Tuesday, 2 August 2011
'Southern Gods' - John Hornor Jacobs
Lewis "Bull" Ingram is World War II veteran who makes a living with his fists, collecting for a local moneylender. When you look like your mother mated with a bull, "persuading" people to hand over money is easy. Size is a good advantage. However, any thug worth his name can twist an arm. Bull's talent is finding people. This talent is what interests a record label. One of their promoters has gone missing and he is not the type to make a run for it. Something must have happened and they want Bull to find him. There is one more thing, though. They play a record for Bull. Never has he heard such music, he can barely restrain himself. The music invokes powerful feelings, feelings of rage and hate. He wants to hurt someone, hurt them real bad. The singer, Ramblin' John Hastur, is a local legend. He supposedly made a deal with the devil and his music can make people do things, terrible things. Bull needs to find the singer.
Sarah has had enough of her drunk of a husband. She won't let him hit her again. It's time she left with their, no her, daughter and went back to her family house. Franny is six years old, her golden haired bundle of joy, her everything. Franny will like living at the big house. Sarah's mom raises beautiful fowls and Alice, Sarah’s friend, still works as a housekeeper for her mother. Alice has two children who Franny will love playing with. For a while, it all looks well for Sarah and Franny. When she starts translating a book from her father's library, her view of reality is about to be challenged.
Southern Gods is a grim story about two people: Sarah and Bull. Two very different individuals with nothing in common except they’re both “broken”. The war left Bull so scarred that he is almost an automaton. He has lost his drive and ambition. He has nothing left to live for. It has made him into something he does not want to be. The things he does makes it difficult to sympathise with him. However, I did rather like his imperfections and it’s what makes him so convincing. He is a man standing at a crossroads in life. There is no certainty over which path he will choose.
Sarah is a submissive woman who is learning how to be strong. She has suffered abuse from her husband and before that her own mother. Franny is a source of strength for her. Sarah is a convincing character who is a lot easier to sympathise with than Bull. Don't worry, she is not the kind of woman who spends an entire book being hysterical and chased around by monsters. She is a woman who will do anything to keep her child safe, which I totally believe. Even her "lock and load" moment felt convincing.
It's not a very long book, so the plot moves forward quite quickly, perhaps too quickly. Another obstacle or plot twist could have made things more interesting. This is partly Bull's fault. The man is an enormous mountain of muscle with army training. He was involved in a lot of scraps but I never felt much concern for him. I was too busy being worried about whoever went up against him.
Southern Gods is not one of those horror novels where the suspense is unbearable because of what you cannot see. Here, the menace is a lot more direct and in your face. Especially when Bull is involved. This book is more about trying to shock and appall the reader with gore and atrocities than building up suspense.
All in all, Southern Gods is a solid and entertaining first novel by John Hornor Jacobs. The winning points are the characters and the setting. Sarah and Bull are very different and balance each other well. Bull, the human wrecking ball, is a lot of fun and whenever he is around there is a lot of action. When Sarah is in the driver’s seat, things are different. To her the threat is more implied and it gets a lot creepier with horrors lurking in the shadows. The author is clearly capable of creating suspense which is proved by the nail-biting epilogue as well as some of the chapters with Sarah.
I suspect Southern Gods would make a kick ass movie with The Rock as Bull. Future novels by John Hornor Jacbos will pretty much automatically be added to the reading pile from now on. Any fan of horror will enjoy reading this book. But be warned, the book is best read wearing your wellies and rain coat so you can easily wash away the blood spatter afterwards.
Southern Gods weighs in at 300 pages and is published by Night Shade Books. It will be published in August 2011.