“BUSTER VOODOO” (Book Review)


I’ve been itching to review this unique, provocative, haunted and heartbreaking horror novel since I devoured it in one round-trip flight, two long crazy months ago. Being busy as shit has kept me from doing so, and it kills me, because I’d like to flood you with the kind of detailed richness that this book deserves, and I’m afraid my overloading memory banks may not be up to the task. 

But with the raw wound of Ferguson ripping America’s soul wide open, I feel like now’s the time to spotlight Mason James Cole’s BUSTER VOODOO (Permuted Press, paperback and ebook), before the moment is lost.

Not because it’s a racial polemic, or a cop-kills-teen narrative, because it is neither. It’s not a book about race. It’s a book about people. Most of whom, in this case, happen to be black. (A shamefully conspicuous rarity in horror fiction, now or ever.) And the horror it explores is achingly real, in ways any sensitive reader can relate to intensely, pigmentation of skin be damned.

In a nutshell: Dixon Green is an old black dude with a truly hard past who’s wound up working maintenance at a crappy amusement park in New Orleans, circa 2005. One day, he realizes that one particular ride – Madame Laveau’s Zombie Nightmare – is letting in more children than it’s letting out. That these children were unwanted in the first place is indicated by the fact that the families don’t even seem to notice they’re missing. As if they never existed at all.

This throws him back to his own childhood, where his mother – a voodoo priestess of great charisma, beauty, and personal power – was unable to save his little sister from the clutches of a ravenous child-abducting force. Though his sister survives, she’s demolished by the encounter. As is his family, the community, the great strand of heart that bonds them. Post-traumatic, all the way.

As the dots of his past and his present are connected – via a grinning spooky-ass presence in the depths of Madame Laveau’s – Dixon knows that somebody’s gotta step up. In the absence of anyone else who a) gives a shit, or b) might possibly believe him, he contemplates how the fuck he might possibly make a difference.

THEN HURRICANE KATRINA HAPPENS: a force of nature so immense and catastrophic that both ordinary and supernatural life have to take a back seat to the total devastation of the only home they know.

And when THAT shit hits the fan, author Cole hits overdrive, all three threads kaleidoscopically slamming together. And how he detangles them takes us all the way through, while still leaving some issues way up in the air. To reflect upon later. As you doubtless will.

What I love about this book is pretty much EVERYTHING. The intensity. The naturalism and otherworldliness, colliding. The honesty with which it’s dealt. The chillingness that is the heart of great dark fiction. The writing, which moves from raw in its opening segments to an evolving Bradbury-esque sensory wowness. And the characters, so richly and intimately drawn that you know them from their toenails on up to their souls.

It should be duly noted that the author is a white guy. And so am I. So it’s not remotely like he (in writing it) or I (in reviewing it) are pretending to speak for the black experience in America, or anywhere else.

But the thing I think is most important, in this emotional climate of demonization and otherness, is that Dixon is just another down-and-out guy. Who just happens to be a black man in America. With all that that entails.

To that extent, this is a book about marginalization, and its impact on real human beings. And for every reader – literary, horror-loving, or all of the above – that gorgeous you-are-there empathy brings an extra dimension much lacking in American social discourse today. Not to mention horror fiction.

Empathy is what separates the soulful from the woefully soul-impaired. And with BUSTER VOODOO, Mason James Cole makes the horror matter in ways you will not just feel, but come to understand from the inside.

So I strongly suggest that you read this gorgeous, gripping motherfucker. I suspect you’ll be glad you did. And possibly come out wiser for it.

Cuz frankly – at this pivotal point in history – we can use all the wisdom we can get.

[Quick disclaimer: you may notice my name in the dedication. That’s because Cole pitched me this novel years ago, and I encouraged him with all my heart. His book exceeded that pitch beyond all expectations. And I’m just happily honored to have helped.]

[P.S.S. – I know that many horror readers are currently boycotting Permuted Press for some contractual shenanigans they recently pulled on their authors. And I completely understand. But this particular novel has struggled so hard to find print – and is so thoroughly worthy of your time – that I’d truly hate for you to miss out on it. Just feel like that needed to be said.]

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About the author
John Skipp

John Skipp is a New York Times bestselling author/editor/filmmaker, zombie godfather, compulsive collaborator, musical pornographer, black-humored optimist and all-around Renaissance mutant. His early novels from the 1980s and 90s pioneered the graphic, subversive, high-energy form known as splatterpunk. His anthology Book of the Dead was the beginning of modern post-Romero zombie literature. His work ranges from hardcore horror to whacked-out Bizarro to scathing social satire, all brought together with his trademark cinematic pace and intimate, unflinching, unmistakable voice. From young agitator to hilarious elder statesman, Skipp remains one of genre fiction’s most colorful characters. Visit him at Facebook, or on Twitter @YerPalSkipp

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