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SPANKY
By CHRISTOPHER FOWLER (Warner Books; 1994)

To be sure, the novels of Christopher Fowler—ROOFWORLD, RUNE, RED BRIDE, DARKEST DAY—have quite a few flaws: they’re steeped in “hip” culture (SPANKY’S title character’s every appearance is accompanied by elaborate descriptions of his trendy duds) and so tend to date extremely quickly, and bear an unfortunate reliance on cliches (climbing into bed with SPANKY’S protagonist, a chick warns: “no funny stuff!”).  Then again, Fowler’s work is also lively, inventive and extremely difficult to put down.  For proof, check out SPANKY, a witty and enjoyable pop horror updating of FAUST which, despite Fowler’s claims that it represents a “departure and a new direction for me”, is very much in fitting with the rest of his work.

     Martyn Ross is a lowly furniture store employee desperate for a better life.  He meets a slick guy named Spanky (real name: Spancialosaphus Lacrimosae), who offers to spice things up for him.  Spanky is a self-professed daemon (repeat: daemon, not demon!) who for once doesn’t want to take Martyn’s soul...although just what he does want is left unclear.  Martyn unwisely accepts Spanky’s offer and quickly finds himself steeped in a world of trendy nightclubs, fancy restaurants and loose women.  Inevitably, however, Spanky eventually reveals his price: he wants to take over Martyn’s body in order to commit dastardly acts.  Martyn resists, and Spanky retaliates by loosing mayhem on those close to him and eventually Martyn himself.  Luckily the latter has done research on Spanky’s current host body and discovers that it only has a week to go before it decays completely, meaning he just has to resist Spanky’s onsloughts for that amount of time...a feat easier said than done!

     Fowler’s first person narrative is a brisk and compelling one.  His characterizations are reasonably strong and the presentation of Spanky’s high society world is quite convincing (complete with cameo appearances by Kenneth Branaugh, Emma Thompson and Salman Rushdie).  The book, like all Fowler’s work, is set in its author’s native London and is overall extremely English in its approach, but, again like his other books, not to the point of alienating American readers like myself (SPANKY, interestingly enough, has never been published in the US).  What Fowler provides is a good, satisfying read that will never overshadow the works of Goethe or Christopher Marlowe, but acquits itself quite nicely on its own terms.  You could certainly do a lot worse.

     One more thing: my biggest beef with the book has noting to do with the writing but with the packaging, in particular the infamous cover art depicting a shirtless dude wearing thigh high boots and leather underwear.  I can fully understand readers being put off reading the book, thinking that it’s gay pornography.  For some time I thought so myself and passed it up, only deigning to open the thing after reading some rave reviews.  I found myself pleasantly surprised by the content, but was careful not to be caught reading it in public!
 


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