Mapping the Terrain of Used and Rare Books
The best full horror novel – as opposed to anthologies or story collections – that I’ve read in a long, long, time. I know that’s high praise, but it’s true.
This book could have been edited and cut two hundred pages, taken out the horror element, and it still would have been a slightly better than average crime/ noir/ suspense novel. But David Schow is anything but average. The lurking horror slowly builds – insidiously – just slightly behind the scenes of the narrative action, until, in the last part of the book it is suddenly no longer in the background but it is the action; the gritty drug-running/ mobster/ hooker with the heart of gold element of the story is swallowed – literally – by dreadful happenings that have been being hinted at throughout the novel.
The story is paced brilliantly, has an amazing cast of incredibly well-developed characters that are very diverse, very believable. And when I say diverse I mean that you have gangsters, mobsters, drug-runners, unwitting yuppies, unfortunate losers, hookers, and transients – even the old Victorian boarding-house and the black cat that curiously prowls it’s every hall, room, and recess are important characters. Thinking about it, the bitter blizzard-torn Chicago night is a main character in itself: The book would not work without it.
There were things happening in horror fiction between the late eighties and the mid-nineties.
Stephen King released his authorized and uncut version of “The Stand” which baffled and irritated critics and blew-away fans, (and was also fifteen-million pages long, but everybody bought it – High-Five, Steve!)
Clive Barker was an emerging talent with his “Books of Blood” which started selling well. And when the story from that collection, “The Midnight Meat Train” started to get anthologized and win awards the portal was open for the “Splatterpunk” genre to start to become somewhat accepted.
Bret Easton Ellis’ seminal “American Psycho” was released, initially Hardcover in Britain, as it was turned down by U.S. publishers due to protests and threatening obscenity allegations. (Eventually published soft-cover by Vintage.)
John Shirley’s short fiction was beginning to be appreciated as real literature, as opposed to sadistic self-indulge. .
“The Shaft” missed this mini-revolution. Schow started writing it in the mid-80’s and a softcover edition was printed in Britain in 1990. It was under-publicized and thus \ largely ignored but for a few cult followers. It soon went out of print.
A U.S. hardcover edition was near publication a number of times, but a long story involving lawyers and copyrights and squeamish editors got in it’s way each time.
Finally, Centipede Press released the first hardcover edition of this long hidden gem – 25 years after its original publication – in 2015.
I want to say so much about it, but I also don’t want to spoil things. It’s a shame the book is so hard to find, because I encourage any horror fan to read it. The Centipede Press edition is expensive, and the U.K. paperback version is much cheaper, but very hard to find. I encourage readers to continue to seek out this book, and if I find a copy cheap enough I’ll buy it and put up a post to re-sell it to anyone who might be interested.