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Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry (2006 Pinnacle Books)  Read more about the author and the novel  here.

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(All reviews copyright © 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Nicholas Grabowsky and Diverse Media, all rights reserved.   All book cover images are owned by their respective owners and used by permission.)

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into their proper places on either sides of the lines clearly drawn between good and evil, and a story canvass dominated by the notion that evil never dies despite the inevitably prevailing good whenever evil comes back around.

     Pine Deep is the particular small Pennsylvanian town under our microscope.  It begins where the last onslaught of terror ends thirty years prior to present times, when a guitar-wielding blues man becomes the ultimate unsung savior by vanquishing the supernatural bastard responsible, and right afterwards taking the rap for its crimes at the hands of vigilante townsfolk who beat him to death something terrible.  And then here we are in present times, with an ex-cop who runs a popular Halloween hayride and horror store to profit off the town's almost Haddonfield-like reputation, suddenly facing his destiny.........against  an infamous career homicidal maniac at-large, a man with a violent hatred of his stepson, a delusional servant of the Lord, and the dark forces which swell out of the murky swamps of Dark Hallow nearby.  Evil returns to Pine Deep, and so has the now-ghostly blues guitar Bone Man.

     Maberry is successful in combining all the elements that we'd expect from a work of this nature, in the tradition of King and McCammon, and he writes like a pro, like he's been doing this sort of thing with novel after novel over the years and this isn't a first try at epic fiction at all.  Looking at Maberry himself we see someone with a rich life history of accomplishments in many fields, and I don't mean that lightly, but I'm talking about accomplishments as comparatively grandiose as, dare I say, Rocky Balboa's, at least in many ways.  You know......chasing dreams, obtaining enough vision and discipline to achieve them, and I believe Jonathan has even seen himself in a ring surrounded by challenge and praise at one time or another, quite literally.  But when he goes for something, he has an outstanding record of ultimately ending up recognized as one of the best at what he goes for.   Ghost Road Blues is no exception, and what truly makes it all work and far exceed the expectations I mentioned is because it was written by just such a man as he, who makes the story glow with originality and terror and the right chemistry to entertain us and hold us tight with suspense.  It's as ambitious as Maberry is.

     Now......

     It took me two months, give or take a week, to digest my approach to this review from the time I'd finished reading the book until the time of this writing, when the right words at long last started sweating out of my cerebral pores.  There are a lot of unrelated reasons for why it took me that long versus a couple hours or so, but I found an astonishingly simple remedy in combining it with my review of Kim Paffenroth's Gospel of the Living Dead, which I will do right now:

     Paffenroth's offering is fascinating, insightful, and intelligent enough to rival any published examination of social and religious sciences as they relate to genre cinema, a thinker's companion piece to the films themselves, and without its presence on the book case shelves of a true zombie fanatic you can deem his library incomplete.    From the introduction, Paffenroth states "....the monstrous zombies created
by our imaginations, whether in a logician's thought experiment or a director's frame, may yet save us from our own misguided and arrogant urge to degrade and dehumanize ourselves into soulless machines."  But aside from social comparisons to  zombies themselves, the author takes us into a clear and detailed analysis of other important elements the films display-- the human characters, their symbolisms, interactions, and a study of the world around them on both personal and global scales.

     For myself, personally, this work offers a refreshing and enlightening perspective on Christian ideals as they relate to a subject most Christian fundamentalists view very adamantly as Satanically inspired, something Christ demands us to ignore, to stay away from, to have nothing to do with.  In stating his case, Kim takes measures to present the subject matter in a very Christian reader-friendly way, for as graphic and exploitive as these films can be, he takes great care to keep his content clean, concise, entertaining, providing valuable lessons for us all to pay attention to and learn regardless of our beliefs.

     That said, there are reasons why it seemed difficult writing this review as well as Maberry's Ghost Road Blues, until I combined them.  You see, I have the same things to say of both authors, and I always veer away as best I can from being redundant, so now I can say it all here:

     I had an epiphany not very long ago involving doing these book reviews, and up until then I hadn't done one since high school.  I can't imagine being paid to do one, and part of my motivation in doing them in the first place was to discipline myself into reading, period, and perhaps to teach and give an ear to books rejected for reviews elsewhere because of their self-published status.  But as I've often taught in lectures or in providing simple advice to writers who wish to go that  route, the real value I see personally in doing reviews lies beyond acquiring free books and flexing your literary muscles to voice opinions about them, to have them quoted on the backs of other's books so your name can get around.  Letting the
world know you do reviews exposes you to a deeper appreciation of the works of others and invites potential greatness to your doorstep.  Not having heard of them previously, both Jonathan Maberry and Kim Paffenroth, within maybe a month of each other, came to me to review their works.  It's commonplace these days for anyone to approach me for a review, and I have to this date indeed reviewed some pretty damn good stuff.  But in reading their works, and through some correspondence, in seeing what these two are about on their websites and perusing over their accomplishments, I can say
concerning the both of them that greatness has found its way to my doorstep, and it probably wouldn't have been the case if not for doing reviews.  Call it an affirmation.

     Check out their books, check out their websites, and you'll see what I mean.
 

Gospel of the Living Dead:George Romero's Visions of Hell on Earth by Kim Paffenroth (2006 Baylor University Press)  Read more about the author & book here.

Cthulhu Cult by Venger Satanis (2007 Lulu)  Read more about the author and the novel  here.

     Here we have Jonathan Maberry's Ghost Road Blues.  It's a first novel, and a first horror novel at that.  In itself it's an ambitious work, the first in an epic three-part series, and has received wide critical acclaim.  At its core we find thematic variations of tales often told ---small town with a notoriously dark reputation (especially come Halloween), a cavalcade of well-conceived characters that are processed through a sifter of narrative to fall

 

    

 

      Kim Paffenroth's Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero's Visions of Hell on Earth is a grand dose of unique genre nonfiction, an analysis of zombies in film and most specifically of Romero's films and those directly inspired by them.  Each chapter discusses all four films from the father of pop culture zombies, as well as the Dawn of the Dead remake, making mention of related popular cinematic creations.  Paffenroth tears into his subject matter from the point of view of an educated theologian who can not only relate Christian teachings and perspectives to zombies in movies but is also an avid fan.....and likely of Christian ideological persuasion.

     Unlike my earlier days as a guy who preached good old fashioned Christian gospel with a thick-headedness like unto placing a cardboard box over my head and telling myself it wasn’t there, tuning out others’ points of view and blinding myself at the same time, I have arrived at the conclusion that receiving others’ opinions about the way the world works and giving others’ philosophies more than the time of day actually educates and nourishes my brain, lets it breathe and allows me to think with a freedom I hadn’t known when I was so judgmental.

But for me to actually review a work this author presents as a bible in all sincerity to his proclaimed religion, albeit an unrecognized religion…..well, let’s just say it’s difficult to critique as a literary work, simply because it’s more like a manual and profession of one’s faith rather than something written to be taken less seriously.

Basically, in the tradition of Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible, it proclaims itself as the supreme document to go by for a religion based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.  “Eventually, all things rooted in this world break down.  And so it follows that one day the world’s political systems, the systems of human control, will also decay…..We will forge a new order, a Lovecraftian Theocracy.”

In this book we have codes of conduct, rituals, rites, rants, the ‘accursed writings of that dreaded cult, and its ungodly practices whereby the Old Ones may be stirred…..”

Written by High Priest Venger Satanis, with the given name of Darrick Dishaw, a successful real estate businessman, the work as a whole is executed with intelligence, good editing, some good artwork, and determined vision.  What else can I say?  Darrick is a smart man, and the book reads like a thesis from a smart man.  Though I am not persuaded into his beliefs, I respect them, and wish for him the best. 

And if any writer deserves a religion, it’s Lovecraft.