A review by xterminal
Slaughterhouse High, by Robert Devereaux


Robert Devereaux, Slaughterhouse High (Deadite Press, 2010)

There is no way I can turn in an unbiased review of this book. I've been a BobDev fan for over twenty years now, ever since Dell's short-lived, unreasonably fantastic Abyss line released his first novel, Deadweight, in the nineties. At the time, it was the most extreme thing I'd ever read. (And it stayed that way for almost ten years, until I was hit with the double-barrelled attack of Matthew Stokoe's Cows and Charlee Jacob's Haunter in 2003; it's still a good solid third.) And as time went on, Devereaux's books got, well more nuts. So when the bizarro movement started co-opting authors, he was a pretty natural fit. Enter Bob's first novel for nasty upstarts Deadite Press: Slaughterhouse High. (Side note: Deadite are also in the process of re-releasing Devereaux's old stuff. So if you never got a chance to read the brilliant, scurrilous Santa Steps Out, you have the chance again!) It's got all the charm, and I use that term loosely, of the classic Devereaux canon, the kinds of way-off details that make for good bizarro fiction, and more than enough gore to satisfy all your cannibalistic urges. In short, how can you possibly go wrong?

Set in an alternate-universe USA known as the Demented States of America, where the President is a wooden puppet (and a Committee to Assassinate the President is a celebrated cabinet department) and a pair of high school students is slaughtered every year at each high schools prom, Slaughterhouse High takes place over the course of prom night at Corundum High School, a pimple on the backside of the nothing town of Corundum, Kansas. But this is no ordinary prom night in Corundum: as a gesture of defiance, the prom committee have chosen the Ice Ghoul as a theme for the first time since it was used twenty years before, on the night principal Futzy Buttweiler's daughter Kitty was a member of the slaughtered couple. Futzy is not a happy camper. And neither is someone else—someone who decides to murder the Designated Slasher, take his place, and start piling up far more bodies than the school is prepared to deal with.

If this were a fifties mystery film, I can just imagine the trailer as the music swells each time we're introduced to a character who might, just might, be the killer, with big text at the top of the screen: IS IT...? And that's how Devereaux sets it up: as we meet each progressively more unhinged character who just might be the killer, more red herrings start flying, until we're thrashing around in a blizzard of scales. A lesser author might use this as a way to cloud a lack of plot or less than mastery over the elements of the core mystery. Not so Devereaux, who manages to keep both on a tight leash while acting rather like the alpha monkey in the monkey house, flinging poo and satire at American society, eighties slasher flicks, the entire state of Kansas, prom culture, the Tupperware corporation (by the by: a chance aside at one point in the book makes me think that if Devereaux is going to continue on in this universe, we need a book about the rise of the Futter family and their Kitchen Storage Container empire), sexual mores, body modification, and, well, pretty much anything else you can think of. It's funny stuff, but it's the darkest kind of funny—much uglier than the comedy in Santa Steps Out. I get the feeling Devereaux almost wanted to play this one as a straight horror novel. If you're not sure whether you're supposed to be laughing at the satire, well, by cracky, that's the best kind, no?

My only real qualm with the book is that sometimes the pace flags (usually when we move away from the prom and focus on the doings at the top of the political food chain). But that never happens for long, and we get back to the action quickly enough that it should be a minor niggle at best for most readers. Established Devreaux fans will want to pick this one up posthaste; I'd suggest new folks get themselves converted with Deadweight or Caliban and Other Tales before diving into this one. But you'll want to pick it up eventually. *** ½