So last month, I went to ConText in Columbus, Ohio. One of the most notable small publishers there was Shroud Publishing -- and by notable I mean, of course, "They plied me with liquor." Free booze and readings that will appeal to people you've been giving free booze to -- now that's how you make a lasting impressing and move some damn product.
Among the Shroud offerings that left Columbus in my possession was Hiram Grange & the Twelve Little Hitlers, the second of (thus far) five novellas about a paranormal "investigator" who was described to me at the party as "Hunter S. Thompson with Fox Mulder's job." (Twelve Little Hitlers was written by Scott Christian Carr; all five entries are by different authors.) With a recommendation like that, how could I resist?
So, how does the book read in the harsh, cruel light of post-convention sobriety?
I don't think I'd call it bad, necessarily. I give it props for style and uniqueness; I'm quite certain this is the first time I've seen an ultra-violent basket case fighting through a blinding narcotic haze to bring down twelve clones of Adolf Hitler who may or may not be the pawns of some malevolent extra-dimensional entity. And it's audacious as fuck; there are twists I'd have needed serious drugs to have even considered, let alone see coming.
But it needs more, very badly. It sprays audacity from every orifice, but doesn't have a lot of wit. It revels in sadism, and comes up short on actual insight. Oodles of style where it needs reasons to give a shit.
It mistakes its protagonist's perpetual motion for character movement, action for reader interest. Hiram Grange is a pitiable, debauched wretch, easily manipulated and motivated by little more than dark whimsy. The Big Bad's ultimate goal is the destruction of this man, but the book never gives the reader a reason to care. Grange is so self-destructive that one wonders why the demon bothered with such an intricate Hitler-tastic plan and didn't simply hand him a bus ticket to Tijuana.
The finale switches from ludicrous farce to Dark Tragic Pathos with all the grace of shifting from fifth gear to reverse while on the interstate, which is far less spectacular than it sounds. According to Mythbusters, try this and your transmission won't explode from the car in an orgy of twisted metal and flying automotive debris; it will merely make an unpleasant noise while you lose momentum and futilely try to make the car do something it's just not going to do. I could almost hear chunks of metal fruitlessly grinding together as the novella struggled to elicit some emotion other than "boredom, with a side of mildly-bemused detachment" as Grange plummeted to his nadir.
I don't know the works of Hunter S. Thompson particularly well, but I'm prepared to say that it takes more than booze, guns, belligerence, and a cornucopia of psychotropic drugs to do justice to the good doctor's legacy. I don't regret spending a few hours on this oddity and I certainly wouldn't strenuously dissuade the curious, but I'm not ordering the other installments in the series. Hiram Grange may continue his epic Binge without me.