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Charles Schmidt ‘World of Vacancy’ Review


Written by: James Keen

“Well, the cops should be here in a minute. You mind if I pass the time, tell a story?” -World of Vacancy.

Though the ‘horrors’ do eventually reveal themselves here, when they do it’s with a commendable  restraint; indeed it’s arguable that Charles Schmidt’s book, ‘World Of Vacancy’, should be viewed primarily as the author’s philosophical and intermittently grisly-realized treatise on the nature of societal emptiness in both its mental and, perhaps more significantly, spiritual terms, than as a all-out horror novel. It’s the work of a novelist more explicitly interested in exploring levels of meaning and concurrent character resolution than in conjuring vacuous set-pieces of gory text. A work of fiction with supernatural overtones steadfastly retaining a disturbing sub-text, this is a book that lingers agreeably in the mind long after finishing, as all good fiction should.

Told largely from the perspective of  two initially divergent narrators, it’s the tale of an ageing cab driver with a resolutely haunting past, ‘Hack’, a beguilingly confusing figure toiling away in the city of Phoenix, Arizona – and a twenty seven year old recovering alcoholic, ‘Nick’. Schmidt flits back and forth between these two disparate voices to create a diabolically intriguing narrative that has much to say about apathy, indifference and, ultimately, redemption.

‘Hack’ is a world-weary archetype; nearing his sixties, he’s a restless sort who ritually loses himself in the late-night ferrying of the various denizens of the town, managing to avoid in the process, a depressing state of existential awareness. He observes at one point, “doing nothing is always an option” but  it’s not one he personally can afford to indulge in. His interactions with his ‘fares’ grant him an opportunity to momentarily side-step his own miserable view of humanity as summed up by his opinion that “there ain’t nothing good about none of us.” However, as the novel progresses the reader becomes aware that Hack’s  hard-line philosophy is informed not by his present circumstances but by an altogether more sinister and magical history. A remorseful past that becomes more significant and illuminating as the plot advances, underscored by the conscious realization that he feels like he’s “rotting inside”.

We meet the alternately occurring character of ‘Nick’ who’s serving jail-time for a relatively minor offence. He’s an acutely self-aware individual repulsed by own addictions, fearful of his own history and wary of his appetite for self-destruction. A highly educated personality, longing for a shot at an approximation of personal deliverance, Schmidt’s outlining of Nick’s flawed character appears deliberately sketchy but it quickly becomes apparent he’s using his principals – or recognizable cyphers- to further his overall narrative intent: though this is a cautiously damning indictment of the modern human condition, it is permeated by an uplifting spiritual optimism.

There’s a third voice in the text that makes itself known later in the novel, one that serves to provide some much needed plot clarification adding narratively harmonising exposition, in turn leading the reader to a satisfying coda.

From a critical point of view it would be remiss if this reviewer didn’t pause to point out that, while the story is driven by a triumvirate of narrative perspectives, very often there’s little differentiation between the two characters of Hack and Nick. Often their world-view is readily interchangeable and the language the author uses to delineate their motivation and actions is not sufficiently distinct between them, though, again, given their respective compulsive proclivities this is arguably the author’s intention.

A compelling and furiously paced literary effort that virtually begs the reader to complete it in one sitting, this is the work of an author who writes with such vigour at times, it’s as if his life depended upon it. Schmidt’s deceptively sparse, gratifyingly measured prose calls to mind the best efforts of novelists like Charles Bukowski, Elmore Leonard coupled with the gruesome and metaphor-laden storytelling of a Michael McDowell or John Farris. A page turner of the most distinguished and laudable kind, Schmidt is most definitely an author to watch.

As a post-script I’ll finish this review with an edit from Schmidt’s own online blog which this reviewer sought out after finishing ‘World Of Vacancy’, eager to seek out other works by the writer: “When Cindie, the co-honcho over at my publisher, Lucky Bat Books, read my submission sample she was certain that I was no newbie and had previously published elsewhere. She was wrong.”

Writer Charles Schmidt is a revelation and hopefully ‘World of Vacancy’ is the first in a very long line of books from this guy. Bring them on.

Rating: 4/5

About The Overseer (1669 Articles)
Author of Say No to Drugs, writer for Blumhouse, Dread Central, Horror Novel Reviews and Addicted to Horror Movies.

8 Comments on Charles Schmidt ‘World of Vacancy’ Review

  1. This sounds like an excellent read, and the review itself seems very considered. Thanks for sharing, Matt.


  2. (And James, in fact!)


    • Yeah, James is definitely the man to thank here. He knows how to sell a book with a review, no doubt about it. When I think about it I’m REALLY, REALLY fortunate to have the crew that I do working with me. These guys are all awesome, and this review definitely pushed me in the right direction – I’ll be reading this one for sure!


    • jameskeen89450 // April 5, 2013 at 6:01 pm // Reply

      Thank you. The book was a treat to read.


  3. James this review is an excellent written invitation to read this book.I enjoy what you put out in you work here…it most definitely sounds like my kind of story, being a watcher of people and the human condition I find myself intrigued here. Thanks for this…as always…just me…vitina


  4. James Keen // April 7, 2013 at 10:49 am // Reply

    Thanks Vitina. i think you’ll enjoy. Reminded me a lot of Bukowski’s ‘Post Office’ and ‘Factotum’ with a supernatural texture. If he were still alive this is what a horror novel by Bukowski would read like.
    This was a writing assignment from Matt and I have to admit I put off reading and reviewing this because of the awful cover. I don’t think Schmidt’s publishers are doing him any favors with that kind of lazy collage on the front.
    That said, given what you’ve mentioned about being “a watcher of people and the human condition” I can’t see you being disappointed by this…and I can’t wait to read what this guy does next.


  5. Kirk Alex // May 2, 2013 at 2:46 am // Reply

    Thanks for the interview & review. Makes me want to read the novel. RE: Buk. I agree with Schmidt: Bukowski said a lot of things just to mess with people. He was basically bored with the whole interview process. Remember one thing: writing is what kept Bukowski alive all those years he was working meaningless jobs for low pay; and, of course, the hell that the post office was for him. Many of us can relate to that. I have stated this often over the years: Bukowski is probably the greatest short story writer I have ever read. Same goes for poetry–and I don’t care for most poets or what passes for poetry. Kirk Alex, author Lustmord: Anatomy of a Serial Butcher Vol. 1 (of 6) Free downloads on Goodreads currently, should anyone be interested, etc.


  6. James Keen // June 13, 2013 at 5:11 pm // Reply

    If it makes you want to check out the book, then I’ve done my job. ‘World of Vacancy’ was one of the most refreshing crime/horror themed novels I’ve read in a long time. I’m a massive fan of Bukowski but I had to play the role of the dispassionate interviewer when it came to questions about Bukowski. If you read his novel, you’ll understand why I’d bring up the literary comparisons. Schmidt’s responses to the interview questions reveal him to be an author without pretension and a writer who’s engaged in encouraging a response.


2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. [Interview] Charles Schmidt Talks the Writing Process, Charles Bukowski and Censorship | Horror Novel Reviews
  2. Street Justice and the Schmidt Affair | Realistic Stuff

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