The Creeps by John Connolly continues the adventures of Samuel Johnson and his dachshund Boswell as he faces down demons, ghosts, bad dates, and various baddies of the multiverse in order to protect the residents of Biddlecombe (available October 22, 2013).
The small English town of Biddlecombe is used to strange things happening. After all, the gates of hell once opened up in one its basements. (Sometimes events like this can’t be helped.) However, when a new toy shop opens its doors, the worst days for Biddlecombe are still to come. And it’s up to Biddlecombe’s darkness-defeating-young-citizen, Samuel Johnson, his trust dachshund Boswell, and his demon pal Nurd to save the day.
While Samuel is hosting a birthday party for Wormwood—Nurd’s demon servant and sidekick—in which fires are started and cake is consumed, dark forces are amassing around Biddlecombe. It begins subtly enough. At first, it’s just a ghost (nothing new there) with an odd black vapour (something new here) hanging around her. Then, there’s the statue of architect Hilary Mould which will not stay put. And out in the multiverse, the gelatinous creature Crudford, Esq., is gathering the atomically-smashed pieces of the evil Mrs. Abernathy, presumably to put her back together. None of this is good news.
The Creeps is the third installment in John Connolly’s series about Samuel Johnson, his dachshund, and all the demons. Once again, the forces of evil are prepped to be unleashed in the most hilarious ways possible. Connolly’s take on traditional horror elements—ghosts, demons, the Great Malevolence himself—is fun and hysterically entertaining.
Connolly’s story is delightful to read. It’s as if Neil Gaiman and Lemony Snicket had a love child, then threw that love child in some kind of comedic hell-pit:
As has already been established, the town of Biddlecombe was a lot odder than it once had been, but the curious thing about Biddlecombe was that it had always been ever so slightly strange, even before the attempted invasion from Hell. It was just that people in Biddlecombe had chosen not to remark upon its strangeness, perhaps in the hopes that the strangeness might eventually grow tired of being ignored and go be strange somewhere else.
For example, it was well-known that if you took a right turn on Machen Street, and then a left turn on Poe Place, you ended up back on the same corner of Machen Street from which you had recently started. The residents of Biddlecombe got round this peculiar geographical anomaly by avoiding that particular corner of Machen Street entirely, instead using the shortcut through Mary Shelley Lane. Visitors to Biddlecombe, though tended not to know about the shortcut, and thus they had been known to spend a great deal of time moving back and forth between Machen Street and Poe Place until somebody local came along and rescued them.
Not only does the narration have a fun, fast-paced bit of humor to it, but Connolly has chosen to emphasize that humorous tone with awesome geek-out chapter titles (“In Which We Travel to a Galaxy Far, Far Away, But Since It’s Not a Long Time Ago the Star Wars People Can’t Sue Us”) and a personal favorite of mine, footnotes. Connolly’s use of footnotes is actually an effective way to give background. Through footnotes, we learn tidbits about the characters, the setting, and the situation. And there are some reproaches, self-references, and shameless self-promotion slotted in as well:
Amazingly enough, that day had come when Mrs. Abernathy, the Great Melevolence’s left-hand demon, had suddenly found herself with each of the billions and billions of individual atoms that made up her body separated from its neighbor and scattered through the Multiverse, all because she had messed with Samuel Johnson, his dog, two policemen, four elves, and an ice-cream salesman. (8)
(8) An adventure described in Hell’s Bells, available from all good bookshops and some bad ones. If you haven’t read it, please find a copy and turn to the second footnote in Chapter One, which will wag a finger disapprovingly at you for picking up the later books in a series without first reading the earlier ones.
Through the trials and tribulations of a strange town, a shaky romance, footnotes, and struggling demon friendships, Samuel’s world is turned upside down once again when Wreckit & Sons, the creepy catch-all store in the middle of town, is remade into a toy shop. In and of itself, remodeling isn’t a sign that Hell is about to be unleashed, but Wreckit & Sons had problems before.
The store was another of Hilary Mould’s buildings, but it wasn’t quite as offensively awful as the others. There was something almost grand about Wreckit & Sons. In the right light—somewhat dim, a bit murky—it resembled a cathedral, or a temple. Arthur Bunce, the man who had originally asked Hilary Mould to design the store, took one look at it and promptly went mad. Instead Mould bought the building himself, and he disappeared shortly after. The building remained empty for many years until a gentleman named Wreckit took a fancy to it, and opened his department store there.
Samuel receives a personal invitation to the reopening, as do the demons living with him. It should have been a sign that things wouldn’t go well.
The Creeps is horribly appropriate as a Halloween read, as there are plenty of ghosts, demons, devils, and tricksy treats. Plenty of kids, adults, and perhaps some precocious toddlers will get a kick out of Samuel’s Hellish dilemma. Connolly has given all of the characters a purpose and a hilarious landscape, both narratively and in the actual setting of Biddlecombe, in which the powers of good and evil can battle it out.
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Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 Magazine, Shimmer, Skive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.