Thrift Store Finds–Analog Books. Digital Reviews.
Gary L. Holleman’s Demon Fire is a staggeringly ‘90s romp into the Hawaiian horror sub genre.
The story follows Quinn Ramsey, a widowed cop from Florida, who inherits his wealthy uncle’s estate after his untimely death (literally the same plot as my last Thrift Store Finds review, Salem’s Children). With little to leave behind, Ramsey and his 9-year-old son, Quinn Jr., move to Hana, Hawaii presumably to live out the rest of their days as the altruistic rich.
Sadly, it’s not that simple. Turns out Ramsey’s uncle was into some pretty heavy occult activities, and he wasn’t alone. Apparently, there is a large occult movement in Hawaii, and they seem eager to scare Ramsey away from his inheritance. From this plot springs a flood of zany plot points and memorable characters including well-intended witches, dead best friends, criminals-turned-security-experts, shape-shifting demons, evil occult mafia thugs, skeptical local detectives, and more embarrassing stereotypes than can be counted on one hand.
Ramsey is determined to stay in his new home no matter who ends up dead and turns to the combined efforts of the beautiful-but-skeptical Sergeant Otaka and his son’s tutor, the beautiful and secretive Adar. (Get it??? The widow is surrounded by beautiful women??? What will the cop-turned-millionaire do???)
And people do turn up dead. Whether it’s a mutilated child discovered in an abandoned house or a mysterious death by spiders in a van moving at high speeds, people are dropping on the regular ever since Ramsey arrived. Could these deaths be linked to the demonic entities Ramsey’s uncle was obsessed with researching?
This book may have been published in the mid-90s, but it has all the trappings of early ‘80s genre fair: sex magic, creative deaths, well-endowed demons, scenes where everyone eats pizza, lewd cult activities, and simplistic explanations of ancient customs and concepts.
If there is one overarching compliment I can give this book, it is effortlessly readable. Holleman’s writing style is easy, fun, and keeps up the pace even in the slower “let’s explain the occult” moments.
The decision to set the story Hawaii was a nice change of scenery from the usual. I had a writing teacher who always encouraged his students to set their stories some place interesting, cause why not? I was reminded of that idea throughout reading this book. This same story in New England would be a snooze. But, I hasten to add, Holleman’s setting was so much more than a clever trick. The plot is intrinsically linked to its setting, and that’s what makes it stand out. Anglo-Saxon gods and demons have been used so frequently they’ve become old hat, it’s fun to explore a different set of supernatural creatures.
Even so, I got the sense Holleman must have lived or visited Hawaii a few times and was 40% obsessed with it. His love of the land and its history bleeds through every page.
If this book is starting to sound like a good time, it is, but a word of warning:
When I called Demon Fire “so ‘90s,” I meant that in both a good and a bad way. Casual racism, sexism, and homophobia are peppered throughout this book in a manner that is staggering by today’s standards. It’s a shocking reminder of the progress we’ve made as a species in the past twenty years. I mean, what the hell were we doing back then?
Asian housekeepers shuffle along silently in dragon-embroidered robes, women would look pretty if they weren’t so angry, and white men marvel at a world that’s changing so quickly they can’t keep up. The assumptions made about women are particularly jaw-dropping as they are presented without a hint of irony.
My lesser gripe about this book comes in the form of dialogue. There has been a continuous trend since the ‘80s to write demons in the same vein as Freddy Krueger. I’m not sure why this trend persists, but it drives me nuts. For example, Demon Fire’s baddie had an irritating obsession with the term “Bitch.” Aren’t demons supposed to be super powerful other-worldly entities? Why would a creature of such power use simple, human words? I have no problem with characters shouting “bitch,” but it definitely makes a demon seem less threatening and even a little comical. Maybe “bitch” was a scarier word in the ‘90s? I was nine and just learning the joys of cussing, so who knows?
Demon Fire is a fun, fast-paced occult horror that effortlessly entertains with unique story in a great setting. Pick it up when you want to escape to a warmer climate for a few hours. Just make sure the warmth you’re feeling is from Hawaii and not . . . hell.
Get your copy right here.