457 pages; £5.99
Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2001
New Orleans seems to be a staple for horror writers who live or have lived there. Poppy Z. Brite and Anne Rice use their familiarity with the city to evoke those steamy nights, labyrinthine mansions and shadowy residents with consumate skill. British writer Mark Chadbourne takes a decidedly different approach to The Big Easy in 'Nocturne'. He doesn't evoke New Orleans -- he tours it, from the perspective of a lonely, tortured young British man who wakes up on a New Orleans trolley with no memory of how he got there.
As David Easter gathers his memories, he gawks and gapes at his peculiar American surroundings, tries to fit in and gets a job in a New Orleans bar. The change of perspective from what we've come to expect in a New Orleans horror novel is refreshing, and the opening sections of the book evoke a nicely alienated sense of mystery. Unfortunately for David, and the reader, David discovers that he's come to find the Great Love of His Life, the Eternal Passion For Which He Would (Will?) Sacrifice Himself. That's Fermay, the mystery woman, whose association with some unsavory Occult Criminal Types condemns David to see dead people all the time, in crowds, museums and skankin' jazz clubs. Unfortunately, the dead people seem like refugees from a bad Romero movie. And then there's the other Thing that's pursuing him. The bird thing, a cool monster that is chilling and yet somewhat restrained.
Much of this book is far too mild for its own good, and then, by the time the mildness itself becomes charming, Chadbourne puts in some truly chilling scenes, that are, well, mild. It's rather a nice touch. But he follows this up with some standard splatter that seems very out of keeping with the rest of the book, and the revelations that follow seem unrevealing.
Chadbourne does write some nice prose, but his characters seem to be on the trite side, searching for the meaning of life when they should be looking for a job. Of course, if you've recently met the love of your life, you may find it all romantically wonderful. Some may be entranced by Chadbourn's able prose and his willingness to go mild, and they're both centainly commendable. To this reader, however, the novel seems a bit like the main character -- smart enough to get the job, but still a bit lost in an unfamiliar city.