Terry M. West ‘Servant of the Red Quill: A Baker Johnson Tale’ Review
Written by: Chad Lutzke
There’s something about Terry M. West’s work that runs smooth for me, like well-oiled cogs working harmoniously together. I’m a writer and pay careful attention to detail even when texting, so I can’t help but keep one eye on the story and the other on the look out. I look for sentences I would tighten, as well as errors in both grammar and punctuation. West’s work seems to help me set aside that anal retentiveness and just go for the ride. I’m able to look out the window and enjoy the scenery instead of tossing around my backseat driver opinions and corrections. In short, West makes it difficult to be distracted by anything else but the story he’s telling.
Servant of the Red Quill is a period piece (New York City, 1927) in which West builds on a character developed in an older story of his, The Giving of Things Cold & Cursed. The character in question, Baker Johnson, is a psychical researcher that has a knack for judging the book by its cover—that is, he gives accurate and thorough impressions of people’s character, insecurities, and strengths with nothing more than a look at their face. He’s also a bit of an exorcist who specializes in objects containing possession-causing properties. In this instance the object in question is a book with a very interesting and exciting history.
Baker, who’s dealing with his own metaphorical demons, comes out of semi-retirement for a chance at some cash helping out an old acquaintance of his uncle. The first half of the book really felt like an old classic horror film from the 30s or 40s, but it switches gears when it’s time to rid a young girl of a demon.
At this point things change into some stereotypical happenings for an exorcism, and the “Exorcist” type cover itself reminded me of that. As a result, for me, it did contain a bit of a lull here. But let me be clear, I do understand that shedding any negative light on a story for its common exorcism elements would be like badmouthing a vampire, werewolf, or zombie story because they mention drinking blood, shape shifting, and eating flesh while only being destroyed by stakes, daylight, silver bullets, and headshots. It’s the mythos. It comes with the territory, and often times readers don’t like you messing with the established rules, so I get it. And West does, however, add more than just holy water, crucifixes, and restraining straps. There were some genuinely new elements brought to the table to battle the demon despite some of the clichés throughout.
I feel comfortable in this particular instance that I may stand very much alone in what I don’t like about Servant of the Red Quill (which is very little). I can be very hard to please when it comes to music, film, or literature. This does not, however, stop Terry M. West from being one of my current favorite writers and from enjoying the scenery on this particular ride. More please.
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