D.J. Butler. Hellhound on My Trail (Rock Band Fights Evil, 1). Carter Reid, illustrator. Kindle edition. 257 kb (est. 108pp.) Ebook $0.99. ASIN B006YEK5HE.
One of favorite books that I’ve never read was published in 1926 by John Masefield under the intriguing title Odtaa.
When asked to explain the curious title, he reportedly replied, with an absolutly straight face, “One damned thing after another!”
In more ways than one, that response seems eminently suitable for Butler’s Hellhound on My Trail as well. It is a story that never gives anyone a rest, neither its characters nor its readers—it’s just one thing after another. It is literally (using the word literally for a change) about damned things: the hellhound, of course, the Baal Zavuv, and its minions, the fly-like Zvuvim, to name a few. Since at least one member of the eponymous rock band that forms the nucleus of characters is an escapee from Hell, there is no question but that the novel is about one (or more) damned thing after another (or more than one) damned thing.
And as events turn out, the primary quest in the novel is to recover an artifact lost by Satan, who by all accounts represents the zenith (or would it be nadir?) of damned things.
Even the good guys seem to fit the idea. One is an angel—or a demon—that long ago escaped from Hell. Another is a man/woman/horse/falcon whose only consistent physical characteristic is his/her/its long silvery tail. Then there is the narcoleptic wizard, who claims that he only falls asleep while conjuring due to a curse.
Even the one ‘purely’ human character is damned—doubly damned, as it were. He bears such guilt over the gang-slaying of his younger brother that he is damned to seeing his brother’s ghost everywhere … except when he is drunk; he seeks death, knowing that he is already condemned to hell. On the other hand (the left hand, it turns out, the sinister hand) he discovers that he has been marked in some mysterious way for Hell anyway and is…well, need I say it?... damned.
If Masefield hadn’t already taken the title, perhaps Butler should have.
There is more to Hellhound on My Trail, however, than just multiple plays on damnation; and that is what makes it such a delightful(?) and energizing read. There are plenty of traditional religious figures in the tale—Raphael, for example, has a relatively well-developed cameo—but the deeper one gets into the world of Hellhound, the less recognizable those figures become as Butler weaves his own narrative spells, transforming, creating, and re-creating creatures, legends, history, in a sense the cosmos itself at will.
That he does this so adroitly is not surprising. My first experience with Butler’s prose was with his non-fiction study of temple imagery in the Book of Mormon, Plain and Precious Things (http://michaelrcollings.blogspot.com/2012/03/d.html). His ability to translate fairly prosaic passages into discussions of imagery and symbolism capable of opening new vistas of understanding impressed me greatly as I read it; not everyone can make a scholarly treatise on a religious topic read almost as fluidly as a novel. So when I approached his fiction, I expected nothing less than a well-written, well-told story.
Hellhound on My Trail is that. Butler has crafted the story through the medium of a nigh-on perfect style. Mike—the one undisputed human—narrated the story, struggling to deal with the recurring vision of his brother and the inhospitable world ‘out there,’ that is, with reality. When inexplicable things start happening, he keeps trying to explain, to sort, to define, even when events move so rapidly that before he has finished asking a question he is knee-deep (hip-deep, then chest-deep) in the next crisis.
Nor do the various damned characters make it easy for him to tell the tale. Sentences are abruptly interrupted with sound effects—Bang! Crash!Snick!—then proceed as best they can, rollicking and rocking their way to a conclusion.
Hellhound on My Trail sets out to speak to a specific audience, one as interested in the special effects as in the subtle nuances of style, one looking beyond the present battle to the next, one eager for the revelation that will make sense of everything…and at the same time upset every assumption readers have made.
It succeeds well. For that audience—one that is on the alert for the next Odtaa—Butler has just the book for you.
And it’s only the first volume of four. So get ready for a wild ride….
[And do watch for Carter Reid's great cover illustration! It's a powerful introduction to what you will find inside.]
BY THE WAY: Thursday, April 26, 2012 will be the BOOK BOMB DAY for the Rock Band Fights Evil series--there will never be a better time to give it a try.