This story follows a young, aspiring journalist who takes a job writing sensationalist celebrity obituaries for an online publication. Through sheer happenstance, he discovers that by writing hypothetical obits for living people, he can bring about their deaths.
Now, those who thought that “Under the Dome” was Stephen King taking cues from The Simpsons movie will likely read that synopsis and go, “oh, Stephen King saw Death Note“. I’m not sure if he has (though it is good stuff and worth a watch) but while the plot hook is similar, the two stories take different paths.
On a technical level, the obits are nowhere near as precise as the titular notebook. This actually comes into play later in the story, but it is also apparent as the death is instantaneous and while Michael does come up with details surrounding those he writes about, the deaths usually only adhere to it in a broad sense.
Also, the mechanics are never explained as they are in the series. It’s suggested through a couple of lines of dialogue that some entity is responsible, but it is also chalked up to an innate ability on Mike’s part. The idea that his career choice was said ability influencing him so that it could manifest is unnerving, but alas, nothing is done with it.
More importantly, though, the journey that Michael goes through is very different from Light Yagami’s. True, both use their ability to take down bad guys, but where Light ends the first episode going on a mass killing spree and voicing his intent to fashion himself into a god to bring about a new era for humanity, Michael spends more time grappling with what he’s doing. He does note an addiction like pull, but even then, it doesn’t quite hit the same levels. I actually appreciated the slower approach. It worked well and comes off as a bit more realistic.
While the story is a longer one, it is plenty engaging and holds your interest from beginning to end. The length works in the story’s favor as it is able to flesh out the characters to a greater extent and better build up to the big reveal at the end, when the true extent of Michael’s actions come to light.
It’s a great moment as he realizes that his ability is growing: taking more people, covering a wider area, and even taking liberties by taking out people with names similar to those he targeted. Were it an entity, it was clearly growing stronger, though in either case, the threat was escalating.
Sadly, the resolution leaves quite a bit to be desired. The story itself seems to lampshade this, but it can still feel like a letdown given the great build up and the genuinely creepy plot development that precedes it. I can’t even say that it comes out of left field. It’s perfectly logical for a person who can kill that way to relocate and get a job that has nothing to do with writing and avoid the temptation entirely, still it is a bit abrupt. Endings are tough and I’m not even sure what would act as a better resolution, but it can feel like a bit of a letdown.
Even taking the ending into account, this was a strong entry. It was a smooth and fascinating read that put the main character into an interesting moral dilemma. Between the strength of the story itself and the fact that it hadn’t been previously published, this story might end up being one of the major incentives to buy the collection as a whole.