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Reviewed: The Demon Cross

Demon CrossI owe Nathan Shumate an apology. He was kind enough to give me an advance copy of the first of his Avalon & Company novels, The Demon Cross. Naturally, I dropped the ball. So, one of the inaugural posts of this blog’s relaunch will attempt to rectify that oversight.
Nathan popped up on my radar at his Pulp of the Day site. I consider myself a dilettante of the highest caliber when it comes to things pulp-ish and noir; which means I loved it! Every day, he gives us one cover from an old pulp magazine or novel and invites us to come up with captions. There’s even a contest. It’s a lot of fun! You may be wondering what this has to do with his novel. Patience, I’m getting there.

I read The Demon Cross in one evening. I hadn’t planned on completing it that fast, I just found I couldn’t put it down. It was a short and quick; novella length and just enough to whet my appetite. Was it tautly written? Yes. Was it fast-paced? You bet! Was it a fun read? Absolutely! Nazis, demons, lost books of power! So, what was the problem?
Well, I kinda felt betrayed. Here’s this story involving Rennie Avalon, an attractive, single mom who has the scratch and skills to open a private investigations firm (and buy a duplex – half as investment), has a cute child (Beth) who is recovering from some (as yet) undisclosed trauma, docile tenants, a snarky secretary, clients that lie to her or at least don’t tell the whole truth and some mysterious history with the arcane unknown. Do we find out about the bankroll she used to set herself up? No. Do we find out about the incident that is giving young Beth night terrors? No. How about Beth’s father? Forget it! Do we get a hint about her first foray into the weird? No. So, what did I get?

I got a rocking good story full of mystery and danger, skinheads and demons, chaos and anarchy; all in 91 pages! Nathan has mastered an economical writing style that sucked me right into Rennie’s world and made me care about these characters. I wanted to know more and was sorry to turn the final page.

All in all, the novel very smoothly sails between a gritty, detective story and Lovecraftian horror, leading the reader to realize the genres aren’t as far apart as one might think. Nathan is no stranger to “things that go bump in the night” as a past editor of and contributor to “Arkham Tales” and current editor of “Arcane”. As a bonus, he has a good grip on the pulse of the noir genre, as well.

We do get occasional breathers on this rollercoaster. The dialogue and general feel when Rennie is with Beth, the normalcy of raising a small child; finding a baby sitter, taking time out for dinner, etc.; all rings true.

I do have a nit to pick. At one point in the story, Ernst Vielstich, the client, saves the day with a decidedly “and a wizard walked by” air. The client saves the day? Really? Well, it is a different approach to the genre.

If Ernst is going to be a permanent member of the cast (and my vote for that would be YES), then okay, I retract my objection. We still have a lot to learn about all the characters. If he’s not going to be a member, then make him a reoccurring villain. He might be a tiny old man, but he appears to be packing a ton of power.

I initially had an issue with Sammy Moapa. He seemed to be a bit cliché. Hulking Samoan with a heart of gold; scares the bad guys and loves kids. For those of you who have seen the reboot of Hawaii Five-0, Sammy seemed reminiscent of the Kamekona (Shaved Ice) character that is constantly helping McGarrett out.

However, I reconsidered my issue. Firstly, because Nathan’s novel predates the CBS retcon, making Sammy more like the template for Kamekona than the other way around and two, because Rennie isn’t Steve McGarrett. She’s 5’5’’, a buck-ten soaking wet; not really all that intimidating. Sammy, on the other hand, is a mountain.

I was a bit confused about the relationship between Rennie and Detective Fleming. Usually the cops don’t want a PI monkeying around, yet Fleming seemed to give our heroine a bit of leeway. Then there was the issue of sexual tension, or rather the lack there of. A divorced detective should at least be a little flirty, right?

There is a scene, where a white supremacist gives an apology (in the classical sense of the word) for his ideology. For me, this was the one of the creepiest parts of the novel; the lengths that people will go to in justifying their actions. The language sounded so natural as to make me wonder if I had not heard the excuse somewhere before.

In the end, the day is saved, the client is satisfied, the gumshoe is paid and the reader is left wanting for more. It is an altogether fun read and one I’d highly recommend. I look forward to the next case from Avalon & Company.

Final Verdict: Rating (4 of 5)  Not Recommended Needs Improvement Recommended Highly Recommended

This post originally appeared April 25th, 2011, on my old site It was a Dark & Stormy Night … I have graciously given myself permission to repost it here, in lieu of original content and/or to preserve it for hysterical purposes.

About the Author: Paul K. Ellis
Author Website: https://paulkellis.com

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