Sunday, April 17, 2011

100 Books 23 - Steve Niles' CAL MCDONALD DETECTIVE TALES

CAL MCDONALD DETECTIVE TALES: The Y Incision AND Nocturnal Invasions
By Steve Niles
Illustrations & Cover by Kelley Jones Bloody Pulp Books
I have to applaud that this slim little volume even exists. I love that author Steve Niles -- whose name even you non-comics fans should at least dimly recognize when I remind you that it was a comics series of his that became the rather awesome horror film 30 Days of Night, in which vampires menace a small town above the Arctic Circle where the sun won't shine for, yes, 30 days. But that's hardly been Niles' only trick.

For it is he who brought the world Cal McDonald, a pill-popping private eye so hard-boiled that were he an actual egg, his yolk would probably be a dwarf star, a detective who investigates cases that involve way more monsters and mad scientists than gun molls and gangsters. His best friend is a ghoul, to give you some idea. He's appeared in comics, novels, supposed to show up in a film or two someday, and now here he is in some special edition chapbooks Niles put together with illustrator supreme, Kelley Jones (whose work on the original run of Neil Gaiman's Sandman still makes my jaw drop more than a decade later).

Neither "The Y-Shaped Incision" nor "Nocturnal Invasions" are new stories, having appeared in anthologies, but they more than deserve the lavish treatment they got here. Full-page black and white Kelley Jones illustrations, deliberately left a bit rough with the original sketchy pencil lines showing through the lusciously deep inks, are scattered throughout, and the book comes sealed in a mock evidence bag on which someone has even written the ship date in sharpie. And you get it all for just five bucks Amurrican. 'Nuff said.

In this adventure, he is dealing with a seriously macabre mortician, Henry Thicke, who, Cal tells us early on "even creeps out the ghouls" and "reeks of freak." Thicke has had some bodies disappear entirely from his basement -- and then some only partly disappear. What did this and why? What could be creepier than Henry Thicke himself? How much appalling fun can a reader have in so few pages?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

The second story, "Nocturnal Invasions," is less innovative, written originally for an "erotic horror" anthology (SO not my bag), but still a good romp as a variation on the classic "what the hell did I do last night" lost-weekend theme. With vampires, both real and wannabe. And one could even choose to regard its ending as a happy one.

Subject matter aside, illustration aside, these two stories are simply a (slightly sicko) pleasure to read. Niles' years writing for comics have given him a crisp and terse prose style that is perfect for this supernatural/noir hybrid genre he's working in here, and a talent for visual description that puts the reader right next to the ick even when Jones isn't drawing her a picture. The narrative voice he's developed for McDonald is exactly right for the character -- candid, vulgar, tough and colorful. Very, very colorful: "His upper and lower intestines were splashed on the cement like vomited Udon noodles." Yeah, like that. Which means Niles' writing is also not for the squeamish, or at least not for those who let their squeamishness get in the way of enjoying a bloody good story, which these most certainly are.

Huzzah, Steve Niles. Huzzah, Kelley Jones. Huzzah, Bloody Pulp Books.

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