“MUERTE CON CARNE” (Book Review)Book and Comic Reviews,Books/Art/Culture,News John Skipp
If you’re like me, you’ve probably been thinking “What the world needs right now is a book that’s like the literary equivalent of THE TEX-MEX CHAINSAW MASSACRE, with a creepy-ass Mexican cannibal family helping account for all those poor illegal immigrants who disappear trying to cross the border, and featuring a deranged maniac in a Luchador mask named El Gigante who likes to wrestle his prey to the mat in a grisly entertainment ritual of thrill-packed culinary prep.”
In which case, you’re in luck! Cuz I just read that fucking thing. And lemme tell ya, it was some pretty zesty stuff. Not just for the meat – which is there in copious amounts, all extra-juicily described – but mostly for the many unexpected spices.
For starters, I love the largely Latino cast, written with a firm insider’s grasp of outsider status. It paints everything in vivid colors that stray outside the normal white bread pulp horror palette, give a different spin to even the commonest things. Reading it made me hyper-aware of how much I love watching horror films from Mexico, Italy, China, Spain, England, Japan, Korea, Cuba., and such. And how rarely I get to have a similar experience in print.
Past that, I really loved the more-than-starcrossed lovers at its core: a young couple of hot-blooded, emotionally driven screwups just smart enough to realize how crazy their terrible choices are, and just dumb enough to do them anyway. There’s a genuine complexity to their relationship, far deeper and more honest than one might expect from a beyond-hyperviolent Mexican cannibal wrestling saga of this sort.
Finally, I must note the writing itself, which reeks from the heat of white-knuckled compulsion, like this author couldn’t get this shit out of his head and onto the page fast enough. You can feel young Shane McKenzie tearing through it beat by beat, taking care to deftly chronicle every stray moment of amazingness that catches his eye, making sure you see and feel it too before rocketing off to the next crazed, horrible thing his story has in store.
If there’s one note of praise I’m always happy to honestly heap on an author, it’s the words “Never a dull moment”. And he does this not just by keeping his story moving, and knowing how to make action rock on a page, and keeping his people actual people, but by knowing when and how to drop a casual phrase that nails the moment, whether sweet and human or appalling or lafftastic or all of the above, Strings of firecrackers, sprinkled throughout, with a born entertainer’s flair.
Shane McKenzie first came to my attention when he swept in out of nowhere to win the late-nite Gross-Out Contest at KillerCon in Vegas, a couple years back. This is an event that functions kind of like the “The Aristrocrats” joke for stand-up comedians. A bunch of writers get up in front of a crowd and have 3-5 minutes to kill us with the most hilarious, disgusting, jaw-dropping performance of a coherently reprehensible story they can pull out of their ass.
Shane nailed it, winning the first of many Gross-Out Contests across a wide convention swath. This brought him to the attention of Jeff Burk at Deadite Press, a line dedicated to the most hardcore of hardcore horror, and already hosting the luminary likes of Brian Keene, Ed Lee, Wrath James White, and Bizarro offshoots like Carlton Mellick III’s ZOMBIES AND SHIT and Robert Devereaux’s genuinely genre-skull-cracking collection BABY’S FIRST BOOK OF SERIOUSLY FUCKED UP SHIT.
I don’t wanna rave overmuch, cuz it is what it is. It ain’t THE SHINING, and it ain’t GHOST STORY. It’s just nasty-ass 21st century pulp fiction, raw and crude and written within an inch of its life.
But if you ever ate a cheap taco off a sidewalk truck and went, “Goddam, that hit the spot!”, then you might be right there with me when I say that MUERTE CON CARNE (trade paper, soon to be ebook) is worth crossing the street for.
And I hope to fuck that if somebody makes a film out of this thing – and somebody should – they’re smart and thoughtful and hard-working enough to include all the savory spices that make it such a far-better-than-you-had-any-right-to-expect kickass multicultural low-rent gutter sonofabitch.