I would never have known if it were not for cannonball read that apparently there is a whole slew of Samuel Johnson books – the hero of this book and its predecessor – as I purchased this for a buck at a library sale and only bought The Gates after learning this was not a stand alone book, as the amazon link specifically notes it as “a Samuel Johnson Tale.” Not trying to be too negative, but I’m having a real Ann Veal moment here. Her? Samuel is like the protagonist of a romantic comedy; there’s no pesky personality to get in the way of the reader being able to insert themselves into the action, with a completely insignificant flaw to make them relatable (instead of being clumsy like every romantic comedy heroine, Samuel has bad vision), and a dog and friends to show that he’s a good guy at heart. There’s no there there, why make several books about such a nothing character?
I digress. This ticks off the Travel bingo square as our intrepid hero ends up in the Hell that he kept from invading Earth in the last book. It’s Dante’s inferno by way of Terry Pratchett. A group of dwarves for hire, their manager, an ice cream truck, and a pair of police officers end up there as well, and Samuel traverses Hell first to keep away from and then to find the Big Bad from the last story, Mrs. Abernathy / Ba’al.
I kind of wish that Connolly didn’t feel quite the need to prop up his cardboard main character with so many Falstaffian sidekicks, the ridiculousness just feels like too much. You’ve already sent your character to Hell, there are demons and evil trees and actual satan, do we really need a troupe of mercenary dwarfs? That, and Connolly evokes some pretty interesting ideas for Hell – dunes of bone dust, a void that robs you of yourself via anhedonia that Samuel escapes by his bond with his dog, a demon bureaucrat who is replaced by literally stepping into his vacated shoes whereupon the newcomer turns into an identical version of the previous bureaucrat – that are worth exploring in the pages that are instead taken up by rowdy drunken little people in an ice cream truck. The side humor is so obviously indebted to Terry Pratchett that it feels like a pale imitation – although the bits about Spiggot’s Old Peculiar (the worst beer in the world) were fairly inspired – which isn’t helped by this again feeling quite a bit like Good Omens.
I’m complaining a lot for a book that I more or less enjoyed, but I do wish that my Travel square pick had focused more on Johnson’s actual journey. It was the more interesting part of the book, and more akin to the first Connolly book that I read and enjoyed.