By Michael Louis Calvillo (Bad Moon Books; 2009)

Michael Louis Calvillo’s astonishing first novel, 2007’s wild, slipstreamy I WILL RISE, heralded the arrival of an altogether new, virtuosic and vastly unpredictable talent.  Calvillo’s second novel AS FATE WOULD HAVE IT more than confirms that promise.

As it happens, this book is far removed from the stream-of-consciousness narrative of I WILL RISE, though it’s every bit as confident, ambitious and uncompromising.  That means those of you not wanting to experience graphic depictions of blood, viscera and violent psychosis are advised to steer clear.  For everyone else, though, it comes highly recommended as an eye-opening peek into some of the darker regions of the human psyche.

What makes AS FATE WOULD HAVE IT unique is the fact that it’s not really a horror novel per se (it’s subtitled “A Prolonged Love Letter”), but a dark two-person character study.  On the one hand we have Ashley, a hardened young woman stuck in a dead-end relationship and nursing an unwanted heroin addiction.  On the other is Montgomery, a respected chef burdened with a nagging wife and an all-consuming addiction of his own: cannibalism.

It’s Montgomery’s “problem” that connects these two individuals in the form of Heather, Ashley’s best friend and Montgomery’s latest meal.  Once Heather goes missing it doesn’t take Ashley long to deduce the most likely culprit in her disappearance–Montgomery–and track him down.  Montgomery is determined to put a permanent end to his insanity, but figures that with Ashley’s nosiness he might just have to break that resolution.

That’s an admittedly thin narrative, but the emphasis from the start is on character development.  This makes it all the more impressive that Calvillo is nonetheless able to craft such an absorbing and suspenseful account.

Be forewarned, though: this book plays rough, particularly in the deeply shocking climax wherein some profoundly nasty surprises wait.  You likely won’t be able to predict the nature of those surprises, nor the manner in which they unfold.  The denouement is dark, and extremely so, but also oddly revelatory, literate and provocative.  Not unlike the book as a whole.