never engage our, you know, spirit animals.
Pan UK paperback 1993
Now, this kind of human transformation is in one sense familiar horror territory: Jekyll and Hyde and werewolves reside near one another on this mythic map, but Hodge goes Schultes instead of Stevenson; it's more Chagnon than Chaney Jr, Huxley more than Henry Hull. You can tell Hodge did his anthropological research, if at times a little too obviously since incorporating facts about the infamous Yanomamo tribe is tricky in a narrative. The flights of infinite metaphorical fantasy when characters snort the drug seem underwritten, or rather perhaps too earnest and literal - people seeing to the edge of the cosmos or getting in touch with their own personal demon-animal inside them, that sort of thing; peering into the broken places and seeing what a modern world cannot heal.
Like a lot of splatterpunk stories - which this novel definitely is not - Hodge is concerned with the betrayers and the betrayed and the wounds his characters carry around like a totem. But I could only take so many "soulful" and "desperate" confrontations between Justin and April, the new lovers on the run from the skullflush-addicted drug dealer, and ruminations upon "what went wrong" in the past. Tightening this baby up by 50 or 75 pages I think would not have hurt at all.
Deathgrip (1992) and The Darker Saints (1993), were also published by Dell. I know I read them but can't recall much, but I always recalled Hodge fondly. For years I wondered what he had been in up to as I never saw any of his books again; once I was able to find info about him on the internet it turns out he began writing crime novels around 2000. Rereading Nightlife, that now makes sense: it's not scary at all, there is the detailed drug trade and narco cops, the attendant thugs and bodyguards with quirky tastes befitting more educated men, the last-ditch machinations of losers trying to get their lives back together, and then there's Kerebewa, that resourceful Yanomamo warrior. I don't think Hodge ever actually met a Yanomamo warrior, but Kerebewa's culture-clash moments and his loyalty are at once corny and endearing.
These aspects seems more like something you'd find in a Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, or Donald Westlake crime novel than in horror fiction. I'm not saying Hodge is anywhere near as good as those guys - god, who is? - just that today I can see who his inspirations probably were. His action set pieces are maybe overdone but I think he should get points for the set-ups, and the whiz-bang climax is good. And I found a 1990 interview from just before Nightlife was published, and I had one of those "oh shit" flashbacks: I recalled that I'd read this same interview back in the day and read my first Hiaasen novel because of Hodge's recommendation. I knew I remembered Hodge fondly for a reason.