First published back in February of 1992, US author John Shirley’s novel ‘Wetbones’ received great praise upon its release from the likes of author Clive Barker and the press alike.

DLS Synopsis:
Tom Prentice has been having a tough time of late.  His career as a Hollywood screenwriter hasn’t been going all that well.  And now, to make matters a whole lot worse for the young writer, he’s just leaner that his ex-wife, Amy, has been found dead.  Pouring salt into the wound, he is called to the hospital to identify the body.  But what he wasn’t prepared for was the horrific sight that greeted him.  Slashed, mutilated and severely drained of her lifeblood, he can barely believe that this is something she did to herself.

Still haunted by the images of his ex-wife’s withered and dissected body lying on the cold steel morgue table, Prentice is drawn to helping his roommate and close friend Jeff Teitelbaum in locating his missing teenaged brother - Mitch.  But their search is brought to a sudden end when the young lad is brought into hospital after horrifically mutilating himself.

Meanwhile, the daughter of recovering alcoholic and drug addict, Reverend Garner - an Alameda drug counsellor who runs a ministry in Oakland - has learnt that his teenage daughter Constance has also gone missing.  The serial killer Ephram Pixie is responsible for her kidnapping.  And this deeply depraved and evil individual has big plans for the young girl.  Plans to twist her, corrupt her, and make her into another pleasure-addict, crying out for more of the good stuff.  More of the beautiful bloodshed.

Ephram Pixie has learnt how to tap into the pleasure-centre of his victims’ brain cells, applying psychic pressure that rewires their defenceless brain.  And now Constance is being led into performing sexually depraved acts and participating in sadistic slaughter, all under the guiding direction of her powerful psychic puppeteer.

As they start to dig for answers to their loved-ones disappearances it soon emerges that the well-known Hollywood couple, Sam and Judy Denver, are somehow connected to it all.  Out on their isolated mansion - the Doublekey Ranch near Malibu - their guests are being corrupted by the destructive powers of out-of-control addictions.

And where addiction lives, so the Akishra feed off the pleasure that is cruelly obtained through satisfying the destructive addictions.  Wormlike parasites, the Akishra infect their hosts and control their minds, pushing them further and further into the endless spiral of addiction.

And this is where Esphram Pixie leant his psychic powers from.  He was once a member of a disturbing drug cult that was led by The More Man.  A cult who engaged in endless debauchery under the guise of Hollywood excess.  Parties that have become twisted.  Parties that ensnare the soul and feed for the sheer fulfilment of pleasure.

And now the numerous heavily-mutilated bodies that are appearing across Los Angeles, so horrendously devastated that they have been dubbed ‘Wetbones’, have a new meaning.  Now the disappearance of the likes of Constance or Orpheus and Eurydice’s missing brother has a much more disturbing undertone.

Corruption, addiction, murder and debauchery are at the root of it all.  There are despicable powers at work, delighting in the sliding downfall of humanity.  And it’s going to be hell to find those at the heart of it all.  For so many are mere puppets.  So many are just hosts.  And so many more are just the victims of addiction...

DLS Review:
‘Wetbones’ is certainly an ambitious story.  Shirley begins the tale with a handful of seemingly erratic storylines and loose subplots, that each carry a substantial weight of the prevailing plot.  And from early on it’s quite hard for the reader to tell which of these routes will take precedence for the predominant direction in which the story will ultimately take.

As the story begins to escalate, with the gritty tension starting to climb the walls, Shirley continues to dart from one inherently down-beaten scenario to the next, leaving the reader with no constant ground to feel rooted to within the way the story is progressing.  This is certainly no bad thing; in fact it is probably an intentional (and clever) move on the author’s part, making the reader feel on edge and instantly outside their comfort zone, without anything substantial prompting such a reaction.

The use of multiple protagonists as well as the intertwining layered effect that Shirley has constructed the entire novel from, works well in the main part, but does cut down on any strong bonds being formed (and maintained) between the reader and the characters.  Although the storyline is quite obviously a character rich one, surprisingly this lack of sympathetic engagement doesn’t seem to detrimentally weaken the overall impact of the shocking scenes too considerably.

And it’s got to be said that ‘Wetbones’ entertains a veritable plethora of these strong and uncompromising moments.  Shirley clearly felt unrestrained with his approach to dishing out the splatter and gore.  It’s by no means an unending barrage of bloodshed, but more a punctuation to almost every event that takes place.  Indeed, when there’s not a slicing of flesh or a viscerally gruesome discovery, the novel’s overriding backbone of destructive addition kicks in to fill the briefest void.  The end result is sometimes a difficult read, where merely taking a breath feels out of place in the constant depressive cloud that Shirley encompasses the reader within.  But it certainly keeps you engaged and compelled to keep on reading.

Characterisation is moderately developed, with pockets of care taken in producing a truthful aura of something resembling real life.  However, the general mainstay of the novel is with a more sketched out impression of characters, who take to their own selected routes without too much evidence of a personality driving their actions.  To be honest, it’s a crying shame that a more immediate attention to the characters wasn’t worked into the tale.  With a greater depth to those that are constantly pushing the storyline onwards, whether protagonist, antagonist, victim or failure – the novel as a whole could have hit home with a much greater impact than it does at present.

However, constantly prevailing at the very forefront of the tale is the grimy hard-hitting message of addiction.  It’s a novel about addiction.  How it destroys.  How it corrupts.  And how it kills.  Shirely’s fierce sledgehammer approach to butchering the reader with this nihilistic underbelly to human life is what makes the novel stand out from the pack.  It’s unrelenting.  It’s attacking.  And it doesn’t hold back one iota in delivering a strong eyeful of the utter savagery that can be witnessed in a dingy self-destroying world.

It’s got its undeniable merits and it’s got its disappointing weaknesses.  But what it certainly is, is a damn fine read from start to finish.

The novel runs for a total of 332 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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