Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book Review: "The Devil's Horror Show" (Dennis Stamey)

What do you fear most?

Spiders? Snakes? Being alone? Losing a loved one? Losing your job? An accident? Thunderstorms? The dark?

What if what you feared most was something you couldn't put words to, didn't know how to describe, couldn't even classify? What if it was something that kept you imprisoned --- you and others with you --- and defined your very existence?

The town of Jerusalem, North Carolina, in the 1880s, is such a place, a prison for its inhabitants, who have no idea what kind of evil has stealthily infiltrated their ranks. Within the span of a few decades, the townspeople will be brought to their knees not once but twice by forces determined to see Jerusalem, the cornerstone of the world, totally destroyed.

With great eagerness, let me introduce to you The Devil's Horror Show, a historical horror novel by author Dennis Stamey.

In truth, the story is difficult to classify into a single genre. Stamey includes elements of coming-of-age, young adult, horror, thriller, romance, and supernatural, all so seamlessly intertwined against the historical backdrop that any uncertainty in classification fades in light of the events narrated.

The protagonist and first-person narrator through the work, is Jesse Landry, who grew up in Jerusalem, the only surviving child of his father, Joshua, a cynical war veteran, and his mother, a dysfunctional religious fanatic. Jesse's voice --- practical, precise, at times self-deprecating, always authentically "all boy" --- will captivate readers from the very first page and draw them into Stamey's world.

It's a fantastical world he's created, populated by forces of evil impossible for some to comprehend or even imagine beyond the scope of fiction, and yet many of Stamey's horrific elements are derived from the Bible and the doctrines of Christianity, including demonic possession and the very tangible presence of evil forces contrary to those who choose Christ. Also interwoven are elements of Native American spirituality and Hindu reincarnation, making for an intriguing amalgamation that begs you to keep turning pages.

Also unique to the work, aside from all its gruesome violence and stark sexuality, is its different format, the way in which the story is told. In essence, there are three stories happening at once, told in frames. (To understand a frame device, picture the movie The Princess Bride ... the movie opens and ends with a frame, in which the young boy is home sick from school and his grandfather comes to visit and reads The Princess Bride to him, while the story within the frame is that of Princess Buttercup, Westley, Prince Humperdinck, and the others.)

Here, the first frame is Jesse Landry as an elderly man, widowed, who stares out across what has become of Jerusalem and thinks back over its chaotic history and near demise. The second frame or story, within the first, is Jesse as a middle-aged man, when his son was still a toddler and the town was visited for the second time by terrifying forces of evil bent on its destruction.

The third and final story within the other two is Jesse as a young adult, leaving for college in the fall to become a lawyer and escape Jerusalem, falling in love with a young black woman in town despite the racial tensions still running high, trying to survive with his dirt-poor parents, and how he and only a handful of other townspeople faced down the first wave of evil that breached their borders and very nearly desecrated the town into nonexistence.

Perhaps the breakdown sounds confusing now, but pick up a copy of the work and I assure you, it will make much more sense as you follow the individual threads of these three distinct story lines to their braided-together conclusion.

The writing style is compelling; the tension between what is known and what is unknown, what was past and what is present, constantly drives the pace of the story forward. Readers who prefer their works thrilling and unpredictable will not be disappointed.

If I had two wishes for the work to improve on a future edition, they would be twofold. First, the book would benefit from a close proofread to ensure that the periodic errors in grammar and punctuation currently present would be corrected for the sake of an easier read.

Second, the work would also benefit from a content edit by an editor familiar with historical fiction, as some of the story elements (spoken lines of dialogue, manner of speaking, certain catchphrases and cliches) are or feel too modern to be included in a work of accurate historical fiction such as this one intends to be. Some of the spoken phrases, terms of endearment, and the like used in the story simply didn't come into existence until later in the historical record.

Nonetheless, The Devil's Horror Show is one of the most fascinating, absorbing novels I've read in a long while, and I can't recommend it highly enough to readers who don't mind their works to land on the side of edgy violence, brutally honest sexuality, and co-mingled supernatural and spiritual elements.

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Author: Dennis Stamey
Title: The Devil's Horror Show
ISBN: 978-1-5030874-5-3
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1JoyWQW

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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