DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Burning Bright
Jay S. Russell
St. Martin's Press/288 pp./$22.95/1998
ISBN: 0312185456
Celestial Dogs
J. S. Russell
St. Martin's Press/272 pp./$22.95/1997
ISBN: 0312150768

In Celestial Dogs, Jay Russell combined Japanese mythology, pop culture, the mean streets and meaner underlife of L. A., a former sitcom teen star-turned-modern day P. I. named Marty Burns who could crack wise and crack clues, some nasty evisceration, and demonic evil delivering up a winning slipstream horror/mystery with overtones of either true belief or occult fantasy (depending on your spiritual tastes.) In the end, Marty defeated the demons (literally) and saved the girl. Yes, she was the kind of girl who could handle an Uzi, but then again Marty is a definitely 90s kind of private eye: more sautéed than hard-boiled. And, true to the tenets of media culture -- Marty wound up back in show biz with a new series. FADE OUT.

Marty is back in Burning Bright -- both a fictional Fox TV series and the novel by Jay Russell. The series is supposedly a hit and Marty's gone to London to promote it. The ex-celeb, is now a current celeb, and although still a sardonic iconoclast with a heart of gold, he's no longer a has-been in need of gelt. Both books are written with a cinematic feel, but Celestial Dogs' grainy black-and-white Chandlersque feel is replaced in Burning Bright with widescreen color, Dolby-sound, and Marty is more Indiana Jones than Philip Marlowe. He's off to battle supernatural (Marty hates the word. "...just a little too Edgar Cayce, too Kolchak: The Night Stalker, too Stephen King about it.") forces of darkness again -- this time personified in a nasty bunch of fascists with a warped devotion to Odin enhanced by occult roots -- Ultima Thule. The Thule is out to bring on Ragnarok through racial discord and other heinous acts. The rest of the good guys are guru Uma, whose strength lies in her Hindi mysticism; Siobhan, ex-IRA whose strength is found in her baseball bat; and Pahoo, whose lack of hygiene is a power unto itself. They must reach four places of spiritual power in England and perform arcane rituals before the bad guys can lay claim to them.

Marty cracks even more wise per page than before and, despite a pace that occasionally flags with the weight of too much color and no discernible restraint, the reader is in for an intelligent, if bloody, romp with body-possessing loa, waking golems, midget monsters, and more. Where Celestial Dogs is Philip Marlowe meets William Blatty for a sushi date, Burning Bright is Mel Brooks trying to write a mystery, getting stuck and meeting John Woo and Wes Craven for fish and chips. Either way, there's plenty to enjoy in these heady brews of mystery, horror, fantasy, thrills, and pop culturalism. -- Paula Guran

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.