Okay, this could be a tough review.
Not in an emotional sense, you understand, or because I’ve got nowt to say.
Not even because it’s not a good book.
It’s actually, spoiler alert, a great book.
The problem, in this instance, is more to do with timings.
See, although this blog is coming out on 11th January, I finished it almost a month before that. 17th December, to be exact.
Since then, we had that Christmas thing which, as is its prerogative, threw everything up in the air. Laughing with childish glee as it did so.
Or so I imagine.
I began this review on the 27th December, and I’m now rewriting it on the 28th.
For ten days before this, though, I spent very little time writing at all.
Such is Christmas.
But, while my writing came to a screaming halt, my reading ploughed on come rain or shine.
So, as I write this, John Dies is far from my most recent reading memory. In fact, since finishing it, I have read five more books, and am a few pages into a sixth.
This makes for the most substantial gap between the book read and the book reviewed.
And it’s made my mind all jumbled as I go into this.
Still, the longer I put it off, the worse the situation gets.
So, I suppose I’d better try do this thing.
David Wong/ Cracked and me
Recently, I’ve been a bit crap about doing this ‘author and me’ section.
Last time out I didn’t mention the writer, and with Silence, not so long ago, I didn’t know anything about our author.
Not good enough.
I want to fix that today. But I can’t talk about David Wong alone. Not when there is an organisation with which he is so entangled. At least in my mind.
You see, I wouldn’t even know of David Wong if it wasn’t for that great institution – Cracked.
For the uninitiated, Cracked is a comedy site.
In fact, if their slogan is to be believed they are “America’s only humor site since 1958”.
This is bullshit, of course, and not least because they can’t spell humour.
But it does sum them up.
The site consists of content that is both interesting and hilarious. They cover all sorts of media but are best known for their list articles. i.e. ‘14 gaping plot holes in the fabric of the Star Wars universe‘.
I’m not sure when I first became aware of Cracked, but I’ve been a huge fan for many years now.
Many hours I’ve spent trawling their articles, and it is for this reason I became aware of David Wong. Executive editor and writer of some of my favourite pieces.
Knowing David Wong, I was always going to buy John Dies at the End when I saw it in a bookshop in America.
Even if the blurb had been shit – which it wasn’t – I would have assumed it was going to be a great book.
Which, incidentally, it was.
John Dies at the End
Even if I didn’t know David Wong, how could I not buy a book described as “a cross between Stephen King and Douglas Adams”.
At least, I think someone described it as such.
I can’t now find this particular review.
John Dies at the end is a horror/ comedy (horredy, if you will) about two twenty-something slackers who discover a plot to destroy the world by some seriously evil… uh, stuff.
It involves exploding people. Monsters made of meat. Monsters made of insects. Black goo stuff that makes you super intelligent, and much much more.
There’s so much going on here that it’s difficult to write a plot summary.
So, I’m not going to.
Let’s talk about some of what makes John Dies at the End exceptional, instead.
The Funny/Scary Blend
Comedy and horror are two of the hardest genres to write but, when done well, they are also the two best genres around.
Hence why Stephen King and Terry Pratchett are two of the best writers going (or gone, in Pratchett’s case).
What Wong does is seek that rare beauty of a novel that is both horrifying and hilarious at the same time.
And he succeeds.
Here is a photo of the inside cover of my copy of John Dies at the End. Notice how most of the reviews cover how it manages to be both funny and scary at the same time.
See, I wasn’t making it up.
This is, without a doubt, the real strength of John Dies.
It makes you laugh every few pages while keeping up the suspense at all times.
Throw on top of this some gruesome scenes and scares and you wonder how Wong managed to blend all these genres into one novel and get away with it.
But he did, and it works, and it’s one of the real strengths of his book.
To succeed in getting the scares, suspense and comedy right, you could be forgiven for thinking the plot can’t be great.
Except, I don’t forgive you.
And you are wrong.
Aside from being funny and scary, John Dies is also clever.
See above, where I fast gave up on writing a plot summary.
I couldn’t do it without giving things away and I didn’t want to give things away.
From the first page, the book sets up twists and turns.
When it’s not making you laugh or scaring the shit out of you, it’s making you think.
This book is a page-turner. Honest. The plot races along, and you want to find out what is going on, and see how it unravels.
When the twists start unfolding, later on, you are never disappointed, and the biggun at the end is outstanding.
I didn’t even guess it.
John Dies is not just an excuse to make jokes and throw scares around. There is a genuine plot which the laughs and scares are always in support of, not the other way around.
But, let’s talk about the end.
I have, in the past, spoken about the problem of massive sets up regarding endings.
Much of the time, a writer will allow grand ideas to get away from them, and the ending won’t quite live up to the hype.
In John Dies, the end is sufficient (the twist is brilliant, as I said before) but doesn’t live up to the rest of the book.
The worst thing is, after the story ends, the book keeps going for much longer than it needs to.
This is often a problem with great books.
They don’t know how to end.
But, in the end, this end is not a downer enough to ruin the rest of the book, which has been so funny, scary and exciting from page one.
So that’s okay.
The plot is excellent, but the real strength of this book is it’s two main characters.
David Wong (yeah, the author’s name is the primary characters name. Although, actually, the author’s name isn’t the author’s name. It’s a pseudonym. The real name of the author is Jason Pargin, but… well, it doesn’t matter. Let’s carry on) and the titular John are brilliant.
They’re both uniquely funny and engaging and help carry this plot the entire way. Neither of them is trustworthy, but both have their hearts in the right place.
We route for them throughout.
Throw two different leads in here (like Harry Potter and John McClane), and this book would not be the same book.
Neither would it be as good.
Though a film with Harry Potter and John McClane… that could be interesting.
This book was a four out of five on Goodreads.
It was funny, scary, with a plot that keeps you engaged and guessing throughout.
The pace is excellent, and there are loads of twists and turns to keep things exciting.
The two main characters are brilliant, carrying a plot that doesn’t even need carrying.
If you love scary, funny things, get out, and get this book.
Like, right now.
Next up is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Need I say more?