Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review - Paul Magrs' 666 Charing Cross Road

666 Charing Cross Road by Paul Magrs
Published by: Headline Publishing
Publication Date: 2011
Format: Paperback, 390 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Liza Bathory loves books. The older, more gothic and mysterious, the better. Her niece's boyfriend, Daniel also likes old books, but this will never endear him to Liza. She just doesn't like Shelley's man. She likes him even less when she learns that Shelley is rushing things and has moved in with him on the Upper West Side, giving up her own shitty apartment. If this relationship fails, which Liza is sure it will, then where will Shelley go? To Liza's own little sanctuary on the Upper East Side. At least Liza has her young gay friend Jack. Sure the bookstore he works at is no longer the type of olde thyme bookstore that Liza loves, instead selling all the hip and sexy vampire fiction you can shake a stake at, but he knows Liza's tastes and helps her to find the books she wants.

That's where the trouble starts. Jack sees a little ad in the paper for a bookshop in London, 666 Charing Cross Road, which specializes in what Liza loves, gothic, mysterious, macabre, old vintage paperbacks with lurid covers. They have no phone or website and do their sales only by correspondence, Liza is in heaven. Her first selection of books is beyond her wildest dreams, Fox Soames rarities, paperbacks of the most lurid nature, even if it turns out their address is the more prosaic 66b Charing Cross Road. The second package leaves something to be desired. Mr. Wright, the proprietor, has sent Liza a grimoire stained in blood. The book exudes evil, and Liza should know, she spent a great deal of her past fighting vampires and demons, but that's all done and now she just reads and edits books.

On Thanksgiving when she takes the book to Daniel's for dinner with her niece, Jack and his new boyfriend, Ricardo, a chain of events is set in motion that no one could have seen coming. Liza berates herself later that she should have, given her past, but who could have known? Shelley is stressed but still crowing over the discovery of a weird effigy her and Daniel are showing in their Museum of Outsider Art that has the whole town talking. The weird "Scottish Bride" or Bessie, as she comes to be called, is bringing patrons to the museum for the first time. The effigy has a strange life to it, almost as if she where once alive.

Then all hell breaks loose. Liza gives Daniel the grimoire to just get it away from her and he ends up possessed by the book and becoming a vampire King, who turns Jack's boyfriend, Ricardo. Than Bessie comes to life and shows up at Liza's apartment. Soon all of New York is overrun with Vampires and Bessie is convinced that she was brought back to life to help vanquish them. If they can return the book now in Daniel's possession from whence it came, perhaps they have a chance at stopping the evil, or perhaps they might spread this evil to two continents.

This is the book that first alerted me to Paul Magrs. I am a Helene Hanff devote. I liked her most famous book, 64, Charing Cross Road, but I adored her followup, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and her collection of radio spots for the BBC Woman's Hour. She is, in my mind, New York. Therefore, if you where to pick someone that exuded the book world to be a protagonist in a new series set in New York, I don't think you could do better than to model the lead on Helene Hanff. It also helps that for some reason, despite Helene being played by Anne Bancroft in the movie adaptation of 64, Charing Cross Road, I have actually always pictured her more as Ruth Gordon. The Ruth Gordon most known for the macabre Harold and Maude and of course Rosemary's Baby, is eerily the perfect combination of who Helene Hanff was and what Paul's book is about. Old New York dame, who happens to be an ex vampire slayer, demon hunter and witch defending the world against evil.

For me, the book was a leisurely stroll through the holiday season in New York with impending evil. They didn't really feel like they where pushing to solve the problem, but doing a lot more thinking and then, when push came to shove, solved it all in a flurry of action that left quite a few loose ends, that, while giving the book resolution, also left it open ended enough so that more books could come. I don't know if it was my mood or the writing style, but it felt like a book where you read a little every night and think on it versus pushing through till the end. I like reading this kind of book. It's a less demanding book and more of a nice calm that you lose yourself in. I know, it's weird thinking of vampires and demons as calm, right?

There was a part of me though that felt this had maybe a few too many similarities to Paul's much loved Brenda and Effie series. We have the sweet intentioned gay side kick with the otherworldly boyfriend, the lady made up of spare parts, who really is this world's Brenda, the elderly witch, and than the younger female sidekick with man troubles. Yes, there's much much more than this, but the basic character traits where eerily similar. But I could forgive this all because I loved the parody of modern literature and the hatred Liza has to the modern vampire literati, Moira Sable, who is basically a Laurell K. Hamilton type that goes for sex and blood versus real ability to write. Paul nails the parody of current literature trends with Fangtasm. He also perfectly captured the previous era of literature with Liza, and I can't tell you how amused I was with every little nod and wink to Helene Hanff and her life. Her wacky neighbors and all!


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