The Organ Donor — Hellnotes review

The Organ Donor
By Matthew Warner
(Double Dragon Press, 2002; ISBNs 1-894841-88-3, 1-55404-002-7; 245 pp.; $4.99 e-book, $16.99 tpb)

Review by Garrett Peck.
Reprinted by permission of HELLNOTES and Garrett Peck.

Horror is at its best when it uses real life issues as a springboard for the intrusion of supernatural elements that illuminate its central theme through allegory. Matthew Warner uses this approach in The Organ Donor.

Paul Taylor’s younger brother Tim suffers from renal failure. With his kidneys operating at ten-percent capacity, Tim must go on dialysis. Paul becomes his brother’s keeper, sacrificing his own career and social life. Tim registers with the United Network for Organ Sharing, but the waiting list is interminable. Paul realizes Tim will die by year’s end if a suitable donor isn’t found. New hope arrives when Xian Han, an old friend of their father’s from his days with the CIA, offers to bring Tim to China, where farmers frequently sell their kidneys to wealthy people. Even better, Xian will pay all expenses-airline tickets, hotel, health care, everything. They travel to China and the procedure is accomplished, but Tim soon begins to behave strangely, developing an incomprehensible fear of water. For the life-saving kidney did not come from a volunteer, but from an executed prisoner named Shen, only masquerading as human, who wants what’s his returned.

Warner excels at depicting the horror of a young man suffering from a terminal disease and the effects on his family members’ lives. He explores the morally dubious practice of the Chinese government’s involvement in selling the organs of executed prisoners. Juxtaposed against these real world concerns is the demonic Shen and the awesome supernatural powers he wields in his single-minded efforts to reclaim the stolen parts of his body. What begins as a cerebral treatise on political and medical ethics develops into a fast-paced tale of the fantastic that plays out in a grandly cinematic climax in the nation’s capital.

Warner’s research into medicine, politics and Chinese culture lend his story authenticity. The fantastic elements are introduced slowly and build with a sustainable rhythm so that the reader accepts them even when they go over the top. His careful characterizations ensure the reader’s emotional commitment.

The Organ Donor is a promising debut. Warner is a writer with a strong social conscience. He engages his reader’s emotions and intellect equally, creating a suspenseful supernatural thriller with a serious thematic core. As the ego-maniacal movie director played by Peter O’Toole in the Richard Rush film The Stunt Man put it, “If you have a message, it’s easier to get it across while the audience is busy jerking off at all the sex and violence.” Warner has put this advice to good use.

Currently available electronically at, the trade paperback is due out this summer. An inscribed copy can be pre-ordered at