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JOHANNES CABAL by Jonathan L.  Howard

JOHANNES CABAL

The Necromancer

By Jonathan L. Howard

Pub Date: July 7th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-385-52808-5
Publisher: Doubleday

Ham-fisted debut tries to get laughs from damnation.

Years ago Johannes Cabal sold his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming a necromancer, hence acquiring the ability to raise the dead. Now his time is up, and Satan would like to reclaim his own. But wait a minute—you know how these things work. At the very gates of hell, facing a damnable stack of forms to fill out, Cabal strikes yet another deal with the devil: He’s off the hook if he can get 100 souls to sign on the dotted line and turn themselves over to Satan within a year. Because this ratio seems favorable to the devil, he agrees to the new bargain. It turns out that hell is perhaps bureaucracy run amok, because each putative condemned soul (aka “damnee”) needs to sign a Voluntary Damnation Form. Assisted by his necrotic and neurotic brother Horst, and despite being warned that Satan only bets on a sure thing, Johannes “borrows” the devil’s Carnival of Discord (“dedicated to taking the souls of the unwary”) and begins a merry romp over a strange landscape. Problems abound, of course, provoking Johannes’ anger and frustration. At one point he tells a co-worker, “You were a waste of protein when you were alive, and now you’re dead you’re denying some tree sustenance.” The Carnival has all the trappings of sleaziness one would expect, including the aptly named Madame Destiny and dolls that sensuously come to life. As time grows short, Johannes begins to wonder whether he’ll make his quota. Finally, of course, it all comes down to one soul to sign and a few more hours to go.

The genuinely funny moments seem to crop up almost by accident—and ultimately few readers will care.