” As hard as she tried, Chyna could see no beast in his eyes, only a placid blueness and the watchful darkness of the pupil, and she was no longer sure that she had seen it. He wasn’t half man and half wolf, not a creature that fell to all four in the light of the full moon. Worse, he was nothing but a man—living at one extreme end of the spectrum of human cruelty, but nonetheless only a man. ” (Ch.7, p.259)
Intensity is a very quick-paced, heart-in-the-mouth book. It starts out with Chyna driving up with her best friend Laura to Laura’s parents’ house in Napa. But things quickly go bad after dark. Up past midnight, gazing out the window, Chyna heard a soft thump—and her instincts suggest predatory presence in the house. A murderous sociopath has entered the house and kills everyone. She is spared only because the killer is not aware of her in the guest room. Her friend is sexually violated, and later kidnapped, trapped in the killer’s motor home. Until Laura, Chyna had lived secretly with her past—the haunting memories of a childhood that thwarts any emotional bondage with people.
Against the odds, she had already survived the events of the past few hours. The killer didn’t even know that she existed. She had made it. She was free. It was over. (Ch.5, p.134)
The violent pursuit of the killer takes Chyna out of her nutshell—into the motor home, hiding. On the way to his remote home in Oregon, Chyna gets out and hides behind the shelves of the mini mart, where Edgler Vess kills two more people. Instead of going away, Chyna feels a moral obligation to save this girl with an angelic face held captive in his house because she overhears the conversation between Vess and the clerks. The house is protected by four trained Dobermans. Chyna learns that all the killings were just arbitrary—outcome of casual conversations and chance encounter.
Sociopaths like this man were drawn to beauty and to innocence, because they were compelled to defile it. When innocence was stripped away, when beauty was cut and crushed, the malformed beast could at last feel superior to this person he had coveted. After the innocent and the beautiful were left dead and rotting, the world was to some degree made to more closely resemble the killer’s interior landscape. (Ch.6, p.215)
Intensity is very fast-paced and the plot lives up to the title. It does indulge in goriness. At the heart it reveals the mind and thoughts, as well as the meticulous calculation of a serial killer. However, it doesn’t offer explanation. Both characters are compelling: Chyna is a young psychology student and her nemesis, homicidal maniac Edgler Vess, who revels in sensations, be it ain or pleasure—in the intensity of experience. The worst horror is not the blood, but that the killer steals meaning from the unfinished lives of those he killed, and makes himself the primary purpose of their existence.
436 pp. Bantam. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]