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Fatalis    by Jeff Rovin order for
by Jeff Rovin
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2001
* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Hundreds of years ago the Chumash Indians drew cave paintings and spoke warnings of fierce animal gods that would one day come alive again. They knew that once the creatures awoke, they would be hungry. Now through a natural series of events the deadly cats that lay frozen in cryogenic sleep, have been resurrected. They are indeed hungry - and have discovered new and easy-to-bring-down human prey. The first two victims are workers for the California Department of Transportation, who had no idea of what lay waiting for them in the underground utility lines.

When investigators search the area where the men disappeared, all they find is a torn backpack and a lot of blood. Even before all the forensic evidence is gathered, more people die gruesome deaths. Sheriff Malcolm Gearhart is convinced he's dealing with some sort of crazed serial psychopath. Journalist Hannah Hughes just wants to report the truth and doesn't appreciate Gearhart's usual stonewalling tactics. But anthropologist Jim Grand soon realises the killers aren't human at all, but rather prehistoric saber-toothed cats. No one believes Grand, not at first. But as the killings escalate, and when Grand and a special tactical unit have their first confrontation with two of the great cats, there is little doubt as to exactly what they're dealing with.

Fatalis is one of those books that shouldn't work, but does. Saber-toothed cats flash-frozen in time? Impossible! But Jeff Rovin makes it plausible using the good old 'what if' method of story telling - what if this particular sequence of climactic and geological conditions occurred at just the right moment in time? Rovin's thorough knowledge of his material, his convincing writing style, believable characterizations, brisk pacing and nifty plot twists cement everything together. Readers are taken on a wild ride to witness the inevitable showdown between a small army of humans and an equally intelligent pride of saber-toothed cats.

Jim Grand's character stands out during the last third of the book as he desperately attempts to save the magnificent cats, while they stalk relentlessly toward their old hunting grounds and what can only be their doom at the hands of heavily-armed men. Horror fans, rejoice over Mr. Rovin's intelligent offering! Also check out his previous and equally engaging Vespers, another cleverly rendered 'what if' story of science gone amok - giant bats terrorizing a big city.

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