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The Devil's Alphabet (Anglais) Broché – 24 novembre 2009

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Chapter One

Pax knew he was almost to Switchcreek when he saw his first argo.

The gray-skinned man was hunched over the engine of a decrepit, roofless pickup truck stalled hood-up at the side of the road. He straightened as Pax's car approached, unfolding like an extension ladder. Ten or eleven feet tall, angular as a dead tree, skin the mottled gray of weathered concrete. No shirt, just overalls that came down to his bony knees. He squinted at Pax's windshield.

Jesus, Pax thought. He'd forgotten how big they were.

He didn't recognize the argo, but that didn't mean much, for a lot of reasons. He might even be a cousin. The neighborly thing would be to pull over and ask the man if he needed help. But Pax was running late, so late. He fixed his eyes on the road outside his windshield, pretending not to see the man, and blew past without touching his brakes. The old Ford Tempo shuddered beneath him as he took the next curve.

The two-lane highway snaked through dense walls of green, the trees leaning into the road. He'd been gone for eleven years, almost twelve. After so long in the north everything seemed too lush, too overgrown. Subtropical. Turn your back and the plants and insects would overrun everything.

His stomach burned from too much coffee, too little food, and the queasy certainty that he was making a mistake. The call had come three days ago, Deke's rumbling voice on his cell phone's voice mail: Jo Lynn was dead. The funeral was on Saturday morning. Just thought you'd want to know.

Pax deleted the message but spent the rest of the week listening to it replay in his head. Dreading a follow-up call. Then 2 a.m. Saturday morning, when it was too late to make the service--too late unless he drove nonstop and the Ford's engine refrained from throwing a rod--he tossed some clothes into a suitcase and drove south out of Chicago at 85 mph.

His father used to yell at him, Paxton Abel Martin, you'd be late for your own funeral! It was Jo who told him not to worry about it, that everybody was late for their own funeral. Pax didn't get the joke until she explained it to him. Jo was the clever one, the verbal one.

At the old town line there was a freshly painted sign: welcome to switchcreek, tn. population 815. The barbed wire fence that used to mark the border was gone. The cement barriers had been pushed to the roadside. But the little guard shack still stood beside the road like an outhouse, abandoned and drowning in kudzu.

The way ahead led into what passed for Switchcreek's downtown, but there was a shortcut to where he was going, if he could find it. He crested the hill, scanning the foliage to his right, and still almost missed it. He braked hard and turned in to a narrow gravel drive that vanished into the trees. The wheels jounced over potholes and ruts, forcing him to slow down.

The road forked and he turned left automatically, knowing the way even though yesterday he wouldn't have been able to describe this road to anyone. He passed a half-burned barn, then a trailer that had been boarded up since he was kid, then the rusted carcass of a '63 Falcon he and Deke had used for target practice with their .22s. Each object seemed strange, then abruptly familiar, then hopelessly strange again--shifting and shifty.

The road came out of the trees at the top of a hill. He braked to a stop, put the car in park. The engine threatened to die, then fell into an unsteady idle.

A few hundred yards below lay the cemetery, the redbrick church, and the gravel parking lot half-full of cars. Satellite trucks from two different television stations were there. In the cemetery, the funeral was already in progress.

Pax leaned forward and folded his arms atop the steering wheel, letting the struggling air conditioner blow into his damp ribs. About fifty people sat or stood around a pearl-gray casket. Most were betas, bald, dark-red heads gleaming like river stones. The few men wore dark suits, the women long dresses. Some of the women had covered their heads with white scarves. A surprising number of them seemed to be pregnant.

An argo couple stood at the rear of the group, towering over the other mourners. The woman's broad shoulders and narrow hips made a V of her pale green dress. The man beside her was a head shorter and skinny as a ladder. He wore a plain blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up his chalky forearms. Deke looked exactly as Pax remembered him.

The people who were seated rose to their feet. They began to sing.

Pax turned off the car and rolled down the window. Some of the voices were high and flutelike, but the bass rumble, he knew, was provided by the booming chests of the two argos. The melody was difficult to catch at first, but then he recognized the hymn "Just As I Am." He knew the words by heart. It was an altar-call song, a slow weeper that struck especially hard for people who'd come through the Changes. Leading them through the song, her brickred face tilted to the sky, was a beta woman in a long skirt, a flowing white blouse, and a colorful vest. The pastor, Pax guessed, though it was odd to think of a woman pastor at this church. It was odd to think of anyone but his father in the pulpit.

When the song ended the woman said a few words that Pax couldn't catch, and then the group began to walk toward the back door of the church. As the rows cleared, two figures remained seated in front of the casket: two bald girls in dark dresses. Some of the mourners touched the girls' shoulders and moved on.

Those had to be the twins. Jo's daughters. He'd known he'd see them here, had braced for it, but even so he wasn't ready. He was grateful for this chance to see them first from a distance.

A bald beta man in a dark blue suit squatted down between the girls, and after a brief exchange took their hands in

his. They stood and he led them to the church entrance. The argo couple hung back. They bent their heads together, and then the woman went inside alone, ducking to make it through the entrance. Deke glanced up to where Paxton's car sat on the hill.

Pax leaned away from the windshield. What he most wanted was to put the car in reverse, then head back through the trees to the highway. Back to Chicago. But he could feel Deke looking at him.

He stepped out of the car, and hot, moist air enveloped him. He reached back inside and pulled out his suit jacket--frayed at the cuffs, ten years out of style--but didn't put it on. If he was lucky he wouldn't have to wear it at all.

"Into the valley of death," he said to himself. He folded the jacket over his arm and walked down the hill to the cemetery's rusting fence.

The back gate squealed open at his push. He walked through the thick grass between the headstones. When he was a kid he'd used this place like a playground. They all had--Deke, Jo, the other church kids--playing hide and seek, sardines, and of course ghost in the graveyard. There weren't so many headstones then.

Deke squatted next to the grave, his knees higher than his head like an enormous grasshopper. He'd unhooked one of the chains that had connected the casket to the frame and was rolling it up around his hand. "Thought that was you," he said without looking up from his work. His voice rumbled like a diesel engine.

"How you doing, Deke."

The man stood up. Pax felt a spark of fear--the back-brain yip of a small mammal confronted with a much larger predator. Argos were skinny, but their bony bodies suggested scythes, siege engines. And Deke seemed to be at least a foot taller than the last time Pax had seen him. His curved spine made his head sit lower than his shoulders, but if he could stand up straight he'd be twice Paxton's height.

"You've grown," Pax said. If they'd been anywhere near the same size they might have hugged--normal men did that all the time, didn't they? Then Deke held out a hand the size of a skillet, and Pax took it as best he good. Deke could have crushed him, but he kept his grip light. His palm felt rough and unyielding, like the face of a cinderblock. "Long time, P.K.," he said.

P.K. Preacher's Kid. Nobody had called him that since he was fifteen. Since the day he left Switchcreek.

Pax dropped his arm. He could still feel the heat of Deke's skin on his palm.

"I didn't get your message until last night," Pax lied. "I drove all night to get here. I must look like hell."

Deke tilted his head, not disagreeing with him. "The important thing's you got here. I told the reverend I'd take care of the casket, but if you want to go inside, they're setting out the food."

"No, that's--I'm not hungry." Another lie. But he hadn't come here for a hometown reunion. He needed to pay his respects and that was it. He was due back at the restaurant by Monday.

He looked at the casket, then at the glossy, polished gravestone. Someone had paid for a nice one.



DIED AUGUST 17, 2010


"'Loving Mother.' That's nice," Pax said. But the epitaph struck him as entirely inadequate. After awhile he said, "It seems weird to boil everything down to two words like that."

"Especially for Jo," Deke said. A steel frame supported the casket on thick straps. Deke squatted again to turn a stainless steel handle next to the screw pipe. The casket began to lower into the hole. "It's the highest compliment the betas have, though. Pretty much the only one that counts."

The casket touched bottom. Paxton knelt and pulled up the straps on his side of the grave. Then the two of them lifted the metal frame out of the way.

Paxton brushed the red clay from his knees. They stood there looking into the hole.

The late Jo Lynn Whitehall, Paxton thought.

He tried to imagine her body inside the casket, but it was impossible. He couldn't picture either of the Jos he'd known--not the brown-haired girl from before the Changes, or the sleek creature she'd become after. He waited for tears, the physical rush of some emotion that would prove that he loved her. Nothing came. He felt like he was both here and not here, a double image hovering a few inches out of true.

Paxton breathed in, then blew out a long breath. "Do you know why she did it?" He couldn't say the word "suicide."

Deke shook his head. They were silent for a time and then Deke said, "Come on inside."

Deke didn't try to persuade him; he simply went in and Pax followed, down the narrow stairs--the dank, cinderblock walls smelling exactly as Pax remembered--and into the basement and the big open room they called the Fellowship Hall. The room was filled with rows of tables covered in white plastic tablecloths. There were at least twice as many people as

he'd seen outside at the burial. About a dozen of them were "normal"--unchanged, skipped, passed over, whatever you wanted to call people like him--and none of them looked like reporters.

Deke went straight to the buffet, three tables laid end-

to-end and crowded with food. No one seemed to notice that Pax had snuck in behind the tall man.

The spread was as impressive as the potlucks he remembered as a boy. Casseroles, sloppy joes, three types of fried chicken, huge bowls of mashed potatoes . . . One table held nothing but desserts. Enough food to feed three other congregations.

While they filled their plates Pax surreptitiously looked over the room, scanning for the twins through a crowd of alien faces. After so long away it was a shock to see so many of the changed in one room. TDS--Transcription Divergence Syndrome--had swept through Switchcreek the summer he was fourteen. The disease had divided the population, then divided it again and again, like a dealer cutting a deck of cards into smaller piles. By the end of the summer a quarter of the town was dead. The survivors were divided by symptoms into clades: the giant argos, the seal-skinned betas, the fat charlies. A few, a very few, weren't changed at all--at least in any way you could detect.

A toddler in a Sunday dress bumped into his legs and careened away, laughing in a high, piping voice. Two other bald girls--all beta children were girls, all were bald--chased after her into a forest of legs.

Most of the people in the room were betas. The women and the handful of men were hairless, skin the color of cabernet, raspberry, rose. The women wore dresses, and now that he was closer he could see that even more were pregnant than he'd supposed. The expectant mothers tended to be the younger, smaller women. They were also the ones who seemed to be wearing the head scarves.

He was surprised by how different the second-generation daughters were from their mothers. The mothers, though skinny and bald and oddly colored, could pass for normal women with some medical condition--as chemo patients, maybe. But their children's faces were flat, the noses reduced to a nub and two apostrophes, their mouths a long slit.

Someone grabbed his arm. "Paxton Martin!"

He put on an expectant smile before he turned.

"It is you," the woman said. She reached up and pulled him down into a hug. She was about five feet tall and extremely wide, carrying about three hundred pounds under a surprisingly well-tailored pink pantsuit.

She drew back and gazed at him approvingly, her over-inflated face taut and shiny. Lime green eyeshade and bright red rouge added to the beach ball effect.

"Aunt Rhonda," he said, smiling. She wasn't his aunt, but everyone in town called her that. He was surprised at how happy he was to see her.

"Just look at you," she said. "You're as handsome as I remember."

Pax felt the heat in his cheeks. He wasn't handsome, not in the ways recognized by the outside world. But in Switchcreek he was a skip, one of the few children who had come through the Changes unmarked and still breathing.

Rhonda didn't seem to notice his embarrassment. "This is a terrible thing, isn't it? People say the word 'tragic' too much, but that's what it is. I can't imagine how tough it must be on her girls."

He didn't know what to say except, "Yes."

Présentation de l'éditeur

From Daryl Gregory, whose Pandemonium was one of the most exciting debut novels in memory, comes an astonishing work of soaring imaginative power that breaks new ground in contemporary fantasy.

Switchcreek was a normal town in eastern Tennessee until a mysterious disease killed a third of its residents and mutated most of the rest into monstrous oddities. Then, as quickly and inexplicably as it had struck, the disease–dubbed Transcription Divergence Syndrome (TDS)–vanished, leaving behind a population divided into three new branches of humanity: giant gray-skinned argos, hairless seal-like betas, and grotesquely obese charlies.

Paxton Abel Martin was fourteen when TDS struck, killing his mother, transforming his preacher father into a charlie, and changing one of his best friends, Jo Lynn, into a beta. But Pax was one of the few who didn’t change. He remained as normal as ever. At least on the outside.

Having fled shortly after the pandemic, Pax now returns to Switchcreek fifteen years later, following the suicide of Jo Lynn. What he finds is a town seething with secrets, among which murder may well be numbered. But there are even darker–and far weirder–mysteries hiding below the surface that will threaten not only Pax’s future but the future of the whole human race.

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Format: Broché
Daryl Gregory a publié je crois pour le moment trois romans et un recueil de nouvelles:
- 1: Pandemonium (2008)
- 2: The Devil's Alphabet (2009)
- 3: Raising Stony Mayhall (2011)
- 4: Unpossible and Other Stories (Novembre 2011)
Note: Aucun de ces romans n'est pour le moment traduit en français.
J'avais été enthousiasmée par "Raising..." et j'avais apprécié l'originalité de "Pandemonium", ce qui m'a incité à continuer d'explorer l'univers de l'auteur.

Dans "The Devil's Alphabet", un lecteur de Daryl Gregory se retrouve en terrain connu. Comme dans ses autres livres, il y a une idée forte, de la créativité, de l'originalité. Une mystérieuse "épidémie" s'est répendue dans une petite ville du Sud des Etats-Unis, dans les années 80. Des hommes sont morts. D'autres ont survécu, sans changement physique visible. Mais la plupart se sont transformés. Ne sachant comment les appeler, la communauté scientifique les a nommé à partir des lettres de l'alphabet. Nous avons donc les Argos, les Betas et les Charlies (pourquoi pas Alphas, Bravos, Charlies? Ou Alphas, Betas, Gammas? D'habitude tout est logique chez D.
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3 commentaires Une personne a trouvé cela utile. Avez-vous trouvé ce commentaire utile ? Oui Non Commentaire en cours d'envoi...
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Par Guinea Pig TOP 500 COMMENTATEURSMEMBRE DU CLUB DES TESTEURS le 25 septembre 2011
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Une quinzaine d'années plus tôt, une étrange fièvre a saisi l'ensemble d'un petit village paumé du sud des EU, exterminant une bonne partie de la population et transformant presque l'intégralité des survivants en monstres, selon trois vagues de mutations génétiques successives, aboutissant à la création de géants au teint crayeux et à la voix d'outre-tombe (argos), d'êtres chauves, petits, râblés à la peau couleur de vin (betas) et d'obèses au poids spectaculaires (Charlies).
Le personnage principal de l'histoire, Pax, fait partie des rares à être sorti indemne de cette catastrophe biologique, ou du moins presque indemne, puisque sa mère n'a pas résisté à la fièvre et que son père, l'ancien pasteur du village, est devenu un Charlie. Il a fui au nord, survivant plutôt que vivant, chassé du village par son père dans des circonstances mystérieuses. Il revient ainsi pour la première fois à Switchcreek, obéissant à l'appel de son ami d'enfance, Deke, transformé jadis en argo, pour assister à l'enterrement de sa meilleure amie, Jo Lynn, devenue elle-même une beta.

Comme dans chaque livre de Daryl Gregory, la matière du récit trouve ses racines dans le passé, les relations familiales et les amitiés de l'enfance. La lecture est très agréable, passionnante, et le ton toujours très juste. Les personnages sont intelligemment établis, toujours très vivants, crédibles et touchants.
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Il s'agit sans conteste d'un roman de mutant, nous voici plongés dans une petite ville rurale américaine qui fleure bon les vieux westerns dans lequel une mystérieuse maladie/mutation a fait des ravages une dizaine d'années auparavant, laissant de nombreux morts sur le carreau, quelques rescapés et mutant les corps de tous les autres selon trois nouveau génotypes stables et sans rapport aucun avec la biosphère terrestre telle que nous la connaissons.

Nous avons les Alpha (géants de presque quatre mètres de haut), les Beta (petits chauves, de couleur rouge se reproduisant par parthénogénèse) et les Charlie (version XXL de l'humanité). Ces nouvelles races ne possèdent pas de super-pouvoirs ni de super-capacités, là s'arrête donc un des ressorts de lecture du lectorat de science-fiction, ne reste donc que l'impact d'un tel évènement sur la dynamique sociale de la petite ville elle-même ainsi que du monde extérieur.

L'histoire est essentiellement mue par la résolution du meurtre de l'amie d'enfance de Paxton, une Beta, retrouvée assassinée et qui suscite le retour de Paxton dans sa petite ville qu'il avait quitté sitôt la quarantaine levée. Il y a aussi des enjeux très personnels puisque Paxton y retrouve son père, transformé en Charlie bientôt impotent, qu'il avait quitté en mauvais termes.
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3.8 étoiles sur 5 30 commentaires
20 internautes sur 22 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Literary SF in a Small Southern Town with a Great Sense of Humor Thrown In 4 décembre 2009
Par Moses Siregar III - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I stumbled onto one of Daryl Gregory's short stories ("Unpossible") in a yearly anthology and instantly became a fan of his work. THE DEVIL'S ALPHABET is entirely different than Unpossible, but because of reading the short story first I expected to be left with a great feeling in the end and I was not disappointed.

I found something from Gregory himself in an interview he gave to Locus Magazine, and not surprisingly it describes the book well:

START QUOTE "I turned in my second novel, and it's totally unrelated to Pandemonium. Instead of a fantasy that feels like science fiction, it's a hard SF book that feels like fantasy. It's got a working title of Oh, You Pretty Things, a riff on the David Bowie song. It's about quantum evolution running wild in a tiny Tennessee mountain town. I'm calling it a Southern Gothic/science fiction/murder mystery." END QUOTE

I would've rather seen Gregory's suggested title and a less creepy-looking cover for the book, because I think that would have portrayed the book more accurately (plus, David Bowie). There is definitely enough suspense in the book (its biggest mystery is a whodunnit), but it isn't a fast-paced thriller, and it comes across much more charming than it does frightening. Yet its premise is a sufficiently weird SF/F one, and I mean that as a compliment. It's not a story with nice shades of grey.

The book reads like a rich literary work, especially, I think, toward the beginning. As the book goes along, I thought the pace picked up some and there is a bit less description. I thoroughly enjoyed the book from start to finish, though, and Gregory provides an excellent sense of place in the small southern town in the Tennessee mountains where the book takes place (cue: John Cougar Mellencamp music); I grew up some in the south, and I think Gregory did a rather good job describing it. Its characters are well-developed (Paxton, the main character, especially towards the second half of the book), and its premise remains interesting and oddly "believable." Oh, and I don't think I'll ever be able to get the image of Rhonda out of my head. If she starts haunting my dreams, I will have to track Daryl Gregory down and seek revenge.

What I liked most about it, though, was the sense of humor running through a good story. My favorite thing about Gregory's writing is his ability to throw in a hilarious line that fits completely within the context of the story he's writing; I laughed out loud about a dozen times. I also appreciated the realistic (and funny) references to modern Americana. One key character, for example, used to slick his hair down with Alberto VO5. That was in the second chapter, and at that point I knew it was going to be a fun ride.

Publisher's Weekly named it one of the top five SF/F books of 2009. Here's what they said about it, which I agree with:

START QUOTE "This subtle, eerie present-day horror novel mercilessly dissects and reassembles the classic narrative of a man returning to his smalltown birthplace, where the familiar folks have become strange creatures... Gregory (Pandemonium) produces a quietly brilliant second novel... A wide variety of believable characters, a well-developed sense of place and some fascinating scientific speculation will earn this understated novel an appreciative audience among fans of literary SF." END QUOTE

The "Stomping on Yeti" blog sums up something else that I wanted to say:

START QUOTE "There are books that grab you from the first page, dragging you along at a relentless pace. Then there are books that slowly seduce you with strong characters and until you find yourself captivated and caring more than you would ever expect. Daryl Gregory's brilliant sophomore effort, The Devil's Alphabet, is definitely one of the latter." END QUOTE

Most novels I try to read get thrown against the wall and abandoned before their half-way point. I read this one quickly, and happily, straight through. Its often southern-style pace was gentler than I expected from the cover and title, but its literary richness turned out to be a pleasant surprise and it was a quick page-turner for me nonetheless. I look forward to more stories and laughs from the author.
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Don't judge this book by its cover! 26 mars 2010
Par Erin K. Simons - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
[close] As a reader, I operate under a strict "you can't judge a book by its cover" policy. The Devil's Alphabet tested that resolve, though. When I picked it up at the library, my 4-year-old daughter cringed. "Ew, that's scary, mom," she said. And she's right - the cover art is a little dark. But like many books, I quickly discovered that the image on the cover is more unsettling than any of the content within.

I was expecting a sci-fi/horror story, but I was surprised to discover that Daryl Gregory's second novel is really neither of these things. Sure, it's sci-fi in that the story takes place in an alternate reality with some pretty fantastic characters unlike anything I've ever encountered. But beneath all that, The Devil's Alphabet reads more like a gothic southern mystery akin to something Charlaine Harris might dream up.

The plot is too complicated and rich to sum up effectively in a short review, but here's it in a nutshell: Paxton Martin is the prodigal son returning to his hometown of Switchcreek, Tenn. to attend his childhood best friend's funeral. But Switchcreek is not your average small town --it's the site of the TDS crisis, an unexplained epidemic that swept through the community 15 years ago and left 30 percent of the town dead, and nearly everyone else changed in some way. His best friend, Deke is an "argo" -- the result of the first wave of the disease, which left people gray-skinned, sterile and more than 8-feet tall. His friend Jo, recently deceased, was turned into a beta -- the spontaneously-breeding, bald, burgundy-skinned victims of the second wave of the disorder. Paxton's father, Harlan -- a former pastor -- is a "charlie" -- the morbidly obese clade that emerged in the final stage of the Changes. Paxton himself is a rare "skip" - someone that made it through the TDS outbreak without any physical effects whatsoever.

Paxton quickly discovers that all is not right in his hometown. His father seems to be going insane, and needs care Paxton isn't sure he's able to provide. The former church secretary, Rhonda, is now Mayor Rhonda -- and has become a scheming, manipulative leader bent on preserving her town, but most importantly, her Charlie clade at any cost. Half the town is addicted to a strange drug called The Vintage. And all is not as it seems when it comes to Jo's apparent suicide -- or her 12-year-old beta twin daughters.

The plot is multi-layered and one of the most creative I've read in years -- I was drawn into the murder mystery as well as all the strange politics and relationships of the town. But the characters are also top-notch. Pax is a great narrator, because his outsider status, lack of life direction and self-understanding allows him to discover the mysteries of the town right along with readers.

All in all, don't judge a book by its cover. I feel like many of the people that would most enjoy The Devil's Alphabet might be unwilling to pick up the book just because of the unsettling cover art. This is a gothic murder mystery first. Yes, there are a few gross elements in the book, and some unconventional sexual content is inferred, but for the most part, it's a story that is one part science, one part science fiction and one part good, old-fashioned small town secrets.
6 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Not bad but a little misleading. 12 juillet 2010
Par Disciple of Poseidon - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Mr. Gregory should have chosen a different title and cover art because they are a bit misleading. They paint a picture of horror and suspense. This book is not a horror novel or thriller in any sense. This is more a biological mystery slash sci/fi. The book is about a biological disaster that befalls a small Tennessee town that kills many residents and mutates most of the survivors into three classes, the tall gangly lurch-like alphas, the hairless, asexual reproducing and red skinned betas, and the extremely muscle-bound, obese and aphrodisiac producing (the vintage) charlies. The main is character Paxton, who is called a skip, because the disease had no effect on him. Paxton returns to town many years after the disaster to uncover the mysterious death of a close friend who has recently died. This is not a bad book by any means; it is a good whodunnit with sci/fi in the background. To me, it felt a little unfinished. The ending left a little to be desired and the answers it provided were short of my expectations. I do recommend this novel to sci/fi enthusiasts. This is not a book for someone who is looking for a horror novel.
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Its unique premise makes it compulsively readable, but in conclusion the book is unsatisfying. Moderately recommended 11 mai 2010
Par Juushika - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Switchcreek was once a small town like any other, until a mysterious disease swept through, killing many residents and transforming even more into one of three new humanoid species. Pax is an even rarer oddity: a human left untouched by the disease. Now, 13 years after leaving, Pax returns to his childhood home to attend a friend's funeral, and his stay in Switchcreek may reveal much about his own past and the town's strange biology and society. The Devil's Alphabet's intrigue is its premise. Unusual and often mysterious, Switchcreek's strangeness is what grabs the reader's interest and holds it through the length of the novel. Gregory often manages a balance between confusion and explication that avoids frustration while encouraging constant investigation, a recipe for a compelling, addicting novel. But the unusual premise--and the emphasis placed upon it--is also the book's greatest weakness. Many questions offered by the premise go unanswered, which is realistic and understandable but also leaves the book without a strong conclusion: the premise ends at it began, complex and mysterious, begging another look--but offering none.

The emphasis placed upon the premise meanwhile overshadows other aspects like character and plot. These aspects do still exist, of course: Pax rides the edge of antihero, making him at once deeply flawed and sympathetic, and the distinctly human, uniquely alien individuals and societies of Switchcreek offer significant interest and depth; together, this makes for a strong cast of characters. The plot, built on the mystery of Pax's friend's death, is solid but unremarkable. It goes through the motions of beginning, middle, and end; the problem comes when the plot ends and the mystery of the premise, which has capitalized the reader's attention, continues. Would that more of Pax's childhood had been brought to light to put more emphasis on his childhood friendships and more of the reader's focus--and satisfaction--on the characters and plot. As it stands, Alphabet is unbalanced--not so much as to distract from the pleasure of reading it (indeed the book is almost compulsively readable), but enough to leave a lingering question at the end: "What that all?" I recommend the book with reservations. It's intriguing, often compelling, but in its conclusion it's inescapably flawed.
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Paxton Abel Martin is returning home 28 décembre 2009
Par Bookreporter - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Paxton Abel Martin is returning home. Fifteen years earlier, he left everything behind believing that was the last he would ever see of Switchcreek, Tennessee --- and he was fine with that. Now, the death of a childhood friend, Jo Lynn, is pulling him back to a place he has done his best to forget.

When Pax was a teenager, Switchcreek residents were infected with a strange disease. The people who survived began transforming. The disease, known as Transcription Divergence Syndrome (TDS), created three new branches of humans --- argos, giant-like and gray skinned; betas, hairless and wine-colored; and charlies, intensely obese individuals. Pax is what is known as a skip, someone unaffected by TDS and who remains human with no discernible change to his DNA.

Those close to Pax were changed dramatically: his mother succumbed to the disease; his father, the town's preacher, became a charlie; and his best friends, Deke and Jo Lynn, were transformed into an argo and a beta, respectively. Not understanding anything about their new bodies or the disease, the town's residents are left to figure out on their own what the transformations mean. When Jo Lynn becomes pregnant, Pax is forced to leave town by his father, not understanding that betas are capable of self-fertilization. He never stopped thinking of her or the child, and it is her death that brings him back to Switchcreek.

This is not the same town he left all those years ago. His father, one of the original charlies, is now producing an addictive chemical called vintage that no one seems to understand, but is very much in demand. Pax soon finds out the cost of the vintage to the town's mayor, Rhonda, and the locals. Suddenly, for a man who hasn't spoken to his father in over a decade, Pax becomes very protective of him.

Pax tries his best to comprehend what happened to Jo Lynn and come to some understanding of her and her death. No one wants to talk about her supposed suicide and what may have led to it. He becomes suspicious of Rhonda and what she's planning, and everyone in Switchcreek is guarded in their opinions of her. As a charlie, she's formidable, and though the female charlies are smaller in comparison, she's still a force of nature that no resident wants to anger.

When a new outbreak in South America threatens the residents of Switchcreek with another government quarantine, Pax finally comes to terms with his new life and what he must do to protect his family and friends.

I have to admit that I didn't like the Pax character very much. He didn't ask questions, had a curiosity level that bordered on zero, and does his best to remain aloof and unforgiving the entire time he's home. He constantly looks for a moment to leave but couldn't muster the courage to actually get in the car and go. He doesn't have a great life to return to, but spending his time feeling left out also doesn't appeal. You begin to wonder why he's in Switchcreek and if he cared for his friends and family at all. In the end, he does come around, and it did make me feel a bit more sympathetic towards him.

Daryl Gregory has an engaging writing style, and while I didn't care much for Pax, he infused the book with enough interesting turns to keep me reading. I found myself wanting to know more about the residents, what happened to them, and why they changed. The explanations he offers are intriguing and somewhat off the wall, but we're talking about people who have become a new strain of humanity, so in the end it was not all that strange.

I usually stay away from dystopian-type books, and, although I was put off by a few actions of the main character here, I did enjoy the way Gregory portrayed the residents of Switchcreek and what they were doing to create their own world --- separate yet still within the confines of the world we know.

--- Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski
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