Sunday, 30 June 2019

Go See This Now - Heists, Crime, Horror, Food & Booze (Netflix)

I've been bingeing these, and you should too.

La Casa de Papel is brilliant, intelligent, meticulously plotted, with some incredible set pieces and a climax to set your teeth on edge. Eight small-time crooks break into the Royal Mint of Spain, but they get caught halfway through the heist and are besieged for over a week. Except it wasn't really a heist, and the siege is all part of the plan. Night's Black Agents directors and players need to have this in their lives. Why am I singing its praises again? Because Season Three is coming soon, and it would be a terrible, terrible shame not to see the first two seasons before Three's July debut.

The Bar, another Spanish shocker from cult director Alejandro de la Iglesia, is a much more claustrophobic comic horror piece. A group of strangers are trapped in a small hole-in-the-wall boozer, when a mad gunman opens fire. One customer's dropped with a headshot, and everyone wonders who's next to get got. But wait! Why are the streets completely deserted? Was it really some crazed sniper, or is this all part of some government plot? Standout performance award goes to Jaime Ordonez as Israel, who spends the entire film chewing the scenery and spitting chunks of it all over the floor.

Unit 42 is a Belgian cop drama, about cyber crimes. Widower and father of three Sam Leroy is parachuted in as the new head of the unit, and must find his feet while keeping his fractious team focused on their job. For once, a police procedural that doesn't treat computer crime like some alien sci-fi looney bin, though it does wear its sci-fi credentials proudly. Hence 42, as in the Meaning of Life. I like that it remembers corpses stink, and aren't pleasant to look at. The first season touches on Anonymous, ISIS and other topics ripped from the headlines, but never buries itself in bullshit. YouTube only has an English dub trailer and several non-subbed French trailers, and I shan't inflict the English dub on you.

I like it best for its subtle character details. Example: the boss' boss, a character who only appears occasionally, keeps goldfish and plants in her office. She's absolutely fatal, black thumb personified, and everything she touches dies. In another series there'd be long speeches about her inability. In this, we just see her harried expression as she brings another container of dead goldfish to the toilet for a solemn burial.

Again, highly recommended to Night's Black Agents Directors and players alike.

Charite At War is a second world war epic, about the Charite Hospital in Berlin. The doctors, nurses and patients have to survive a city under siege, threatened by aerial bombardment, Russians at the door, and cornered Nazis making a final stand. The narrative starts in 1943 and goes to the end of the war, all in six episodes. Fair warning: eugenics and experimentation on children both feature significantly.

I like it best for its characters, but I was struck by its intelligent use of wartime footage to flesh out its world. Every so often you'd see brief glimpses of Berlin as it was, then Berlin as it became, after the bombs dropped. It made the narrative much larger, even compelling.

Tokyo Stories: Midnight Diner is my chillax series. When the day's gone on too long, it's always a pleasure to sink back into this cheerful, slice-of-life narrative. Each day, after midnight, the Diner opens, for people who can't bear to go home. The Master has a limited menu, but offers to cook anything his customers want, so long as he has the ingredients. The Diner becomes a story hub, as each of the customers take it in turn to have some kind of crisis, which can only be solved at the Diner's counter. Slightly saccharine and very Japanese, in the same way that Studio Ghibli films are very Japanese; nostalgic, elegiac, sentimental.

Plus, free recipe with every episode. Can't beat that!

Finally, Office, a Korean horror film from 2015. Family man Kim Byong-gook goes to the office day in, day out, never deviating, never relaxing. One day he murders his entire family, then disappears. Where did he go? Why did he do it? Why do security cameras record him going back to the office one more time, but there's no footage of him leaving?

Freaky as hell, very psychological. Winner of the 2015 Camera d'Or at Cannes. I'm not saying much about it because I don't want to spoil, but trust me when I say, it delivers the goods in the craziest way imaginable.


Sunday, 23 June 2019

Funereal (GUMSHOE all, Swords of the Serpentine)

Many funeral customs arise from a fear of the newly dead.

For example: People wear black ribbons after a death, not out of respect, but because if you wear black you escape the ghost's notice. In the past, some people went to great lengths to ensure this, tying black ribbon on everything from people to poultry - particularly if there's been more than a few deaths recently.

When people throw mementoes into a fresh grave before it's filled, this too is to discourage the angry dead. The Fox North American Native group believed that you had to throw something in, even a bit of faded cloth or small bit of food. If you didn't, the dead would notice, and come back to claim its gift. This probably also explains the custom of throwing dirt, or ash, into the open grave before filling it.

The Scots used to believe that, if you met a funeral procession, you had to join it. If the mourners happened to be carrying the coffin, you had to take the place of one of them, and carry it for at least a short distance. Once you'd done that, you could let the funeral continue without you. If you didn't do this, then you were likely to die within a year.

It was also bad luck to meet a funeral procession head-on. If that happened, even if you were in a car, you had to turn around and look in the same direction as the procession, until it had passed.

If there's been a death in the house, you mustn't wear anything new. If you did, the dead would see, and envy you - with appalling consequences to follow. For the same reason sackcloth, ashes, and black clothes were the proscribed attire, though in the fashion-obsessed Victorian era there was a relaxation on the 'nothing new' dictat. Victorian ladies took great pleasure in arranging their funeral attire, to their satisfaction. Again, it's all black because that makes the mourners inconspicuous. The people closest to the corpse mustn't attract the attention of the corpse.

These are mostly European folktales, of course, with the exception of the Fox belief. Go across the planet, and you'll find plenty of examples of similar beliefs. Not all that long ago I talked about hungry ghosts, Luck Ambassadors, and Chinese festivals in honor of the dead. A similar philosophy's at work there: pay tribute to the dead, or be punished by the dead.

In a horror game - in any action game, really - death is a likely consequence of heroics. It isn't always the characters who die, of course, but sometimes it is. Suppose, for a moment, this meant a player character - or their shadowy double - could return, for a session.

I was fortunate enough to playtest Swords of the Serpentine earlier this year, and I'm looking forward to its release. Whenever it does release … *twitch* I don't want to drift into spoiler territory, but suppose for a moment we talk about a completely invented custom, based loosely on something I noticed in All Around The Town by Herbert Asbury. Let's see what can be done to make it Serpentine.

Important and picturesque functionaries of New York during the early days of Dutch and English rule were the Comforters of the Sick and the Inviters to Funerals … There were two Comforters, and two Inviters. They wore identical uniforms - tall black hats, solid black coats, and black mantles - and each carried a Bible and a long staff. When a man fell ill, the Comforters, their fees having been guaranteed by [family/friends] sat at his bedside during the long hours of the night … preparing him for a possible journey to Kingdom Come. When the patient died … the Comforters retired and the Inviters … took charge. Attaching to their tall hats long streamers of crepe which reached to their heels, and bearing elaborate scrolls, the Inviters went from house to house reciting the virtues of the deceased and inviting his friends and relatives to the funeral. As they marched solemnly through the town, one tolled a bell, and the other struck his staff heavily against the ground, while he cried the tidings of death in a loud and doleful voice …

At the end of it all the Comforters and Inviters gave away cheap geegaws, memento mori, to the pallbearers and attendees. Brooches, rings, carved or perhaps wrapped around with the hair of the deceased. The pallbearers got a special treat. Each received a carved spoon with a figure at the end intended to represent one of the Twelve Apostles, but these were often so crudely carved that they more resembled monkeys than saints. Hence the spoons became known as monkey spoons.

Note the copious use of black: top hats, coats, mantles, and that long twist of crepe for the Inviters. Again, those closest to the dead need protection from the dead, and nobody gets closer than a Comforter or Inviter.

All this ceremony presumes a few things. First, it presumes that the only effective way to communicate is by going door to door. Second, it presumes that a handful of people can do this effectively - so we're talking about a time when New York was much, much smaller than it is today. Imagine trying to walk all over modern New York to tell people Bob had breathed his last; you'd be in Manhattan all day, and never mind the Bronx or Brooklyn.

Now, I don't think I'm allowed to say anything about Serpentine beyond what's already out there on Pelgrane's site. However there's a fair bit already out there, so:

A rhythmic, solid clack of staves against stones echoes against towering walls, each blow followed by a high, mournful wail. Someone's passed, and whoever they were, they had money - enough to pay the Inviters, at least. A funeral! An unveiling ceremony for someone's statue. Free food, free drink, perhaps a chance for a little harmless larceny. What could go wrong?

The deceased was an important member of [Faction] and members of [Faction] are encouraged to attend. The party's held in one of [Faction]'s traditional banquet halls, teeming with statues of every description. However, wandering its halls reveals a shocking secret; someone smashed a statue to fit this new statue in. But who did it? Who would be so callous?

Was it the Inviters, or the Comforters, too eager to make a profit? Was it an accident? Or was it deliberate, a spiteful act from a faction within [Faction}, determined to elevate one of their own at the expense of some forgotten old fuddy-duddy?

Moreover, what does it really mean to destroy a statue? In-game, statues are described in much the same way as I've described, say, black hats and ashes. It's a means of keeping the unquiet dead under control - pulling their fangs, metaphorically speaking. But in your game, who knows? This is a player-driven experience, after all. In your session, statues could be something entirely different.

Better make your mind up soon, though. This banquet hall is dark, shadowy. Anything could be out there in the dark. Absolutely anything …


Sunday, 16 June 2019

Gabriel Hounds (Bookhounds, Dracula Dossier)

Brook Manor in Buckfastleigh, Devon, is said to be the inspiration for Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles. The story goes like this:

In the 17th Century the Manor was owned by a Richard Capel (or Cabell), who had a fearsome reputation. He owned two manors, one being Brook (sometimes spelled Brooke), the other Hawson. Whenever he spied a woman he liked the look of, he captured her and locked her in his manor at Hawson, riding over to visit her whenever he felt the need. When it came time for him to die, either he was howled to death by demon dogs parading outside Brook Manor, or he was chased down by the same on his way from one manor to the other, depending on which version of the story you prefer.

Devil dogs are relatively common in British folklore, particularly when it comes to ghouls and the undead. Often they are seen trailing after the living dead, or tormenting soon-to-be-damned souls. Their howls are a warning, both to the prey and to anyone else who might be nearby.

The most common version is the Gabriel Hound, often found coursing in packs. Also known as Corpse Hounds, they hover, like the Banshee, near the houses of those about to die. Occasionally the pack is supposed to be led by a man - the Gabriel of the story - a Sabbath-breaker whose punishment is to lead the Devil's pack for eternity. Some Victorian legends suggest that the Gabriel Hounds are actually the souls of unbaptized children, who cannot go to Heaven but are not condemned to Hell Everlasting, so they hover between the two.

In the case of Brook Manor and Richard Capel, the story has a postscript. Capel didn't get a church burial. His tomb was not far from the manor house, and had an iron grill over the entrance. It was said by the children of the parish that, if you marched counterclockwise around the tomb the correct number of times and stuck your fingers through the grill, Capel would come up and nibble your fingers. Why that was considered fun is a question best left to antiquity.

Brook Manor still exists in the present day, and if you have a spare few million you too can live in a Grade II listed ten bedroom manor house

So let's gamify this.

Devil dogs and Gabriel Hounds could easily be linked to the Hound-Lich, said to have its origins in the corpse-eating cults which dwell at Leng. However if the Gabriel tales are true, then the Hound-Lich isn't really a creature of Leng at all; its ghastly territory extends much further than that, and may not be linked either physically or spiritually to those fabled amulets of jade.

Church carvings come in all shapes and sizes, and the misericords of Grinling Gibbons are famous, but hounds often appear in stone form across the British Isles. Suppose for a moment that each of these markings is a warning, or possibly an indicator, that a Hound-Lich is nearby? Those strange and terrible demons found in church after church could be an attempt to capture the fluid essence of the Hound-Lich, neither corpse nor dog nor winged ghoul, but a combination of them all. Given the known links between the Hound-Lich and ghouls, the carvings could also be an attempt to warn people ghouls are nearby, or haunt the local churchyard.  

Typically the Hound-Lich stalks and kills those who steal its amulet, almost certainly from some forgotten, damned burial chamber. All of this comes courtesy of the 1922 Lovecraft short story The Hound, which isn't much different from the Howard Carter-ish Mummy's Curse. He who disturbs this tomb shall pay the penalty … 

All of which is very Pulp. However if your game is Purist then the whole idea of spectral tomb guardians may be unhelpful, particularly since the Leng name-drop is just so much excess baggage in the original story. Sure, it comes from Leng. If it came from Cleveland, Ohio it'd still be a slavering killing machine, but Leng's a better postcode. It has that Addams Family vibe.

That said, The Hound does have several markers that are close to, if not identical to, the Gabriel Hound story: the howling, the persecution of its victims, the presence/close proximity of the walking dead. The two big differences are the corpse-eating, and the strong inference that those killed by one might turn into one.

Suppose the Gabriel Hound was a Hound-Lich. What, then, do the legends signify?

Well, the spectral hounds forecast death, and they seem to be linked to certain spots - like Brook Manor. They might pursue a particular family for centuries, always appearing whenever one of them is close to death. So they're either linked to a place, or to a bloodline.

The bloodline bit fits neatly with the Bad Luck and In the Blood drives. Some people attract these things. Perhaps it's the star they were born under, or the ghastly taint flowing in their veins. Whatever the reason, put someone like that in proximity to the Gabriel Hounds' hunting grounds, and watch the sparks fly. Of course, to find out where those are you want to carry out a little Library Use or Cthulhu Mythos research, and keep an eye out for unusual stone carvings in old churches. In the case of In the Blood, it might also explain why your forbears were so keen to leave, say, Devon. Perhaps you're related, however distantly, to poor Capel, whose sins were not so black as history records, but whose blood proved irresistible to the Gabriel Hounds.

The location idea suggests a link to Magic, in some way. The Rough Magicks book gives several different paths to magic, from Elder Thing bio-tech to Dreamlands holdover to perceptual gravity. The key is, the source of magic, whatever it may be, is also the source of the Hound Lich. It gravitates to magical places, but cannot pass through them to its home dimension. Hence the howling, and all those stories about spectral guardians. The Hound-Lich isn't that fussed one way or the other about people, but it's perpetually frustrated and angry, so when it does find someone  on whom to take out all that rage … well, it usually doesn't end well for the someone.

Of course, Britain and folk magic go together like peanut butter and slavering hell-beasts from alternate dimensions. All those standing stones, ley lines, pagan sites, mystic wells, pilgrim's paths and peculiar rituals … Pick a hill or desolate moor, and chances are there's some kind of link with an ancient and malevolent past.

In the original story, the jade amulet serves as a kind of phylactery. It embodies the Hound-Lich in some way; remove the amulet, anger (and summon) the Hound. For this version, assume that there are several ways to create a phylactery, and it doesn't have to be jade or any particular material. That peculiar carving above the church door, on the tomb at Brook Manor, or even on the gate pillars of the old mansion, is the actual phylactery. Someone was clearly trying to create a means of disposal, or at least to anchor the Hound Lich in one place so it couldn't go roaming the countryside looking for victims. Wherever that marker is, so too is the Hound Lich - beware!

Perhaps there's some way to use the phylactery to defeat the Hound, but if so, that method is lost to time. Some crumbling grimoire, or some dangerous experimentation in the field, is needed to decipher the secret.

In Bookhounds, the secret of the Gabriel Hound can be found in some obscure, potentially Mythos-significant text. The client who wants it is either a Baskerville clone who wants to get rid of the family curse, or a necromancer who wants to use a Hound Lich for her own purposes. The Bookhounds search far and wide for the book that will explain everything, possibly because, if they don't find it, the Hound will come for them.

In Dracula Dossier, the Gabriel Hound could be Edom's early, abortive attempt to use supernatural means to destroy England's enemies. At least vampires are intelligent, and can be reasoned with. Gabriel Hounds are insane wights which kill anything they fancy. That's probably why Edom dropped the idea, but the sad story of this early experiment can still be found in some forgotten card file.

Alternatively a Gabriel Hound could be an indicator of vampire activity; the Hounds follow the undead, baying in their wake. This probably only works in certain locations, like Brook Manor, where the Hounds are known to congregate. The howls could be an early warning system for vampire-savvy locals, or the Hounds might attack vampires on sight. The occasional human Hound victim is an acceptable price to pay, for that kind of security.

This probably works best in a Supernatural or Damned game, especially with a Mythos tinge, but there's a lot of potential for other vampire types. The alien stone from the main book works well here. Just what are those fabled amulets made of, and why are they always buried in the cold, dark earth?


Sunday, 9 June 2019

Bookhounds of London: Customers

So who's trip-trapping on your bridge?

I'm running Bookhounds again, and the Dragon's Eye is the latest bookstore to open up on the edges of Soho. I'm drawing on some old Victorian scenarios for inspiration, on the grounds that whoever was knocking around in 1890 is probably still knocking around in 1930, only with longer beards and greyer hair. Those old favorites The Golden Dawn (Pagan Publishing) and Dark Designs are getting an airing, because the players want Arabesque with a hint of Arthurian lore, and both those books have that in spades.

So far the player with the Bad Luck drive is being very accommodating … I may have to design some kind of Keeper's Award for Most Willing to Cripple Self.

As is often the case, I have some notes I intend to recycle for the campaign, and while I'm not about to post anything the players might get an advantage from were they to see it, I thought you might find these customer notes useful. None of these are intended to be campaign-altering NPCs, but they may be handy if, like me, you need someone to step in on the fly.

Stuart Phillips-Rouse

Category: Client

Physical: Neat, trim build, with the proportions of a trained dancer. He always wears a suit and a Regimental Guards tie. He smokes French cigarettes, a habit that he says he picked up in the War. He may be in his forties, but it’s a very well preserved forties. He is clean shaven, dark haired, with no scars or distinguishing features.

Location: His London offices are at Tottenham Court. He has a ‘place out in the country’, a cottage in Metro-land. He works as an independent financial advisor, and has a reasonable (if not luxurious) income from a number of middle-class clients. He has two staff, Evelyn Smythe (office manager) and Parker Noyes (clerk and general dogsbody). He wears no wedding ring.

Interests: Spiritualism and ghosts. He can be sold almost anything on those topics, and seems to be an indiscriminating client. However he has recently become very interested in getting a copy of the King In Yellow, a text that he has heard about from a fellow collector.
Credit Rating: 4

Richard Middlemark

Physical: Tall, imposing, with a shock of thick white hair. He has a fondness for Victoriana, and this extends to his dress sense. He is rarely without his cane, a thick (reinforced metal) mahogany stick with a faun’s head carved into the grip. He wears glasses most of the time, though he only needs them for reading. He has a neat, short beard, which covers over a two inch scar on his chin and neck.

Location: He works as a curator for the National Portrait Gallery; his knowledge of pre-Raphaelite painters is unparalleled.  His home is in Greenwich.

Interests: He is particularly keen on Golden Dawn ephemera, and will be interested in anything to do with Enochian magic.

Credit Rating: 4
Theodora Eks

Physical: Short, red hair, clipped close and slicked down. She has pale porcelain skin and bright blue eyes. She usually wears trousers and men’s open collar shirts. She always wears a wedding ring (though she never talks about her husband) and a peculiar gold necklace with an odd Oriental pendant (Mythos: an emblem of the Lloligor). She has been a painter’s model in her time, and still has a graceful, full-bodied figure.

Location: No-one has seen her home, but she can usually be found in Soho, especially at night.

Interests: She is fascinated by pagan Gods and rituals, particularly river Gods, and is a knowledgeable medievalist. She will be interested in anything to do with ‘the dragon-gods of the ancients’ [lloligor]. She keeps a ritual temple in the basement of an otherwise ‘abandoned’ house in North London, where she conducts magic ceremonies and sacrifices.

Credit Rating: 6
Patricia Li

Physical: Medium height, thick bodied, with ink-black hair. She usually wears far too much makeup, which makes her appear as though she’s ten years older than she is. She often wears Parisian fashions, of the very latest type, and, though they look dreadful on her, her taste is impeccable. She keeps a poodle, Alphonse, who travels with her everywhere. Though she neither smokes nor drinks, she does take laudanum (on the quiet).

Location: She owns two counting-houses in Chinatown, and is a very well known moneylender in Chinese circles. Her father was as well; she inherited the business. According to gossip, it was Patricia’s mother who actually ran the counting-houses, while the father was a figurehead. When not at either of her businesses, she can usually be found in a gambling club. She is often away, in Paris. Rumor has it that she is connected to the Tongs in some way, but it seems unlikely on the face of it that the Tongs would tolerate a woman in a position of authority. However she does have a number of well-bred young men on her payroll with a peculiar talent for violence.

Interests: She is fascinated by the life and works of von Juntz, and will consider purchasing anything by that author. She collects anything to do with von Juntz – clothing, scraps of hair, portraits, furniture he used to own – and is undiscriminating. She has a room in her house entirely devoted to von Juntz.

Credit Rating: 8
Any of these characters could become important to a scenario, either as the main antagonist or as some kind of patron/source of information. Theodora and Patricia are both fabulously wealthy, the kind of client any Bookstore would want to cultivate, but the characters may want to proceed with caution. Do they really want to get too close to Lloligor-loving Theodora? Is Patricia all that she seems?

Given that my campaign is likely to involve the remnants of the Golden Dawn in some way, Richard Middlemark will be my go-to, at least to start with. After that, who knows where the future may lead?


Sunday, 2 June 2019

Not Quite Book Review Corner: The Abombinable Mr Seabrook

The Abominable Mr Seabrook, Drawn & Quarterly 2017, Joe Ollmann.

William Seabrook ought to be one of the most famous names in horror. This American pre-gonzo gonzo author and adventurer only went and invented the freakin' zombie; if that isn't an iron-clad claim to fame, what is?

Yet he's largely forgotten by modern audiences. My copy of the Magic Island, Seabrook's Haiti reminiscence, is an Armchair Traveller 1989 reprint of the 1929 original, and for a while there, unless you haunted antiquarian bookstores, this was your only option. There have been reprints since, thank goodness.

In his day, Seabrook was one of the most famous popular authors going - exactly the kind of author, in fact, whose work might be found on the shelves of your Bookhounds' shop. He went to Africa to live among the cannibals, Arabia to see the Bedouins, Haiti to discover the secrets of voodoo, and the asylum to find out what it was like to recover from chronic alcoholism.

That was his besetting sin. Seabrook was a lifelong alcoholic. He spent his entire career drinking across the planet, stopping in now and again to turn out very readable copy. He learned the trick by working for Hearst's papers, and despite everything he never really lost it.

He did his best to lose everything else. Never a contented man, his trick is to find his way into what he thinks is happiness - whether it be tramping across Europe, almost penniless, to owning his own cotton farm, or being partner in a successful ad agency in the 1920s - and promptly throw it away, in search of more happiness. He married three times, and each time it ended badly, though his first marriage was probably the most successful.

His trip to Arabia, in 1924, was a spectacular success, and gave him material for his first big international smash hit, Adventures in Arabia: among the Bedouins, Druses, Whirling Dervishes and Yezidee Devil Worshipers, published in 1927. It gave him the credibility and funds to go to Haiti, where he found inspiration for his Magic Island, published 1929.

That was the very first time anyone saw, and described, the zombie. A creation of Haitian magic, Seabrook said the animated dead man resembled a lobotomy patient, animate, yet incapable of thought. This idea was later turned into the main plot for White Zombie, a poverty row horror quickie that caught fire largely thanks to Bela Lugosi's performance as 'Murder' Legendre.

This is one of the few times a traditional zombie, as described by Seabrook, appeared on screen. Haiti's merely a backdrop here, voodoo barely mentioned. It's Transylvania-by-the-sea, with a plot that doesn't bear close examination. Magic was dropped from zombie lore in later films, starting with White Zombie's sequel, Revolt of the Zombies. In that film zombies are created by means of a secret formula, not the end result of a particular religious ritual; part Lugosi-style hypnotic magic, part alchemical science. Soon zombies became creatures of mad science, cooked up by lunatics and Nazis for unholy purposes. Then George Romero and his investor friends make Night of the Living Dead in 1968, another poverty row quickie, made for gore-loving drive-in audiences. The word zombie isn't even used in the film; to the terrified cross-section of Americana trapped in a deserted farmhouse, the approaching dead are flesh-eating ghouls. That didn't matter. Nobody really cared where zombies came from any more. Night hints at a scientific explanation, blaming strange radiation scattered by a rogue Venus probe, but explanations weren't necessary. Zombies roamed. They ate the flesh of the people they murdered. They could be killed by a shot in the head, nothing else. That was all anyone needed to know.

Speaking personally, while I admire Seabrook as an author, I've always distrusted him as a historian. His stories are just too sensational, too gonzo, too perfect. The Magic Island is a case in point. Seabrook sees everything and tells all, each story more incredible than the last. The zombie story isn't even the most outrageous tale in the book; my personal favorite is the wedding feast, but the account of an actual voodoo ceremony complete with 'human sacrifice' is another strong contender. He's a ballyhoo author to his core, going to sensational places and emerging with even-more-sensational stories. Can the man who gets paid for churning out colorful stories be trusted to tell the truth?

The thing is, Seabrook's the first. Nobody knows what a zombie is, before he sees one and tells the world. What if he was lying? Or exaggerating?

What if there were no zombies, before Seabrook made them up?

That would make Seabrook the inventor of possibly the only truly American horror icon. Vampires, werewolves, mummies, ghosts, Mister Hyde, the Frankenstein monster - they all come from other sources, often European. If Seabrook exaggerated, if the zombie came from his imagination and a healthy dose of white rum … Nobody questioned him. It was taken on faith that Seabrook knew what he was talking about. In his wake came a teeming host of quasi-anthropologists, folklorists, adventurers, looking for voodoo, looking for excitement, looking for monsters. The Haitians knew how to milk credulous foreigners for everything they could get …

Joe Ollermann takes the reader on a guided tour of a colossal, life-long, booze-filled cock-up. Seabrook slowly destroys himself, and his talent, page by page. His sexual appetites, his love of adventure and corn liquor, his peerless imagination, sensationalism and bravado, all combine to create a disaster that some writers would give their soul to emulate. Make no mistake, Seabrook was the man to beat, in his heyday.

In the end, he beat himself. There are few moments more harrowing than the first pages of this novel, showing Seabrook at his worst, almost entirely destroyed, drinking his way across New York. He's on the brink of suicide - but can he pull himself out of the pit, for his ex-wife and young son, if for no other reason?

Image taken from the Guardian book review.

So, why should you pick this up?

First, if you have any love for the 1920s-1930s, this is the book for you. Seabrook saw and did everything, and knew pretty much everyone, from Maya Deren and Man Ray to Aleister Crowley and Theodore Drieser. It's a slice of history, from start to finish.

Second, if you're a Keeper looking for a useful patron, walk-in NPC or similar, William Seabrook's your boy. He's seen Timbuctoo and Brooklyn too. He'd fit in Masks of Nyarlathotep, Horror on the Orient Express or any of the classic stuff. Moreover, as hinted, he'd make an excellent walk-in for a Bookhounds campaign. Or a Dreamhounds campaign, for that matter, given his links with prominent surrealists and his travels to Paris in its bohemian heyday.

Third - well, it's a tragedy. We should remember our tragedies. For all his faults - and God knows there were many - there's something compelling about this poor soul's life. He spirals into a self-destructive black hole with, seemingly, no chance of redemption, and all you can think is, it could have been stopped. But would Seabrook have been happy if it had?

Finally, if you write, and you've wondered if it's worth it, if it can be good - read this book. Here's a man who knew success and disgrace, money and poverty. See if he has anything to tell you.