One of the great things about the work of A. Lee Martinez, especially in today’s genre literary world, is that the only thing which connects book to book is that they are all by A. Lee Martinez. This is incredibly unique in a landscape filled with countless series and sequels and prequels and interlocking, shared-universe storytelling which also means two other things: 1) every book requires understanding the particular set of rules inherent and 2) it’s going to be a bit more hit and miss.
This book, which centers around a woman named Diana who stumbles upon an apartment too good to be true, tends to fall slightly more into the “miss” category for me (still good, just not as good). The reason it’s too good to be true is that along with the apartment comes a set of rules, one of which is “Don’t open the closet.” Of course, in the closet is Vom the Hungering, a monster from another dimension. Diana’s job, upon acceptance of the flat, is to be Vom’s warden and make sure he doesn’t leave the closet in which he is imprisoned. Naturally, it doesn’t take long before the closet door is open and Vom, in all his ravishing, fur covered glory, comes out.
Except Vom isn’t really that scary and he and Diana strike a truce with relative ease. This leaves something else to fulfill the “conflict” portion of the novel, since you need that to move the plot forward. In this case, the conflict is the Norwegian god Fenris who is trying to eat the moon and bring about Ragnarok, the Norse mythology version of the end of the world. There’s also a cult to help facilitate this armageddon, more monsters, the girlfriend of the human aspect of Fenris, other residents of the apartment building who have their own entities to be wary of and a superintendent who makes Schneider look mostly competent.
And then there’s various treatise on the states of reality and religion and what it all means… and for me, this is where Martinez gets a bit bogged down. In most of his other books, at least the ones I’ve read, the story comes first. Monster may be an exception but in general, they’re more about the adventure and the message is inferred rather than discussed. Here, it’s blatant. The last chapter actually spells out at least one of the things we’re supposed to takeaway from the book in terms of “What It’s About (all capital letters).” Not horrible, but a little too “on the nose” for my tastes.
Or maybe he didn’t go far enough. The doomsday cult, led by the obnoxious Greg, never really gets fleshed out to any degree, leaving us to ponder why anyone would join a group hoping for the end of the world. While I know these groups exist, might be fun to get inside their head for a bit and if not give us practical answers, at least make up a few which could be entertaining. Martinez has done that before. In The Automatic Detective and Emperor Mollusk, his protagonists are not human, but he still gets inside their heads and let’s us peek into a completely different mindset. Maybe if he’d done that here, it wouldn’t feel so much like a lesson we have to learn but a journey on which we’ve been invited along.