Image © Mike Baron.
I’m a huge fan of Mike Baron’s comics writing, especially on NEXUS, so I was delighted when he offered me a chance to read and review his new novel. This cover image is dramatic and scary, clearly a supernatural being of some kind, full of evil intentions and leading a vast army of scorpions. In the book, the menace remains mostly unknown until near the end, though early on we have a taste of what it can do.
The story begins with two college students about to drive into a very remote and barren section of the Arizona desert in 1985, searching for the remains of a rumored lost tribe of Native Americans, the Azuma, from the last outpost of civilization, a bar in Gap, AZ. They have it all planned out, and the trip seems to be leading to some amazing discoveries, but trouble is just ahead of them in the form of a massive sandstorm and even more deadly danger.
Cut to the present day, and the main protagonist, Vaughan Beadles, a professor of Anthropology at Creighton University near Chicago. Vaughan is a very happy and successful man, smug even. He’s the star of his department, presiding over a new collection of artifacts from his specialty, the lost Native American tribe of the Azuma, and a huge new grant as well. He has a beautiful trophy wife and young son, a nice home and cool sports car. Vaughan is proud of his position and accomplishments, and as you might imagine, is due for a fall. When the fall comes, it is miles down. Before he knows it, Vaughan is in jail, accused of theft and homicide. His wife has left him, the town and public opinion are scathing, he’s deeply in debt to his lawyers, and his entire world is overturned. The key seems to be that Azuma collection. If Vaughan can only prove his theory about where it came from, he might be able to salvage at least some of his lost life. He heads for the barren desert of Arizona.
A third thread begins in Las Vegas. Summer, a nude dancer at a club is being treated very badly by her cruel and jealous boyfriend, Vince. It’s been going on for some time, and she’s finally had enough. She drugs him, steals his car, and heads for her old home on a reservation. There, her family is dirt poor and of no help, but the tribe’s medicine man gives her good advice, and sends her on a quest for help and answers to the desert of Arizona. In her wake, her boyfriend Vince is hot on her trail, and leaving a path of death and mayhem of his own.
The story is a little slow to develop as it pauses for each new player’s introduction, but by the middle of the book, when all the players have gathered in lonely Gap, Arizona, the storyline explodes into thrilling action and suspense that will have you glued to the pages. It’s one hell of a ride, and in the final act in the desert, when the menace on the book’s cover finally comes for the remaining players, Skorpio is a thriller you won’t soon forget.