IN THE LONESOME OCTOBER
I’ll confess upfront that I’m not the ideal audience for this novel, the last by the late Roger Zelazny. I’ve always found Zelazny overrated, after all, and nor am I too fond of the type of whimsical silliness that suffuses A NIGHT IN THE LONESOME OCTOBER.
It’s told from the point of view of Snuff, a dog belonging to Jack the Ripper. In this novel’s universe “Jack” (as JTR is identified herein) is some kind of arcane sorcerer whose gruesome murders are actually invocations designed to further his standing in a complex “game” that also involves Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Frankenstein and Count Dracula (all of whom go unnamed). Unexpectedly enough, Jack is actually the good guy here: he’s a “closer” who uses black magic to shut an inter-dimensional gateway periodically breached by “openers,” whose ranks include “the Count,” and who are about to make a last-ditch attempt at opening the gateway and letting the Lovecraftian Elder Gods into our world.
An audacious set-up, certainly, and the manner in which Zelazny toys with various well-worn horror tropes is not entirely without interest, but the novel sounds a lot better in synopsis than it actually reads. Jack the Ripper evinces little in the way of motivation or personality, and nor are his gruesome ministrations ever described in any detail--to do so, after all, would ruin the jokey, lighthearted tone Zelazny tries so hard to impart. As it happens, most of the novel’s “action” is confined to the dull intrigue that takes place among Snuff and his fellow animal servants, which include cats and rats who like Snuff are able to think and talk like humans.
The one bright spot are the copious pen and ink illustrations by the inimitable Gahan Wilson. His brand of macabre humor and voluminous knowledge of the horror field (evident in the spot-on pastiches of various famous monsters on display here) perfectly fit the novel’s subject matter, indeed far better so than the novel itself.