Level 26 is problematic at best.
I’m going to take a more personal approach to this review then I have in the past because that just seems like the best approach.
When I first started reading Level: 26 I decided that I was going to play it straight and read the appropriate book section and dutifully watch each video when the book instructed me to. Obviously there are different approaches that readers can and will take and this is the one that I chose feeling that it was intended by the creators.
This plan worked out well until video 9 when a storm knocked out the cable and internet at home. What I found was that, over the course of those nine video and their corresponding pages was that jumping back and forth, from one medium to the other then back, was VERY disjointed. The two mediums didn’t mesh well in this presentation. When reading a reader will immerse themselves in the story, to surface every 20 pages or so gives them the bends and they get pulled out of the story. The second problem, perhaps more tangential, is that readers will often conjure mental images of characters in a book. It can be more then a bit jarring to find out how wrong you were. But I’ll come back to the videos more specifically in a bit.
When the internet went out I had a decision to make since my plan had been tossed out the window. The story at that point had enough of a hook in me that I decided to keep reading the book and that I would catch up on the videos later. What a world of difference that made! Now it just felt like I was reading a cool Duane Swierczynski horror-thriller. The story progressed more organically and without the distractions of jumping to the videos the book opened up in a much greater way.
Sqweegel is a genuinely horrific creation partly because he doesn’t have any restraints. He does horrible things to people in the book and gets inside of your comfort zone in a way that few other characters do. Where other writers hold their characters back and rely on inferring what they did Zuiker and Swierczynski put those unspeakable acts front and center, giving the reader a front row seat to writhe in.
Now, on to the videos. I was under the impression that they would be of a certain level of quality. This impression didn’t come out of nowhere, the article in USA Today said that “Two of the videos, recently previewed for the media, were as slickly produced as any network TV episode.” and for the life of me I can’t figure out which two videos were previewed. All of the video clips take place on sets that stand out as sets. From dark lighting in the backgrounds to limited camera movements and angles the fakeness of the sets jumps out at the viewer.
A number of the video segments, the “seduction” scene comes to mind, are laughable for all the wrong reasons. The bulk of the video segments scream “B” movie, and not in a good way. And I swear there is at least one continuity error (though to be fair this may be corrected in the finished copy).
The sole exception is the final video segment when the team is gathering for the cliff hanger ending that kicks off the new case for the next book; the mobility of the camera and the depth of the shots involved are like a breath of fresh air to a suffocating man. For the first time it feels like quality movie or a TV show. God I hope that this is indicative of the video segments for the next volume.
The acting. I never once bought into some of the performances of some of the key roles. One could argue that this is subjective but sometimes a bad performance is a bad performance. Steve Dark never comes off as haunted, which he should given his back story, instead he comes off as a guy looking for the next wave and wasn’t there a Steve Dark character on CSI New York? Sibby, portrayed as tough and tender in the book, comes across as annoying. I also think that part of this isn’t her fault though. Some things are best left to the reader’s imagination rather then the viewer’s eye. The aforementioned “seduction” scene is one and the dance at the end is the other. What is presented in the book as ethereal and personal and haunting comes across as clumsy. Obviously the cast is going to be locked in for the duration of the series so there can’t be any changes there but the production values need to be improved upon.
As more of an open ended question — one meant for those that have experienced Level 26 and those that haven’t — If the book alludes to everything that takes place in the video segments then does the book also render them obsolete? Should there be necessary bits of information in each to force the collaboration between the two mediums?
Overall I’ll say that I liked it but I do have some reservations and even some complaints, it’s good but not great. Fans of Duane Swierczynski shouldn’t hesitate to pick this up but might be better served in forgeting about the videos or if you have/want to watch them do so afterwards. Readers new to his work would be greatly served by checking out his other books. I am intrigued by some parts of the segueway into the next storyline and I think that I’ll read the next volume in the series.