Last Days ★★★★
Underland Press, 2009
Wow! What a darkly disturbing yet strangely delightful romp of a book. Last Days is a marvelous mash-up of hard-boiled detective noir, literary mystery and straight-up horror that never comes across as messy or confused. Evenson’s prose is sooooo tight; not a single word is wasted, the narrative action propelled along at a break-neck pace, every other chapter ending on a nail-biting cliffhanger, the dialogue smart, snappy, and at times very funny. I blew through its 200 pages in no time at all, and I bet you will too.
It’s easy to draw parallels to the noir greats here, but since I just finished reading several Cain novels I will repeat what I wrote in my review for Double Indemnity because it applies just as well here:
It all starts with a delicious chill up your spine, your eyeballs riveted to the page, your breath held, the “gotta know what happens next” monster rattling the bars of his cage….[Cain’s] ear for dialogue is enough to make grown men cry and women purr. It’s sharp, with staccato beats and primal rhythms.
In his wonderful introduction [which you read after or you will be entirely spoiled], Peter Straub compares Evenson’s snappy dialogue to not only the Marx Brothers and the “patter of 1930s” vaudeville and burlesque, but to comedic teams like Abbott and Costello and their “Who’s on first” routine. Even with all of the dreadful mutilations and creepy fanaticism running through the story, there are unexpected moments of brilliant levity which made me grin and snicker. As I found myself grinning and snickering, I was reminded of The Pilo Family Circus, another great piece of writing not to be missed that’s a genius blend of genres containing the blackest of humor.
But now a short word on the dark heart of Last Days, because in some respects what we have here is a non-supernatural horror novel. At times, the story flirts dangerously close to parody: it’s so over the top in places that you can’t help but wonder if Evenson is just pulling your leg. No he’s not. If you’re not careful, he just might cut it right the fuck off.
There’s something so unbelievably creepy and sinister to me about the lopping off of body parts (either against one’s will or voluntarily). Several films that come to mind are: Boxing Helena (dreadful!) and the Asian flick Audition (chilling!). And who could ever forget poor old Lawrence being forced to hack through his own foot in the original Saw movie? (bloody brilliant!):
“He doesn’t want us to cut through our chains. He wants us to cut through our feet!”
Evenson takes the essence of this celluloid horror and transforms it into something grittier and more nuanced. There’s a depth to Kline’s descent into a dizzying maze of mysteries. We are as in the dark as he is, as frustrated and frightened. Something sinister is afoot (no pun intended), and madness lurks around every corner. Looking for something different? This is it.