There’s the horror of a vampire baring fangs in the supermarket, or a werewolf crashing the prom, and then there’s the horror of a city of endless slanted buildings and shadows. The former creates fear out of contrasting abnormality with routine—readers can relate to the familiar, so when something awful invades familiar places, it becomes far more difficult to dismiss. But the latter horror forgoes normality entirely. Novels like Brian Evenson’s Last Days throw out a handful of recognizable touchstones, but they really trade in the language of nightmares, and how little sense that language makes in the daylight.
Evenson’s protagonist, Kline, used to do undercover work for the police, but his last case went poorly; the suspect wound up dead, and Kline lost a hand and anything resembling peace of mind. But while the world may consider him a cripple, his missing appendage makes him perfectly suited to the needs of a religious group with very particular entrance requirements. After being forcibly recruited by a pair of low-level cultists, Kline is asked to solve the murder of a limbless saint who might not actually be dead. The faithful believe in the sanctity of dismemberment, and if Kline wants the truth, he may have to give up a few more limbs to find it. And then Paul shows up, and things get really complicated.
The first section of Last Days, “The Brotherhood Of Mutilation,” was originally published in 2003 as a novella, and it shows. The novel’s second section initially feels like an afterthought; when it arrives at its ultimate destination, it manages to justify its existence without completely making up for the bumps in the road. At its best, Days is a grim, darkly hilarious riff on blind obedience and pointless self-sacrifice, often reading like the twisted offspring of Raymond Chandler and David Cronenberg. It isn’t for the faint of heart, and those expecting a more conventional narrative—i.e. one that answers the questions it raises, and reaches a clear resolution by the final page—should probably stay away. But for the adventurous, it’s a dark treat: a detective story where the hero becomes more unmanned with every mystery solved.