I approached Shroud Publishing’s new book series with both excitement and trepidation. I usually don’t count myself a fan of single character episodic fiction, and add to that that Hiram appeared at first glance to fit into the paranormal mystery subgenre and I was a bit leery.
I’m very glad that I gave this series a chance and picked up the just-released first book Hiram Grange & The Village of the Damned by Jake Burrows because boy were my fears unfounded.
Hiram is a fun pulp hero who is both modern-day scumbag and throw-back scoundrel. Grange has the body of Ichabod Crane, the mind and wit of Marlowe (not to mention Hiram’s mind has sustained even more alcohol damage), carries an antique six shooter (which only holds five rounds, for sentimental reasons) and favors the substance abuse of a Victorian era Dandy.
With Village Burrows is charged with a difficult task: creating a first adventure that is not bogged down by too much exposition. In this respect the book is a resounding success as Burrows does not opt to go with the boring “origin story” structure. He instead introduces Hiram as already fully formed and established and proceeds to introduce some critical character development in the form of flashbacks. Glimpses at Hiram’s parents and past tragedies tell the reader just enough to intrigue but not enough to bore.
All Burrow’s hard work in establishing our hero would be for naught if the supporting cast wasn’t up to the task, but luckily Hiram’s rouges gallery is. The “big bad” for this novel is a reanimated, sledgehammer-wielding Church lady carrying out (with the aid of her husband’s collection of possessed lawn gnomes) a supernatural vendetta against her neighbors. The delightfully over-the-top kills are based on the biblical plagues and are both disgusting and funny (which, like the divide between serious and comedic, is a line the book toes well throughout) .
The only real problem with the book is how quickly it’s all over. The reader will flip to the last page and be tantalized with a list of further adventures but none of them are out yet. The end of the book hints at a larger mythology and (possibly?) an arch-nemesis for Hiram. One can’t help but wait with baited breath, but still harbor the fear/hope that subsequent authors (each of the five planned books has a different author) will be up to the task of preserving Hiram’s unique voice while not completely parroting Burrow’s style.
Also worthy of mention are the fantastic illustrations provided by Malcolm McClinton and Shroud’s own Danny Evarts. They add subtle extra flavor to the text and are used sparingly enough that they don’t turn it into a picture book.
Both the time and financial commitment are minimal so what do you have to lose? Hiram’s first case is a bizarre, grief-stricken, slime-oozing, Jodie-Foster-obsessed, gnome-smashing, absinthe-soaked, funny and thrilling ride. I highly encourage you to pick up a copy.