Friday, April 01, 2011

Allen's Brain reviews The Demon Cross, by Nathan Shumate

My familiarity with Nathan Shumate was in connection with his very cool site, Pulp of the Day, in which readers come up with clever captions for the covers of pulp magazines and old paperbacks. Little did I know he was also an author of fun, supernatural detective fiction stories!

According to his website,
"Rennie Avalon is a one-woman private investigations agency whose cases lean toward the fringes of society… and reality. Originally presented as an online serial in 2002-2003, these volumes collect the Avalon & Company storylines for the first time in single volumes, specially edited and revised.”
What he doesn’t say is how much The Demon Cross–and the other Avalon & Co books, I’d imagine–feel like an old-school, rip-snorting pulp detective story mixed with liberal doses of H.P. Lovecraft. Of course, the ripping and snorting in this case, is being done by a young blond woman with a seven-year-old daughter. And she feels like someone about whom more stories had been written, and about whom I hoped more would be written. (Good news! There are more to follow!)

And the book feeds my primitive hunger for outrageous, pulpy, b-movie-style storylines.

Nazis? Check. Occult? Check. A band of neo-Nazis have laid hold of an ancient, unnamed text (Necronomicon, anybody?) and plan to use it to unleash a supernatural demonic force, in order to–well, that bit’s unclear, actually. The closest to a motive we get is a description in the mouth of possessed villain, Hans Mueller, that this monster is “A great, expansive god for all your hate and rage! A power that could work all of the destruction you longed for!”

References to tentacled beings haunting nightmares? Check. (Howard would be proud.) Why does young Beth have nightmares? It has something to do with the occultic goings-on, but, as with reality, the connection isn’t ever quite clear.

Suspense? Check. This is one of the tautest pieces of fiction I’ve read in awhile. Of course, the brevity of the text (90 pages) demands that, but there’s not a lot of long-winded mucking about in the inner lives of the characters. It’s a pure, suspenseful, action-driven story. And yet, the tension is balanced with a number of humorous asides–again, reminiscent of classic ‘tec tales--that keep it from getting too intense or wearing out its suspense value.

The ending? Well, I don’t want to give it away, but it’s a pretty satisfying conclusion. The drawback, however, is that it’s almost deus ex machina in nature. At the last minute, things are revealed that enable our heroes to turn the tide. I suppose that’s what they call a twist ending, but it didn’t really work for me. However, I’m told that I’m hard to please. As a B-movie-style story ending, though it is typical, and even ideal. This is not high-falutin' "great literature," and it never pretends to be. That's one of its greatest charms, in my estimation.

I liked this novel as a whole. It was a fun romp with people I’d like to sped more time with–Avalon & Co, not the Nazis. If the supernatural detective story is your thing, then I’d say you could do a lot worse than Nathan Shumate’s The Demon Cross.

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