A Night In The Lonesome October, by Roger Zelazny (Avon Books, 1993)

It’s October, sometime in the late 1800s, and the fate of the world is at stake. Come the end of the month, a Ritual will be held, one that will determine once again whether the Great Old Ones break through into our reality. Who will stand there and champion civilization? Who will fight for life and love and liberty? Who will stand as a Closer when the Game comes to its conclusion?

Will it be the mysterious man known as Jack, who walks the foggy streets of London with his trusty knife, and his dog, Snuff?

Will it be the vampiric Count, who sleeps by day, and stalks the nighttime?

Will it be the Great Detective and his assistant? Or the mad monk, Rastov? Perhaps it’s the Good Doctor, who’s trying to build life out of dead parts. Maybe the savior of humanity is Larry Talbot, a werewolf.

What if it’s really the Vicar Roberts, whose crusade against the rest of the players threatens them all? Or Crazy Jill? Or even the druid, Owen?

In the Game, nothing is for certain, and no one is as they appear to be. There are Openers, those who would open the way for the Great Old Ones, and the Closers, who would sacrifice themselves that the world might continue. And on October 31st, all bets are off.

This is the world of Roger Zelazny’s A Night In The Lonesome October. A world of foggy danger, mystery, and Byzantine maneuverings. A world where Jack the Ripper is, believe it or not, the good guy, where his dog is the narrator, and where absolutely anything can happen.

Thirty-one days. Thirty-one chapters. Some of the players, will live, some will die, some will quit the Game. Every time you think you have one puzzled out, they’ll go and surprise you. It’s hard finding sympathy for Jack the Ripper. But somehow, Zelazny does it. He weaves a tale so unpredictable and tangled that you’ll be kept guessing right up until the very end, and even then, you may have to go back and reread some parts to figure out where your assumptions went off.

I’ll be honest. I love this book. There’s just something downright -fun- about it. It’s a joyful, shameless look at all of the Gothic characters of the Victorian era and later, disguising them with a thin coat of paint that’ll fool nobody. It’s a romp through the classics, tying them all together with a fairly original plot, told from a singularly unique point of view. I heard that Zelazny actually wrote this one as the result of a dare, to make Jack the Ripper a sympathetic character. And by golly, he does just that. It’s a quick read, but deceptively so. Move too fast, and you may miss a turn, rather like closing your eyes on a roller coaster.

One of the major selling points of this book, though, has to be the macabre, whimsical drawings of Gahan Wilson. His “cartoons,” (for I hesitate to label them as such) are sprinkled liberally throughout the book, adding flavor and imagery to an already compelling tale. And if you don’t know about Gahan Wilson, and you haven’t seen his work, you’re missing out on a unique talent. Words simply cannot accurately describe the bizarre, stylistic, memorable renditions of the absurd that he specializes in. I read the Matthew Looney series, by Jerome Beatty Jr. when I was younger, and the thing that stuck most profoundly in my impressionable young mind was the Gahan Wilson artwork that accompanied those books.

To give you an idea of the sources drawn upon for this book, Zelazny thanks, in the introduction, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Albert Payson Terhune, and the makers of a lot of old movies. Whew!

I’ll be as blunt as possible. Read this book. It is one of Zelazny’s best books, an interesting intro to his work, and utterly unrelated to his magnum opus, the Amber chronicles. As such, it doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves. Go ahead, try it. See if it has the power to surprise you, too.

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