Not Print, No Problem: Nightjack By Tom Piccirilli

I’ve had a Kindle since the second generation model was released almost two years ago now. I’ve mentioned my undying allegiance to the amazon corporation in posts before, so that’s not really news. Two days ago my friend bought a Kindle 3, he carries it around in a Ziploc baggie (because he hasn’t settled on a case yet) but that’s not the point. The point is that ebooks, to quote the seminal film Class of 1984: “are the future.”

If you need further evidence to support the idea if a digital revolution beyond my personal anecdotes (and really, why would you?), chew on this: noted crime/horror author Tom Piccrilli’s newest book, Nightjack, makes its debut exclusively in the digital format. This is not only important because it is a new work by an established author appearing first in digital, but because Nightjack is one of Piccrilli’s finest moments. Blending the hard-boiled/noir nature of his later work with the more gruesome, slipstream narratives of his horror output (i.e. A Choir of Ill Children) Nightjack is a cross-genre work that charms with its off-beat sensibility and inventive twist on the “split personality” trope.

The story concerns William Pacella. Well, technically it’s about Pace. Pace is one of Pacella’s myriad alternate personae that arise when his psyche is fractured by the murder of his wife. With the split also comes Nightjack, a Jack the Ripper-esque killer who is handy with a knife and whom Pace uses to take revenge on the crime family responsible for his wife’s death. We the reader enter the story post-killing spree, when Pace (and the rest of his alternates) has been incarcerated in a mental hospital. He’s joined on an adventure by three other multiple-personality cases (Pia, Faust and Hayden) that will send them across the globe to Greece to unravel a mystery that could either cure or kill them all.

Don’t let that gonzo synopsis scare you away, this is a plot-filled, borderline-psychedelic ride, but one that remains readable and enjoyable throughout. It’s one of those novels that is so twisty and dense with characters that it defies proper condensing. Piccrilli’s prose is slick, scary and, occasionally, very funny (the novel is about as much of a comedy as a meditation on loss, sorrow and revenge can be).

Pace is a likable protagonist, even if he does spend the majority of the novel slightly more bewildered than the reader. But it is Piccrilli’s supporting cast (and their numerous alternates, one a pug named Crumble) that truly keeps things interesting. My favorite of which is Pia, the hopelessly damaged go-getter whose main ambition during the course of the novel is suicide.

Pace sets his sights on saving everyone, but Nightjack has different plans. One of the many joys of the novel is having a protagonist that is both admirable hero and sickening villain in one body. To elaborate further would lead to spoilers, the novel is only five bucks and I guarantee you’ll find it worth every penny.

Nightjack was released in digital and audio by Crossroad Press who is also in the process of re-releasing John Skipp and Craig Spector’s original splatterpunk classics, and have just this week put out an uber-affordable edition of Jack Ketchum’s wonderful Ladies’ Night . My kudos to them for providing not only great new material but re-issues of some amazing work.

Also, while on the subject of the “digital revolution” I encourage you to check out Ken Wood’s editorial in Shock Totem #3 to hear the redemptive story of a one-time naysayer who has seen the light.

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