Marc Arginteanu’s horror novel Azazel’s Public House offers readers a twisted, macabre ride.
Set in the 1980s, the story is told through the eyes of a rotating cast of characters, including: high-handed neurosurgeon Tommy, who has a secret he’s keeping from his wife Mary; 15-year-old Carl; and 15-year-old Gina, whose mother is in a coma. Each character has a distinct way of speaking and behaving that allows readers to tell them apart.
What these characters have in common is a demon named Pete, who is relegated to managing a Staten Island dive bar, Azazel’s Public House. While Pete can’t leave this dive, his spirit can travel on the nasty smells of a local landfill called the Dump. But “even Pete’s spirit wasn’t fully free; it couldn’t ride further than the Dump’s stink would carry.” Despite these limitations, Pete wreaks havoc in the lives of the people he torments, inciting Carl to attempt to murder his best friend, pushing Tommy to behave unethically as a physician, and worse.
Arginteanu is an adept storyteller who aptly describes life in Staten Island in the 1980s and skillfully sucks readers into this dark drama. The characters are believable and multidimensional, but not necessarily likable.
Unfortunately, he sometimes introduces secondary characters abruptly in order to move the plot in a certain direction, which can be jarring. He also awkwardly introduces the setting and time period in a way that takes readers out of the story, breaking the fourth wall, rather than using the third person employed in the rest of his novel: “Nowadays, Staten Island is all filled up. Fifteen-year-old Staten Island boys can’t find any empty lots to duck into. Nowadays, Staten Island teenagers are glued to smartphones and huddled in cool, dark hideouts, like albino bats.”
Despite these limitations, the story keeps readers turning the pages. Those looking for an atmospheric horror tale set in the 1980s will find the plot engrossing.
Also available as an ebook.