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Spotlight on: The Hellfire Club by Peter Straub

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The Hellfire Club by Peter Straub Peter Straub, The Hellfire Club

It has taken me a long to enjoy the works of Peter Straub. Or maybe it just took him a while to write ones I like. First, I read his "classic" Ghost Story ... and hated it. Bored me stiff. Still, I decided to give him another try and picked up the shorter -- and therefore more easily experimentable -- Julia. It was more interesting and had more sympathetic characters, but it still was a struggle to get through. Koko was no better, it being more a Vietnam novel than the less-reality-based horror I was used to.

By this point, I had almost entirely written Peter Straub off as an author for me. I was still curious due to his collaborations with Stephen King (The Talisman and Black House) and his pure stature as an author. Then, lost boy lost girl won the Bram Stoker award of 2003 and something told me to try again. I'm so glad I did. However, it's unfortunate that I've read The Hellfire Club this early, because nothing is likely to top it.

On the surface, The Hellfire Club concerns Davey Chancel, scion of the multi-generational family that rules Chancel House, a struggling publisher that is being kept afloat by its ownership of the copyright of author Hugo Driver's Night Journey. Night Journey is one of those books that people obsess over, name themselves after, and gather together to perform their own versions of, and their number includes Davey Chancel and several other characters in the book, including one who came as a complete surprise, especially given how he is written from his entrance on. The history of this book is a major plot point and is so well-described as to make it eminently frustrating that I'll never actually be able to read it.

But it's not long before we realize who the lead character really is. I don't want to give much away, because the ride of surprises offered by Straub in The Hellfire Club was most of what kept me reading. Sure, it reads like gangbusters, but there are a lot of people who can write fast-paced fiction. There are much fewer who can write fast-paced fiction and strong characters (especially female ones) and the most fascinatingly disturbingly-evil-yet-somehow-charming villain since Hannibal Lecter in Dick Dart and weave a mystery all through the pages and keeping bringing new and more fascinating characters into the mix without derailing the whole thing and tie the whole works together in a rocket of an ending that leaves you nearly breathless and wanting to start the whole thing all over again.

All of which makes The Hellfire Club a compulsive read that I was picking up in every available free moment. Straub may never top this, but this will certainly keep me reading him in the meantime.

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