose pretty speeches are their bus ticket to hell.
It is thrillers and horror stories that will bring the sordidness of existence to the bedside tables and quicken the disgust required to stand up and be counted to halt the Do-Goods in their tracks or escort them to the International Court of Justice.
As Michaelbrent Collings says, “SCAVENGER HUNT is much less a dystopian than a cautionary tale. The hunt is about a group of seemingly disparate people who come to understand that they are all connected via the common thread of black-market organ trafficking. Most are perpetrators, a few are victims of one stripe or another. As the tale unfolds, readers (hopefully) will realize that this problem is serious and something that has gone under the radar for most of us. And though in this instance there is an “avenging angel” of sorts, in our real world those harmed—largely the impoverished and the desperate of developing nations—are all too often simply overlooked, forgotten, or straight-up ignored. …The black market supplies a stunning percentage of organs for transplants, and those who benefit—desperate themselves—do so at the explicit expense of those who are already in circumstances that range from less-than-optimal to outright horrific. No easy answers to the problems, but problems they are.”
A seasoned craftsperson, Collings creates connectable characters among whom even the villains are unaware of their evil. He then throws them into the story which generates situational heroism. In his moral universe, right and wrong do not blur into gray. They matter. Just like people and his attitude to them, irrespective of any defining parameters. Collings’ characters emerge from and further define his societal ideas and attitudes.
At another level, his writing is also about fear but, since that fear relates to our common moral universe, it signals that something has gone wrong. And when that is the case, the light shines on what is right, and thus needs to be brought into play.
SCAVENGER HUNT and Suzanne Collins’ dystopic Hunger Games in which a lottery selection pits children in a televised death match are cousins—both uphold an allegorical tradition of social didactics started by Yevgeni Zamyatin’s 1924 We, considered to be the first dystopian novel ever written and that, too by the first Soviet dissident.
Yet, irrespective of the form chosen, writers have been warning, pleading and raging against allowing society to degenerate into cold-blooded scavenger hunts.
Collings is one of these writers and at the end of the day can also spin one hell of a spine-chilling yarn under the acknowledged influence of “Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and—most of all—my dad, who is a World Horror Grandmaster and an outstanding author and literary critic specializing in horror and speculative fiction.”
One of the most versatile writers around, Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally bestselling novelist, produced screenwriter, and multiple Bram Stoker Award finalist. While he is best known for horror (and is one of the most successful indie horror authors in the United States), he has also written bestselling thriller, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, humor, young adult, and middle grade works, and Western romance.
As a novelist, Michaelbrent has written dozens of bestsellers that have also received critical acclaim, and he and his work have been featured on everything from mom-and-pop podcasts to Publishers Weekly, The San Francisco Book Review, and NPR.
Find more about him at his website.