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Johannes Cabal has sold his soul to the devil - with immediate possession - in exchange for magic and arcane wisdom that will help him further his research. But he discovers he needs his soul, not for any particular spiritual reason, but because he believes that being without it is hindering his work. And so he sets out to strong-arm Satan into giving it back. He's willing to make a deal, but both he and Satan drive hard bargains, and in the end, Johannes agrees that within the space of a single year he will deliver one hundred other souls in exchange for his own. And just because he's an okay guy, Satan gives Cabal a carnival. Not your fun-and-games, cotton candy and wild rides sort of carnival either, but one which has the potential to corrupt and destroy human beings.

There's something about this book which reminds me a great deal of Gaiman's and Pratchett's "Good Omens" which is one of my favorites. Probably it's the sense that what's going on in the narrative is serious stuff, and should be taken seriously... except it's not. The danger, the corruption, the infernal interference would all make a terrific horror novel, if it wasn't so damn funny. I guess that in the final analysis, evil isn't majestic or magnificent, but rather it's small and petty and even bureaucratic in nature. Evil is less being rent limb from limb by hell hounds and more getting pecked to death by ducks.

But there is an underlying seriousness within this book, and it's about the nature of the individual soul, about the relationships that have made the characters what they are, and which drive them to do what they do. That is, at least, deadly serious, and rightly so. And yet, that seriousness, and the sadness behind it, is always overlaid by a lively sense of the absurd, kept at arms length until the end when the bet with Satan ends and the truth about Cabal's work is made clear.

In spite of a few slow spots along the way, Johannes Cabal, The Necromancer held my attention both through my own sense of the absurd and my curiosity about how it would all turn out in the end. And I have to say that I was satisfied. I enjoyed the heck out of the book, and I think anyone who is willing to go along with the often hilarious narrative, will too.

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

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Let's face it, we've become pretty sophisticated, which means that Frankenstein and Godzilla don't really cut it anymore. And the hack-n-slash gorefest crap that passes for horror these days is almost not worth the time it takes to yawn through them. So when I find a good, solid monster movie that makes me tense up and say "Oh my god!" at least once, I know I'm on to something.

If you don't already know, Cloverfield is set in post-9/11 Manhattan. During a Bon Voyage party, something attacks the city, decapitating the Statue of Liberty, in a very memorable moment, and laying waste to the Empire State building, the two most enduring symbols of New York. Add to that the memory of the events of September 2001, and you have the sense that this story isn't going to end well.

There's a breakneck race through the streets and subways of Manhattan, and ever-longer peeks at the monster and its spawn, but there's never enough time to take it all in, never time to allow the mind to process exactly what it is that's happening, so the imagination takes over, which any old school horror aficionado will tell you is the most effective way to scare the bejeebers out of someone. Let their mind do the work for you, let them imagine what is happening, what could happen, what will happen.

The casting of relative unknowns and the use of a near-real-time narrative are both critical to allowing the audience to put itself into the story. I only saw one actor with whom I was familiar, and it did push me right out of the film for a moment because it suddenly registered as just a movie, an entertainment. Until that moment I was very caught up in the narrative. I know that when I'm sitting forward in my chair urging the characters to "follow the rats, always follow the rats!" that I've been quite properly hooked.

In the end, Cloverfield is really nothing more than a monster movie for the 21st century, but one which doesn't depend on blood and gore, or some lunatic with a butcher knife. It's good fun.
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A plane lands in New York with most of its passengers and crew dead. As the FBI and CDC investigate the possible causes for the tragedy, something begins to happen to the few survivors.  And that something is spreading like a virus.

I am not easily frightened by fiction.  In spite of being a lifelong fan of the genre, I can count on my fingers the number of times I've been spooked by a book or film.  But I have to say that delToro and Hogan have managed to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up with "The Strain."  They seem to have an unerring instinct for the unsettling, the sinister and the downright creepy.  Their writing is also informed by what has gone before in the horror genre -- the similarity between the dead airplane (even the electronic and mechanical processes failed utterly) with its grisly cargo of corpses, and the dead ship which brings Dracula to England is not an accident.  They write with an awareness of what will get under our skin, what will move us to turn on the lights and lock the doors.

But the horrors here are not all supernatural.  As in "Pan's Labyrinth" the Nazis play a supporting role, and the combination of real world horror and unreal is a stomach-knotting one.  Real horror exists on many levels, inside our hearts as well as our minds.

I also have to say that while I find that many narratives need time to develop before they catch my interest, Hogan and del Toro caught me right from the first page.  It's a compelling, well-written, nail-biting book that may well send you running for the locks and light switches.  Highly recommended.

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Tracy Rowan

August 2013

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