Sunday, October 25, 2009

“Black Train”, (Leisure Fiction), by Edward Lee

Leisure's latest offering, a reprinted version of “Gast”, (Camelot Books), is staple Edward Lee – sexual, disgusting, revolting...and obsessively readable all the same. As he did in “The Golem”, Lee crafts sympathetic characters readers connect to, gives them realistic circumstances, then drops them into the middle of hell. This is why his work is so attractive: his characters tug readers into the farthest reaches of “suspension of disbelief”, pulling them down his twisted rabbit hole.

When Justin Collier pulls into Gast, Tennessee, he's hoping for a respite from his divorce proceedings and an escape from dreary reality. He's got a book deadline to meet and a canceled Food Network show he'd like to forget. On the hunt for a final entry to round out his book on beer, the Food Network's former “Prince of Beer” is looking for some time alone.

What he finds, however, is a physic hot-spot of lust, nightmares and decades old evil. The Branch Landing Inn is the former home of Harwood Gast: Civil War railway baron, Confederate supporter, and icon of evil. Unspeakable acts helped build his railroad, his fortune bankrolled by darkness. The rusting remains of those tracks still run behind The Branch Landing Inn. Gripped by ghostly desire not entirely his own, at the mercy of demonic residue, Justin is about to take a ride he may not survive.

Perhaps Lee's greatest strength is not the gore and sex, but writing such likable characters. Collier is a confused mini-celebrity ambivalent about what little “fame” he owns, escaping from a dry, loveless marriage, which makes him the perfect target for Branch Landing's haunts. Also, as horrible as Gast is, just as horrible is the resigned malaise the owners of the hotel reside in, forever trapped in the house's cyclical, erotic emanations. Either way, there's enough substance here for everyone...if they've got strong stomachs, that is.

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