I did a post on a few books by Tom Piccirilli earlier this year, and despite ending that post saying I would avoid his horror fiction for a while, I recently read two more of his spookier books, Pentacle and A Lower Deep.
1995 – Pirate Writings Pub
This is a collection of 7 short stories about a wandering wizard and his familiar spirit, Self. Self is pretty much just a small, sassier version of the Necromancer that follows him around, licking him when he gets hurt and attacking the people who inflict his injuries.
The Necromancer and Self stay at an abandoned hotel, go to a blues concert, visit a mental asylum, an art gallery and a native reservation. They come across demons, ghosts and witches in all of these places, and they rarely make friends. A lot of hexes are thrown about.
Speaking of hexes, I found Piccirilli’s novel Hexes a bit challenging when I read it, but I think it might make more sense if I had read it after this one. While Pentacle is not a sequel or prequel to Hexes, it is set in the same universe. Some of it is set in the same town, and both books feature Panecraft Asylum. They’re both from relatively early in Piccirilli’s writing career, and it seems a bit like he was trying to establish his equivalent of Arkham. I haven’t read it, but another of Piccirilli’s stories is also set in Panecraft.
The writing is very dark, and it reminded me of Clive Barker with its focus of blood and pain. It’s a bit more occulty though. It references a lot of real occult texts and authorities, and a lot of these stories feature real figures from the history of witchcraft. Matthew Hopkins has somehow come back to run the insane asylum. There’s a recipe for disaster.
Overall, I enjoyed this more than the other horror stuff I’ve read by Piccirilli. The writing isn’t super clear, but the short story form makes it easier for me to get through a plot without knowing exactly what’s going on.
A Lower Deep
2001 – Leisure Books
A Lower Deep is basically a novel sized continuation of the stories in Pentacle. This time the Necromancer’s old friend tries to get him to resurrect Christ so they can bring about Armageddon and storm into heaven. (Yes. The protagonist remains unnamed here. Oooooooh, so edgy!) I hated this book so much that I find it hard to believe that I wrote the above paragraphs. I’ve wanted to write positively about Piccirilli’s books for years, but in truth, his horror novels are crap. This book is boring, contrived shite. If you don’t have an interest in the Bible, this will be very confusing. There’s lots of references to the Book of Revelation, the prophet Elijah and the nephilim. Yuck.
This is really a work of fantasy rather than horror. There’s lots of blood and occultism, but nothing scary happens, and I hated every page. Self, the protagonist’s familiar is supposed to add comic relief, but I found him horribly disruptive to the novel’s tone. A one point during the beginning of the apocalypse, he starts speaking with a Jamaican accent. Sigh…
The brevity of the stories in Pentacle is what made them bearable. A Lower Deep is a short novel, but it’s still far, far too long. Honestly, it’s terrible. Avoid it.
I am probably done with Piccirilli. I gave him more than a fair chance, but his horror novels just didn’t do it for me.