Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Miss Finney Kills Now and Then by Al Dempsey (1982): I'm Younger Than That Now

I hope you enjoy this terrific Jim Warren cover art because that's the only enjoyment you're gonna get here: Miss Finney Kills Now and Then (Tor Aug 1989 reprint/orig Feb 1982) is inept, clunky, and dumb as hell. In short, unreadable. I began reading in all open-mindedness, but its idiocy factor is all-consuming. Nothing depicted has any relationship to humans, living or dead. If someone with a knack for the written word had attempted the same storyline (*cough* Michael McDowell *cough*), I have no doubt it would've been a lurid romp of some entertainment value. Instead we've got whoever Al Dempsey is writing what seems to be a novelization for a movie never made (copyright page notes "based on an original screenplay by Joseph Van Winkle").

Two young women, crude simpletons both, talk their rich aging aunt of the title into participating in a seance—we're in New Orleans, if you must know—and, coerced by an occult con man who only made me think of this guy, Miss Finney "learns" from the "spirit world" that she can become immortal if she simply, you know, kills people ("You must take a life and add to yours"). But she's in a wheelchair how can she do that?? Why, she'll get her two turd nieces to do the actual dirty work of killing, which Miss Finney brings up over coffee. But it's a scam solely to get money from the old biddy since they're not going to actually kill anyone and then oh my god it becomes all too real!

1st Tor edition, 1982

The first murder sequence is staged and executed in a manner reminiscent of a middle-school play made up and performed by, well, middle-schoolers. Aunt Finney's nieces, Brook and Willa (you know their names because neither one stops saying the other's) set up a rapey handyman (ain't they all) to take the "fall." They're gonna fake kill him, see, and collect $5,000 apiece ("Isn't that rather high?") from old Auntie!

Except that's not how it turns out, and from there I think there's some supernatural shit—book spine states "supernatural horror" under Tor monster logo—but by then my eyeballs were melting down my face like I was a Zap comix. I'd re-commit, take a deep breath, and try to read more, in good faith, but that was fuckin torture. I physically couldn't read this book any longer. Even with dialogue like "I've killed, Detective Scarne. I think that is pretty legal and pretty problematical!" 

Skipping to pages near the end, I discovered there's a Satanic cult ("He cannot speak. He has no tongue. Look at the power of Satan, dear Brook"), like you'd find in a satirical Levin, and bloody nonsense around the climax; I found this passage at random:

Men and women alike participated in the blood anointing of her body. Hands coursed sensually across her breasts, fingers ushered blood into her orifices... The participants in the ritual retreated and she could see that a thing, a vulgar form, was approaching her. Her efforts to cope with the horror were futile. She experienced total revulsion.... The form's skin was covered with open sores that dripped a gray mush, bearing an odor from the bowels of the earth... Its member was erect...

However it's all bargain basement rehash of shit any horror fic fan knows by heart. Turns out Dempsey was more a political thriller writer of the kinds of '80s novels with swastikas on the cover; his attempt at horror is unmitigated hackwork. I had to give up for my taste and my sanity. In all honesty Miss Finney is one of the special handful of pitiful horror novels I've attempted to read that make me despair: why am I, an adult grown-ass middle-aged man, reading, or trying to read, such shallow shitty pandering carelessly-produced garbage? Why do I do this to myself? How it got two printings from Tor boggles the mind. 


Marina said...

Thanks for the honest review. It's been one on my radar but I'll save my money for something more enjoyable to read ☺

highwayknees said...

Haha. Yep. I can relate to your "middle aged, grown-ass man" quandary Will! It seems lately I can't get into a lot of the horror works that I pick up with curiosity.
Recently two come to mind:
SHIMMER by the estimable David Morrell,i got three quarters of the way through it and STILL lost interest in the lackluster proceedings.

THE BEDEVILED by Thomas Cullinan, a novel I had never heard of,and was pretty excited to find since I love THE BEGUILED,also his work. I paid a high price for the only copy on the internets and... meh.

Makes me want to run to reread Cheever, Rendell, the two Bowles' or any old reliable instead! The horror muse is an elusive beast.

wormface said...

Jim Warren is God... Warren, Allen Koszowski, and JK Potter were the unholy trinity of horror illustrators circa '86-'92.

Will Errickson said...

Aww no not BEDEVILED too! Been looking for that awhile now, as well as a vintage copy of BEGUILED. Oh well...

highwayknees said...

I know, right? It's rather lackluster. I was too excited about it I guess...He has another in his "B" titled series of novels called : The Besieged -but now I'm hesitant. At least that one is plentiful and cheaper though. Can't seem to find a synopsis online for it. "Besieged" by what I wonder...?

I would also love to find a vintage pb of The Beguiled- the pre-movie tie-in one with the cool illustrated cover! I've NEVER seen that one on shelves .

Ron Clinton said...

Even after reading your scathing review, I'd still pick up that edition with the peeling face (U.K., I presume?)...wish collecting horror pbs made more sense than it does.

Unknown said...

Damn, I actually quite enjoyed this book. Love that peely face!