Matthew Warner

The Organ Donor — Cemetery Dance review

Book review of The Organ Donor by Matthew Warner
published in Cemetery Dance magazine, July 2003

Written by William D. Gagliani
Reprinted by permission of William D. Gagliani.

Enthusiasm can carry first novels, and Matthew Warner’s own first attempt benefits greatly from the author’s obvious enthusiasm. Good news is that it also benefits from good writing, a greatly inventive plot rife with allegorical subtexts, and better than average action sequences. Like a cross between a sort of Hammer Films-version of The Mummy and a Chinese made Godzilla, The Organ Donor is vivid enough to overcome its relatively short length and lack of subplots, which make it seem more like a long novella.

The plot may be fairly straightforward, but it’s based on a reality so vile that it begs for an expose’. Warner’s research into the Chinese practice of illegally harvesting human organs from executed prisoners against their will and without the knowledge of their families here takes an even darker spin.  American brothers Tim and Paul Taylor travel to China, where a highly-placed government official who owes their deceased CIA operative father a favor has agreed to help Tim find a kidney transplant. Unfortunately, despite all assurances to the contrary, the organ Tim receives is from an executed prisoner who is not whom he appears to be. And when a terrorist act results in Paul’s immediate need for certain emergency transplants as well, suddenly both brothers are destined to face an ancient evil. For the prisoner isn’t dead, and he wants his organs back.

Soon, Tim’s murder sets Paul directly face to face with the supernatural origin of his transplants — in his case, his corneas and a forearm bone. Facing doubtful cops, especially a beautiful detective who may or may not believe him, and also trying to save his mother from the monster’s vengeance, Paul must undergo a surprising transformation in the unexpected climax. Like Frankenstein’s creature (or the Golem in The Alchemist’s Door), the monster here deserves some pity and sympathy, as his story shows, for he was shaped by events beyond his control — as will Paul Taylor, as the story comes full-circle.

The Organ Donor is remarkably free of roughness in the telling or plotting, despite one nagging structural flaw and my only gripe. The narrative moves along briskly until the last fourth, where it stumbles on a large chunk of background from an alternate point of view that might have worked better sprinkled throughout the text rather than interrupting the flow of the climax for characters we’ve come to know and for whom we cheer.

Still, the book’s a success because Warner takes the real-life situation of illegal organ transplants for payment, a true horror, and ably adds likeable characters who react in mostly realistic ways to the hand they’ve been dealt. Their grieving behavior after Tim’s murder, for instance, is touching and well-portrayed. The author’s research into dragon lore and Chinese history and legend is also convincing, rounding out a surprisingly strong first effort from a writer whose short works have already made a mark (see, for instance, “Middle Passage” in Extremes 3: Terror on the High Seas). This is another in a recent crop of solid first novels, making the future of horror very safe indeed. Note that the book will also be issued as a trade paperback.