DAMNED IF YOU DO by Gordon Houghton


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A brash and often gruesomely funny debut novel from England, offering the first-person testimony of a zombie.

The nameless narrator is the loser in a lottery held by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Death, Famine, Pestilence, and War) to find a successor to Hades, Death's assistant, who has been assassinated. Removed from his grave in Oxford, where he has been residing comfortably, if without much stimulation, for several years, our hero learns that he is to be given a tryout, lasting for one week, during which he'll accompany Death on his rounds. If he fails, he'll be sent back to his grave for good. Pythonesque slapstick abounds in subsequent developments. Despite their grisly looks, the Horsemen are more like squabbling career bureaucrats than supernatural figures. They've given up horses in favor of battered cars. They use computers to track their clients. They tend to blame each other when their assignments go wrong—as they often do. An attempt to release a new plague germ during a screening of (what else?) Bergman's The Seventh Seal fails, and Death greatly annoys the audience by laughing uproariously at his portrayal on screen. The Four Horsemen constantly try to outmaneuver each other and impress ‘The Chief,’ who is never seen and communicates only through terse memos. Over the course of his trial week, the narrator begins to recover his past: he was a private investigator, murdered by his lover's husband. Musings on his adoration of this woman, and on his otherwise unremarkable life, tend to be lengthy and tiresome. But his desperate scheme to quit the Horsemen and reenter life—which involves (of course) challenging Death to a chess match—is rather touching.

Uneven, hectic, sometimes decidedly adolescent. Nonetheless, the author gets points for audacity, and for reinventing the Four Horsemen as a perpetual vaudeville act.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-312-26288-4
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2000