The book ends with the playing of The Great Game to decide whether the Great Old Ones will burst through the gates, remake the world and slaughter or enslave the human race — or not.
The story is narrated by a talented and endearing guard dog named Snuff, who belongs to Jack the Ripper. As Snuff describes it, “Jack is under a curse from long ago and must do much of his work at night to keep worse things from happening. I keep watch while he is about it. If someone comes, I howl.”
Every couple of decades, there is a full moon on Halloween night. Men and women with the proper occult knowledge, tools and information gather at a ritual site to either help open the gates to release the Great Old Ones — or hold them firmly closed to save the world.
The Players must figure out who is in the game (and who is not), who is an Opener and who is a Closer, and where the ritual site is. In the days before Halloween, they and their familiars (highly intelligent animal companions) prepare for the ritual, trade information, make deals, block each other’s preparations or even kill their enemies.
The story is set in and around London in the Victorian Era and pays homage to famous characters from Victorian gothic fiction.
Part of the fun of the book is identifying who is who. Sherlock Holmes comes and goes in his famous disguises. There’s Jack, of course, and The Count (Dracula), the Good Doctor (Victor Frankenstein) and Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man). There are other archetypal characters such as a Witch (Crazy Jill), a Clergyman (Vicar Roberts), a Druid (Owen), a Mad Monk in the style of Rasputin (Rastov), and a pair of occultists (Morris and McCab).
Their familiars are delightful characters and active players in their own right. Crazy Jill’s familiar is obviously a cat, Graymalk, who finds catnappery a useful strategy for picking up information. The Count’s familiar is Needle the bat; the Druid’s a squirrel, Cheeter; the Vicar’s is Tekela, a white raven; and the Good Doctor’s is Bubo the rat.
This is an enjoyable book for those who love humorous fantasy, puns and science fiction writers such as Terry Patchett, H. P. Lovecraft and Douglas Adams. In fact, Zelazny dedicates his book to Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelley and others.
About the Author: Roger Zelazny (1937 – 1995)
A native of Euclid, OH, Roger Zelazny was an American poet and writer of fantasy and science fiction. He is best known for the fantasy series THE CHRONICLES OF AMBER. Zelazny was a three-time Nebula Award and six-time Hugo Award winner.
Zelazany worked or the U.S. Social Security Administration in Cleveland and Baltimore and wrote int he evenings until he quite in 1960 to write full-time.
Writers such as Neil Gaiman and Andrzej Sapkowski credit him as a powerful influence on their own writing.
He died at the age of 58 in Santa Fe of kidney failure associated with colorectal cancer.
About the Illustrator: Gahan Wilson (1930 – 2019)
Gahan Wilson was an American author, cartoonist and illustrator best known for his depictions of horror-fantasy situations. His work frequently appeared in The New Yorker, Playboy and National Lampoon.
As Michael Maslin said in a Nov. 22, 2019, tribute to Wilson, “He liked to depict ordinary folks encountering some kind of anxious terror, or experiencing the unthinkable in mundane places.”