Gil’s All Fright Diner – Book Review (***)

(Originally posted on i-Pocalypse on 7-6-05)

The Earl of Vampires and the Duke of Werewolves (actually a White Trash Vampire named Earl and a Redneck Werewolf named Duke) find themselves drawn into the undead problems of Loretta, the owner/operator of Gil’s All Night Diner, a run down truck stop on the edge of a small desert town out in the middle of nowhere. And from there the book only gets weirder and goofier. With the addition of Lilith, the Mistress of the Night (actually, Tammy, local high school asian sex-kitten and wiccan), her Jock boy friend Chad, a Magic 8 Ball containing the imprisoned spirit of a mysterious wizard, several assorted ghouls, a lovelorn ghost tied to the local cemetery and various Old Gods trying to breach the inter-dimensional portal in order to take over the world (natch’) the story picks up several twists and amusing sidebars as it barrels to its pre-destined conclusion.

It all gets kicked off with Earl and Duke stopping off for dinner at a nearly deserted diner in a nearly deserted part of the south. While eating (normal food for Duke, Earl is fasting until he can grab something on the side of the road later) the place gets attacked by Zombies. As Loretta goes about disposing of them as if it is just another part of her day the guys get drawn into the mystery against their own better judgement.

Author A. Lee Martinez, in his first book, creates a fast and funny little romp while at the same time poking slapstick fun at a genre that is growing way too fast and taking itself way too seriously in the process. Earl and Duke are, pretty much, to the burgeoning Supernatural Horror genre what Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were to the Sword and Sorcery genre early on. Martinez stays relatively faithful to the conventions and dynamics established in other similar books, but then he switches it all up with some irreverent down south character humor and situations. Plus he throws in the kitchen sink.

Martinez creates, if not a believable world, then a very comfortable one. He gives all of his characters solidly thought out motivations and story arcs. He leaves very few loose plot points and hints at a bigger world left to explore. The two protagonists have a lived in underlying humanity to their travails. And all of the secondary characters have their own unique voices. Sometimes, especially in genre fiction, the secondary characters are the most one dimensional and get the shortest shrift. Not here. Martinez invents entertaining back stories for them and then ties it all together at the end so that you don’t feel like anything was tacked on at the last minute just to fill out the word count.

Gil’s All Fright Diner is a pleasant throw back to the previously mentioned Fafrd and the Gray Mouser series of stories of Fritz Leiber, and additionally, in a weird sort of way, to the M*A*S*H series of books from Richard Hooker. It isn’t great literature, but it is a great and fun summer read that should leave you smiling in a bit of a perplexed way, and even, actually, hoping that there might be some similar adventures available not too far in the future somewhere down that deserted road.

This review is based on the Trade Paperback edition published by Tor Books.

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