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M. Stephen Lukac
NIGHT OF THE BEAST - 2002
by Harry Shannon
Medium Rare Books
I saw Star Wars on Wednesday, May 25, 1977. Twenty-five years later, as I stood in line with my family to see Episode II, my memory of that first viewing was still colored by the knowledge that I knew it was cool before anyone else. Before the magazine cover stories, before the Behind the Scenes documentaries, before the universal hubris that accompanied the
subsequent chapters, I had made a discovery that no one else had. Yet.
I felt much the same while reading NIGHT OF THE BEAST by Harry Shannon. From the opening paragraphs of the introduction, which
describe the author's deep and abiding fascination for pulp fiction and
horror as a genre, he had me in his grasp.
But while other gifted writers such as King, Clegg and McCammon tend to create
their apocalyptic visions on cross-country canvases, and populate them
with casts of thousands, Shannon - taking a page from Bentley Little and
perhaps Stephen King's earlier, and more claustrophobic works - has constructed
his disturbing landscape on a smaller scale, with a smaller cast, to great
Armageddon in microcosm.
Where other authors play Risk and orchestrate vast armies across incalculable
terrain, Shannon plays chess with the reader. The story sounds simple
when summarized: Peter Rourke -a burnt-out music producer- returns home
to Two Trees, Nevada after suffering a breakdown. Peter is the White King,
pitted against the Black King: Jason Smith, an abused orphan dabbling
in black magic (his God is Dog) who may or may not be psychotic. Jason is determined to make the world suffer for
his indignities. Their eight-by-eight battlefield is the town of Two Trees,
Nevada; their pieces the aging inhabitants. Shannon plays both sides of
the board like Bobby Fisher giving a clinic.
What separates NIGHT OF THE BEAST from standard hero vs. villain fare is the attention Shannon gives to
these other characters and their surroundings. As in chess, every piece
has a part to play, and one can never determine the importance of a pawn
until after checkmate. This isn't a travel set with magnetic bases and
featureless pieces. NIGHT OF THE BEAST is an Ultra-Deluxe, Hamilton Mint board with handcrafted, exclusive game
pieces designed in heaven and manufactured in hell, a necessity for every
true horror collector.
Why? Because after assembling his cast of classic monsters and truly gruesome
originals, the author (via a terrible, long-forgotten Native American God known as Orunde) slowly transforms Two Trees,
Nevada from a forgotten desert town into a battlefield of the mind and
spirit. He presents his complex and fully-realized characters with situations
we all face, but then as spicy condiments adds the horrific predicaments
humans experience only in our worst nightmares. Thus an unbearable tension,
leavened only by occasional over-the-top humor, and we are all forced
to identify with the wars raging within the inhabitants of Two Trees,
because we fight those same battles within ourselves.
And the outcome is never certain.
NIGHT OF THE BEAST sags a bit towards the middle of its three-act structure, and in that
section the action sometimes shifts so rapidly the reader might need notes
to keep up. The scattered black humor is sometimes almost too subtle to
be funny and feels a bit like a gross-out contest (although I laughed anyway!). Shannon, who clearly loves to write, does a
bit of a high-wire act by changing styles once too often; his often lyrical
prose can be a bit of a distraction when describing the desert and its
denizens. But I'm quibbling, here. This novel is a true wonder as well
as great entertainment.
The author admits that he set out to combine 80's cheese and somewhat predictable
"plot points" with contemporary and genuine chills. The vast
majority of the time, he succeeds admirably. The final act, a rollicking
100 pages that takes place on the actual 'Night of the Beast,' will totally
When horror fans list their favorite novels, two books invariably make the
cut: THE STAND by Stephen King, and SWAN SONG by Robert McCammon. In ten years, one could imagine that NIGHT OF THE BEAST by Harry Shannon, a small-press entry from an unknown company, might take its place among these classics.
However, I'm glad I didn't wait that long to read it.
This review copyright 2002 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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