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by Dan Simmons

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-312-56707-1
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin’s Griffin

Does evil exist? You betcha—and you will obey it.

Horrormeister Simmons (Drood, 2009, etc.) has been dishing up dollops of gruesome spectacle for decades now, and he’s hit on a winning formula: Give vampires and other children of the night lots to do over lots of pages, set up a Big Idea as backdrop to the proceedings and season with lashings of sex, violence and current events. Here, as usual, the foreplay to sex is most often in the form of mind control, the sex itself a matter of quantification and qualification (“her breasts were full, perhaps too full for her height, and they pressed nicely against her gold and blue blazer”), and the cuddling afterward a prelude to nasty surprises. The Big Idea involves—well, World War II, and the hidden forces that control history, and man’s being a wolf to other men, and mind control, and other good things, with key moments set against the backdrop of Charleston, S.C., which is of course a splendidly creepy place, almost as creepy as Anne Rice’s New Orleans. (The novel is also reminiscent at turns of Stephen King, X-Men and Gone with the Wind.) The tale unfolds in the early years of the Reagan administration, and Simmons is note-perfect on period details (“no one obeyed the 55 m.p.h. speed limit”) while never losing sight of the task at hand, which is to set spectacular villains in motion and watch them visit mayhem on the planet while the good guys figure out what comes next. Can good prevail? Given a trio of very naughty baddies, that’s a question that remains in play until the very end. The many, many chapters leading up to it are full of slaughter, philosophical discussion, bureaucratic bumbling and spy-versus-spy stuff (Gordon Liddy with fangs and Mossad meets Mephistopheles with German accents)—all of it improbable in the extreme, but in very good fun.

A satisfying story that delivers everything it promises.