Irish author Gerard Brennan’s FIREPROOF is described as “equal parts crime fiction, dark urban fantasy and black comedy.” Not having read any of Brennan’s previous work – though his WEE ROCKETS seems to have garnered a lot of critical attention – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I know that Brennan is mainly known as a writer of gritty crime fiction, and there’s certainly plenty of that here. But this is also a darkly comedic supernatural horror novel.
Mild plot spoilers follow.
Mike Rocks was not an altogether bad guy – he’s extremely funny and charismatic after all – but he did some bad things when he was alive. Now that he’s dead he’s found himself in Hell and being tormented by demons. Mike’s a quick-talking kind of guy and he works a deal with Satan for a chance to get out of Hell: all he has to do is create a mass movement on Earth that will make Satan popular. No problem, right? Mike’s not quite sure how he’ll manage to pull that off, but he figures he might as well give it his best shot. He does, however, also have some unfinished business to take care of. Now that he’s back on the mean streets of modern-day Belfast, he wants to get revenge on the thugs who killed him. Along the way, Mike meets a girl named Cathy who falls for him. She’s got some issues of her own, though: while she’s a sweet social worker, she also wants to become a contract killer. Mike founds the True Church of Satan on Earth, enlisting an unlikely blend of street thugs, goth kids, and various rebels and thrillseekers. He’s got to keep his infernal master happy while pursuing his own agenda, and maybe – just maybe – finding a way to not have to return to Hell.
Characterization is clearly one of Brennan’s strengths, and the demons we encounter (Lucifer, Cerebus the multi-headed hellhound of mythological fame, an especially annoying imp, etc.) are all especially entertaining. I should note that there’s plenty of violence in FIREPROOF – this certainly isn’t just a humor-filled look at the afterlife – including some scenes of fairly gruesome torture. Fans of crime fiction and horror won’t be disappointed on that score. But this isn’t an unrelentingly dark novel; there’s plenty of room for humor, and yes, redemption as well. It’s got a quick-moving, humorous plot that I could easily see filmed as a dark comedy along the lines of Little Nicky or Bedazzled.
FIREPROOF fills an odd niche: it’s got brutal violence, street criminals and low lives, overt supernatural happenings, and dark comedy. I don’t know that I can name a single other book that’s got all that. I enjoyed FIREPROOF. The plot zips right along, the characters are interesting, the dialogue fast and natural-sounding. Recommended for those who like some comedy with their horror/crime thrillers.
Review copyright © 2012 J. Andrew Byers