Thursday, February 25, 2016

Pick a Name, Any Name

Born on this date in 1944, Campbell Armstrong was a Scottish author who died in 2013 and wrote many thriller/horror novels under a handful of pseudonyms. These paperback covers from publishers in the US and the UK are nicely indicative of that '80s era...


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Devil's Cat by William W. Johnstone (1987): Satan Laughing

I tried. I really did. The immortally prolific William W. Johnstone (1938 - 2004), one of the mainstays of Zebra's horror line throughout the 1980s, churned 'em out just like his pulp forebears did 50 years earlier. The Devil's Cat is the first book of his I've ever bought and read, despite them being all over the used bookstore I worked at 25 years ago. Who could forget that ridiculous hologram on the cover—worn off of my copy—of a cat/Anton LaVey face? Indeed, a publisher's note first thing explains this "laser holography" and states "So look for the Zebra Hologram whenever you buy a horror novel. It is a shimmering reflection of our guarantee that you'll find consistent quality between the covers." Oh man.

For a scant few moments in the early chapters I thought there might be a chance I'd like Devil's Cat, as Johnstone builds a foursquare story of satanic worship in swampy Louisiana. I politely tried to ignore its robotic dialogue, its slavish imitation of 'Salem's Lot, its retrograde metaphysics (a simple-minded God vs. the Devil scenario drawn from what I can only guess were other shitty horror novels and movies and maybe a Geraldo Rivera TV special on "satanic" heavy metal bands) and enjoy it as a bit of sleazy '80s pulp horror. Check the set-up:

But 'twas impossible. Impossible, I tell you! No surprise: Johnstone commits that gravest of writerly sins: all tell, tell, tell, no show; his turgid writing makes the story a grinding, uphill trudge through stale stupid silliness that takes itself waaay too seriously. Even the thought that he was writing this tongue-in-cheek did nothing to alleviate my frustration. Devil's Cat is so dull, so boring, it's worse than watching paint dry, it's like watching dry paint. Sure, occasionally an image of grue, a situation, or a setting would provide a vague, distant resemblance to decent horror fiction, but that would provide only more frustration.

Johnstone affects a solemn pomposity in his declarative, single-sentence paragraphs, obviously meant to add gravitas to the proceedings; of course it all topples under the strain of his complete inability to write dialogue or character and his regrettable mastery of the cliche. He throws in everything: Satan, zombies, witches, werewolves (or werecats), etc. as well as the ending-that's-not-an-ending. None of Devil's Cat is fun or exciting or scary or creepy or interesting, and if a writer can't make his story any of those things—regardless of the quality of prose—I can't in good conscience recommend it. The Devil's Cat is idiocy itself, terrible garbage horror fiction pure and simple. Let us not cross paths again.

You paid money for this book? Satan laughs at you