One is a businesswoman navigating the male-dominated world of the Staten Island landfill system. She is respected, if not entirely understood, by her peers.
The other is a businesswoman, too; she’s also a den mother of sorts, fighting hard for a group of girls who see her as protector and savior. Under her guidance, they navigate the flesh-for-cash trade of New York’s 42nd Street. She is both respected and feared by her peers.
One of these women is deeply, dangerously insane.
Preston Fassel’s Our Lady of the Inferno is the first offering from the new “Fangoria Presents” line of horror novels. In a letter to early readers, Fassel says his book is “the New Wave nightmare I hoped to find in a dusty plastic case on the bottom shelf at Hollywood Video.” Taken together, the book’s pedigree and the author’s intent might lead you to expect a gore-drenched slasher novel filled with disposable characters, its pages propped up with increasingly inventive kills. Hey, there’s nothing wrong that, and if that’s what Our Lady of the Inferno had turned out to be, I would have likely enjoyed it and reviewed it favorably. Instead, Fassel and Fangoria have delivered something far better — a delicious piece of grindhouse literature stocked with strong characters, a vivid sense of place, and real, raw emotion.
I’m not going to give away much of the story, including which of our two main characters — Nicolette, the landfill lady, or Ginny, the daytime queen of 42nd Street — is insane. That’s a revelation that Fassel makes early on, and the understated way in which he executes it sets the tone for his approach to the story as a whole. For Fassel, it’s not about the destination of the inevitable showdown between these two women. Instead, it’s about making the journey as rich as possible; about making sure readers have invested in both of these women and in the characters around them so that the payoff will resonate long after the book is closed.
Fassel does a tremendous job of creating, or recreating, the seedy, gritty feel of early 1980s New York. For the duration of this book you’ll inhabit sketchy movie theaters, crammed comic shops, and rundown hotels. You’ll feel for wide-eyed young girls who barely make it off the bus before they’re convinced that selling their bodies is the best chance they have to survive. You’ll experience every bit of anger and sadness and frustration and fear that Fassel drags his characters through…and then, because he’s so good at it, you’ll ask for more.
Our Lady of the Inferno sets the bar high for both Fassel and “Fangoria Presents.” It’s a tremendous achievement, a book the horror community can and should proudly embrace as its own.