This is my first William W. Johnstone, so me and him have something in common because this was HIS first published book. To be fair, I have tried to read him before a couple of times to no avail. That doesn't mean much, I'm a chronic starter of novels, I often get distracted by the new (to me) shiny book that I just got in the mail or found at the local used bookstore. A lot of the time I got back before too long and finish the half-read book up. Then sometimes I stop reading because the book ain't grabbing me. So, I never went back to the Johnstone books I had started, one being his stand-alone "The Death Master" and the other being one of his "Ashes" books.
Now, William W. Johnstone is interesting to me. He's a MONSTER in the realm of paperback fiction. Every bookstore I go to has a glut of used westerns by him. Besides that, he's so that, that he continued to write even have he died. That's dedication, folks. Obviously other people write under his name now, though it's SUPER-DUPER TOP SECRET who exactly puts fingers to keyboard to produce the new Johnstone's for Wal-Mart's excuse for a book aisle. It's going to be one of those nice paperback mysteries that will haunt paperback aficionados for years to come.
I had tried my hand at his action fiction, and it didn't take. Besides now being mostly known he also it a big name in 80s/90s horror paperbacks. You know, Paperbacks from Hell. The wild Zebra covers helped build his reputation in terror fiction. Seriously hit the Google search up and take a gander at some of the wildest/weirdest book covers ever. Now the words inside the covers seem to have split the trashy-horror-loving public. Total love him or hate him thing. The rise of horror book collecting has also driven up the price of his books like SKY-HIGH, so if you see one buy one. I can't help but to shed a tear for all the over-priced book I might never get too own because of Paperbacks from Hell, not that I don't love it at the same time.
So, now I have finished a Johnstone book, the first in his series about the Devil being a dick called "The Devil's Kiss." What do I think?
HELL YEAH! ROCK ON, MAN!
First off. Good book or good book. This is an italics "good" book. It's not patricianly a well-written book, it actually has quite a few big problems and isn't one I would recommend for many people. First off, I'm surprised I even tried it out, the 400-plus page count would usually be a deal-breaker for me. And when I read about "The Devil's Kiss" online a lot of the complaints were about the first 200-ish pages. It takes a lot of time for Johnstone to muster up the steam to make it up to the Men's Adventure-type ending. There's a BUNCH of telling, not showing. Conversations about conversations just had or conversations about what just happened. Plus, the common problem in of horror of people just not quite fathoming that the supernatural has invaded their everyday life when the signs a pretty clear. Goes with the territory.
Sam Balon (Bolan? Calling Mack Bolan?) is a priest with a commando background and besides a cheating wife is the perfect specimen of man without any other problems, save his attraction to the hot-female lead who's already in love with him when the books start's and wants to make babies. I couldn't help but think of Guy N. Smith's Sabat with a background like that, but I digress. Sam is actually a pretty likeable lead, besides his annoying habit of mentally scolding himself at every turn. That being said, you what this kind of priest in your town when the devil's minions show up. The kind of priest that packs a Colt .45 and totes a Thompson Sub-Machine gun. The secondary characters, like the reader are wholly focused on how impressive Balon is, you can't help but think Balon is unstoppable. Or is he?
The Devil's best friend is Black Wilder which is an awesome band name. He's devilish (see?) and one smooth operator who fears no one...expect SAM BALON, YO! It's one of those ancient things where destiny has pushed them into this epic battle one last time. I mean, except the sequels I suppose, though those star Balon's son. Black Wilder has been posing an archologist to dig up the evil tablet needed to do evil junk. He finds it and where off to the races. He's got all his hell spawn circle of friends, tempting witches and ghouls of all sorts, but he's got the classic "intellectual" Bond-villain thing going on and is one of the most interesting characters in the book.
"The Devil's Kiss" has got a hundred late-night B-movies in its DNA. The town turns all funky under the instant magic spell of the devil and turns into hedonistic cult members who screw, kill and basically act like dicks to anyone they please. Tons of weird sex stuff that I would have rather never had pictured in my head as I was reading and tons of violence. So, there's werewolf-ish creatures, zombies, an evil cult, the devil, priests in love, war stories, hot witches, small town culture, dead teenagers at make-out-point, truck purchases, truck chases, etc. etc. Plus, a lot of erotic stuff. All of which reads like Johnstone had a few copies of Penthouse around to cull ideas from.
This is the opposite of the "literary horror" that was brewing at the time and to come into full bloom in the 80's. No Charles L. Grant "quiet horror" or Peter Straub telling ghost stories, not even up to the level of a Stephn King calendar story. It's over-the-top and in your face with its (Johnstone's) funky version of religious people, sex, monsters and violence. It's a B-Movie cocktail or an extra-long EC Comics tale.
Overall, the book was a hoot. A crazy, not well-written smorgasbord of zany "serious" horror fiction. That's not a knock-on Johnstone, he's obviously a readable author. Just look at his bibliography. The whole thing is just so EARNST that it becomes laughable, action-packed-gruesome-laughable. I got the next two books in the Devil Series, so be on the lookout for those horrors.