Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pulp Fiction: Messenger By Edward Lee

I'm a voracious reader, and Horror has been one of my favorite genres of fiction since I was old enough to read. I'm kind of sick of writing about movies for minute, so as a change of pace, I'll be throwing in reviews of the juicier, pulpier stuff I've been polluting my brain with lately.

Disclaimer: the review I am giving this book is not on the same rating scale as all literature. This is so out there, you couldn't review it with the same rating system as say, Moby Dick. That would be like stacking up The Toxic Avenger against The Hurt Locker . The only thing these works have in common is their medium, so I've decided to rate this book on its merits as a work of Pulp Horror alone. And in that arena, this book kicks serious slimy demon butt.

Ed Lee has a reputation in the literary horror world as being the most intense, most grossest, most disgustingest writer there is. Apparently his mass market novels published under the Leisure Books imprint are somewhat toned down when compared to his small press, hard to find work. If this is Ed Lee toned down, I can't even fathom what his 'hardcore' stuff is like. I mean, how much more intense and nasty could fiction possibly be? Are his small press books printed on poisonous paper that burns your fingers when you turn the page? Is the copy printed in a font that eventually makes your eyes bleed? Does the book explode when you close it? The only way any book could be harder and nastier than this book is if it did those things.

Back in 2006, when my discovery of the works of Brian Keene, Jack Ketchum and Richard Laymon stoked my post Stephen King interest in horror fiction, I picked up Ed Lee's newest novel, The Backwoods . I figured 'hey, if all these authors I love love this guy, he must be awesome.' The book sucked. Really hard. In fact I couldn't even get more than about 80 pages into it. It was embarrassingly bad. Since then I've never picked up another book by Lee, until the other day when I was doing laundry. I forgot the book I was reading at that time at home, so on the way to the laundromat I stopped into the local library. I picked up this book, read the summary and the first page and decided to give old Mr. Lee a whirl. I read the first 70 pages in the laundromat. I wonder if the little Mexican kids there thought I was weird, this big bearded dude reading some creepy looking book with his eyes bugging out of his head, turning the pages as fast as he could.

The premise is pretty silly sounding: The Messenger, a mysterious demonic figure possesses postal workers in a small Florida town and uses them to carry out his heinous acts. Lee takes this idea, and basically pumps it full of steroids, LSD, crack and demon blood and lets it loose. This is one king-hell, rip-snortin' beast of a horror novel. Its also very well plotted and actually has a soft tender side that doesn't beat itself over your head, but is there enough so that you actually care about the main characters.
I think that's the book's greatest feat. Combining mayhem, gore and violence that goes as completely over the top as it definitely does here with characters you actually care about is not an easy feat, and Lee pulls it off seemingly without effort.

The Messenger is an amazing villain, as well. I don't want to go into too much detail into what he does and how he does it, as I don't want to give away too much and ruin this book for someone brave enough to read it. Lets just say that he's one of the most nefarious bad guys I've come across in a horror novel, and I read tons of horror fiction. The level of nastiness is cranked up to 11 here, and all because of this one bastard.

Also there are some deliciously clever twists towards the end that will seriously take you by surprise.

Basically, if you like pulpy horror, you have an iron stomach and are brave enough, give this book a try. You won't be disappointed. (But it may make you question your own sanity for reading these kinds of things.)