Underland Press, Trade Paperback, 192 Pages
Review by Kent Knopp-Schwyn
Combining the wry humor of Neil Gaiman, detective prose a la Mickey Spillane and Grand Guignol set pieces reminiscent of Clive Barker, Brian Evenson mixes the varied elements into two interconnected novellas that pack a wallop as the first publication for Underland Press — a new Thriller/HDF publisher.
Last Days drops the reader into the unseen and rarely considered world of amputees via two interconnected novellas. In particular, the first novella (previously published as a limited edition chapbook from Earthling Publications) concerns cults or groups of amputees who achieved and maintain their status through self-mutilation. The protagonist of the book goes solely by the name, Kline. Before “The Brotherhood of Mutilation,” the first novella, begins, Kline has gone through severe trauma — his hand was cut off by a criminal and Kline first cauterized the wound in a nearby Bunsen Burner, then removed his gun from his useless, cut off appendage and quickly shot the criminal through the eye with his remaining “off” hand.
All this action has given Kline a certain cache within the amputee community since self-cauterization is a new and novel idea. Gous and Ramse, a pair of amputees whose verbal interplay is eerily similar to that Mr. Croup and Mr. Valdemar pay a visit to Kline and entice/coerce him to help solve a murder. Kline accompanies them to the compound owned and staffed by a local group of self-amputees. While there, Kline is introduced to a hidden and baffling world where status is achieved through multiple self-amputations. After some impenetrable interactions with members of this cult compound and after being inflicted with some unanticipated and unwanted
After his narrow escape, Kline next interacts with a very different amputee cult. It turns out that Ramse is a member of both groups and he again coerces Kline into working with a group of amputees, this new one profess no individual identities — an amputee is an amputee and all use the same name to subsume their identity into the group as a whole and all use the name Paul to address each other. This group wants to literally worship Kline; their ultimate goal is for Kline to destroy the Brotherhood of Mutilation. Once this task is competed, Kline will become Paul, a newly accepted as a member of the Pauls. Kline again rejects the desires of the group in order to maintain his hard-boiled maverick individualism and in doing so succeeds in subverting both groups while firming his grip on a new identity as the Mike Hammer of amputees.
On the whole, both polished novellas breeze along, carrying the reader through graphic set pieces, off-kilter scenes of combat and ultimately to savage and satisfying conclusions. Fans of both hard-boiled fiction and horror will look forward to further adventures with Kline and upcoming releases from Underland Press.