On a cold October night, five people gather in a run-down hotel on the Jersey shore and prepare to break into the Paragon Hotel. The once-magnificent structure is now boarded up and marked for demolition. They are “creepers”: urban explorers with a passion for investigating abandoned buildings and their dying secrets. Reporter Frank Balenger joins them to profile this highly illegal activity for the New York Times. But he isn’t looking for just another story, and soon after they enter the rat-infested tunnel leading to the hotel, he gets more than he bargained for. Danger, fear, and death await the creepers in a place ravaged by time and redolent of evil. The darkest secrets live in places you’re not supposed to be.
“…scarier and more spine-tingling than any ghost story…as tense and chilling as Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Don’t schedule an early morning meeting if you’re planning to read this book, because Creepers is likely to keep you up all night.”
“It’s been years since I’ve read a thriller as good as Creepers.”
—Douglas Preston (co-author with Lincoln Child) of The Cabinet of Curiosities and other Pendergast novels
“With its nonstop cascade of ingeniously contrived dangers and assaults, culminating in an apocalyptic finale, Creepers provides the essence of all thrillers: an intense emotional effect that will leave readers drained.”
In 2004, I read an article about blocks of buildings that were abandoned in downtown Detroit and Buffalo during the riots in the late 1960s. You’d think that if people abandoned buildings, they would bring a truck and remove the furniture, etc., but in fact, nothing of the sort happened. The owners simply fled. After a couple of years, the city governments debated about tearing down the buildings but instead decided to seal them for possible later use. And there they sit today—time capsules about 1968, old TVs, rotary telephones, office documents, newspapers and magazines from 1968, and so on. Entering those buildings is like returning to that decade.
I soon learned that urban explorers (their nickname is “creepers”) do exactly that. Their interest in history and architecture motivates them to go back in time by sneaking into those old buildings, which are now in such disrepair that they’re dangerous. Hardhats, thick-soled boots, methane-and-carbon-monoxide detectors, crowbars: these are only some of the equipment that creepers need. “Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but photographs.” That’s their motto.
I decided that this would make a fascinating situation for a novel. In the end I didn’t use Detroit or Buffalo. Instead I chose Asbury Park on the New Jersey shore because Asbury Park was once the crown-jewel resort on the East Coast before a hurricane, a fire, and a riot reduced it to a shadow of what it once was. That tragic story matches what happens during eight hours of terror in the once-grand Paragon Hotel. The book is written in real time, which means that every instant of every breath of 8 hours is dramatized. There aren’t any cuts or leaps forward, as in “Five minutes later, he reached the second floor.” Those five minutes are dramatized. No novel has ever used this technique so extremely. The unabridged Brilliance Audio book lasts eight hours, as long as the story would take to occur in life. The Horror Writers Association gave Creepers its best-novel Bram Stoker Award.