Hell Rig
J.E. Gurley

Damnation Books
March 1, 2011, $15.21 240 pages
Review by Darkeva

Hell Rig starts out like a common disaster movie plot: a group of men and one woman board onto a ship for the same reason and watch in horror as they each start going insane and murdering one another in vicious ways. A mysterious fog appears, but it’s not what’s killing everyone – it controls people to do the killing for it, and the characters, in particular the main character, think a spirit named the Digger Man is responsible. For most of the novel, it does read like a disaster novel until Lisa summons Baron Samedi, which is where the book really picked up for me.

Gurley isn’t the first author to get some of his voodoo mixed up with black magic, which he does here, but the variations the characters explain are simplified versions of the real religion, something necessary in this case to move the plot along for readers who may not be as familiar with the religion.

Baron Samedi, one of my favorite loas to read about, is understated in this book and not at all what he should be; don’t get me wrong, it was nice not to see the same maniacal laughing caricature in the James Bond film Live and Let Die, but here he felt too casual and a bit thrown in.

Lisa sees her deceased grandmother again through Baron Samedi’s intercession, and although she’s an entertaining character, her dialogue came across as stereotyped and a bit clichéd. Still, she gives way to a more important character, a voodoo priestess, or mambo, named Mama Cariou who sold the Digger Man a potent gris-gris that gave him too much power so that a loa during Katrina took over him and used him to kill people. That part I was fine with, but the “so he could become human” made me scratch my head a bit. Turns out that part of the destruction-loving loa lives on the oil rig that the characters find themselves on, and it’s planning to use Hurricane Rita to break the barrier between life and death.

Damballah Wedo is the culprit loa. He “possesses” one of the characters, Waters, and announces his plans to attack New Orleans, which made me scratch my head a bit more as it didn’t make sense given that most of the city had been evacuated by then. I also would have liked a stronger reason for why Damballah, the most benevolent of the loa, just up and decided to become evil. His dialogue was a bit over-the-top-not Disney villain territory, but not too far from it.

Eventually, this leads to a final showdown between Lisa and Damballah Wedo.

Lisa says there are houngans and mambos in New Orleans who can stop Damballah Wedo (though she’s never met them and her knowledge of voodoo is limited, she harnesses their power, which I had a hard time buying). She calls Erzulie Danto, said to be Damballah Wedo’s mate (should be Erzulie Freda, but I digress) and the novel comes to a satisfying conclusion.

I did enjoy most of the story and liked the author’s creativity with the concept and making a loa able to harness the power of hurricanes, even if I didn’t find the reason for attacking New Orleans believable. If you enjoyed On Stranger Tides from Tim Powers or like good disaster fiction with some supernatural elements, check out Hell Rig.

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