"Cellars" Book Review
Written by John Shirley
2006, 262 pages, Fiction
Released on June 1st, 2006
While the quality is wide-ranging, the horror genre produces enough new literary material every year to keep readers entertained without having to rely on things published in previous decades. However, there are a handful of books out there that seem impervious to the passage of time. A few weeks ago I heard about John Shirley's Cellars, a novel originally published in 1982 and released again in 2006. The fact that the novel is still being talked about, coupled with an introduction on the 2006 edition by Edward Lee — one of my favorite authors — convinced me I had to check it out. I'm glad I did.
Cellars follows Carl Lanyard, who writes about the occult and paranormal for a second-rate magazine, as he gets involved in the investigation of a string of gruesome murders in New York. The victims are showing up underground and with strange markings carved into their bodies. An ancient evil is being summoned deep beneath the city and unused subway stations and cellars all across town are being used to perform bloody rituals. Above ground, those who want to contribute are offered rewards and those who get in the middle suffer horrible deaths. When Lanyard is forced to juggle a new assignment that has nothing to do with his job, a budding love interest with a woman that just might be too involved with the whole mess and his helping the police solve the murders, things get really complicated. With viscous monsters that can get to victims through drains and feral children stalking the streets, whatever lies underneath the city is ready to come out and only Lanyard can stop it.
What Shirley created back in 1982 is a novel full of spins, tension, emotions and gore. In other words, Cellars is a classic because it has a healthy dose of all the things that make horror novels great. The characters are well developed and the narrative alternates between horror and a police procedural novel. Last but not least, the novel is a precursor to what horror is today via its wonderful amount of gore. There are crazy children with painted faces committing ghastly murders, people getting sucked down drains, drug use, violence, dark snake-like things in the air and a few bone-crunching, limb-tearing deaths. Now you know why Lee wrote the introduction.
Cellars also has two elements that help make it a very pleasing read. The first is Shirley's prose: clear, rich and very detail-oriented. The second is the author's knack for descriptions. While this talent makes the horror much better, it also does a wonderful thing by bringing New York to life. Everything that we usually think about when we think about the city, from the variety of smells to the homeless people that live underground and from the old buildings to the glitzy parties, is in the book and successfully places the reader in the city.
Cellars is a solid novel by an established writer. The book is as enjoyable now as it was three decades ago. If you collect horror, it needs to be on your bookshelves.