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White Bizango

by Stephen Gallagher

introduction by Joe R Lansdale

(PS Publishing, £8/$14, 159 pages, signed, numbered, limited edition paperback, also available as signed, numbered limited edition hardback priced £25/$40, published December 2002.)

Review by David Mathew

This remarkable little book is like a cover scanstranger's suitcase that you have picked up by mistake. From the outside it looks familiar -- a police procedural, first person tale about American voodoo -- but once you have opened up the lid, you find that this case is full of the weird and the wonderful -- and that it has been packed extremely tightly. It is no less than a joy to unpack the narrative.

John Lafcadio is a cop, called in to a shopping mall to investigate the disappearance of a child. While chasing the would-be kidnapper, he is attacked in a most unusual way (in one of the book's three most chilling scenes) and is left for dead. The problem is, despite the fact that he can see and hear as usual, he cannot move so much as an eyelid: he's been paralysed. This leads, of course, to an autopsy scene -- which I won't spoil here -- and to Lafcadio's involvement with the Voodoo Cops.

What follows is a breakneck adventure into an environment that is altogether alien to Lafcadio. It certainly does not help that he is pursuing a man whose face he cannot recall, but neither is the wall of silence he faces from the Bizango's previous victims of much benefit. Lafcadio has to learn new strategies while building re-aligned relationships with his daughters (they and their mother have moved out). Complicating the mixture even further is a dawning relationship with the mother of the original missing child. It is a lot to fit into such a small number of pages, but Gallagher handles his prose and his commitments with elegance, muscle and the skill of a writer at the height of his powers.

White Bizango is fast-paced, beautifully crafted, sinister, funny and cold. Lafcadio in particular is a wonderful creation: sarcastic but sharp, he seems to the reader like a good man caught up in exceptional circumstances. This does not of course make him likeable, and it is to Gallagher's credit that Lafcadio does not come out as a victim, despite what recent life has thrown at him. He is working the best way he can. Unhesitatingly recommended.

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