Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Scapegoat by Adam Howe and James Newman

On March 29, 1987, a momentous event occurred in the world of professional wrestling.  I'm talking about Wrestlemania III, which took place before over 90,000 people at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan.  The main event featured WWF champion Hulk Hogan defeating then villain Andre the Giant to retain his championship belt. If you liked or followed professional wrestling to any extent during this time, you were aware of Wrestlemania III; it was the high point of the 1980's pro wrestling craze.  It also figures as the backdrop for the new horror novel I just read, a collaborative work from Adam Howe and James Newman called Scapegoat.

Mike Rawson, one time metalhead from West Memphis, Tennessee, has married and had a child. He has settled down in a small town in his home state.  For a little rest and relaxation, though, he's agreed to go on a road trip with his two high school friends and former bandmates, Lonnie Deveroux and Pork Chop.  Lonnie has an RV, and on March 29, 1987 he's set to drive the three of them up to Michigan for Wrestlemania III, which he and Pork Chop especially can't wait to see.  They all have free tickets waiting, courtesy of the guy Lonnie is delivering a shipment of counterfeit wrestling merchandise to.  In the RV with them, they have plenty of beer and hard liquor, and there's also a bottle-blonde woman named Cyndi, wearing shorts and a HULKMANIA tube-top shirt, who Lonnie knows from his local bar.  Cyndi seems ditzy at first, but we'll soon discover she is really named Rhonda, and she's an undercover FBI agent working to track the counterfeit merchandise to the main guy behind those operations.  Neither Lonnie nor Pork Chop, still adolescents in every way except their actual age, are the brightest guys in the world, and it doesn't take family man Mike long to regret having signed up for this ridiculous trip.

Because of snarled up traffic on the interstate, the group takes a  detour through the Kentucky backwoods.  Anyone desperate to get someplace might make such a move, but the reader knows, from what we've seen earlier, that something awful, a grotesque ritual, has been going on in this area. Mike himself has his doubts about the route they're taking: "Mike muttered something about how he'd seen enough horror movies to know nothing good ever came from a shortcut through the woods."  And Mike's instincts are right.  As the day wears on and the group's prospects of getting to the Silverdome become dimmer and dimmer, the quartet run smack into a teenaged girl whose head is shaved and who's carved head to toe in religious symbols.  She's oozing blood from the wounds all over her body.  Horrified, the group decides to help her, laying her down in the RV, but that only makes their situation worse. She has escaped from a crazy religious cult, and the cult and its insane leader will stop at nothing to get her back.  As far as they're concerned, if they don't get her back and she is not sacrificed in the way they deem necessary, an ancient evil that's been contained for centuries will be unleashed on the world. Hunted by the crazies, Mike, Lonnie, and Pork Chop, led by FBI agent Rhonda, wind up in the fight of their lives.

I've been a fan of Adam Howe's for a while now, having read and really liked his two previous books - Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet and Tijuana Donkey Showdown.  Like those works, this book mixes horror and a lot of humor just about perfectly.  How a British guy who lives in London captures so well, in story after story, a certain slice of trashy Americana (and from different eras) I still can't quite understand.  And though James Newman, who lives in North Carolina, is new to me, it's clear that he too is in his element: he has a long list of horror novels to his credit.  Whoever was responsible for what in this book I don't know, but I do know that this collaboration works. The writing is polished, the pace fast, the jokes irreverent and funny.  Gore is wonderfully abundant in the manner, say, of a Lucio Fulci film. Action and characterization are in balance.  Mike and Rhonda you root for throughout, and even dopey Lonnie and drunken fool Pork Chop take on depth as the menace around them intensifies.  And the cult itself?  Believe me, its members are suitably frightening and off the wall, but that doesn't mean that everything they believe will happen can't possibly happen.  

At the end of the book, Adam Howe talks about some of the movie influences behind Scapegoat.  And indeed, if filmed by someone who knew what they're doing, this would make ideal B movie fare.  As a novel, Scapegoat is a fun, compulsive read, a horror thriller with energy to burn from the tag team of Howe and Newman. 

It's from Honey Badger Press and you can get it here. 

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