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Book Review: Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore

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You know there's nothing quite like finding you've summoned up a demon from hell to ruin your day. Okay so you can exercise some control over it, but still he's not what you'd call the greatest company in the world, what with his annoying habit of needing to eat people on a daily basis. Even though you can direct him towards drug pushers, pimps, and other assorted slime, it still doesn't change the fact that you're responsible for ensuring a fellow human being is digested on a regular basis.

For those of you who ever find yourself in that sort of a situation, Practical Demonkeeping, Christopher Moore's first novel, might just be the place to turn for a few pointers on what to and not to do. At the very least it will teach you not to mess around with things that you don't understand. For instance, if you ever find scrolls rolled up and sealed inside candle sticks, especially ones that are hidden in a Catholic church, you'll know not to read them out loud just to see what will happen.

Travis O'Hearn finds out that even though there might be some satisfaction to be felt from seeing your nemesis getting crunched between the teeth of a demon from the days of Solomon, you're left with a problem you can't escape. Oh he tried when it all started back in 1917. It was when he was in seminary school and was being badly mistreated by one of the priest-teachers that it all started.
 
After being whipped so badly that he was left with a bleeding back, Travis was ordered by the priest to polish two candlesticks that were a treasure sent from the Vatican. If he returned and found them smudged he promised Travis more of the same. When Travis discovered the crack he was terrified, when he discovered it unscrewed and contained a scrawl he was curious. We all know about curiosity, don't we?

When the demon, Catch, shows up as a result of reading the invocation, Travis decides to take off. He grabs the candlesticks when Catch is distracted – he went off to eat the priest – and grabs a train. Unfortunately he leaves the candlesticks with a young woman he meets as payment for her buying his train ticket. Unfortunately because the second stick holds the invocation to return Catch to the netherworld from which he came.
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Travis realizes that he must find the young woman if he is to have any hope of riding himself of Catch's company. So this odd couple travels across the United States looking for a woman named Amanda who had been engaged to be married to a young man whose name started with an E and served in the American army in World War One.

It's this search that brings them to Pine Cove California where they meet a collection of characters almost as eccentric as they are. It's also where Travis's search will come to an end. But will he be able to read the invocation that sends Catch back before Catch can convince somebody else to read the original incantation and replace Travis as his master and rule the world together?

Each character we meet is drawn in loving detail by one of the artists of character creation. Even in his first book Moore shows the affinity he has for those who look at life from a slightly different angle and a compassion for those who have had to rise out of the ashes of a previous existence to recreate themselves as something newer and better.

What I find amazing about re-reading this book again after about ten years, and reading a number of his other books in between, is how sophisticated his dialogue was in his first book. In fact if you were to read Moore's books in no particular order you would be hard pressed to notice anything about this book that would mark it as a first novel.

He does such a complete job on creating everything that it's like the world and his characters already existed, they were just waiting for him to come along and write their story. While you might expect that from an established writer, to find that talent already evident in a first novel is quite extraordinary. It's like Moore came out of the egg ready to write.

Practical Demonkeeping contains all the elements that one has come to expect from a Christopher Moore novel; bizarre characters, twisted humour, moments of side splitting hilarity, and the occasional instance of real pathos. There is no false sentiment in his novels or deep philosophy, and on occasion you may question his sanity, but in the end they are also some of the realest books you'll ever read.

The fact that fifteen years after the publication of his first novel his books are as fresh, funny, and interesting as ever is an indication of his originality of mind and creative ingenuity. Whenever our world gets to be just a little too much for you, I recommend a quick trip into the mind of Christopher Moore; you'll be amazed at how much better you feel.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.