End Time isn’t Keith Korman’s first novel but it appears to be his first solo novel written in quite some time. As a fan of the apocalyptic genre I was definitely intrigued by the title alone. The publisher’s description of the novel reads like a fascinating mashup of science run amok and a rising tide of supernatural occurrences. I found this to be an interesting combination and one that we don’t see too often. Unfortunately I found End Time’s combination of supernatural horror and weird science a bit too hap hazard.
The street performer glimpsed as the novel opens is the reality-warping Pie Piper. Yes, that Pied Piper. With the ability to edit reality at will his influence begins to seep across the world as his voice and visage begins to pop up everywhere along with his calling card: the image of Felix the Cat. In Los Angeles, CHiPs officer Cheryl Gibson is involved in a shooting during a routine stop where she finds the detached arms of young woman on the steering wheel of car. Meanwhile, scientist Bhakti Singh struggles over the disappearance of his daughter and her friend and sets out on a quest to find them even as the town he abandons descends into madness. Billy Howakhan, a Lakota Sioux and retired Army officer turned Head of Security from a major think tank is dispatched to find out why a project in Texas has seemingly been abandoned; the same project the employed Bhakti Singh. These characters and more (including Bhakti’s wife and sister-in-law, as well as Billy’s boss) are all tied to together in tenuous ways. Their intertwined stories drive the plot of End Time forward.
Korman’s characters are most definitely the high point of End Time. Each character is well defined and unique in various ways but each share an undercurrent of determination that binds them together. For the novel’s three main protagonists that determination is born of tragedy and the weight of the past driving them forward. I was particularly impressed with the instant connection between Gibson and Singh. It felt to me that the two bonded that most clearly in the novel and, while they are later joined by Billy Howakhan, it is the initial bond between those two characters that formed the emotional locus of the novel’s main plot. While the novel has three “main” protagonists the cast of End Time is actually quite larger; it is littered with many other protagonist each involved with their own small thread of End Time’s confusing web of a plot. Guy Poole and his wife Lauren (Lauren is Bhakti Singh’s sister-in-law) are involved in a New England ghost story whose connections to the strange goings on in End Time is slow to be revealed and is hazy at best. “Cowboy Clem” Lattimore (the employer of both Bhakti and Billy), the owner of Lattimore Aerospace, focuses on finding out what happened to his missing scientific team and dispatches Billy to witness the retrieval of an experimental material returning from a field test in space. Lattimore further delves into his parent’s past history with the Nazi’s as well as conspiracies theories and weird science. Elsewhere in the novel the Pied Piper takes in a protégé known only as the Kid adding yet another character who takes up a significant amount of narrative page count and whose potential for redemption forms yet another important plot point.
All of these disparate threads would make interesting plots in their own right however they don’t do much but turn End Time into a cluttered mess. The initial emotional involvement, particularly with Bhakti and Cheryl, is squandered as the novel meanders across these disparate plot threads. With Guy and Lauren you have what could be an interesting haunted house story. With Billy, Bhakti, and Cheryl and the Pied Piper you have what could be an amazing story of supernatural body horror. With “Cowboy Clem” Lattimore you have what could be a great conspiracy story; add a dash of Eleanoar Singh’s narrative into the mix and you have a really great story of science run amok. Unfortunately, End Time only manages to remain interesting enough to keep one reading. There are glimpses of greatness but never anything more and novel’s conclusion remains completely unsatisfying. End Time was not the novel for me.