The Long Last Call
Dorchester Publishing (8-28-2007)
Reviewed by Sheila Merritt
John Skipp’s The Long Last Call was originally published in a limited hardcover edition by Cemetery Dance Publications in 2006. This new paperback printing includes a bonus novella, entitled Conscience, and a spot on introduction by Brian Keene. Keene reminds the reader that Skipp was the co-creator of the Splatterpunk subgenre, and regards him as an inspiration and mentor. As the anti-Henry (or M.R.) James of horror, John Skipp combines noir sensibilities with in your face violence and expletives. He is also skilled, however, at being an insidious whisperer of unease. He plays with an array of undercurrents and masterfully mixes them into one helluva cocktail.
Conscience is a study of a hitman’s introspection; a reflection upon hate, hubris, and hope. Skipp defines his character in monologues such as: “One thing I like about Chinese markets is the fact that they leave the heads on the carcasses. Swine and fowl and fish stare blankly back at me, dead and waiting, through the display windows.”
The novella deals with regret, retribution and remorse. The hitman muses: “If I had a nickel for every time I watched a shattered soul crutching down the sidewalk, running the past through their minds like a tape loop: shouting at the person who devastated their lives; reconstructing the actual moment they snapped; refining the thing they wished they had said, to an audience of vapor, over, and over…”
The inclusion of this tale is indeed a bonus feature of the volume. The Long Last Call, however, is very much the main event.
Set in a sleazy striptease bar, The Long Last Call was originally pitched as a film project. When that didn’t work out, Skipp wrote the novel, so that his vision would still find an audience and not be compromised. The bare bones of the tale could certainly have been reduced to a cinematic borderline porn fiasco punctuated by over the top gratuitous violence. As it is, the reader can be satisfied by prose that conjures up very graphic images while maintaining a balance with some poetic phrasing: “The country music was sweet and low as it poured from the dashboard radio: liquid bell-like pedal steel, floating and soaring, reverberating ghostlike over a boom-chik-chik groove as plain and pedestrian as life.”
The novel features a literal selling of the soul scenario. Most of the characters have already sold out in one way or another, so when a charismatic figure with loads of cash arrives on the scene, a complete breakdown of values ensues. The strippers are attracted to the mysterious stranger not only for his money and good looks: “It was how calm he was. Not twitchy. Not angry. Not horny. Not sad. Not at all disrespectful. Not drunk off his ass.”
If one hankers for horror that takes no prisoners, then mosey up to the bar and experience The Long Last Call. It’s a wild ride; a bona fide lap dance from hell.