Short Take: When did sex and violence get so boring?
I can’t remember when I first heard of this book. I could’ve sworn it was recommended by Stephen King in Danse Macabre, but when I double-checked, nope. Perhaps it was on one of those “Best Horror Novels EVER!!” lists. In any case, for some reason, I was dying to read it. A glance at the long list of books Edward Lee has published hinted at a new author-crush with the potential for a long-term reader relationship. I had convinced myself that I was in for a capital-T Treat.
Instead, I got tricked.
Messenger is advertised as a “work of erotic horror”. There’s plenty of sex and gore, no question, but the “shocking” scenes are repetitive, and lose their impact quickly. “Oh, someone just hung themselves with their own intestines? Again? Another demon-rape, too. How many pages do I have left in this thing, anyway?”
The first two-thirds of Messenger follows a pretty simple formula. A postal employee goes down into the basement, is possessed by the titular Messenger, then goes on to commit mass murder and mutilation. Then either the chief of police (Steve) or the manager of the post office (Jane) tries to figure out what is happening. Then someone else goes to the basement, and the cycle repeats.
A demonologist named Dhevic is familiar with the Messenger, and is trying to end the atrocities; however, Steve believes he is involved, so Dhevic must work in secret. Dhevic is European and has an accent, some psychic abilities, and an irregular income from shadowy “benefactors”. That’s really all we learn of him, a completely wasted opportunity. Of all the characters, he had the most potential to be interesting, had Lee gone for character development instead of page after page of “Blood! Guts!! NAKED WOMEN!!!!”
I don’t know which half of this book was worse. The gruesome murders and depictions of Hell could have been horrific, if any of the characters had been fleshed-out enough for me to care about. The sex scenes were either of the loving vanilla type, or the demon-rape, which, incidentally, every woman on the receiving end loved. I don’t need to tell you how gross that is. Speaking of the women, every woman in this book is described as having a perfect body, tan, shiny hair, etc. Flawless is boring.
Then there’s what I consider to be the “plot” half of the book, in which Jane and Steve have to figure out what’s going on in the small town of Dannelleton. Unfortunately, they are both idiots. Even though every horrible crime involves someone associated with the post office, nobody thinks to check the basement. The chief of police of a small town, faced with multiple mass murderers and a body count well over forty, spends a lovely evening making pizza with his girlfriend instead of, y’know, investigating.
The girlfriend. Good grief. Jane falls in love with Steve with the speed of a Disney princess. She’s lived in Dannelleton for years, but somehow never heard of the mass murderer that a fellow postman committed 20 years ago. She’s a young widow with two kids who seem to conveniently disappear whenever the plot calls for it.
And the town. We’re told several times that Dannelleton is such a nice place, there’s never any crime, but at the same time, the police are familiar with the multitude of strip clubs featuring drug-addicted strippers/hookers. There’s also the incident mentioned above, in which a postal worker slaughters roughly two dozen people, and twenty years later, everyone has forgotten all about it. Let me tell you, I live in a small town, and nobody forgets anything. Ever. And even if Jane was a transplant from elsewhere (it never really clarifies that), someone would’ve filled her in. She’s managing the post office where the guy was working for crying out loud!
There’s the obligatory twist ending, and a quick wrap-up – you know, the kind you get when an author has written himself into a corner and has no idea how to get out of it.
Maybe it’s not you, Edward Lee, maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m overthinking things. I do that sometimes. But I just don’t think this relationship was meant to be.
The Nerd’s Rating: One Happy Neuron (just because I don’t have any sad ones yet).
Currently Reading/Next Review: And She Was, by Alison Gaylin