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Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez
Review by Ernest Lilley
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0765311437
Date: 01 May, 2005 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

When Duke and Earl pull over at Gil's to order up something to fill the void in their stomachs, they don't expect to be interrupted by a squad of zombies crashing through the front door and the owner Loretta (Gil having disappeared mysteriously one day) repelling them with her shotgun as though it were nothing unusual. Indeed, at Gil's All Night Diner, it's not unusual, and more than a bit of a damned nuisance.

Loretta, on the other hand, didn't expect her two customers to jump into the fray, tearing zombies limb from limb. Cause you see, Duke's a werewolf, and Earl's a vampire and zombies really aren't much at fighting, except for a certain amount of single-mindedness.

So our boys accept some apple pie for their efforts, and Loretta's offer of a tank of gas for their beat-up old truck and a few bucks besides, if they can dig a new gas line for the diner, and take care of that problem with the undead. One suspects that she wouldn't mind the zombies visits, but they can't seem to figure out how to open the door without breaking it down, and the only menu they're interested in is human flesh. It's hurting business, which in the middle of nowhere in a tiny desert town, is a endangered species all by itself.

Duke and Earl are interesting folks. I'm tempted to say they're lowbrow and low-country, but while they're certainly from rural America, they're not stupid, and nobody is really plain when you get past their exteriors. Everybody takes to Duke, especially dogs, but nobody much likes the geeky (and I mean this more in the bite a chicken head off at the Carny than the plays with computers sense) Earl. Earl is a vampire though, and for some reason there are those, typically young and nubile, that are turned on by him. But that just drives home his personal pain. Nobody much likes him, and it takes a supernatural trick to get any woman to even notice him. He isn't a happy feller. Duke, on the other hand, may not be actually happy, but he's philosophical about it all, conjuring up a half smile that fits his dual existence, half man, half lethal killing machine.

They've stumbled into another one of those center of the supernatural vortex places that show up in about every other horror movie. The human trying to open the gates of hell for the "old gods" is a sexy teen age girl named Tammy, or to her minion, "Mistress Lillith", and she's got genuine power over the dark forces as well as over her none to swift boyfriend/minion. He's not much good for anything, but he's handy, convenient and you never know when you'll need a sacrifice for the obscure ritual.

The diner was built by an odd duck named Gil, who disappeared some years back, without a trace. Well, actually he left an indelible trace, but we'll let you get to that on your own. It was taken over by an ample gal named Loretta, who has fixed it up and is determined to make a go of it, and the forces of hell just aren't enough to scare her off. It's a pity that zombies and demons smell so bad, or she could put them on the menu, but as it is, she has to pay to have the local taxidermist dispose of them for her. Speaking of locals, there's the Sheriff, the local store owner and a few ranchers, none of whom are all that surprised by visits from the "shambling dead", cow herds turning into undead bovines, and other such stuff. Happens round these parts all the time. But things are definitely on the upswing, and Duke and Earl have found themselves in the middle of a battle for the universe.

Along the way, Earl falls in love with a ghost who's the last resident of the graveyard across the street, corpulent Loretta decides to try her whiles on Duke, and Tammy is still a virgin. Well, if you don't count the regular coupling with her boyfriend Steve's wishfully named, "Big Jimmy", which she certainly doesn't. There's a lot of unnatural romance in the air. I'm not telling any more of the story than this, but I like the way the loose ends are tied up and future adventures intimated.

The author takes on just about every stereotypical notion this genre has to offer up and slays them (and us) with wit and a wonderful knack for storytelling. Fans of American Gods (see Ern's 2001 Review) or Loisiana Breakdown (see Ern's 2003 Review) should definitely read this road food romp from an author who I'm sure we'll hear more from.

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