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Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence
by Michael Marshal Smith
Harper Voyager; $15.99; 368 pp.
Published: November 2018

A wonderful, loopy tale set ostensibly in Santa Cruz, CA with some side trips to London and Russia about The Engineer of the box  (called the  Sacrifice Machine) that shunts the evil in the world to the Devil and keeps his darkness strong and fertile.

The Engineer, who was born in the time J.S. Bach, is the grandfather of Hannah Green, who lives in contemporary Santa Cruz with her parents, her mother a high-end business woman who travels a lot and her father Steve who is always working on scripts and visiting L.A. in hopes they get picked up, which they do occasionally.

Hannah is eleven when things start to fall apart between her parents. Coincidentally, her mom is off to London and her dad needs to go down to L.A. so it’s decided that she’ll stay with her grandfather.

And the adventure begins.

The Devil needs to find the Sacrifice Machine since it doesn’t seem to be working, so he goes from Florida to Santa Cruz to seek out the Engineer and finds Hannah and her grandfather (who, like Faust, made a bargain with the Devil back in the day). But while in Florida, the Devil met up with some nasty criminals who learned an unexpected lesson on real evil from the Devil. Frustrated with their foul abilities, they meet up with the Devil’s nemesis’ The Fallen Angels. There are twelve of them. And they and the Devil do not get along. But they want the Sacrifice Machine, too.

So everything begins to converge on Santa Cruz.  The characters in this tale are so wonderfully drawn out and layered. The Devil, a fine purveyor of Evil is fascinating and sometimes weary and not histrionic, huge and demanding.  Human in form, the Devil wears a wrinkled black linen suit. He’s been at it a long time. He is of course persuasive and convinced the Engineer to fix the Machine so Evil can get back on track.

The story unfolds in a cavalcade of eccentric color. It has the flavor of James Blaylock and Neil Gaiman at his most whimsical. The writing is just terrific.  The Devil is fascinating and his minion, a mushroom-shaped imp named Vaneclaw, though not the sharpest rock in the box, has a real street-level way of talking. The two are a great pairing. Hannah is the confused but stalwart eleven-year old. The grandfather and parents perform their parts with perfect aplomb.  But it’s really the Devil and Vaneclaw that are the strongest, most entertaining characters.

The final scene, in a very Blaylock-ian (or even Tim Powers-flavored setting) takes place on an old wooden roller coaster on a Santa Cruz pier. This is a dark carnival of weird engaging characters. Don’t miss it. ~~ Sue Martin

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