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Dark Origins: Level 26    by Anthony E. Zuiker & Duane Swierczynski order for
Dark Origins
by Anthony E. Zuiker
Order:  USA  Can
Dutton, 2009 (2009)

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* *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Level 26: Dark Origins, written by Anthony E. Zuiker with Duane Swierczynski, is billed as the 'First ever interactive digi-novel', but it offers more as a novel than an interactive digi-novel. The story is action-packed, full of frightening suspense and detection, which is what you would expect from the creator of CSI.

Steve Dark retired after almost capturing serial killer Sqweegel who then murdered his foster family. Since then, Sqweegel's crimes have escalated him to a new level of killer Level 26. When Sqweegel kills the teenage mistress of a political bigwig, Dark is forced back into action, unaware that Sqweegel has been stalking his pregnant wife for eight months now. With Dark back on the case, Sqweegel steps up his game to bait the only man who ever came near to catching him.

Dark Origins is a fast-paced thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat, turning pages as fast as you can and not bothering to enter the online codes. While the concept of showing parts of the novel as 3-minute clips is intriguing, it does take away from the flow of the story and there's little incentive to do it as everything you see online is revealed shortly in the story or does not really further the plot. Also, the online clips are more mini-movies than evidence, so you feel more like you are simply watching the characters than actually interacting in the story with them. I have read other novels, such as Cathy's Book, where the interaction between story and audio, electronic, and physical clues is more in-depth, so in this area, Level 26 falls flat.

However, Zuiker does know how to weave tight suspense. The story itself offered nothing extraneous, so it was easy to focus on the action and follow the clues. While Dark is a character far removed from anyone I have ever met, I was still able to relate to him and cheer him on. Sqweegel was everything I expected a Level 26 killer would be, his actions truly horrifying. Zuiker did an amazing job of showing, not telling at least on paper.

Dark Origins is the first in a Level 26 trilogy. While the epilogue shows the agents starting on another case, I have no clue where the next novel will lead but that just adds to the suspense. There is one big loose end, and I definitely look forward to finding the answer in future installments.

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