Paperback, 400 pages, $7.99
Review by Sheila Merritt
Bodacious babes, dastardly demons, sociopathic sadists, and a maniacal mastermind combine forces in Hank Schwaeble’s novel Damnable. The book pits protagonist Jake Hatcher against this unholy alliance. Hatcher is a disgraced ex-military officer who was unjustly imprisoned. His release from prison sets into motion a plot that requires the use of his unique special ops skills. A misunderstood and maligned kick ass character combating the forces of darkness is a recurring theme in horror; what matters is how well the story is told. In this first novel, author Schwaeble does an admirable job playing with the conceit and its variables.
The book’s tone harkens to noir sensibilities: “The Manhattan traffic moved like blood forging a sclerotic artery, squeezing in fits and starts through bottlenecked passages of double-parked cars and road repair crews.” There is also a hardboiled detective vibe in the way the tale unfolds. Jake is released early from his prison sentence to attend a funeral service for a brother he didn’t know existed. The brother died in a peculiar accident involving a gorgeous (surprise) woman of mystery. Before you can say “Falling Angel/Angel Heart,” Jake finds himself seduced into finding some answers. He meets a bevy of unbelievably beautiful and dangerous (again, surprise) women aptly called Carnates. Sort of supernatural Bond girls with a dash of Austin Powers’ Fembots. These gals literally have no souls; considering their other assets that could be regarded not as a flaw, but as a feature.
Hatcher tussles with the Carnates and other corrupt characters; gets beaten up a lot, and gives as good as he gets. When he finally has the confrontation with the manipulator of all the mayhem, it is a bit of a let down. As excellent as Jake is as the focus of the story, he doesn’t offset a villain who misses the mark. The problem with the antagonist is that he simply isn’t interesting enough. His demented diabolical plans, the malevolent creature he has raised, his arsenal of metaphysical weaponry, are accoutrements; they don’t flesh him out as an orchestrator of evil. Despite all the power he wields, he lacks substantial emotional menace. He doesn’t seem a match for Jake.
Jake is depicted much more strongly perhaps because of the author’s background: Hank Schwaeble graduated from the Air Force Special Investigations Academy, and knows what it takes to be a military special agent. When, for example, Hatcher is interrogating an adversary there is this reflection on torture: “It’s not about pain. It’s not about mutilation. Or worse. The biggest obstacle in the beginning of a session is overcoming the belief that the interrogator is bluffing.”
Damnable is overall a damn good read. It takes a well trod path and makes some intriguing detours. A sequel must surely await; it would be hard to keep Jake Hatcher from dealing with unfinished business.