A God In The Shed
Written by J-F. Dubeau
Published by Inkshares (June 2017)
Trade paperback, 417 pages
Land of poutine, unfailing politeness – and at least one immortal shadow being decorating its lair with entrails and blood.
J-F. Dubeau’s novel A God in the Shed sets a generation-spanning supernatural evil in the remote Canadian village of Saint-Ferdinand, a small town with the highest unsolved homicide rate in Quebec. As the story unfolds readers discover the forces, both human and supernatural, that’ve made Saint-Ferdinand into Twin Peaks North.
The comparison to Twin Peaks, especially the second season of the original series run, is apt. Like Peaks, AGitS uses murder, of the most deliberate and grotesque kind, to uncover the dark secrets behind a pleasant community facade. Like Peaks, it uses those murders to go down a dark path into the realms of magic and horror underneath the everyday world.
After a prologue setting up the supernatural origins of the “curse” on the town, the story proper begins with police inspector Stephen Crowley finally catching “The Saint-Ferninand Killer” after decades of unsolved murders and disappearances. Although we soon learn why the Murder Hamlet of Canada has remained under the radar for decades. (Spoiler Alert – naming your main character Crowley is like a blinking neon sign saying Don’t Trust Me! to any fan of horror and/or the television show Supernatural.)
As the investigation into the Killer case unfolds, young Venus McKenzie joins with Inspector Crowley’s son Stephen on their own journey. Like the (not so) innocent younsters in David Lynch’s other portrait of small town rot (Blue Velvet), Venus and Stephen discover the cesspool of supernatural evil supporting Saint-Ferdinand, along with the numerous secret cabals either trying to suppress it or use it for their own ends.
And unfortunately, A God in the Shed also reminded me of Twin Peaks (and David Lynch) in its ability to provoke simultaneous reactions of awe at the author’s imagination mixed with frustration at some of the storytelling choices.
Once I started reading, I had to keep going to see what the heck would happen next. But throughout the book I’d also feel frustrated, taken out of the world of the story because of points that didn’t make sense to me. Most frustrating to me were the interesting tidbits tossed out without (I felt) enough development or explanation.
Two examples (with mild spoilers):
~ Village doctor Randy McKenzie (uncle to Venus), generally creepy as all get out from his first appearance, casually recalls working “with the dead for many years … He had even reainimated a few corpses for a short time.” WAIT? WHAT? Slow your roll, Dr. Frankenstein! Don’t just toss out that bit of information then move on. We never learn more about THAT little sidelight.
~ At various points in the tale, long lost but essential family members and residents of Saint-Ferdinand return. The most important of these being Nathaniel Cicero, ringmaster of a decrepit yet alluring circus. Nathaniel and his troop play an essential role in the finale. I wish we’d seen more of them and their relationships, and that they’d were more integrated into the story from the beginning (including the fortuneteller whose unknown yet major family relationship is only revealed on the last few pages).
Even with these issues, the meat & bones of A God in the Shed was strong enough to keep me reading til the end. And Dubeau possess a great gift for images that reminds me of Clive Barker – vivid imagery combing the best of the beautiful and worst of the grotesque. Shortly before her death, a woman encounters the source the town’s curse. “Careful inspection of the beautiful cape of bones and organs it wore revealed the disassembled bodies of a teenager and her husband … Where one finished and the other began was impossible to tell … The horrifying garment subtly writhed and twitched, suggesting that not all its elements had been allowed to die.”
A God in the Shed ends with a temporary truce crying out for a sequel. It’ll be interesting to see what direction Dubeau takes this tale.