Harper Paperbacks (January, 2018)
Kindle edition: $8.99
by Shirley Wetzel
Jeremiah Salinger and his best friend Mike McMellan had big plans when they finished film school. They envisioned themselves making award-winning documentaries about rock stars, but the rock stars nothing to do with them. The roadies for those stars, however, were flattered with the attention. The duo spent several weeks on the road with them, documenting all the back-stage action. The project resulted in a popular television series. The first three seasons were exciting, but by the time the fourth ended, Jeremiah and Mike pulled the plug.
Suffering from burnout, Jeremiah took his family to his wife’s family home in the Alto Adige, an isolated region of the Dolomites. Annelise had grown up there in the tiny town of Siebenhoch, and she wanted their daughter Clara to have some of the same experiences she’d had. Her father Werner Mair welcomed them to the community with open arms, immediately falling in love with his little granddaughter.
Werner was one of the founders of Dolomite Mountain Rescue. He and his fellow mountaineers started it decades ago out of necessity, using outdated tools and their own strength and skills to save lives. Now it is a fully-equipped organization with skilled teams and even a bright-red helicopter. Hundreds of lives had been saved since the early days; it was the pride and joy of the region. Jeremiah and Mike set out to document the organization and its achievements, calling it Mountain Angels.
The project ended in disaster. Jeremiah had a near-death experience, and was left with a few physical injuries and a major case of PTSD. He retreated into himself, suffering from hideous nightmares and auditory hallucinations. He heard the voice of an unnamed, faceless, ancient creature he called the Beast. He refused to take the medication the doctor prescribed to help him recover, because he wanted to suffer for the tragedy. He blamed himself. He was not alone: the townspeople who had just began to accept him and his family blamed him too.
Clara finally brought him back into the world. They took long walks through the mountains, marveling in the flora and fauna of the beautiful land. Clara loved fossils most of all, especially a giant ammonite Yodi. While she was admiring him at the Bletterbach Visitor’s Center, Jeremiah overheard a conversation that would inalterably impact brutal murder of three members of the community left scars on everyone in town.
In April 1985, three young people were camped in the Bletterbach during a storm of epic proportions. When the rescuers, Including Werner Mair, reached them, they found a scene straight out of hell. The bodies had been savaged, chopped and torn apart as if a wild beast had attacked them. Werner told him the story, but warned his son-in-law to leave it alone. After his near breakdown, Jeremiah had promised Anneliese that for one year he would devote himself to his family, giving no thought at all to work. It was a promise he did not, could not, keep. He knew there was much more to the massacre, but when he tried to question those who might have information they turned their backs, pushed him away, and added to Werner’s warning.
BENEATH THE MOUNTAIN is a haunting, chilling tale of human frailties, greed, revenge, and murder. The shadow of the Beast, the ancient, primordial, menacing force lurks in every crevasse, in the deepest caves, in the human mind. Jeremiah is a complex character, at times seeming to have a death wish, at others bursting with purpose and life. He is headstrong, often foolish, but strong and resilient. He obviously adores his family, but can’t control his impulse to dig down to the truth. The other characters are fully delineated and believable. The rugged, tortured, magnificent landscape of the Dolomites comes alive on the page. But for the modern intrusion of technology and science, this story could have taken place hundreds of years ago, with lawmen instead of executioners, rifles in place of pitchforks and torches, and malignant old gossips acting as witches. This is Mr. D’Andrea’s first thriller, and it is already attracting major attention. Highly recommended.
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