It’s a typical night at the Sweet Thangs strip club out in the middle of nowhere. There’s only a few patrons and the girls are working hard for measly dollar tips. And then a handsome, well-dressed man shows up with a briefcase full of money and starts handing it out to dancers and patrons alike. Granted, there’s something wrong about this money – it’s a bit slimy, for starters – but no one at Sweet Thangs is in a position to turn it down. And the handsome man knows it.
Thus starts The Long Last Call, John Skipp’s first solo novel after his parting-of-the-ways with fellow splatterpunk Craig Spector. It starts out promisingly, with Skipp’s usual attention to both characterization and gruesomeness, but doesn’t live up to its considerable potential.
The problem with The Long Last Call is that, like Skipp’ subsequent novel Jake’s Wake, it started life as a screenplay. This isn’t immediately noticeable at first, as Skipp takes the time to establish the characters as more than just cannon fodder. Unfortunately, after the first third the narrative rapidly peters out into a headlong rush from one gory setpiece to the next, with text that’s heavy… on… the ellipses…. and a distinct lack of payoff for the story and character arcs.
Which is a shame, because there’s material for a good novel in The Long Last Call – it’s just been short-shrifted. If Skipp had taken the time to actually turn this into a novel, it could have worked. As it stands, the story’s time frame is too brief (various characters’ descents into madness happen too quickly given what we’re told about them), there’s little attention to setting and other details, and the whole thing feels padded and rushed at the same time.
However, in a way, the brevity of The Long Last Call works in the reader’s favor. It is so short that the publishers have added a novella by Skipp to pad things out. This novella, Conscience, is what I was hoping for from Skipp’s return to horror fiction. It’s the tale of a hit man whose next target is the entourage of women that follow a New Age guru – said entourage includes the hit man’s ex-lover. Yet there’s a harmonic convergence afoot, which may explain why the hit man is getting strange visitations from a person who looks exactly like him.
Conscience is a fun tale that mixes Skipp’s deft characterization, eye for the gruesome, and his oddball transcendence. It’s satisfying in a way that The Long Last Call isn’t, and makes the book worth seeking out.