Saturday, 23 April 2022

Clock's Watch III: Alpdruck! (2021) by Michael Reyes - Horror Book Review

Clock's Watch III: Alpdruck!
is the latest horror from Michael Reyes (The Cursed Diary of a Brooklyn Dog Walker, The Black Veldt) and like those, it too is set in New York, specifically in this case Coney Island. Having not read the first two entries I was a little bit concerned I would be in over my head with no real idea of what has come before. Some light research revealed the first two books appeared to be anthologies, a course that Alpdruck! also follows. I knew then that I would be in for a good time, firstly because I sure love anthologies, and secondly because I enjoy the style of Reyes' writing.

Some of these details may be wrong, but from what I gather, Clock is a chaos mage, a coonskin cap wearing dwarf who protects his territory of Coney Island from supernatural invasion via the use of protective wards, a crossbow and his trusty magical blade Typhon. Up until recently Clock's identity had been kept a secret from his enemies, but an event had occurred that revealed this and so now not only does Clock have to deal with frequent supernatural events, but he also has to guard himself against the many foes who have a grudge against him.

Things got off to a great start despite me somehow accidentally beginning the book with the seventh story (The Bibliomancer which takes place in 1909 with a former protector of Coney Island). Thanks to the anthology format this wasn't much of an issue. Most of the stories follow on in a chronological order, but I had a vibe of Conan the Barbarian in that these stories feel like snapshots from Clock's life, not a literal follow on from one to the next. It is never clear how far apart any of these are which makes many of them perfect as stories that are both self contained and part of a greater whole. There are several here which are main storyline (such as the duo of The Funeral and Zen Bright which close out the book and set up cliffhangers for future entries), but more that felt self contained.

What I like most about Reyes' books is the darkly comedic, gritty and degenerate version of New York he portrays. He often writes about the underdog on the bottom of societies rungs, with a dark and violent existence. Clock is a little different in that he is like an outsider to the world, most people can't even see him unless they happen to get involved in his supernatural battles. Clock as a character was interesting, and the book helps with this by having a couple of the stories written about with him as a side character and the tale shown from the perspective of a different protagonist. In The Golden Turul, a woman with a cursed bloodline ends up unknowingly needing his help after her mother whose spells protected her for so long passes away. Then you have the wonderful Gui fu Shen gong: The mófa of Stefan Barbury (missing some accents above the letters) which is shown from the perspective of a former baseball star and is an amusing one about a group of demonically controlled Chinese baseball fans. My favourite (and near favourite of the entire book) was the crazy Last Ticket to Party Town which chronicles the descent of a happy and positive man who begins a job at a subway station ticket booth into a paranoid and very jaded gun wielding figure. This man finds himself plagued by a troupe of subway tunnel based acrobatic devils. Each of the stories features a page of art from Sean Bova and that one in particular was fantastic, there is a pulpy look to the artwork that perfectly encapsulated the vibe of the world that Reyes writes about.

Elsewhere you have The Leatherman Cometh and Jackdaw which both are about supernatural killers showing up in Coney Island after discovering Clock's identity, something that my favourite story in the book, Alpdruck! (German for 'Nightmare!' I believe) also has. In that one it was a whole different feel in that Clock enters the dreamworld in order to travel to a demi-hell and battle the Zodiac killer with the assistance of a shade who was once Jack the Ripper! That one had some really funny moments, in particular the poor German man suffering night terrors who is nearly driven insane by the arrival of Clock and a few others who begin having involved supernatural conversations in his room right next to his sleep paralysed body.
There is so much variation in the different things Clock gets caught up in, from a Putin loving necromancer who uses resurrected women as prostitutes (The Alkonost) to The Stigmata of Leo Jackson that has him up against a demonically possessed gang. 
These all have a very similar style of writing that Reyes always brings to his stories, the author has a real identity to his style that makes for some great reading. I would say despite plenty of darkness, this novel is slightly more lighthearted than previous ones of his I have read, despite the perils, Clock always seems like someone who couldn't possibly fail, and someone who is no stranger to the supernatural, unlike the protagonists of other books the author has written. There is as much grotesque imagery as he always comes up with, another thing that he is so good at doing. 

I needn't have been worried that my lack of knowledge of the previous novels would impair my enjoyment. I loved Clock's Watch III: Alpdruck!, the stories are short and effortless to get through, while there is more variation than you would think. I guess any complaints I did have were that the final two stories are purposely left open ended, that in the case of The Funeral in particular left me eager for more, as a hook to read further entries in the Clock's Watch series it certainly did its job. Horrific, grotesque and funny in equal measure I had a blast reading this.


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