By John Skipp (Leisure; 2004/06/07)
You need one of these, pure and simple. It’s the short novel THE LONG LAST CALL by John Skipp (originally published by Cemetery Dance in ’06) together with Skipp’s ’04 novella CONSCIENCE in an affordable paperback edition.
John Skipp, formerly of Skipp and Spector, the team behind classics like THE LIGHT AT THE END, THE SCREAM and THE BRIDGE, was one of the forerunners of the splatterpunk movement. The Skipp and Spector combo was an arresting one, with a hip, unflinching, pop culture-inflected voice–and it turns out Skipp is just as potent on his own, with a gripping style and vivid, cinematic storytelling.
The use of the term cinematic wasn’t accidental, as THE LONG LAST CALL apparently began life as a screenplay to be directed by Skipp himself. He apparently couldn’t find financing for the film, however, so Skipp refashioned the material into a novel. As such it works beautifully.
The set-up is this: around 2 AM at a secluded titty bar called Sweet Thangs a stranger shows up with a briefcase holding an apparently limitless supply of hundred dollar bills. Yet these aren’t ordinary bills by any means: those who can really see notice a nasty trail of slime emitted by the money. Furthermore, the cash seems to affect the people it comes into contact with in various disturbing ways. Most notably, it seems to increase whatever vile, evil traits they may innately possess. The stranger obviously has disquieting supernatural powers and is there to witness a show of his own–a horror show, to be exact–with Sweet Thangs’ nasty, brutish clientele of whores, rednecks and assorted no-hopers the unwitting performers.
It wouldn’t be fair going into detail about what happens from there, as a large part of the novel’s allure is its unpredictability. Suffice it to say that the proceedings are fast, wet and meaty, with a goodly amount of gore ‘n slime and a flawlessly sustained intensity. Call it literary speed metal: layered and/or harmonious it ain’t, and nor am I sure what socially redeeming value it might possess (if any), but as a noisy, headbanging, can’t-put-it-down splatfest it’s irresistible.
CONSCIENCE is something else entirely, a brooding look into the fractured psyche of a tortured hit man in La-La Land, and what happens when the guy begins to lose his mind–or so it might seem. Once again, I’ll refrain from divulging too much, and leave you to experience the tale’s many head-snapping twists on your own.
Yes, there is a supernatural angle, and an effective one, although what resonated with me was the author’s gritty portrayal of life in the City of Angels. Skipp (like me) is an LA resident, and this is one of the few modern LA-set novels that gets everything right, most notably the Metro Rail system, which the protagonist rides several times with observations that are spot-on (“If you don’t believe we now live in the science fiction world, take a ride on the LA subway”).
How these two blistering but quite different novellas complement each other I’m not sure. I prefer the headlong splat-happiness of THE LONG LAST CALL, but both are quite potent, and comprise an excellent sampling of John Skipp’s considerable skills. More please!