“Level 26: Dark Origins” by Anthony E. Zuiker with Duane Swierczynski (Dutton, 2009)

Level 26starstar

Anthony E. Zuiker, creator of the popular TV show CSI, has released what is referred to as the first “digi-novel.”  The book is partnered with the Level26.com website, where the reader at the end of certain chapters is directed to enter a keyword on the site to unlock a clip that relates to the book and the particular chapter just completed.  Combined with occasional illustrations, Zuiker is trying to make this the new revolution in book technology.  Sadly, overall the effect falls short of being revolutionary, and something that hopefully won’t be happening with other books.

The story is about a serial killer, known as Sqweegel, who has been killing and torturing for decades and all forms of international government, including the CIA and FBI have not only been unable to catch him, but fail to find a single shred of evidence to who the man might be.  Because of this, the killer has been designated a Level 26, the highest level ever created for a murder.  The question is who can they bring in to actually catch this guy?

While the premise and story seems initially compelling, the plot soon spirals out of control into the completely far-fetched, with the video clips featuring over the top acting that more disengages the reader from the book than engrosses them.  Level 26 is a book that some may enjoy, at least for what it’s trying to do, but it sadly falls far short of achieving its goals.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on October 18th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

Level 26: Dark Origins Finished

Finished up Level 26 and even after 400 odd pages, overall the book was still disappointing.  While the characters did develop a little more and the plot grew somewhat, everything was still so over the top and drawn out, which continued to kill the pace.  Zuiker continued to use short 3-5 page chapters (with over a 100 chapters for the entire book!) presumably with the goal of making it a page turner, but since little could be developed other than cheap quick reveals in that number of pages, the gimmick didn’t work for me (and has been my complaint with everything James Patterson writes these days).

As for the short video clips that varied in length from 30 seconds and shorter to up to 3 minutes, while the premise may have been interesting and potentially pretty cool, it was limiting in a number ways.  It required that when one was reading, one needed to be within close distance of a computer with an internet connection, unless you had a Google phone or Iphone or some portable device with said internet connection.  But this also detracted from the story by forcing the reader to put the book down to check out the short video, disengaging the reader from the story they were reading on the page to watch the same story on a different medium; coupled with the short chapters with little development . . . well, you can infer your own conclusions.

The videos continued to be incredibly over the top in a couple of different ways: the “graphic” torture scenes that were what got the book listed in the horror section, were mild in the videos, making them seem like different stories; the serial killer, Sqweegel, was overdone by the actor in the clips to the point where he was just funny and made me laugh (and when this is supposed to be the most horrific killer in history, requiring a new level of evil, I don’t think this is what the author was going for); and finally there were clips where the acting was predictably silly like a daytime soap opera, again making me laugh.

So overall, the idea and premise was interesting, but the result was that Level 26 was failure.  And with two sequels planned, I think I’ll be giving them a pass.

Level 26: Dark Origins

Not that impressed so far.

Level 26: Dark Origins is the first in what is referred to as a “digi-novel.”  Written by the creator of CSI, Anthony E. Zuiker (along with Duane Swierczynski), it is the story of a serial killer who cannot be caught.  Murderers and criminals of various sorts are listed on a scale.  So far the scale has only gone to 25.  With the advent of Sqweegel — as the killer is referred —  he knows no bounds of depravity and torture, pushing himself to a whole new level.  26.  And the problem is whoever is working on the case ultimately ends up dead, often by the killer’s hands.  So no one wants to touch it.

The digi-novel aspect is pretty interesting.  It involves being directed to the Level 26 website at the end of certain chapters in the book, as well as being provided with a keyword.  On the website — where you naturally have to sign-up for an account — you can enter the keyword and then can watch a 3-5 minute clip that relates to the book.  Zuiker, in conjunction with writing the book, has also written and directed scenes, some with known Hollywood b-actors, others with nobodys.  While the scenes do tell a little more of the story, they are ultimately really over the top dramatically (I think it might have a little to do with the actors not being able to get fully immersed into the roles as all they have are these one-off scenes)  and tend to not provide too much information, and readers can in fact enjoy the book just fine without having viewed them.

As for the book, it features short, numerous chapters with a slowish pace, garnering it, barely, 3 out of 5.

We will have to see whether the story gets better, the pace improves, and the video scenes become more watchable.

But for now, not very impressed with the supposed “first digi-novel.”