If you get to the end of this review and want to read 14, don’t read any other reviews! As psyched as I got by the reviews on Amazon, a few of them inadvertently contain spoilers for avid science fiction and fantasy readers.* If you are one of those avid readers, you are going to want to read 14, and you will not what to know what direction the plot will take. Unless you’re one of those people who kind of likes to know what direction the plot will take, in which case, see my footnotes. As accurate as my predictions were about the various plot twists, even I didn’t foresee how Peter Clines would take it There, and then keep going.
But there’s no harm in giving you the set-up.
Nate works a crap temp job that doesn’t pay well. Ergo, he is looking for a cheap apartment. And he finds one. But not too long after he really starts to thinking about why the rent is so cheap, he notices a few weird things about the other apartments. Like the fact that they’re all different sizes and layouts. Like the fact that the super really doesn’t like people poking around or asking questions. And the fact that the door to apartment 14 is padlocked shut and painted over.
The other tenants are, to varying degrees, also intrigued by the building’s oddities, and they band together to form a little investigation team behind the super’s back. I was surprised to find, halfway through the book, that I felt that I knew a handful of these people, and that I cared whether they lived or died. Their investigation gets progressively more mysterious and more creepy the more you read. The mystery is so appealing that it’s a shame Clines wastes so much time on irrelevant details that do not advance the plot or the characterizations. After all, we only need one or two scenes at Nate’s temp job to get the point that it’s a dead-end and that he’s looking for something more meaningful. Other times, Clines does an excellent job of spinning out time in a long, taut, thread, keeping a plot point dangling just beyond our reach while filling the interim with action sequences that are interesting in their own right; the scene in which Nate and a few of his cohorts explore the building’s basement is one such sequence. We follow the characters through its tunnels, dying to know what they will find, but enjoying the process of just being there with them.
In many ways, the book reads as if Clines did not really find his footing with it until about midway through, and then was unable to curtail his own meanderings in the revision process. The book is so great in its last half that it would be easy for a casual reader to forget and forgive some of the chaff thrown our way in the early stages, but a careful assessment of the book would not be complete without an acknowledgement of the few elements that keep 14 from being a truly well-oiled machine.**
Sometimes, when an author has a really good idea, all he has to do is stand back and not get in its way. As Mama Ru always says, “…and don’t fuck it up.” Here’s a gratuitous picture of Ru, because I love her and she makes everything more fun, even reviews of books that have nothing to do with her.Anyway, my point is that Peter Cline did not fuck it up. Far from it. 14 is not richly layered or multi-dimensional.*** It is not written in cuttingly intelligent prose. But it is terribly clever and fun, and sometimes that’s all a book has to be.
STOP READING HERE TO AVOID SPOILERISH FOOTNOTES.
Or, keep going, whatever.
<spoiler>*Okay, the spoiler in the Amazon reviews is “Lovecraftian.”
**An in-joke for when you’ve read the book, hurrhurrI’msowitty.
***Okay, it is kind of multi-dimensional. Wokka wokka wokka.</spoiler>