When recent Word War II vet Bull Ingram, a sort of private investigator, is hired by a Memphis radio station owner to hunt down vanished employee Early Freeman. Early’s job was to push new records and grease palms at privately-owned small southern radio stations. But somewhere along the way it’s believed that Early crossed paths with Ramblin’ John Hastur, a blues man said to have sold his soul to the devil. Hastur’s brand of music brings out the darkness in people. It’s said to be able to drive folks insane with rage and desire, and to raise the dead.
As Bull travels across the backwoods of Arkansas trailing Early and Hastur, Sarah Rheinhart has just left her drunken, abusive husband to return with her daughter to the family plantation. Once there, Sarah reestablishes her relationship with her mother, a bitter woman dying from Lupus, and her best friend, Alice, the family housekeeper. She also finds her curiosity piqued by the family library, full of books on the occult that seem to call to her and infect her dreams. She seeks out Father Andrez, a local priest who was also once in charge of the Vatican’s secret library of occult literature.
After Bull faces down the evil personage of Hastur during a riot at a bayou speakeasy, he finds himself being cared for by Sarah. Clearly great forces rather than coincidence are drawing these people together as ancient evils and apathetic gods abound in a savage, grand mystery.
Jacobs shows real skill with weaving all these elements together, especially where the Lovecraftian mythos is concerned. I’ve never seen the mythos handled in quite this fashion, as background material to strengthen the main tale, but also with a unique spin. Here, the Old Ones are actually the first gods, the Titans, called the Prodigium, who are mostly indifferent to humanity. But they’ve severed off portions and aspects of themselves into a variety of lesser gods, referred as the "angry teenager gods," many of whom hate their very existence because they’re incapable of returning to their "parents." There’s also the concept of "Godshatter," which describes possession by these demons/deities. It’s funky stuff, and anybody who can pull off any kind of new flair where Lovecraft’s mythos is concerned gets high marks from me.
If you dig crime/horror/dark fantasy/southern gothic crossover (and who doesn’t?) written with a confident voice and a haunting, poignant edge, pick up John Hornor Jacobs’s debut novel SOUTHERN GODS. I recommend it wholeheartedly and look forward to whatever else Jacobs presents to us next.
- Tom Piccirilli
- "We need to make books cool again. If you go home with someone & they don't have books, don't fuck 'em."--John Waters
I'm the author of more than twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE DEAD LETTERS, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. Look for my next one THE LAST KIND WORDS due out May '12 from Bantam Books. Contact: PicSelf1@aol.com