When a group of high school students and one cop are murdered by a school shooter, they find themselves down in Hell. However, their killer follows them down and, to the surprise of them and the denizens of Hell, he has the ability to permanently kill even the Lords of the Nine Circles. As they attempt to escape him, one of the Lords recruits them to find the President of Hell and bring the killer to his attention.
“’It’s like Dante’s Inferno, you idiot.’
‘Dante’s Inferno?’ Jasin asked, confused. ‘So, Dante’s Inferno is real?’
‘Of course not,’ the Oarsman interjected. ‘That’s as fictional as your Harry Potter books. I’ve never even meet anyone named Dante in my long life. He’s never been down here.’
‘But why do you have nine circles of Hell too?’ Virginia pressed.
‘Look, because shut up, all right? It’s just a coincidence.’”
Hell of Death is a bizarro comedy which is the final installment in Vince Kramer’s Death trilogy. The premise, a group of teen movie archetypes traveling through Hell, reminded me a lot of Chuck Palahniuk’s Damned. However, Kramer takes the idea in a much more absurd direction.
The weirdness of the story begins even before it gets to Hell. The shooter attacking the teens’ school is obsessed with McDonald’s and going on a rampage as revenge for the school’s anti-fast food campaign. He discovers one of the students is a vampire who he has to kill with a stake and another is an undercover officer doing a not very convincing job of disguising himself as a teenager. The humor in this book is great.
The humor in the novel also takes on a meta aspect in many parts. In one chapter, the cast of characters falls into a level of Hell covered in feces. They discover that, to each of them, the feces smell like their least favorite pop-tart flavor. Both the characters and the author Kramer decide this idea is too stupid and Kramer reboots the chapter.
Despite the absurdism and metafictional aspects of the book, Kramer keeps the book moving at a good pace and it remains a fun read. Like the best bizarro authors, I can see that Kramer was more than capable of making this a more straightforward fantasy or horror, but he simply had no interest in doing so.
Not everything works in the novel, though. Like Kramer mentions in his introduction to the book, it was written in 2016, though not published until this year, and contains some references that became dated very quickly. This is fine for a few throwaway gags, but the climax of the book is based on a gag that is now very out of date. It makes it a bit of a chore to get through in just how badly dated it is. However, that may say more about how fast the world changed in the past four years than about Kramer’s ability as a writer.. There’s also a meta subplot where one of the teens finds the a copy of the same book that they’re currently in, though under a different title. It’s built up like it’s going to play a significant role, but it’s eventually unceremoniously dropped without being mentioned again.
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Hell of Death is a funny and entertaining bizarro comedy. This was first I've read of Vince Kramer's work and I certainly believe its worth following up on his other work. Anyone interested in an off-the-wall comedic read will have a great time with this book, despite some dated gags and dead-end plotlines.
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