If you read a lot of horror fiction from the '80s you know two things: Stephen King would promote anything, and you had to wade through a lot of crap to get to something satisfying. Douglas Borton's Death Song was promoted by King, and it is part of the crap I waded through.
I don't remember how I came across this book, but based on its condition, I believe I bought it used. It sat on my shelf a long time before I got to reading it just recently. I finished it, too, but it was a chore.
The plot gives a nod to H.P. Lovecraft and takes his ideas (dark gods out there just waiting to destroy our world) and then gives a female country singer the power to conjure and destroy them. Along the way she encounters cultists who are out to kill her. The preferred killing method? Song. Unholy songs that cause you to do things like grow creatures in your stomach or kill yourself. It's a good idea, actually, and the novel moves at a very fast pace, but it falls apart in one key place: its main character, Billie Lee Kidd, the country singer I mentioned.
Billie Lee Kidd never comes across as believable ... especially when it comes to her dialogue. She cracks wise almost constantly, even when faced with death. That's a symptom of a writer taking in too many bad movies and trying to make a "cool" character. She's not very likable, either, which is not something I can really complain about since I write characters that aren't very likable, too. At least I make my characters interesting, however. With Kidd, the little bit we know doesn't make us want to know more. We know she got bit by a snake as a kid. We know she's a country singer. We know she sleeps around a lot. None of this really helps us know her. Therefore, when she is in danger (most of the novel), we don't really care what happens to her. We also never get a real sense of how pressing this coming of the dark gods truly is. We know the world will be destroyed, but it is handled with the same weight as, say, 30 people being killed.
I'm a firm believer that for horror to work well, you have to have characters readers can care about. They may not always like them, but they have to care for them in one way or another. If they don't, the horror is lost. That is the case here. It is a shame, too, as it had much promise. The "prologue," so to speak, reads like something from Robert E. Howard, and that's good, but it's fairly downhill from there, with just a few moments of greatness to keep you strung along.
I'll be putting this book on eBay at some point. It won't pain me to part with it, and it means I'll probably be avoiding any other books with Borton's name on the cover. At least King isn't pushing every horror book out these days. I just wish he would've been more selective back in the '80s.
Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this book to review.
-Doug Brunell (America's Favorite Son)