Thursday, January 22, 2015

2015 RR - Johannes Cabal the Detective

Driven by guilt and a little bit of shame, I recently resolved to finish reading all the unfinished books in my home library.

The first book I can happily and with a great sense of completion strike off the list is Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard.

Back in the day, I happened across the prequel, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, in my local bookstore (which is great since I live in Spain and the English novel section of my nearest bookstore is usually packed with gaudy best-sellers I'm not inclined to read). I thoroughly enjoyed the read and fell in love with the antihero protagonist, his vampiric brother, and the magic involved in their adventures. There was a slight hiccup nearing the end of the novel, though: the author suddenly shifted full point of view to the so-called antagonist (a police officer), and my God was it dull!

Nevertheless, I finished the novel and was thrilled to hear a second part would soon come out. Johannes Cabal the Detective is the first and only novel I've ever--EVAAARRR!--pre-ordered on Amazon.

When the lucky book finally arrived, I jumped right into it, but unfortunately I abandoned all hope at around chapter eight. Well, it's 2015 now and it's time to give the novel a decent ending.

I finished reading Johannes Cabal the Detective last night. Final verdict: all right, but lacking much of the charm from the first novel (probably because the antihero's brother doesn't appear). What's more, as the title blatantly points out, this novel is a whodunit crime investigation--and that just ain't my cuppa tea.

Let me go through some highlights, and some hurdles. Hurdles first!

In my opinion, the entire novel suffers from a lack of focus. The author is just so utterly long-winded! The point of view jumps all over the place at all times, which doesn't help, either. I've had to reread several sentences more than once because I continually got lost in circuitous sentence structures. I believe a one-paragraph example is sufficient to give you a sense of the prose:

  "Well, Herr Harlman," said Cabal as he fitfully considered escape plans without any general enthusiasm. The whole concourse was surely dense with assorted secret policemen just itching for an excuse to kick his spleen into sausage meat. The fact that he was being treated to coffee rather than being bundled into the back of an unmarked van by several burly servants of the state armed with overactive thyroids and lengths of rubber hose implied that the covert machinations of Senza were handled with rather more civility than those of its neighbours, as well as subtlety. He could barely believe that he had so utterly failed to spot the trap. Therefore, he decided, he would wait for the scale of the operation he had wandered into to become apparent before giving and bright ideas for escape serious consideration. "What happens now?"

[Pages 292-293 of my 2011 paperback edition]

Yes, that is all presented as one giant paragraph, with a tiny bit of dialogue tacked onto either end.

See what I have to deal with here? Extreme cases of wordiness such as this, plus a whodunit theme which has never really interested me, are the two main reasons why I abandoned Johannes Cabal the Detective. Am I glad I reprised my read? Sure! The author and the protagonist deserve that much. To be honest, now that I've completed this novel I'm actually toying with the idea of tackling the third book, Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute. At least the title sounds more up my alley.

Now for the novel's highlights!

Johannes Cabal continues to be a fascinating sick bastard of a man. He's the typical antisocial supercilious antihero, and that's what I simply adore about him. His eccentric and generally chill-inducing personality aside, he's fighting for a very personal cause--an excellent cause which I won't reveal here, but which just goes to show that even cold-hearted bastards can have a shred of humble humanity in them.

Jonathan L. Howard might be long-winded and at times frustrating (at least to me), but he is also an excellent author with a delicious range of vocabulary. Howard has a spellbinding way of explaining the inexplicable. Here's an excerpt that had me completely hooked:

  The room stank like a laboratory fire, and the thick chemical fug made Miss Barrow's eyes sting. Cabal ignored it all, his own eyes screwed shut as he chanted and chanted a seemingly endless litany of inhuman words from an inhuman religion. They were awful words, incomprehensible to her, but jagged, ugly things that he spat out like stones and razors. That he knew them by heart did not escape her, and she feared him for that, for it showed depths in him that opened into the abyss. Nor did he hesitate when Cacon's heels began to rattle on the floor, his legs spasming like the galvanised corpse of a frog on a school science bench. It was death, but it was in reverse, and the most obscene abrogation of the laws of nature she could ever imagine. Life did not return easily to the carcass, but was bullied and coerced, and what little dignity there is in death was torn and tattered by this sordid reversal. Cacon seemed to swell with something that was just close enough to life to serve, but equally, she sensed in her every fibre that it was a poor sort of stopgap and that it would leak away again soon enough. When Cacon started to shake and suck in ragged, dry breaths, she shuddered with revulsion, but she could not stop watching.

[Pages 250-251]

Yes, I'm aware this excerpt is another massive single paragraph, but this one held my attention through and through and wowwie, Batman! *Round of applause.*

Overall, I would give Johannes Cabal the Detective a 3.5. Not bad, but it could have been better if many things had been more to-the-point.

HarpyMax has some excellent Cabal fan art.
First book off my list! Yay! I think I'll go for something completely different next. How about... The Hounds of Hell, Stories of Canine Horror and Fantasy?

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