Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Recently read: Southern Gods

From the NightShade blurb page;

"Recent World War II veteran Bull Ingram is working as muscle when a Memphis DJ hires him to find Ramblin' John Hastur. The mysterious blues man's dark, driving music--broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station--is said to make living men insane and dead men rise.

Disturbed and enraged by the bootleg recording the DJ plays for him, Ingram follows Hastur's trail into the strange, uncivilized backwoods of Arkansas..."

With a hook like that, I had to read this one.  I am a blues fan, a deep blues fan, and combining the ol' "bluesman sold his soul to the Devil" with Cthulhuian touches put this novel at the top of my to-be-read list for this year.

The story is not only about Bull Ingram, but also Sarah (Rheinhart) Williams.  Jacobs craftily puts down two separate sub-plots until they meet and entwine at the climax, just as they should.  Bull is on the hunt for a missing man, but also decides something needs to be done about Hastur.  Meanwhile, Sarah - with child in tow, fleeing an abusive husband - returns to her old Southern homestead to re-establish relationships with her mother and a childhood friend.  But, despite her newfound happiness there is a growing darkness around the Rheinhart plantation.

There are some great scenes along the way.  The first time Bull hears a recording of Hastur, the rage and murderous impulses.  Finding a dead DJ with a Hastur record still spinning on the turntable.  The live performance of Hastur that drives an entire crowd mad and murderous, turning a dive bar into a horrific orgy of death and carnage.

While the plot does lock step like lego blocks, Jacobs needed to fight against suspension of disbelief.  Every story has coincidences, of course, to get the actions and characters where they are needed for the plot.  It takes a deft hand to keep the coincidence subtle. When everything comes together, it seems almost too perfect - with the inclusion of an expositor priest who has a full knowledge of occult books.

Jacobs might have sensed this, as he explains the coincidences as cosmic.  Dark forces are gathering.  So, conversely, forces of light are arranging incidents to place the main players together when and where needed.  I am still not sure if that entirely worked - it felt a little heavy-handed.

I wanted to be more excited about this novel when I was finished.  I guess I came in with a combination of high expectations and my own expectations.  Personally, as interested in the blues as I am, I thought the music would really play a heavier role.  The music angle really fell out after the climax.

I think that was the crux; the climax really delineates the novel into two halves - and they don't feel balanced.  I was happy to read a somewhat shorter novel than a lot out there now, but the first half felt like it needed a longer second half to conclude the story.  The first half was great at establishing characters, setting, mood.  The second half, naturally pushes into action and mounting horror - yet for all the tension building, things went by quickly and felt a bit flat.

A warning on the gore factor.  This story has elements of Cthulhu mythos, but don't expect any Lovercraftian skirting of the gory details.  There are some very visceral descriptions - gore, blood, and some disturbing scenes, especially at the crescendo.  I don't hold this against Jacobs - this is a horror novel, after all.  Just giving warning.

In the end, despite the unbalanced feel, this is a solid horror novel and a strong first novel for a new writer.  I would recommend it if you want horror with a different flair.


  1. I had been wondering about this one-thanks Paul.

  2. You beat me to this one. I've got a copy and am wanting to get to it soon. I may have to bump it up in the queue.

  3. uncivilized backwoods of Arkansas! lol. But I guess it's pretty true. I've set some stuff there myself. Is this anything like the Silver John stories of Manly Wade Wellman? It harks on it to me.

  4. Charles; I'd say no. Southern setting, yes, but Bull Ingram is no troubadour like Silver John. (The cover illustration appears to be a dead bluesman singing with guitar - not the hero of the tale.)

    But, I haven't read Silver John in a while, either. I think I'll move the Planet Stories collection up my list. (along with 'The King in Yellow' and the biography of Howlin' Wolf.)

    I am thinking of getting the Nightshade 'Book of Cthulhu'. Jacobs has a tale in that, too.