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Posted September 14, 2011
Another first-rate dark fantasy from Tom Piccirilli, his first in several years after leaving the horror field to pursue even greater success as a crime writer (SHADOW SEASON and THE COLD SPOT are two of my favorites). Even so, there's plenty of noir-ish and hardboiled elements to be found in this novel, which is only available as a digital download at the moment.
NIGHTJACK harkens back to his earlier efforts such as A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN and NOVEMBER MOURNS--quirky, dark, fantastical, offbeat & brilliant stories heavy with atmosphere and literary sensibilities. NIGHTJACK offers a fusion of cross-genre plotlines, situations, and characters all knotted together to exemplify exactly why Piccirilli is one of the best writers going no matter what field he's working in.
On the surface it's the tale of Pace, a former mental patient with multiple personality disorder who is released and immediately kidnapped by three escapees from the same hospital--Pia, Faust, and Hayden--who also suffer from MPD. Months ago something horrible happened on the ward, possibly the rape of a young woman, Cassandra Kaltzas, though no one seems to be able to completely remember. And one of their alternates is probably the perpetrator, which makes for something like 200 possible suspects. As Pia, Faust, and Hayden shift from alternate to alternate, Pace sees each new persona and interacts with them as if they were real. These personas include gods, cowboys, sorceresses, private eyes, and alien beings.
As the story progresses, Pace's own history becomes clearer: once he was William Pacella, your average everyday guy whose wife was killed in a restaurant fire set by a local mobster looking for some fire insurance cash. As Pacella watched his wife burn to death, his psyche cracked and a new personality emerged: Nightjack. A powerful killer who may or may not be Jack the Ripper, Nightjack slaughtered his way through the mob for months until his revenge was complete.
Now Pace and his friends must face assassins sent by Cassandra's wealthy shipping magnate father, Alexander Kaltzas. Eventually they are forced to visit Kaltzas' stronghold, a Greek island where myth, madness, horror, dream, theology, and fantasy all seem to merge. What really happened to Cassandra that night in the hospital? Was she raped and murdered? Was she insane? Did Pace know her before they both became patients? Did she exist at all? And are all the alternate personalities just products of crazy folks, or is it possible that they're actually channeling these people and beings through time and space?
The novel is beautifully wonky. Bizarre and humorous and yet gripping and fascinating as Piccirilli weaves disparate elements together into one extremely well-told story of pain, love, and redemption. Despite the oddity there are scenes here that are so real and honest that you'll be heart-wrenched.
Posted September 13, 2011
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