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Practical Demonkeeping

Christopher Moore

Saint Martin's Press

US Hardcover

ISBN 0-312-07069-1

243 pages; $18.95

Date Reviewed: 02-28-1992

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Horror, General

As you read through Christopher Moore's "Practical Demonkeeping", it's easy to see why this novel brought about a bidding war in Hollywood. This humorous cross between "Jaws" and "Harvey" literally leaps off the page into the mind's eye, with cheap special effects and character actors completely intact. It's slim but fun, and it doesn't even leave a foamy aftertaste.

Humor and horror make such perfect sense together, so it's surprising that it's not done more often, but maybe this hardcover debut by an unknown author will change all that. It's certainly been done with more laughs, most notably by Joe R. Lansdale in "By Bizarre Hands", and "The Drive In", and by Terry Pratchett and Niel Gaimen in last year's fabulous merger, "Good Omens", which really has the look and feel of Douglas Adams translated to horror. While "Practical Demonkeeping" lacks the high belly-laugh content of these predecessors, it's funny and charming enough to merit special notice. Unlike so many humorists, Christopher Moore really likes all his characters, even the man-eating demon Catch. Every reader will pick up on and share the author's affection for his creations.

The story is set in Pine Cove, a small mid-California coastal town that might well be called Castle Rock West. The character(s) (actors) are so precise in their creation that they roll off the page and into the reader's mind with nary a hitch. Travis is the unwilling demonkeeper, just looking for a way to end his bond with Catch, the smart-mouthed, man-eating demon. Most of the time Travis sees the invisible Catch as something resembling a dwarf dinosaur. Catch only visible to others when he's in "eating mode", at which point he's about the size of a regular dinosaur. When his ill wind blows into Pine Cove, we meet the requisite cast of shopkeepers, small-time drug dealers, ineffectual police, displaced artists and victims-to-be. Preceding Travis and Catch however, is a Djinn with a grudge, who wants to put Catch out of commission once and for all. He's a gnarled old man version of the Kyle MacLachlan character from Twin Peaks, full of inside information and, of course, the rules.

The rules are one of the real joys of this novel. Moore does a skillful job of leading us towards the point of revelation, when the Djinn finally reveals how he and Catch came to be, and what the rules are that govern their behavior. Moore happily revels in making the rules, then playing by them, treating his characters with respect and affection even as he feeds (some of) them to the demon. HP Lovecraft gets a special guest starring role, and plays a large part in the visually effective ending. While it never achieves the hilarity of other horror humorists, "Practical Demonkeeping" is an enjoyable novel, coming soon to a theater in your mind, or your neighborhood.