Thursday, 10 February 2011

‘The Satan Factory’ – Thomas E. Sniegoski (Dark Horse Books)

It’s no secret here that I love pulp fiction and the more ‘old school’ it is the better as far as I’m concerned. I have to wait until I get to work before I can have my morning coffee (seriously, have you tried drinking a coffee on the train during rush hour...?) so the next best thing is the literary equivalent of a shot of caffeine that gives you a heavy dose of action and adventure.
My ‘Hellboy’ reading brought the character of Lobster Johnson to my attention and he seemed like just the kind of masked crime fighter to satisfy my need for early morning pulp reading. We’re looking at a man who takes on the might of organised crime (and sometimes the occult) armed only with infra-red goggles and an automatic pistol. And it’s in Depression Era New York as well, you can’t get a lot more ‘old school pulp’ than that can you? The answer is ‘no you can’t’ and the resulting read ticks all the right boxes...

Jonas Chapel was a respected physician and heir to a fortune before gambling and drink saw him land firmly on the wrong side of the mob and finally saw him hiding out in Mexico from inevitable mob justice. Chapel is discovered and his execution is halted only by the discovery of an old witch and the cursed skeleton that she guards. This skeleton has the power to transform men into monsters and Chapel sees the chance to return to New York and stake his own claim for power.
Now monsters stalk the streets of Manhattan, the ultimate weapon in gang warfare and a constant source of terror to the innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. Only one man can possibly halt the tide of what eventually become a living hell on earth. The Lobster is on the prowl and he will not stop until justice has been served...

Carrying on that whole ‘reading pulp fiction is like drinking coffee’ thing (but not for too long, promise!)... Once you’ve had that quick buzz off a cup of coffee you’ll find that it doesn’t last for very long and you’re left feeling kind of hollow and probably in need of another cup depending on the kind of day that you’re having. It’s the same deal with pulp fiction, I can fill myself up on the stuff but that feeling’s never going to last for long and I’ll be after another hit sooner rather than later. This is very much the deal with ‘The Satan Factory’; a book that doesn’t leave a lasting impression once you’ve put it down but is one hell of a rush in the meantime.

While you’re reading ‘The Satan Factory’, it quickly becomes very clear that this book has all the ingredients required to be a thoroughly entertaining read with a lot to recommend it. Sniegoski quickly sets the scene with a backdrop showing the seedier of life in the Depression Era, just the right setting for occult evil to thrive in fact and this also quickly becomes very clear when you see what happens to certain players in this drama. When you’ve got a threat that combines demonic menace with a number of major New York crime families... well, you need someone of the appropriate stature to tackle this threat. And that’s where the Lobster comes in.

You don’t really get to find out much about the Lobster himself other than that he fights crime and does so very well indeed. I’m torn between whether the author assumes prior knowledge of the character, on our part, or whether he’s going for the whole ‘mysterious hero’ affect. The end result is that of ‘mysterious crime fighter’ so I guess the authors approach works.
The Lobster is a little too good to be true; always pulling through to defeat whatever is in front of him. In one sense that’s the point of the whole tone of the book but it does detract from any tension that Sniegoski raises. You know the Lobster will pull through so you can’t quite buy into the sense of danger that comes about in each cliff hanger...
Having said that though, Sniegoski uses the character of the Lobster to good affect over the course of the book. The Lobster hates evil and will go to any length to stamp it out; this makes for some exciting and spectacular moments where evil must be faced and fought. ‘Spectacular’ is definitely the word to use here as Sniegoski throws everything at his hero, blows it all up and then proceeds to throw the burning remnants at his hero as well. The constant rattle of gunfire and explosions drive the plot forward at a ferocious pace and it’s very easy to get caught up and on board.

The single minded approach of ‘The Satan Factory’ delivers the goods as far as entertainment goes but also ultimately prevents the book from being something that will stick around in your head after you’ve finished reading it. The format demands action and adventure (which you get) but there isn’t a lot of substance to back it up, with a plot that’s very lightweight and straightforward. You could say that this is the whole point of this sub-genre (and you’d be right) but there is other pulp fiction out there that has a lot more substance to it and makes for a more satisfying read; Al Ewing’s ‘Gods of Manhattan’ worked very well for me in this regard. If you’re happy to accept the book on these terms then I think you’ll have fun with it, worth bearing this in mind though...

‘The Satan Factory’ was a lot of fun while I was reading it and I can see fans of ‘Hellboy’ having the same kind of fun that I did. It’s a great read for the commute to work or a ‘quick pick me up’ during your lunch break. Anything more than that though might just be asking a little too much of it (and maybe that’s the way it is meant to be...)

Eight out of Ten

3 comments:

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

I really enjoyed reading Hellboy, so as part of that universe I'll probably give it a shot if I see it about. Given that it's a quick thrill, it'll likely be a library pickup rather than a purchase. Thanks for the review :)

Lagomorph Rex said...

well considering how late in the Hellboy publishing scheme this book was released, it wouldn't be surprising to me at all that the author assumed familiarity. There is also at least 1 Lobster Johnson comic book series that might help clear up your questions a bit.

He pops up on and off throughout the Hellboy and BPRD comics as well.. so the mysteriousness in that book could simply be so as not to spoil anything for stuff thats not been published yet.

Vins said...

Sound great :) especially for a quick thrill. Unfortunately too many such books out there. And no libraries that stock such things around here :)
If you happen to feel the need to get rid of your copy just say so and maybe we can arrange something ;)