Death. The most mortifying of subjects, the final rodeo, ultimate loss of self and identity. The end. For most of us it’s a terrifying concept, one that fills us with dread and we consciously turn away from it when thoughts of it come to root in our minds.
For Gonzalo, it’s business as usual.
Raised in the graveyard with only the mouldering corpses and his monstrous parents for company, Gonzalo has spent his life longing for one thing above all others: freedom. From his parents, from the mortuary, from the graveyard. But despite several attempts, he has never been able to escape and even after the death of his family he finds himself trapped, completely incapable of ever living a normal life beyond the crumbling headstones and the rotting dead. As an adult, still bound by his unseen tethers, the unthinkable happens. He impregnates the very dead but ambulant Fiona and soon finds himself the hapless father of a half-corpse child named Frank. Wanting to give the child the normal life he never had, he begins the attempt to prepare him for society beyond the bounds of of the cemetery walls, in the process running the risk of becoming the very monster he despises and has spent his own life trying to flee.
The Mortuary Monster is imbued with so many high-notes it’s difficult to know both where to start and just how much to include within the limited space of this venue. I could go on for page after page fawning over the qualities of this wonderful read but it is the nature of the blogosphere that you begin to shed readers like fleas after a bath beyond a thousand words, so let me point out a few of the exemplary qualities that make this book special and leave you to make your own determination from there. One of the first things that really jumps out about this work is atmosphere. Andrew J. Stone paints on a bleakly phantasmagoric canvas, building his sets and drawing his scenery with the alacrity and vivid imagery of a master surrealist. Couple this with his mesmerising voice and more than adept dialogue and you find yourself embroiled in a work that’s both edgy and poetic. Then mix in his adroit grasp of character development and what you have is nothing short of mindblowing.
There are many elements that come together to make up a good story, all of them important, chiefly among them being plot, dialogue, setting, and pacing, and Stone is adept with all of them. But none are so important as character. It’s the one element that can make or break a storyline quicker than any other. And it’s here that the author really exhibits his shine. In The Mortuary Monster he presents us with a cast of players, both living and dead, that truly carry us into and through the story. We find ourselves sincerely caring about them, laughing with them, crying with them, raging with them. Gonzalo is a seriously messed up, intensely sympathetic person, both achingly human and shockingly monstrous, and the whole tale is really an in-depth, highly successful character study centered around this one individual. His musings and ravings, his interactions with the other people in the story, and his tendency to sometimes sink into languorous self-abasement all come together to bear the weight of the book and really make it something both special and memorable.
I think it’s important to note that, while this book is billed as bizarro, and while that’s certainly a valid categorization to some extent, the distinction fails to do it the justice it deserves. Because it’s so incredibly much more than that. It’s a sensual fantasy horror trip with flavorings of Burtonesque surrealism, and more than a dash of Lynchian absurdity thrown in. Gonzalo is a delightfully complex character for one in a story that on its surface seems so simple and light-hearted. But light-hearted though it may seem, it packs a heavy-duty rush of raw, visceral emotion that you won’t soon forget. With The Mortuary Monster Andrew J. Stone demonstrates a scope of vision and imagination I’ve not seen often in any genre, delivering an oddly heartfelt and magical literary gut-punch that you won’t see coming and that will leave you reeling. Reading like a cult-classic cross between Nightbreed and Cemetery Man, this short debut novel has made of Stone a go-to author for me and it likely will for you too. If you haven’t read it, don’t walk, run, no, don’t merely run, dash to your favorite purveyor of quality horror fiction and grab yourself a copy of this darkly charming novel from the gorgeous mind of a brilliant new author who promises to be a fan favorite for years to come.