Review: ‘Dark Revelations: A Level 26 Thriller Featuring Steve Dark’

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CSI creator Anthony Zuiker releases the final digi-novel in the bestselling Level 26 trilogy.

Title: Dark Revelations: A Level 26 Thriller Featuring Steve Dark
Author: Anthony E Zuiker with Duane Swierczynski
Release Date: December 29, 2011
Publisher: Dutton
ISBN: 978-0-525-95197-1
Price: $26.95


[Please note that this review contains spoilers for the first two books in the Level 26 series.]

Dark Revelations is the third and final installment in CSI creator Anthony Zuiker’s hit Level 26 series of “digi-novels”, which he co-wrote with Duane Swierczynski. Like the first two books, Dark Origins and Dark Prophecy, Dark Revelations combines traditional reading with video “cyber bridges”. These bridges are short segments that can be accessed on Level26.com using codes sprinkled throughout the book. The digi-novel is an interesting, exciting way to consume the narrative, and the concept has evolved since the first novel. Out of the three books in the series, Dark Revelations best represents the digi-novel as it was envisioned.

The final book in the trilogy centers around the hunt for Labyrinth, a smart, sophisticated criminal with a message behind his murders. He’s always several steps ahead of the authorities, and it takes a man like Steve Dark to come close to capturing him. Introduced in Dark Origins as a tortured man whose ability to track the worst of the worst is both a gift and a curse, Dark has come a long way since the start of the series. He’s still good at what he does, but he’s a different man these days. The hunt for Sqweegel in Dark Origins left him a broken man after the loss of his wife Sibby, and he spent Dark Prophecy trying to balance his tormented psyche with the demands of fatherhood. Little Sibby, named after her late mother, provides Dark with a reason to fight his own inner demons, and that struggle continues in Dark Revelations. Fortunately, it feels like Dark is starting to reconcile the two disparate parts of himself, and the final book in the trilogy finds him dealing with his issues in a way that bodes well for his future as a man and as a father.

When the Level 26 series began, Dark was working with the Special Circs division of the United States government. He left Special Circs at the start of Dark Prophecy, but he couldn’t give up the hunt. A mysterious woman named Lisa Graysmith found him and offered him an intriguing proposition: he could have unlimited resources at his disposal to track down monsters like the Tarot Card Killer featured in that novel. When Dark Revelations gets underway, Dark learns more about his mysterious benefactors as he is invited to join the organization: Global Alliance. It’s a small group featuring the best agents from around the world, and they work together to use their unique, impressive skills to track down the worst criminals imaginable.

Overall, Global Alliance is a bit too omnipotent. It provides Dark with unlimited resources, but it also seems to have an unreasonable amount of power worldwide. Despite the fact that Dark has never heard of this group before, it seems as though every single law enforcement officer they encounter recognizes the logo. Dark only has to flash his cellphone to get complete, unquestioned access to anyone and anything he wants. The leader of Global Alliance, a secretive billionaire named Damian Blair, says the organization is supported by governments around the world, but they don’t answer to anyone but themselves.

With the introduction of Global Alliance, Dark Revelations brings some new characters into the mix, including Natasha Garcon, a beautiful and brilliant linguist with a (perhaps unbelievable) list of skills. She provides a tantalizing romantic prospect for Dark, but the character doesn’t get much development throughout the novel as the narrative focuses on Dark and his latest nemesis. The other two members of Global Alliance, Hans Roeding and Deckland O’Brian, are also superficially sketched, and I would have loved to learn more about the weapons expert and computer genius.

Dark’s old colleagues in Special Circs are still around, but their role in Dark Revelations is greatly diminished. Lab tech Josh Banner gets a few scenes early on, and Constance Brielle is limited to one brief but meaningful exchange with Dark’s former boss, Tom Riggins. Riggins, meanwhile, sticks around longer than the others, and he gets to participate in the action of the novel despite the fact that Special Circs is all but defunct.

The relationship between Dark and Riggins was one of the high points of Dark Origins, although it was nearly absent during the turbulent events of Dark Prophecy. It returns a bit in Dark Revelations, as Dark continues to wrestle with his demons—particularly the demon that haunts him the most, Sqweegel. Sqweegel was the twisted, forensic proof serial killer introduced in Dark Origins, and he is perhaps the most recognizable symbol of the Level 26 series. (In fact, Black Sqweegel, a character teased at the end of Dark Origins and the start of Dark Prophecy, appeared in an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation named after him.)

Sqweegel was the monster who nearly destroyed Dark. The killer murdered his entire foster family, and Dark’s wife Sibby also fell victim in the end. Dark captured and killed Sqweegel, but his memory continues to haunt Dark throughout the rest of the trilogy. Dark Origins teased the true relationship between Dark and Sqweegel, and Dark Revelations brings the truth to light and forces Dark to face it. The inner conflict brings the series full circle, and it’s satisfying for longterm readers who wanted to see how that storyline would be resolved. It ties in with a question the characters—and readers—have been asking through the entire series: is Dark going to the dark side? Will he become one of the monsters he hunts? Dark Revelations provides an answer without tying up every single loose end; while this may be the end of the series, this is certainly not the end of the line for Dark and the others.

Dark is the protagonist of Dark Revelations, but Labyrinth gets a great deal of focus as well, particularly in the cyber bridges. He has a message, and it’s a message he communicates brilliantly throughout the novel. He’s not just killing people for fun or for attention. Every single thing he does is meticulous and intentional, and he plans each move well in advance. In fact, he doesn’t even kill every victim. He’s always looking at the bigger picture, and his message catches on in the book via social networking sites. It’s a very modern story, and very relevant to the world we live in today. As Joshua Caldwell, who directed the cyber bridges, explained in his recent interview with CSI Files:

I think these bridges really feed into a collective sentiment that’s floating around out there, the idea that our world is corrupt, that we are not living up to our potential and that the majority of the people aren’t getting a fair shake. The timeliness of it was something that makes the book and the bridges really unique.

Labyrinth is trying to draw attention to the decadence of the rich and powerful, the damage mankind is causing the environment, the corruption of the world’s governments—even if his methods are abhorrent, readers may find themselves identifying strongly with the message behind his words. Dark Revelations is a great crime thriller, but it also provides plenty of food for thought once the reader is finished with the story.

Hal Ozsan portrays Labyrinth in the cyber bridges, and he’s a great choice for the role. To all appearances, the character is handsome, charming and non-threatening to those around him. He easily gains the trust of others, and he blends into any environment without seeming the slightest bit out of place. However, his thoughts, presented in the novel from a first-person point of view, reveal his fanaticism and offer a clue about how his mind works.

There are only eight cyber bridges in Dark Revelations, which is down from twenty in Dark Origins and eleven in Dark Prophecy. The bridges strike the right balance between those from the previous novels, proving how much the digi-novel concept has evolved since the series began. Book one featured a variety of scenes that tied into the novel, although some felt unnecessary or distasteful. Book two took a different approach, and each cyber bridge was part of an hour-long short film featuring Dark at a tarot card reading which tied in with the book’s plot. The bridges in Dark Revelations return to the format of Dark Origins, where each video is relevant to a particular segment of the novel. Overall, the clips in book three focus on bringing Labyrinth and his message to life, giving readers a glimpse of a complex character and adding to the narrative that is presented in the novel.

Dark Revelations is an excellent ending to a series that has provided readers with a brand new way to consume a crime novel. The stories stand on their own as great thrillers with a believable, relatable protagonist and strong supporting cast. Additionally, over the course of three books, the concept of the digi-novel has really come into its own. I’d love to see future titles continue the tradition, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a few new novels with Steve Dark and the rest of the Level 26 cast at their heart.


Rachel Trongo is the news writer for CSI Files.

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