"The Crucifixion Experiments" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Silver Shamrock Publishing

the crucifixion experiments gord rollo poster large

Written by Gord Rollo
2021, 172 pages, Fiction
Released on 11th May 2021


The Crucifixion Experiments originally appeared back in 2013, published by Dark Regions Press and packaged alongside Gene O’Neill’s The Blue Heron. According to Gord Rollo in the informative endnotes, this Silver Shamrock edition is the author’s preferred version and is one of his earlier attempts at writing straight thrillers. Up until then, Rollo was principally a supernatural horror author, but as Dark Region Press had indicated they were seeking non-supernatural material, he was delighted to double up with Gene O’Neill, who had previously supported his career.

The Crucifixion Experiments' main strength is the fact that it is a very easy and lightning-fast-paced read. If you are looking for a complex murder mystery or multi-layered piece of fiction with a deep inner message, then look elsewhere. The kick of this novella lies in its simplicity, an unrelentingly speedy two-hour thrill which will quickly have you eating up the pages as it spirals towards the big finish. As I approached the ending, I was 100% invested in discovering how events were going to play out. Written in a very pulpy style, the characters are sketchily drawn, the chapters are short, and the main hook which holds the story together would not have been out of place in a lurid 1970s B-movie horror thriller. Overall, it is equally trashy and fun.

When do you ever come across a police detective who is not a heavy drinker? In pulp fiction it comes with the territory and Jake Mercer is no different, who is serving a suspension from active duty when the action starts. In the opening pages, Jake is in his favourite bar getting drunk and even by his own standards, events are spiraling out of control and he sees little beyond his next drink. He is a functional alcoholic who is slowly crossing the invisible line into full-blown addiction and it is impacting his job as a detective who specialises in criminal profiling.

The Crucifixion Experiments plays out in the first-person point of view, told entirely from Jake’s perspective and the story could have benefited by putting more meat on the bones of this central character. Yes, we know he drinks, but little background information is provided as to why, and he would have been a more sympathetic lead if we knew more about him. When he is not working, he is drinking and that is about it, which comes across as slightly one-dimensional. Where does his pain come from? None of this is ever explored beyond the toughness of his job. However, there is a terrific dream sequence where we get a brief glimpse underneath Jake’s skin and into his fears; I would suggest the story might have benefited if there was a deeper exploration into his character via instances such as this nightmare.

Alcoholic or not, Jake is tolerated by the Oakland Police Department because he is very good at his job and has spent twenty-five years profiling killers, with some of the best sequences of the story involved Jake trying to get inside the head of the killer and what makes them tick, trying to predict their next move. However, getting into the brains of madman has certainly played its part in Jake becoming an alcoholic mess when he picks up the gruesome case the story is built around.

In the opening pages two rookie detectives, Riley and Bello, pull Jake from his favourite bar and inform him about a murder where an elderly Catholic priest has been nailed to a tree, similar to a crucifixion. Riley and Bello support Jake, but as characters they are completely underdeveloped and used as either window dressing or to run Jake’s errands. Jake should have been mentoring these guys, instead they are stuck with little to do and this seems like a missed opportunity to throw in other characters and give more layers to what should have been a huge police investigation. Instead, it solely centres upon a drunken lone-wolf detective trying to do everything on his own with little interaction with others on the force, which would have been essential in a case of this magnitude.

However, as the plot is so fast-moving, Gord Rollo can be forgiven for sidelining Riley and Bello, and once the body count increases and the killings more gruesome, it is a race to the end of the story. Although there are not too many suspects, and the ending is a slight stretch, it is still an enjoyable read. In the endnotes, the author implies we may well see Mercer return in another mystery, which might be a great opportunity to develop the character with short punchy novels in a hardboiled flavour similar to what Alan Baxter has done with Eli Carver in the Manifesto Recall series.


Overall: 3.5 Star Rating Cover
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Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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