Hard-boiled horror is leavened with witty dialogue and humor in S. Craig Zahler’s Forbidden Surgeries of the Hideous Dr. Divinus.
The story begins with an eerie episode in which a homeless man is drugged and taken to a hidden lab for an experiment that proves fatal. The focus then switches to a comatose woman, Lillian, and her two brothers—one a cop, the other a criminal. A strange man attempts to kidnap Lillian from the hospital, and as the brothers track him down, they uncover his identity, his purpose, and his employer—the mysterious Dr. Divinus.
The book’s black-and-white art has a crude, quirky style with original touches, like word balloons with miniature phones or intercoms to indicate a distant, electronic voice. The handwritten text is sometimes compressed to a fault, but it also feels warmer and more intimate than any computer font. The story is clear and entertaining, sometimes losing shades of nuance because of the art, but it’s delivered with energy and humor.
Strong conversations veer from tangential asides about pencil sharpeners and business cards, to amusing statements that move the plot forward, as when a young heiress calls out to her lost feline, “Presently, I shall find, scold, and kiss you.” In an example of the book’s rapid shifts between humor and horror, this scene precedes a violent turn.
Half a surreal, modern day nightmare, and half evocative of 1940s noir detective films, Forbidden Surgeries of the Hideous Dr. Divinus is comic, creepy, and compelling.
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