House Infernal
Edward Lee

Leisure Books, Paperback, $7.99
Reviewed by Steve Vernon

It’s hard to talk about a trilogy without invoking the other two volumes of the series, so let’s start right at the beginning. Way back in November of 2001 Edward Lee released City Infernal in hardcover from Cemetery Dance Publishing. In 2002 City Infernal appeared in paperback format from Leisure Books. It took me five years to discover the book, (time travels pretty slowly up here in the Maritimes), and I was instantly hooked. Think Hieronymous Bosch’s vision of Hell as strained through Piers Anthony’s Xanth and you’ll be hitting close to the mark. Some wild tale-telling on Lee’s part. I had to read more.

I’ve read a fair bit of Edward Lee’s work. We’re talking nitty, gritty gore-ridden exercises in no-holds-barred bad taste. I love them. However Lee’s Infernal series is far different than any of his other work. Lee continues to stretch himself in the creation of this series. It is a definite labour of love on his part and some of his best work, in my opinion.

Infernal Angel was Lee’s second volume and it was, in my opinion, an improvement on the first volume which sometimes got a little bogged down in Lee’s non-stop gestation of his own personal Gehanna at the expense of the plot. In the second book, a direct sequel to the first, the characters and storytelling took over from the world-building, striking a better creative balance.

Now, with the third volume of this series the world-building takes a backseat to a plot centered about the construction of a house built of bones and blood, a house built for the Church but blueprinted by Satan. The house is meant to be a permanent link between Earth and the Mephistopholis, the city of Hell. A gateway, and possibly an invasion route.

Venetia Barlow (nod to King, I expect), becomes involved with this whole scenario when she takes what she expects to be a stinking dead end job at the St. John’s Priory and instead finds herself involved in a conspiracy that reaches all the way back to the streets of Hell itself.

Although I called this a trilogy, I can see where there will be room for a lot of tale-telling yet, on Lee’s part, and I eagerly look forward to reading more of this series. My only quibble is the cover that Leisure chose for this work. It looks like something Photoshopped out of a video game and is one of the poorer efforts on their part.

Other than that, I recommend the book for anyone who has followed the series. Even if you haven’t followed the series, the book is quite capable of standing upon its own blood stained cock-knocked widdershins-walking legs. Hunt it down and tie it to your shelf before it gets away.

Al Sarrantonio

Leisure Books, Paperback, $7.99
Reviewed by Steve Vernon

While I didn’t much care for the cover of Leisure’s House Infernal I did enjoy the cover of Al Sarrantonio’s Halloweenland. Let’s face it, you just can’t go wrong with a great glowing jack ‘o lantern around this time of the year. I am certain the book will fly off of the bookstore shelves with a cover like that.

Unfortunately, the cover was about all that I liked about this book. The idea behind Al Sarrantonio’s Orangefield series is pretty cool. A pumpkin-growing town in which weird shit continually happens every Halloween. It is sure-fire mechanism for generating Halloween sales. However, once you drag out the guts of this pumpkin child, all that you’re left with is the flickering shell of a false face.

Sarrantonio’s earlier Orangefield novel, Hallows Eve, was a fun filled romp through a graveyard of Halloween symbolism. There was a riot of imagery, suspense and good honest storytelling.

However, Sarrantonio’s last Leisure novel, Horrorween, was a combination of several stories jammed dubiously together. I liked some of the stories but didn’t necessarily care for the work as a whole. Halloweenland is an even weaker extension of an original Cemetery Dance novella. The original novella was solid and well-written, however the material that was added to turn the novella into a novel-length piece of fiction amounted to a lot of unnecessary padding as the protagonist, police detective Bill Grant, wanders about the countryside and travels to Ireland tracking the elusive Halloween devil Samhain, who continuously leaves clues behind him to allow Sarrantonio to fill chapters with Grant’s air flight to Ireland and a whole lot of other extraneous details that added nothing to the plot. Then we came back to Orangefield for the showdown between Grant and Samhain, which ended with a predictably dangling cliff-hanger.

In the author’s words, “Orangefield was still Orangefield and there was always next Halloween…”

Cue the creepy theme music.

To make matters worse, the novella is reprinted at the back of the book as a special bonus feature. Unfortunately the novella basically comprised the first seventy pages of the novel, almost word for word, with a slight two page twist ending.

In a word, padding.

I am sorry to have to trash this book so hard. I don’t really enjoy giving bad reviews. By the end of Halloweenland, (and I did read it right through to the very bitter end), I felt tricked rather than treated. If Sarrantonio does plan to return to Orangefield in a future book I hope he brings a completely original novel to the table, rather than attempting to pad out a recycled effort.

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