The Phoenix Man (Chill #5)
Jory Sherman | Pinnacle Books | 1980 | 175 pages
Psychic investigator Dr. Russel V. “Chill” Chillders returns in the fifth installment of the supernatural series.
Chill responds to a request for help from Wilbur Hornsby, who along with his twin scientist brother, Malcolm, has succeeded in creating a method for human cloning. Upon their test subject’s death, the soul of the recently deceased seeks out and inhabits the next in a series of fully grown cloned bodies, which wait indefinitely suspended in a row of fluid-filled bubbles in the pair’s laboratory. However, Wilbur suspects that his brother intends to use the clone—who in a glaring example of scientific oversight, happens to be violent drifter with a criminal history—to kill him and take the credit for their discoveries.
Unfortunately, The Phoenix Man plays out as more of a men’s action-adventure tale than an occult mystery, complete with descriptions of weapons and their impact on the human anatomy that flirt with becoming gun-porn.
“The Speer bullet slammed a hole in Samson’s forehead at the speed of 1625 feet per second. The soft lead core flattened against the frontal bone, crumpling the inner fluted jacket of the bullet, creating, in effect, a tiny lethal hammer. A spray of blood blew out with the brains, bone, and gristle of Samson’s head, leaving a gaping hole in the rear of his skull.”
Chill himself is cast in the role of action hero, with his burgeoning telepathic powers kept fallow. Laura Littlefawn, Chill’s half-Sioux psychic associate, only briefly enters a trance-state to elicit the location of a subject; otherwise, she tags along to provide the will-they-or-won’t-they romantic tension [they won’t], and falls into the hands of the villains—becoming another victim in need of rescuing by Chill. Hal Strong, the occult-minded professor who rounds out Chill’s usual team, literally waits out the entire story in an RV.
By this fifth book in the series, the characters have all become extremely reductive; Chill reflects by munching on sesame sticks, Laura wears turquoise and silver jewelry to accentuate her dark hair and eyes, and Hal wonders where he can pick-up road-loving ladies to accompany him in his recreational vehicle isolation. Even Malcolm Hornsby is defined by a distinctive facial tic, which conveniently proves quite useful later to differentiate him from his good brother.
The Hornsby brothers’ clone is driven by a rage from a single factor, not the greater existential quandary of his predicament, but rather his newfound impotence.