Eddy Deco's Last CaperBy Gahan Wilson (Three Rivers Press; 1987)

Gahan Wilson is a longtime cartoonist (for publications ranging from Playboy to The New Yorker and National Lampoon) with a playful and humorous yet quite macabre sensibility. His is among the most distinct and recognizable artistic sensibilities on the scene, comparable with those of Charles Addams and Edward Gorey.

Gahan Wilson’s prose, alas, is a different story. As displayed in his film and book reviews for The Twilight Zone and Fantasy & Science Fiction magazines, along with a handful of novels and short stories, Wilson’s writing is quite distinct in its own right, but also extremely uneven. At its best it has a darkly comedic charge comparable to his artwork (from the present volume: “I can tell you from bitter experience that any time a fire escape crawls off the wall of its tenement and starts going for you, your best move is to let it have the whole block to itself, sidewalks and all”), while at its worst it’s merely irritating, with a severe case of the cutes (“it began, in a funny, sneaky kind of way, to creep back to Rico’s right like a bad little lamp that had suddenly realized it had made a mistake in front of Mama and Papa”).

EDDY DECO’S LAST CAPER is a hard-boiled pastiche in which a private eye, one Eddy Deco, investigates a ransom case that comes to involve a man whose form consists of a jar containing a brain and two disembodied eyes, dark tunnels appearing in the midst of otherwise mundane interiors, giant lobsters wearing men’s suits, tentacle-sprouting cars, flying buildings and sentient slime. There’s also a plot, although it’s far too lightweight to build momentum, or entirely sustain attention. The narrative was structured, it seems, around Wilson’s outlandish drawings.

Speaking of which, it’s the drawings, and the way they’re utilized, that make EDDY DECO’S LAST CAPER the enjoyable romp it is. In the manner of a children’s picture book, the drawings aren’t merely illustrative but incorporated directly into the narrative. The gambit works fairly well, especially if you’re a fan of Wilson’s art, and sustains the proceedings even when the prose doesn’t measure up.