|Submitted by Karen Burnham |
(Jan 26, 2007)
“Practical Demon-Keeping” was Christopher Moore’s first book. While in it he’s already doing the fantasy/horror/contemporary/comedy thing, he hasn’t yet completely mastered it. Still, for a first take this is a pretty amusing book, which even in 1992 would surely have been garnering comparisons to Carl Hiassen and Terry Pratchett.
The action takes place in Pine Cove, California, a touristy town of odd people. He would later use this setting in the funnier short novel “The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror” in 2004. Jenny is going through a divorce with her husband Robert; Augustus Brine, the owner of the bait, tackle and wine shop is pursuing his Zen philosophy of living; cops are running around trying to bust a drug ring; and the owner of the café for locals, H.P.’s Café, writes up his daily specials such as:
“Today’s special is Eggs-Sothoth – a fiendishly toothsome amalgamation of scrumptious ingredients so delicious that the mere description of the palatable gestalt could drive one mad.”
So things are moving on pretty much like normal when Travis O’Hearn and his demon Catch pull into town. Travis accidentally summoned Catch during World War I, and is desperately seeking a way to send him back to Hell. Catch is usually invisible, except when he’s eating people, which is the part that Travis really doesn’t like. He thinks that some people in Pine Cove have the answer he’s been searching for.
Meanwhile, a djinn has also rolled into town. Gian Hen Gian has chosen Augustus as his instrument to banish Catch. He’s been holding a grudge against that demon since Solomon was building his temple. And let’s not forget Rachel, the Aerobics Instructor/New Age Guru/Women’s Empowerment Guru/Pagan Priestess of the kind that seemed endemic to the California in the 1990s. She thinks Catch is an empowering Earth Spirit and is manipulated into furthering Catch’s agenda.
The whole set-up is hilarious, and the detail he puts into the backgrounds of each of the characters and the settings is wonderful. The in-joke nods to the horror and fantasy literature and the perfect capturing of some of the odder people that one meets in California all combine to make this a really enjoyable light comedy. There are some pacing problems, especially since he can’t leave any detail unspoken. He makes an unfortunate interruption right before the climactic scene to describe the history of the caves in which it takes place. While the background is really funny, involving mushroom farming, it’s a big interruption to the flow of the narrative at that point. This is a problem that Moore will completely overcome by “Stupidest Angel,” although it still pops up occasionally in “Fluke.” (Actually in Fluke it sometimes seems like the plot is interrupting the digressions, which are way funnier, than the other way around.) In any event, if you enjoy light comedic stories and have any familiarity with fantasy or horror, you will enjoy this. If you enjoy Carl Hiassen you should give this a try even if you’ve never heard of H. P. Lovecraft. If you like Hiassen and Lovecraft, then you absolutely can’t go wrong.