Internecine / David J. Schow
Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 07:13AM
Dark Scribe Magazine in Book Reviews

Thomas Dunne Books / August 2010
Reviewed by: Daniel R. Robichaud

David J. Schow, the father of splatterpunk (well, the term, anyway), returns with his latest excursion into novel as weapon, this time targeting the espionage-thriller genre with a tale of bad guys and bad guys.

The story revolves around an advertising man, Conrad Maddox, who finds himself in accidental possession of someone else's airport locker key. Curious as anyone would be, he uses the key and discovers an unclaimed Halliburton case. Still curious, he opens the case and seals his fate.

The Halliburton contains deadly weapons, in depth reportage for the assistant to a politician his company is working for, and false Federal credentials. A simple act--opening the case--is enough to drop kick him into the subterranean world of espionage, double dealings, and assassination. He soon finds himself drowning deep in trouble, but rescued from imminent death by a shadow ops man called Dandine (for whom the case was intended). What follows is a sometimes frantic, sometimes talky tale of the strange bond these two men form while tracking down answers about the mysterious forces at work (an organization called NORCO), the motivations for those forces, as well as reeducating its readers in the workings of modern day international espionage. In a nutshell: This isn't your granddaddy’s James Bond.

The plot often treads familiar ground, unsurprising as it is derived from "the wrong man" idea underlying several of Alfred Hitchcock's films as well as assorted hardboiled paperbacks from Fawcett Gold Medal (as well as the more recent Hard Case Crime series). Maddox's tale offers twists and turns aplenty and a few authentic surprises, a large cast of helpful and/or antagonistic bastards (a majority of which are macho males, sadly), and concludes with a finale that leaves few dangling threads unresolved. However, the plot is not really the point of this novel.

As this is a work from the World Fantasy Award winning author of "Red Light" and the International Horror Award winning author of Wild Hairs, it is anything but a light or mindless romp.

The title alone suggests slaughter as well as dangerous conflict. Plenty of both are found in these pages. As well as a sizeable pool of fictional characters, Internecine takes quite a few thoughtful shots at popular culture. Here is where the novel's real meat can be found. Apart from the almost-too-easy skewering of unrealistic thriller films (especially pop portrayals of the material herein portrayed), Internecine takes a hard and cynical look at the field of advertising and the mindset of the advertiser. The ugly world of shadowy subterranean operators acting outside the awareness of normal folks (dubbed "the walking dead" because they lack real lives) but influencing their world in subtle ways is a sure stand in for the even uglier world of advertising, and Conrad Maddox acts as both eyewitness and tour guide to both realms via first person narration.

While Conrad is no killer, no government torturer, in short order he reveals himself to be decreasingly likeable. His narration reveals the detached voice of a sociopath whose target is not human life but human minds. The passages explaining his manipulative outlook is where this book gets truly dark.

Longtime readers of horror fiction, whether they cop to it or not, become rather desensitized to certain violent acts. A level of depravity is expected, and as such loses its shock value. However, the one thing that still nails me is the ugly mindset operating behind those violent acts. Not the clichéd serial killer's flashback-to-momma chapters in banal novels, but the sorts of deeply wrong monstrosities that otherwise look and act and reason like normal human beings. A rogue's gallery of them already populates Schow's fiction (i.e. "Bad Guy Hats," "Refrigerator Heaven" and "Unhasped"). Internecine offers further specimens aplenty, but the at once sympathetic yet awful narrator himself, provokes me the most.

Maddox is a paid manipulator, a man who is himself incapable of making lasting relationships with normal people, yet who understands "the walking dead" world of lawyers and accountants and gas station attendants and independent contractors and book reviewers and soccer moms well enough to understand the ways to make them think what he wants them to think and to act how he wants them to act. In fact, at several points, the book takes pains to manipulate the reader and then reveal how the trick was done. It succeeded on me quite a few times. This is an unusual, shaming and disturbing instance of intelligent but mean-spirited text.

Schow's prose is as finely honed as ever. At turns sparse, at turns poetic, and always dead on the mark, it is a pleasure to see this level of craft. The subject matter is typically grim, often witty, but always engaging.

On the surface, Internecine succeeds as a nasty thriller. However, underlying this somewhat comfortable story is something even nastier: a challenging, confrontational text. A book with real bite.

Purchase Internecine by David J. Schow.

Article originally appeared on Dark Scribe Magazine (
See website for complete article licensing information.