Just in time for the full moon falling on Halloween — the celestial alignment that drives the book’s plot, I re-read A Night in the Lonesome October. Everything I wrote about it last time holds true: it’s a romp, a hoot, a love letter to classics of Halloween and suspense, a master storyteller having fun with many different tales with no higher purpose than the joy of telling a very tall one.
It’s less a shaggy-dog story than a dog-and-cat story; Zelazny takes the watchdog Snuff as his narrator, and Snuff strikes up an unlikely friendship with Graymalk, a witch’s cat. Snuff and his master Jack, whose ripping appellation is never stated but implied throughout, are players in a Game of very high stakes. If their opponents succeed, the Elder Gods of Lovecraft’s pantheon will return to the earth and remake the world to their liking. Part of the challenge is that until the end of the Game none of the players can be sure of who is on which side, or indeed of who is playing at all.
When such a Game is afoot near London in the late 19th century, can the Great Detective be far behind? Indeed he is not, and while he seeks to unravel the secrets around him, he is hiding at least one of his own. There are probably more minor characters that I should have recognized from elsewhere, though this time through I think I spotted an American werewolf in London that I hadn’t noted before. I also enjoyed the interplay among the players’ familiars more this time than last, although Snuff showing Graymalk the Things in the Mirrors is probably still my favorite laugh-out-loud moment.
I had forgotten some of the twists and some of the puns, and was glad to be reminded of both. Zelazny’s descriptions of the Count’s doings make me sorry he didn’t write a full-length vampire novel. Terry Pratchett did better with the Igors, but Zelazny’s version is pretty good, and his depiction of the Good Doctor’s monster is sympathetic and note-perfect from a dog’s point of view.
In short, it’s a terrific book to revisit and even better to read for the first time. And if such a Game is happening tonight, you’ve probably still got enough time to get through it before things come to a head.