Traveling from upstate New York to Darfur then accelerating through the Balkans crisis of 1992, Dale Peck's Body Surfing begins with a woman called Ileana who is part of a secret society called The Legion. Ileana is searching the streets
for Alec, one of the beastly Mogran. Filled with an “epidemic of lust,” Alec has been leaving traces of himself everywhere, but while Ileana fanatically searches, she remains haunted by the horrors of a single night in 1992 in the Balkans and the tattered web of memories her own demons
have left in her mind.
with Ileana’s story, Peck delves deep into the life of Leo, the oldest and most powerful of all the Mogran, who is intent on locating
the last of his kind and teaching them how to breed again. Commanding a reservoir of knowledge that rivals a great university’s library, Leo
uses fledging student Jasper Van Ardsdale to achieve his Machiavellian ends. When Jasper dies a virgin in a car accident, his wealthy friend Qusay (Q) survives, and Jasper discovers that he has all of eternity to contemplate his mistake.
Jasper finds himself inhabiting the body of his needy friend Jarhead and eventually becomes set upon a path of bodily possessions and carnal appetites. Meanwhile, Qusay survives the accident unscathed, his mind full of memories and unexplained knowledge as he seeks to understand the power of the Mogran. Eventually all of these characters come together as they ache for the next plane of existence: the darker urges, and the baser ones for sex, violence, and dominance.
From the monstrous to the blood-curdling and onto the brutally erotic, the Mogran
are more intent than ever to slip into people’s bodies, taking over their minds
and exacting violence on those around them while assuming the role of the host and replacing the native mind with its own. At this point, the novel descends into a horror
cum action thriller as the Legion try to uncover the damage of years of deception, engaged to destroy the Mogran who seem to be racing against time to replicate themselves.
Skirting around the edges of pop-culture vampirism, this novel feels trashy and thrown together. Peck’s historical allusions are occasionally interesting, but his prose style
broadcasts cheap. History, violence and death swirl around the main characters - Jasper, Ileana and Q
- as each of them marches to fight the Mogran, but with all of the action and excitement, these people are merely ciphers, cardboard cutouts and cheap symbols for fuelling the bloody, over-the-top action.
While the underlying themes of sex and demons inhabiting the subconscious mind are sometimes compelling, and we are certainly immersed into those malevolent places where evil lurks, Body Surfing is mostly sensational and exploitative in a world where violence endlessly begets violence. In the end, it all comes across as rather silly and ultimately reflects a unique literary talent that is somewhat wasted.