Unfortunately, I didn’t get to read Lee Thomas’ Lammy-winning The German. Another reviewer handled that one, and my reading and writing schedule doesn’t allow me much time for catching up. Maybe when my novel’s finished… Anyway, when Lethe Press sent me a reprint of one of Thomas’ earlier books, The Dust of Wonderland, I grabbed it before anyone else had a chance. And it was pretty damned impressive.
Ken Nicholson is summoned back to New Orleans by his ex-wife as their son has been attacked and left for dead. Keeping vigil at the hospital, Ken has visions of his unsavory teenage years in the Quarter when he was the kept boy of Travis Brugier. Brugier’s stable of teenage boys pleasured the rich and powerful, until four of the boys were found dead, Brugier’s body hanging from the rafters of his beloved Wonderland. But are they just visions, or was his son attacked by someone from Ken’s past? Can he and his former lover David find out who is threatening his family? Or will they be too late?
Thomas’ skill at handling horror tropes is such that you don’t notice they’re tropes at all. His touch is both deep and deft, and hebalances out Ken’s horrific visions with some wonderful characterization of both Ken and his ex-wife Paula, not to mention his ex-lover David. Still, there are shocking moments—two of which you won’t expect. It’s Thomas’ ability to change this up that keeps Wonderland fresh and exciting.
But any horror novel is hollow without a foul beast of a villain, and Thomas has a winner in Travis Brugier. Part Truman Capote and part Beelzebub, Brugier—in whatever incarnation—is deliciously loathsome and oddly sympathetic. This delicate balance is what makes Thomas’ writing and plotting so compelling. Thomas begins the book with a chase sequence that ends with a shudder, and he rarely lets up on the suspense, working your nerves on a couple of different fronts simultaneously so that when one is resolved, you’re still jangled. Then he subtly introduces another to keep you turning pages.
And turn pages I did. Some books take a bit of work to get back into once you put them down, but not this one. The story grabbed me and never let go. In fact, I read it in three sittings. I should have been writing. Or sleeping. Or eating. But The Dust of Wonderland kept me reading. So, thanks for the sleepless nights, Lee.
And I mean that.
© 2012, Jerry L. Wheeler