In 1987, Congressman Benjamin Hardy III died by suicide on live television amidst accusations of political corruption. Years later, rumors of a recording surfaced among VHS trading groups and urban legend chat rooms. Dubbed the “Duncan Tape,” after the deceased cameraman who attempted to sell the video, the rumors allege that anyone who watches the tape is driven to suicide.
Or so the story goes. In truth, no one has ever seen the supposed Duncan Tape, presumably because it doesn’t exist. It’s a ghost story perpetuated on the forums and chat rooms of the internet, another handful of bytes scattered across the Information Superhighway at blistering 56K modem speeds.
For Robby and his friends, an urban legend is the last thing on their minds when a boring Friday night presents a chance to download porn. But the short clip they watch turns out to be something far more graphic and disturbing, and in the coming days, they’ll learn even the most outlandish urban legends possess a shred of truth…
The latest novella from Todd Keisling tackles a lot of sensitive real-world issues and, as a result, it can be a difficult and challenging read at times. The melding of sinister supernatural terror with all too real subject matters is deftly handled, making an already distressing subject matter all the more disturbing. Add in some strong characters and a unique non-linear telling, bookended with a powerful and heartfelt Introduction and Afterword, and the result is a truly unforgettable reading experience.
A group of teenage boys accidentally stumble across a video online seemingly depicting the live airing of the suicide of a well-known politician. The boys’ sense that they have witnessed something they shouldn’t, but this is only the start of a dark path that haunts the group well into their adult years.
The video they have inadvertently seen is known among collectors as the ‘Duncan Tape’ and supposedly does not exist. The effect the tape is having on the boys is all too real, however, as they all begin to have terrifying nightmares that begin to bleed over into their waking hours, forcing them to witness terrible and disturbing images, driving them to suicidal thoughts and the desire to share the video in order to ease their burden.
Scanlines opens with an Author’s Note espousing the good work done by the Suicide Prevention Hotline, and is followed up by a chilling introduction by horror author and publisher Max Booth III which details his personal experience watching the infamous on-air suicide of a politician Budd Dwyer. It is a downbeat and ominous start to what is undeniably a very dark book but, even forewarned, Scanlines goes to some very rough places. It does not shy away from its subject matter (namely suicide) and does not sugar coat the act, its impact or its aftermath in the slightest.
What Keisling does do, is add in a supernatural element that serves to make what would have otherwise been a hard-hitting, downbeat cautionary tale into something genuinely scary. It is still hard-hitting, very much downbeat, but it gets under your skin in a way that few other books manage thanks in large part to how effectively these two elements come together. The format of the book, switching between different POVs and timelines, jumping between characters who are either relaying events as they happen or looking back on them in hindsight, allows each of the group their moment in the spotlight and this focus on character makes a lot of the events of the book all the more tragic.
A deeply disturbing and grounded tale told in a fresh, unique way. This is Todd Keisling’s darkest work to date and perhaps his most accomplished. He treats the difficult subject matter with respect, without shying away from the grim reality of it and the addition of an insidious supernatural element elevates the work, making Scanlines one of the scariest books of the year so far.
The Mort Stone Review
January 22, 1987. American politician R. Budd Dwyer holds a press conference the day before his sentencing after his conviction for accepting a bribe. While maintaining his innocence, he pulls a gun, puts it in his mouth and shoots himself on national television.
Now, I know what you are thinking: Drama queen, right?
This real-life event was the inspiration for this story. Like the three teens in this story, I actually stumbled upon the video as well—just last year, in fact. I was on a share site looking for something and there were these random links, so I clicked on one of them. It wasn’t the whole video, just the part where he said: “Please, please leave the room if this will…if this will affect you.”
Then he puts the gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger.
And, while I might be desensitized to a lot of things, seeing the blood pouring out of his nose as he lay on the ground shook me inside. We are not meant to witness such things.
This story is very dark, the theme ultimately being depression and suicide. I am not going to rehash the blurb—it says all you need to know about the book. However, there are a lot of things about human nature which is hinted at very subtly, and it might serve as a warning to those who have to deal with suicidal thoughts.
It is brilliantly executed—I only wanted to read the introduction by Max Booth III last night and here I am, writing the review. While it might seem like a coming-of-age/haunting/ghost story (and it is all three), this is a look at the darkness we face inside ourselves. I am almost tempted to say that people who doesn’t understand depression and what those who suffer from it go through should read this story and try to wrap their heads around it.
Todd Keisling wrote a very powerful story here, and this is one of those that will stay with you long after you’ve read it. While this has been a good year—book-wise—for me, I am fairly sure this will feature in my top 5 by the end of it. It is as close to perfect as anything I have read.
Final thought…for those who contemplate suicide: You should get help. The most dangerous time is not when you think of reasons to kill yourself, but when you can’t think of any reasons not to.
Richard started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatised himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner, and an inappropriate amount of books.
Mort Stone lives in untamed Africa, where he rides his lion to work every morning to slave away as a scientist who learned how to fake competency.
Reading is his passion…well, the one he can admit to, anyway. As an aggressive pacifist, he chooses to fight vicariously through stories which can bring him no physical harm.
While he is almost confidant that his IQ is in the top 50%, his wife regularly reminds him of all the stupid things he does. He will neither admit nor deny the accusations of sarcasm, but he can act like he cares. Most of the time.
As an avid reader of horror and thrillers, and somewhat of a movie buff in those genres, he still blames his insomnia on Global Warming. Because he can.
He would also like to apologize in advance for any swear words which might slip through…he will blame that on the insomnia.
Curation Results: Scanlines
Curator Notes: "A powerhouse of a story that delves into the rabbit hole of human misery, the sickness of depression and the taint of suicide, boldly written with heart and fearless truth!"—gHoster
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