At night, I dream of being in an Agatha Christie novel. After so many years, I’ve never been the hero—like Hercule Poirot or Jane Marple—and I’ve never been the villain.
Instead I’m simply a member of the cast. If I’m lucky, I’m one of a handful of suspects, but usually I’m just a faceless spectator in Christie’s ongoing mystery investigation.
Reoccurring dreams have always haunted me. When I was a kid, for example, I dreamt that dinosaurs roamed my suburban neighborhood. In one dream I’d look out my bedroom window to see a dinosaur in the backyard. In another dream I’d have to find a circuitous route to school to avoid a Tyrannosaurus rex. One time a dinosaur popped out of the air ducts in my home. More than a few times I became a tasty snack for some sort of gigantic prehistoric reptile.
I experienced an eerie sense of déjà vu while reading Unidentified. Michael Esola’s latest novel could easily be a nostalgic recap of all my childhood dinosaur nightmares.
The action takes place on Yerba Buena Island located in the bay between Oakland and San Francisco. A handful of tiny dinosaur-like creatures are hungry and they’re looking for something to eat. To be honest, the dinosaurs (20 feet tall and 50 feet long) are only “tiny” in comparison to their mama, who is taller than the Coit Tower.
For 200-plus pages, random groups of people dash around in circles trying to avoid being eaten. A forrest of eucalyptus trees offers some protection, but not a lot. Writes Esola: “They were truly experiencing Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory firsthand. It was every man, woman and child for themselves, pure survival in its purest and rawest form.” The world has gone to shit, says one character in a panic. “We’re all fucked.”
Many people get eaten alive, of course (if you want to know what it’s like to be swallowed by a huge animal, this is definitely the novel for you). Some of the victims deserve their fate—a cranky hillbilly gets chomped pretty quickly. The most satisfying death, however, involves a hysterical Bible-thumping zealot.
“These creatures are not to be feared,” she asserts. “They have been created in the same manner as the Lord created humans—with the same care and painstaking attention to detail. They are the rightful rulers of this planet and the world belongs to them now.”
The only way off the island, she says, is to kill a couple of children. The Lord is jealous and avenging, she reasons, and demands a sacrifice. She’s even convinced a few toadies to do her dirty work. It’s a good thing the Bible lady eventually gets ripped in half by two heathen monsters. Otherwise, Unidentified might have ended in a completely different manner.
[Unidentified / By Michael Esola / First Printing: July 2022 / ISBN: 9781736673831]