Tom Holbrook’s goal in life is simple: find and kill his old college friend John Atwater, the man who first married and then killed Tom’s college crush Shasta. The only problem is that John Atwater is already dead, but even this won’t stop Tom’s mission of revenge. He knows there are ways and means to enter the afterlife, and after meeting the occultist Martinez and having his head blown open by a shotgun, his goal in death will be the eradication of John Atwater from a shadow half-world. Purgatory, they call it, lacking knowledge of its true name; a halfway house for the shattered spirits that cannot progress further into the afterlife. Tom knows that John is there, he just needs to find him… but his quest through the surreal landscape will reveal some staggering secrets, changing him forever.
I first encountered Tim Powers through his masterful Anubis Gates, and have been a fan of his vivid imagination ever since. I must say that his novellas (like this one) can lack the depth and scope of his longer works, but are satisfying tales from his unique, unbridled creativity. Down and Out in Purgatory works as a cross between a neo-noir and a horror story, with Tom descending into a bizarro dimension where nothing is as it seems, a place where crazed spirits occupy a hallucinatory landscape. The reality and physics of this purgatory are quite malleable, yet adhere to their own logic—a fact that dovetails into the ending, which transcends the expected conclusion to the love triangle tragedy, instead opting for something stranger and more interesting. Powers’ stripped-down, minimalist prose keeps the story moving at a fast pace, exploring human themes of isolation and vengeance. Most of all, it’s an odd portrait of purgatory, shrouded in a dreamlike haze.
Down and Out in Purgatory is a short, strange read; it’s only 120 pages, a strange blend of fantasy, horror, and gumshoe pulp in an equally strange world. The imagery and world-building are phenomenal, and Tom’s metamorphosis as a character is an interesting arc to follow. This may not be Powers’ most important works, but it’s a great read that should appeal to fantasy fans looking for a fast read that’s out of the ordinary. Tim Powers’ strengths continue to be his elegant writing and the phantasmagoric worlds his seemingly limitless imagination creates, and Down and Out in Purgatory is another solid entry in his oeuvre.
Title: Down and Out in Purgatory
Author: Tim Powers
First Published Date: June 2016
What I Read: ebook (Subterranean Presss)
Price I Paid: $0 (e-ARC via the publisher and NetGalley)
MSRP: $30 LE hardcover / $4.99 ebook
ISBN/ASIN: 978-1596067813 / B01EO8D5KU