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Dark origins

By Anthony E Zuiker, Michael Joseph, £12.99

Dark Origins, book one of the 'Level 26' trilogy, introduces the digi-novel to the world of book publishing. Its concept: to enhance the reading experience by bridging chapters with video content.

A novel idea (pun intended), the series comes from the mind of 'CSI' creator Anthony Zuiker, and the story itself follows the same dark, twisted feel of the TV show. Easy to pick up, the tale easily stands on its own without the need for any 'special' content, and as a standalone story is highly enjoyable, albeit shiver-inducing.

Sqweegel is a serial killer who's been torturing innocents for more than two decades and Steve Dark is the only man who ever came close to catching him. Chillingly, the story becomes more and more personal as Sqweegel hones in on Dark, creating a tale that really draws in readers, but one you will never want to read with the lights down low.

The digital aspect is accessed by logging onto the interactive 'Level 26' website. Here you can key in codes given throughout the book to access cinematic content as well as discuss the story on the forum.

Every 20 or so pages a chapter ends with an invite to listen in to phone calls, read texts and watch videos that add an extra dimension to the narrative and extra information to the story. However, it leaves you with mixed feelings as to whether or not this is a good idea.

Firstly, it doesn't leave much to the imagination. When you sit back with a novel your mind conjures up how characters look and can lead to more suspense than a film may offer. When you log into the site and watch the first video you'll likely find that how you saw Dark or Sqweegel differs from the actors portraying them, actually taking something away from the experience. But on the other hand, visual representation of the torture, often quite graphic, or simply seeing Sqweegel's creepy movements can give a physicality to the experience that makes it even more haunting.

Another issue is how people read. Perhaps with the advent of e-readers the digi-novel will really come into its own, but personally I read a hardback book in bed or on the sofa - away from the PC. If you wish to watch a video interstitial you then have to stop the flow of reading to log into the website, which can be irritating. One way around this is that the novel has become available on the iPod Touch and iPhone as an App.

Here the content is accessible in the same place, and is even complete with eerie noises whenever you 'turn' a page. This is how such a digi-novel should flow - free from interruption.

All in all, the concept is a good one, but looks like it's still finding it feet. The digi-novel App works very well, better than the book/website route, and the concept itself does make you feel like you're getting access to something special, something not seen by all.

However the book is just as enjoyable when the cinematic content is skipped. In the end it simply comes down to your reading preferences, but this, the first of its kind, is definitely worth having alook at.

Reviewed by Keri Allan

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