Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Never too soon for October

I love to raid my bookshelf for titles that I've kept because they deserve second and third and even fourth readings. One of those is Roger Zelazny's tribute to old horror movies, Halloween, and classic scary tales. It may be January, but let's flash forward several months and consider A Night in the Lonesome October.

This book reads like fan fiction. If fan fiction were narrated by an accursed hound with a sense of humor and duty... if fan fiction featured Jack the Ripper as a sympathetic character... if fan fiction dealt with Lovecraftian beasties and Frankenstein's monster. In other worlds, this a brilliant fantasy novel with really terrific comic elements.

Snuff, the dog, has been serving his mysterious master Jack for untold years. Perhaps centuries. Together, they have helped protect our world from chaotic and vile forces from Outside.

On rare Halloweens that fall on a full moon, an unusual bunch of folk gather to either end the world or save it. The book tells of one such crisis in the Victorian era (Sherlock Holmes is a side character). Each chapter is set on a day in the month of October. Tension and action rises as Halloween approaches.

Part of the fun is the veiled references to classic literary, historical and cinematic characters. The Mad Monk may be referred to as Rastov but it's clear he's Rasputin. Of course, just because the character may be a monster in the past doesn't mean his motivations are still vile. Several fun twists to the plot offer readers surprises.

Talking animals are twee to some readers, but not the familiars featured in this book (each of the Players in the crisis has an animal companion to assist him or her). But Zelazny never lets the animals' personas become cutesy. Several are rather nasty or truly sympathetic.

My only complaint is that the ending pages are so rushed. I suppose it was too much to ask for a couple days in November to decompress.

If you love quick-paced books that feature monsters and mayhem and magic, check out A Night in the Lonesome October. The original Avon edition, found very cheaply online, features some hysterical artwork by a modern master of the gruesome pen - Gahan Wilson.

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