Page 45 Review by Stephen
"How do you feel about myths, Antoine?"
"I love myths."
"You are one. And I apologise for not believing you. I hope you understand - the measures we had to take were simply business. Examining the stock, so to say."
Ooof. Where have you heard that before?
Meet Sterling Gibson, "a well-known supporter of occasionally having black people set on fire".
Meet Antoine Wolfe, a black person Sterling Gibson saw occasion last night to set on fire.
To be precise, Wolfe was tied into a straight-jacket and set on fire on top of the hills overlooking Los Angeles. It took him quite some time to get as far as Mulholland and throw himself into a white celebrity's swimming pool. Naturally Antoine is arrested: he's black. He's probably not as crispy as he should be, though.
No one who's read Matt Taylor's THE GREAT SALT LAKE will be remotely surprised to learn that this is beautiful to behold. The eyes particularly have it. This is important given that there's a great deal of one-on-one confrontation going on. Antoine Woolfe has a clear head and quick wit. But so do those he's antagonising, and I like that. He particularly enjoys antagonising those with power over others, be they lowlife thieves using mind-control to rob old ladies on buses or multi-millionaire businessmen who support occasionally having black people set on fire. Did I mention Antoine was barely singed? Why would that be, I wonder?
So; eloquent anti-authoritarian occultist detective who relishes playing verbal sabres, has a history with Hell, sticks up for the vulnerable, despises injustice and is haunted by dead friends - in his case fellow former soldiers deployed in Iraq. Have you ever read Alan Moore's SWAMP THING? As a revitalised John Constantine with a radically different regional dialect, Antoine Wolfe is a joy to spend time with. If Ellis & Shalvey's INJECTION is comparable to Jamie Delano's HELLBLAZER then this is akin to Garth Ennis' run including all sorts of people-playing, a great deal of betrayal and something I slipped in earlier.
The only thing missing is the requisite spirit of place. Except it's not missing:
"You see this city? This city is a blend. It's desert and it's woods and it's ocean and it's cheap junk and it's expensive junk and it's ugly and it's beautiful and it's fiction and it's real."
Once more Matt Taylor, lit by Lee Loughbridge, excels. This could not be anywhere other than Los Angeles, a city I know intimately from so many visits... playing Grand Theft Auto. I even enjoyed the treated photography which jarred not a jot: beautifully coloured to denote time of day with just the right degree of detail retained.
This is the most accessible thing I've read that Kot's written, yet it retains the eloquence and intelligence. It's far from linear with multiple strands I've barely alluded to and some that I haven't even touched yet. But I think we should, for everyone here is connected. I drew a topological map of the plot and it was almost as tight and densely packed as CRIMINAL VOLUME 3's.
For a start, I think you'll like Antoine's mate, Freddy Chtonic, unwanted son of the elder demi-god, whose face isn't particularly well appointed for drinking coffee without a straw. His landlord's a vampire.
He's bleeding Freddy financially dry, so Antoine takes it upon himself to pay him a rent-related visit and hears screams coming from the washroom. Now, if you think you've met every possible iteration of immortality in vampires - if you believe you've seen it all when it comes to the best and worst times in the world to be bitten like that poor bloke in LIFE SUCKS who as a consequence is stuck at the age of sixteen, doomed for eternity to be carded at club doors and off-licences - then please think again.
Negotiations will lead Antoine further up the food chain to orgy-loving Frederick Azimuth, but in the meantime a thirteen-year-old girl covered in blood turns up at Wolfe's door seeking sanctuary. Her mum and step-dad were about to sacrifice her but something intervened at the last minute. She too has company, even when alone, and her name is Anita Christ.
All this at first seems tangential because there was a reason beyond racism why multimillionaire Sterling Gibson had Antoine Wolfe flamed. He was indeed examining his stock to judge its otherworldliness before offering Antoine employment. He needs Antoine to deal with a woman; a woman whom Gibson murdered some time ago. What in the world would possess Antoine to work for a bastard like that?
"Do you believe in Natural Selection?"
"The law of the fittest, that kinda thing? I don't concern myself with it. Prefer live and let live."
"Yet "the word on the street" is you are a man who wants to die."
"The word on the street changes every day. It swallows itself."
"Exactly. And then the word is reborn anew! A Phoenix, out of the ashes! Ecosystems function like this, and the ecosystems of the word, the story, the myth, are built on the same principle. The strongest story survives. Some would say - the one with the most teeth."
From the writer of THE SURFACE and MATERIAL plus all the ZERO tpbs and CHANGE, Ales Kot knows all about building stronger stories from evolution.
There's a whiff of the Apocalypse in the over-arid air.