Last Days…in 60 Seconds

Horror author Brian Evenson told Tor.com that his latest novel, Last Days, brings the detective novel into a fantastic setting, into a kind of alternate world that almost could be our own.

“I felt like my guide in that respect was Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, with Occasional Music which is a wonderfully done combination of science fiction and noir,” Evenson said in an interview. “My story, I think, locates itself on the boundary of noir, horror, and the dark fantastic.”

After losing his hand in a sting operation gone awry, a detective named Kline finds that he has drawn the attention of a very unusual religious cult whose doctrine is based on amputation. “He’s called in to investigate a murder, but as his investigations continue he comes to feel that something is seriously wrong, that things are not what they seem,” Evenson said. “As the book goes on, he finds himself caught between the truth and what people want him to believe, trapped as a pawn passed back and forth between two rival sects, and fighting not only to stay alive, but to maintain his sense of himself as a participant in the human family.”

Evenson wrote the first part of the book, “The Brotherhood of Mutilation,” a few years ago and published it as a limited edition. “The idea for it came when I was reading a lot of really good noirs and detective novels: stuff by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, Richard Stark, Fredric Brown, and so on,” Evenson said. “Hammett’s The Dain Curse got me thinking about cults and detective novels and the ending of his Red Harvest inspired a certain kind of mood. In any case, I wrote that first part and thought I was done with it, but then kept thinking about the world of the book. Slowly the idea began to develop for how the story might continue and combine elements of a noir with a vengeance story and with an investigation of what happens to someone to make him question his own humanity. Once I discovered that Paul Wittgenstein, the brother of the philosopher, was a one-handed pianist, things started falling in place.”

As research for the book, Evenson looked into elective amputation, which turns out to be more common than one might think. “But most of the research involved reading noirs and crime novels voraciously, trying to get a sense of the genre from the inside,” he said. “The book itself was a real pleasure to write, a tremendous amount of fun—it was both very dark and very darkly funny, which is a combination I love both as a reader and as a writer.”

Evenson still has all his limbs, but he related to the narrative in other ways. “What the story does with religion is very personal in that I grew up in a religious setting in which sometimes very strange things were justified by religion,” Evenson said. “What I was trying to capture with that was a sense of a religion that to an outsider might be incomprehensible but whose adherents are very committed to it, despite its strangeness.”

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