as sequels go, it was really — sequel’y. there are about 100-175 pages in the middle that are just kind of…there. stuff sort of happens and characters say things and wander about and find different characters and say things to them, sometimes different things than what they said last time, and then wander back — and that’s kind of how it goes. it feels like a slog. but the last 100 pages make it totally worth it. i read the first volume, ghost road blues, relatively early in my trip to the dark side–er, i mean into the wonders of present-day horror fiction; i thought it was really good and apparently it won one of the better prizes for first novel (i no longer have the actual book in front of me and i can’t be bothered to google it), so someone else thought it was good, too. the basic story is pretty simple: small town in pennsylvania with a tradition of being the halloween capitol of the east coast; history of spooks, ghosts, scares, whatnot; large tourist industry from same; also nasty incident in recent past (30 years) of genuine real-life murders of children and vagrants, now neatly swept under rug; enter present day villains — mobsters running from new york — and weird shit starts to happen.
now i realise that this is all somewhat a la stephen king’s it and the murder cycle in derry, but i read blues before it so it didn’t seem like a plot nick at the time. and maberry makes it work — the original “black harvest” in the 1970s isn’t really explained until the end of the second book which makes it a believably nebulous nasty that has post-traumatic fingers in a lot of the characters in the present day storyline. and most of the characters are really likeable: crow (can you see why i read the book?), terry wolfe, crow’s girlfriend val, mike sweeney, and so forth. some secondary characters come out strongly in the second book which is nice; you’re not just stuck with the same cast 24/7. the bad guys are good, too, with the uber-villain karl ruger (maberry may have watched diehard at a crucial moment) taking a big step up in villainry with a supernatural transformation in the second book. the remaining human villain henchmen are all rather stock figures: small town bigot, religious fanatic (i wish there was a positive religious figure to balance him out), freakazoid who gets his kicks off beating his wife and stepson, etc. you’ve seen them all before, but maberry makes them dance in interesting ways.
he does come out with the occasional clanger. in the middle of a fairly purple (and unnecessary) sex scene, the woman is suddenly described as having gorgeous “hide” as if she abruptly transmogrified into some kind of animal. and there’s a rather painful moment of absolute sexism from crow — who is otherwise one of my favorite characters — when reflecting on, if he should have children and have a son or a daughter, he’d almost rather have a son because he could show him science-fiction movies and horror flicks and teach him martial arts and stuff and a daughter wouldn’t be into that. er — excuse me? yes, thank you, i thought you’d see the error there.
and, on that note, i’m leaving you with this charming little cartoon which i found by way of a good friend who posted one of the creator’s other cartoons on twitter: