Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Joel Leslie
Length: 9 hours, 24 minutes
Within the Mind by Alice Winters is a horror/mystery/comedy/romance novel and I must say, with all those different tropes going on, it was also the most intense paranormal story I have read in a while. Trippy is a word that comes to mind when describing this novel. Centered on the ability of one character, Chevy, to enter the mind of a person he touches and view their memories, this story revolves around a group of people who have a “gift.” While there are not many whose gifts grow stronger as they age, Chevy’s has. His partner, Seneca, has the gift to “mimic” the gift of another by touching them. So essentially, Chevy is the conduit by which Seneca can also enter the mind of another person and view their memories alongside Chevy. These two work as a team aiding the police as their detectives and solving crimes by viewing the victim’s remembrance of the event.
When they are called in to enter the mind of a suspected serial killer to discover where he has hidden some known surviving victims, all hell breaks loose and Chevy and Seneca are trapped inside the man’s demented and dangerous psyche. With time running out to discover where he has hidden his potential victims, the men realize that the killer is gifted as well—but his ability is huge and dangerous. Once inside his mind, both men’s lives are threatened and, worse, they cannot seem to break free and return to the present. They are trapped and the killer is trying to control their minds and make them do things that will lead to their deaths.
All I can say is “wow,” this was a weird and wonderful roller coaster of a novel. The romance here is definitely secondary to the twisted story of what makes the killer, Mason, tick. So many times, Winters crafts the story so well that I was uncertain if what Chevy is experiencing is real, in Mason’s demented mind, or part of watching Chevy fight not to lose his own. The monsters Mason creates to hunt Chevy and Seneca are terrifyingly real and that snick of the scalpel and the playing of the gramophone are right out of the best horror movie scenes you have ever witnessed.
Within the Mind was only diminished by the over-the-top snark of both main characters, in my opinion. This writer does that type of sarcastically funny characters well, but Chevy and Seneca’s fast back and forth turned rather grating after a while and I just wanted them to have a normal, heartfelt conversation rather then sniping at each other constantly and using it as foreplay. It just grew old and seemed out of place, as if their relationship never really matured and their love for each other never evolved. However, that can’t take away from this story’s real strength, which is the macabre and intense plot that made for fascinating reading.
There are two things that narrator, Joel Leslie does really well—sarcasm and pacing. He has the near perfect intonation for a flagrantly snarky character and so narrating Within the Mind is a perfect fit for Leslie. Because portraying a person whose go to reaction is often deflecting real emotions with humor or mockery requires just that right control of the use of pauses and specific timing, this story needs a deft and sure hand—or voice in this case. Joel Leslie’s halting vocal style is just perfect for the voices of Seneca and Chevy. Leslie’s pacing keeps this lengthy story moving along, and yet he effectively uses a hesitant or thoughtful voice when the story demands it, giving the hair-raising passages even more intensity. There are some truly frightening moments in this novel and Leslie uses his voice to add to the horror and keep the reader enthralled.
I think the place where this narrator falls short, for me, is in pitch and tone. While Leslie does a good job attempting to give each character their own voice, sometimes the pitches are just a bit too close to each other and I got confused who as speaking. Plus, with a novel where there is lots of internal dialogue and prose, the passages of dialogue come out of the blue and there are times when the narrator fails to immediately slide into that person’s voice and ends up using his prose narration voice for a few words of the dialogue before switching to the character voice. Hence, the tone and pitch gets muddled and it’s difficult to know which character is talking because there isn’t a great deal of variation in the voices.
This was a hard story to narrate with multiple characters, lots of snark, and a fast pace needed in order to keep the lengthy prose passages from falling flat. Joel Leslie does a good job of keeping much of this story entertaining and terrifying, at turns, and that takes real talent and finesse.