Summer of Sleaze is 2014’s turbo-charged trash safari where Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction and Grady Hendrix of The Great Stephen King Reread plunge into the bowels of vintage paperback horror fiction, unearthing treasures and trauma in equal measure.
John Christopher (born Samuel Youd) is an author best known for his young adult science fiction stories that were turned into comics in Boy’s Life magazine, most notably The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire. But he also wrote for adults, and his The Little People published in 1966 has a cover by Hector Garrido (reproduced here) that might be paperback publishing’s Mona Lisa.
Unfortunately, that Hector Garrido cover is arguably the best thing about the book. Despite the Nazi Leprechauns on the cover (Gestapochauns? LepreNazis?), this is a book of quiet horror in which Christopher slowly draws his tapestry of flawed characters into a situation that starts out as merely uncanny and then gradually darkens into pure terror. Pure terror filled with Leprechauns.
Considering that the main characters in this book are a gorgeous secretary who inherits an Irish castle from a distant relative, her patronizing lawyer/fiance who only wants her for her body, an Irish dreamboat who slowly sinks into alcoholism (the “curse of his race,” Christopher helpfully points out), a married German couple who met when he was an officer in the SS and she was a Jewish prisoner in a concentration camp (the flashback to their romance is When Harry Met Sally meets Schindler’s List), two bickering American parents, and their hot-to-trot seventeen-year-old daughter, you’d think that Christopher might be predisposed towards the gonzo stuff teased on the cover rather than the quiet horror contained within, but the man wants to write quiet horror no matter how badly we want him to write Gestapochauns II: The Whipping.
The beautiful secretary decides to turn her inherited Irish castle into a B&B to show her horndog lawyer/fiance she can stand on her own two feet (with the occasional support of the friendly Irish alcoholic). The other characters (Mr. & Mrs. Bickerson and their nympho daughter along with the Nazi Odd Couple) come to stay and then stand around in dark rooms after dinner exploring the nooks and crannies of their souls with long internal monologues.
After every nook has been explored at least twice, and each cranny three times, Christopher takes pity and introduces us to the Gestapochauns: a gang of miniature people living in the castle and battling rats with their tiny bullwhips. He then clears the hurdle and jumps the shark all at once by letting us know that these are not just any Nazi leprechauns. These are Jewish psychic Nazi leprechauns who enjoy S&M, are covered with scars from pleasure/pain sessions with their creator, were trained as sex slaves for full-sized human men, and are actually stunted fetuses taken from Jewish concentration camp victims. And one of them is named Adolph.
Take a moment to wipe the sweat from your brow.
While all this information is being hosed into the reader’s eyes like a geyser of crazy, this book rockets from 0 to 60 on the Loony-meter and over-delivers on practically every front. From the moment the Gestapochauns play a mean practical joke on the old Irish washerwoman who works in the kitchen to the moment the lawyer/fiance realizes exactly what—my God!—the tiny Nazi Leprechaun named Greta is actually up to inside his pants, it’s one long, 50-page passage in which this book is firing on every cylinder, and then some cylinders that don’t even exist in our dimension.
At this point, you get the impression that Christopher probably showed his 2/3’s completed manuscript to a friend who took him aside and had a Very Serious Conversation with him about his career, after which he devoted the remaining 40 pages of the book to a discrete psychic battle that takes place in the dreams of the non-psychic, non-Nazi, non-Leprechaun members of the cast. In other words: The Boring People.
The Gestapochauns are completely absent from the last 30 pages of this book and it ends on an anticlimactic note, leaving the reader with nothing but the taste of ashes and dashed expectations in their mouths and a distant memory of those 50 pages in the middle when things were happening that are not talked about in respectable homes. Christopher and his Gestapochauns fly so high and so far in those middle passages that he practically touches the sun, but the genius is sandwiched between two long sections so dense with soul-searching that they extinguish all the joy in your heart. I never thought I’d write this sentence, but the Gestapochaun sex and violence orgy is too little, and it comes too late. But, just as Bogie and Bergman will always have Paris, we, the readers of The Little People, will always have that cover.
Grady Hendrix is the author of Satan Loves You, Occupy Space, and he’s the co-author of Dirt Candy: A Cookbook, the first graphic novel cookbook. He’s written for publications ranging from Playboy to World Literature Today and his story, “Mofongo Knows” appears in the anthology, The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination.