Screaming Planet

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Bookworm 2012: Is That You, Robert Johnson?

Posted on | January 2, 2013 | 1 Comment

John Hornor Jacobs - Southern GodsSome books have a built-in soundtrack, a set of tunes or a musical style you can’t help hearing and feeling while reading. John Hornor Jacobs’ Southern Gods is steeped in muddy, ponderous, bass-heavy delta blues, diffusing in the night air at the lonely spot where Crossroads meets Lovecraft, and it is precisely at the point the novel decides to put the instruments away and decides to start lecturing that it turns sharply downhill.

The novel starts out following Bull Ingram, a WWII vet who works as a tough-as-nails enforcer hired by a records company exec to find two people, a mysterious blues singer called Ramblin’ John Hastur – and the name gives off part of the game right off the bat, but the giveaway in no way lessens the taste of the story – and a record promoter who’s gone missing. That right there would have been a fascinating story to read, written with Jacobs’ surehand style that never let me even suspect it was his first book. He carried the smoky down-south atmosphere of a white man stepping into the coloured folks’ world of rhythm and magic pat down perfect, hand in hand with small details that really peppered things just right, such as perhaps the first time I can remember reading about a character punching someone and breaking their fist.

However, as the conclusion of the novel starts to draw near, Jacobs suddenly decides to turn Bull into a supporting character and pushes for a female lead uncovering the central mystery with the help of a nigh-omniscient and suspiciously fortuitously placed and extremely wordy catholic priest. This seriously kills the tempo and dampens the beat of the story that only manages to recover somewhat at the very end, preventing this from turning out to be a near-perfect book. However, if for nothing else but the extremely atmospheric first half, this is very much a must-read.

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  • Goodreads

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