56. City of Devils – Justin Robinson
Long time, no see, eh? Let’s just say that moving, starting a new job, renewing my ongoing battle with eczema (Now on my neck! Very visibly! You can’t see me!), most of my allergies, and trying not to engage with the fatalist part of my brain every second has been distressing. However, October is my favorite month and this book was FUN and I’m trying very hard.
When reading a book that engages heavily with pop culture, as this one does, I cannot help but think back to every writing workshop I’ve brought part of Night of the Squirrels to with the “But will everyone get it? Why are you referencing anything at all if everyone won’t get it?” questions. I get why people ask that. I get why workshops are concerned with that- they typically seem designed to make everyone’s work as accessible and therefore generic as possible. Some people don’t like pop culture, won’t appreciate references, have no sense of humor, etc. That’s fine. They’re fine. I believe the generic story with broad emotions and no pop cultural references humans are already being catered to very handily by several writers. Not me. Not Justin Robinson in City of Devils.
I do have to say I was initially skeptical when a vast variety of monsters were mentioned and I was especially skeptical when one of the characters was a gremlin named “Brows.” Full disclosure, probably not a surprise, I adore Gremlins (and Gremlins II) and I don’t want to see anybody mangle anything about either of those films, including the gremlins that scared me to death when I was little. Hi ho. Thankfully, Robinson has enough respect for this subject matter and the necessity of red herrings in mystery stories and not leaving loose ends (or maybe I should say stringy, pulpy ends as I was pretty happy with how the pumpkin-head, not the Henriksen movie one with too big scapulas -more like Jack from Return to Oz, ended up being more than just a lawn visitor). Maybe he also has a Gremlins lunchbox. Even if he doesn’t, I really appreciate having a solid example of how smoothly references can work to truly deepen the possibilities of appreciation in a funny, original story.
The meshing of horror movie monsters (the werewolves vs. wolfmen distinctions were particularly amusing to me) with noir tropes and humor in sweaty post-war L.A.’s secretive studio system and underworld really worked for me. I was expecting it to be like what the movie Dylan Dog wanted to be and it easily met and exceeded that expectation, which makes it seem like I’m lowballing but I had high hopes for the Dylan Dog movie. City of Devils was more fun. I am also now concerned about the whereabouts of a toad.