Johnny Toxin, a self-published author and computer programmer, released his debut novel, Into the Hive of Saarlathesh at the beginning of 2014. The description of the book caught my eye – he specifically calls out David Wong, H.P. Lovecraft, and Neil Gaiman as influences.
Their work (especially Wong) is all over this book, so much so that it often feels like a tribute. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective. Although I haven’t read Toxin’s short fiction, it’s clear that he’s finding his voice as a long-form novel writer, and he’s channeling the influences of some great talents to help him get there.
Whether you’ll like this book or not depends on your taste for horror and comedy. Often, the book contains scenes that would belong in an early Kevin Smith movie – crude, with a parade of characters that are overly cynical and weird, and plenty of low-brow humor. Is that a negative criticism? That depends. Did you like Clerks or Mallrats? Picture those characters in a series of bizarre supernatural situations (ghosts, giant insects, conspiracies) and you’ll get an idea whether it’s for you or not.
There’s definitely enough weirdness in this book to make it stand out. Characters dressing up like Robin? Depressed ghosts? Action? Sure, that’s all in here. And it never takes itself too seriously.
Toxin has a flair for creativity, but sometimes the writing gets bogged down (several pages worth of character description in tell-not-show fashion tends to slow things down) and it’s hard to get a handle on where the narrative is heading, or how we’re supposed to view the main character. I found him to be completely unlikable early on.
Then again, I think that’s a totally reasonable response, and part of the pull of a niche product like this novel. Not everything is neat, clean, and conventional.
For fans of cynical horror comedy, this book is worth a look.