Thursday, May 30, 2019

We Sold Our Souls, by Grady Hendrix

  I love Horror. I love Rock. And yet....I avoid the sub-genre of Horror-Rock like a plague. Why...? I've never really been able to put my finger on it, but the new novel by Grady Hendrix, WE SOLD OUR SOULS, helped me to finally nail it down. I'm not a musician, but I know what I like, and most novels that dip their toe into musical waters come off as wish-fulfillment on the author's part. Did anyone ever read Stephen King's THE STAND and think "Man, that Larry Underwood tune really hits the sweet spot!"....?

 Baby, can you dig your man? He's a righteous man. Baby, can you dig your man?

 No. I can't. Every author/frustrated musician that tries a music-based novel ends up doing something like this:

"His hands ran over the surface of the Fender Stratocaster, lovingly caressing the long, supple neck, feeling the sharpness of the strings bite into his fingertips as he slowly picked out the opening chords of Ozzy's "Over the Mountain". He picked up speed, fingers racing past A and G, into the high C range, stepping on the wawa pedal, making the amps scream like a chorus of damned souls wailing away in hell...." 


 I received an ARC of WE SOLD OUR SOULS almost a year ago, and as much as I loved my prior exposures to Grady Hendrix (The brilliant MY BEST FRIEND'S EXORCISM and PAPERBACKS FROM HELL), I just could not bring myself to crack it open until this past week. I should have trusted Hendrix bad.

 Yeah, there's a LOT of music in this novel. There's a little bit of Inside Baseball guitar playing info that had me worried early on, but when considering that a good portion of the book revolves around a lost heavy metal record, and the individual songs on that record, Hendrix does an amazing job of making the music almost scream off of the page.

 Hendrix has crafted an unholy amalgam of Faust, The Lord of The Rings, and Phantom of The Paradise, with washed-up rocker Kris Pulaski making a cross-country trek to confront her old bandmate Terry Hunt, who has gone on to become a mega-star, leaving Kris and the rest of the band to eat his dust. Kris has been languishing away working the front desk of a Best Western hotel, and when she learns that Terry is planning a massive series of farewell concerts, she begins to remember bits and pieces about the last night that the band spent together twenty years ago. With nothing to lose, Kris sets about getting the band back together to confront Terry, and to finally figure out exactly what happened on that last night together.

 Considering the name of the book, it isn't exactly a surprise to discover that Terry sold his bandmate's souls in exchange for fortune and glory, but even knowing that a supernatural element is going to come into play eventually, Hendrix does a masterful job of stringing the reader along, making you wonder if this is really happening as is, or is it just a jealousy-fueled fantasy that Kris has concocted to justify her miserable circumstances. Make no mistake, there are moments of pure horror on display here, including a lengthy sequence that set off my claustrophobia something fierce, but the character work is what really keeps the book humming along. Everyone felt real, and Hendrix does such a masterful job of making the lyrics of the lost album, Troglodyte, seem like they could really exist that I could practically hear the roaring guitar riffs and feel the pounding drums. Amazing work.

 I considered MY BEST FRIEND'S EXORCISM and PAPERBACKS FROM HELL to be absolutely perfect books, and WE SOLD OUR SOULS doesn't quite measure up to those standards. Close, but no cigar. There are a few early chapters spent with a side character that kind of took me away from the main narrative. She comes into play towards the end of the book, but the way she arrives there was a trifle inelegant. I get why she was there, and why we may or may not have needed so much of her backstory, but it did detract from the overall flow of the book. Just a little, but enough to make me ding a star from the near-perfect rating.

 Overall, though....another absolute winner from Grady Hendrix, which earns a whopping nine out of ten Black Iron Mountains:

 Quirk provided a review copy.