Saturday, September 29, 2012

Review: The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

The Devil in Silver  is a literary horror novel. It is literature, horror and also a bit of social commentary as well. It even manages to include a brief romance. It is really an amazing book. The monster - is it minotaur or man? Is it the devil that some patients claim? But that's not the only monstrous thing going on in the book.

Pepper has got problems. He "accidentally" assaults 3 cops. He didn't know they were cops at the time. The cops don't want to do the paperwork when they arrest him because it would mean working off the clock. So they bring Pepper to New Hyde Hospital to the psychiatric ward. There he is supposed to be kept for a mandatory 72 hour observation period. After the intake session, he meets Dorry who will be a close friend of sorts to him. She gives him a tour and escorts him to his room because, "Everyone should see a friendly face first when they come in here."

The first night after his first full day at the hospital, Pepper has his first encounter with the devil. He sees him as a minotaur with an elderly body and the head of a bison. A nurse interrupts whatever the devil was going to do and gives the Pepper and his roommate, Coffee, sedatives. The other patients tell him the Devil roams free at night. Dorry says it is just a man. Is it a shared hallucination or is it what they really see? Or is it a monster either way and it just doesn't matter what it looks like?

When he is a little less than most cooperative, he is medicated more and somehow 72 hours at New Hyde becomes weeks. Pepper has a lot more time on his hands to get to know the other patients. The major characters are all well developed, especially Dorry, Loochie, and Coffee. And with just a few deft details, LaValle manages to make many of the more minor characters memorable as well. For example, there is Nurse Josephine Washburn who worries about her mother being left all alone and resents the doctor constantly forgetting her name.

The social commentary can be a little confusing when it is not just examples illustrated in the course of the story. The author inserts comments aimed directly at the reader. At first I thought these were more of Pepper's thoughts. Sometimes I found that it added to the story and other times I found it a little distracting, but not enough to ruin my enjoyment of the book.

I found the story to be mostly unpredictable and really unlike anything I've read before. I enjoyed reading it. As with the novella Lucretia and the Kroons also by Victor LaValle and also classified as literary horror, I ended up reading the book twice. It really is an excellent book. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased opinion.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: Quarantine by John Smolens

Quarantine takes place in the town of Newburyport, Massachusetts  in the year 1796. A ship arrives whose crew has suffered and continues to suffer losses from a mysterious illness. There is hope of containment, but it slips away as the boats row away from the ship under cover of night. Soon people in the town become ill. As the epidemic spreads, fear, greed, and instances of mob rule become common place.

Quarantine is basically well written. The characters you should like, no matter their flaws, are likable. The villains are not. Physician Giles Wiggins who quarantines the port and establishes a pest house to isolate the sick from the rest of the population and Leander Hatch are particularly well developed. Particularly unlikable is the black marketeer from Boston.

While the book basically delivers what it has promised, it does have flaws. The pacing in Part I is faster than the rest of the book. And much of the action seems to be described as if from at a distance.

The inclusion of the nastiness by the religious fanatics was perfect. This would be especially true I think in New England where just a century before they had hung the last witches to be hung in America to the south of  Newburyport in Salem.

The bits and pieces of romance were not really well developed, but were a nice touch. I didn't really see Enoch, Giles brother, vying much for Marie as he was indisposed much of the time due to drink. Giles on the other hand was quite taken with her and it showed.

Apart from the sickness finally ending, there are surprises to the ending of the book. It was somewhat unpredictable, yet believable, which made it more enjoyable.

I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I was provided with an advance copy of this book to provide my unbiased opinion.