Have you ever wondered what would happen if a small-town private investigator tangled with a passel of occult-obsessed neo-Nazis? This is the premise of The Demon Cross, a taut novella by Nathan Shumate.
Rennie Avalon is that PI, atypical of the breed as a single mother, but well qualified for her work nonetheless. She is approached by Mister Enrst Vielstich, an academic from the Old Country and a collector of rare books. A particular specimen from his library has been stolen, and he needs Rennie to recover it. He can’t go through proper law enforcement channels, for reasons that quickly become apparent. Rennie takes to the case with aplomb, but a bit of recklessness, and soon discovers that the case is more complicated and dangerous than she could have ever guessed.
The Demon Cross is an enjoyable tale, successfully combining the feel of Dashiell Hammett and H.P. Lovecraft. The pace is excellent, and most readers will finish it within one or two sessions. The author has a knack for description, giving adroit attention to details that are necessary without languishing on unimportant minutiae. Shumate is an expert on “B movies,” as evidenced by his prior non-fiction work, The Golden Age of Crap, and his love of the genre is well channeled in this story. It is also strongly reminiscent of the television series Supernatural, and fans of the show will see obvious similarities with it. Whether intentional or not, it is a positive aspect.
One weakness of the novella is the slight character development, though this can be excused due to the short length of the story, as well as the fact that more adventures of Avalon and Company are expected. Of particular criticism is the character of Rennie herself; her background needs to be expanded to explain her steely resolve and courage in the face of an increasingly bizarre case. Hopefully the reader will be offered this information in future volumes. The last issue is the sudden drop in editing quality in the latter fifth of the story, which up until that point had been flawless. However, these errors are not overly distracting.
In all this is a fun, exciting story that is well worth the reader’s time. 3.5 out of 5 stars.