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White Bizango
Stephen Gallagher
Bantam/Spectra, 370 pages

Stephen Gallagher
When Stephen Gallagher published his novel Oktober in 1987 it was to be his temporary farewell to genre fiction, at least as far as his readers were concerned. Never a writer to remain in one place for very long, Gallagher used the early part of his full-time career to examine supernatural horror (Valley of Lights), Northern European legends (Follower), dystopic science fiction (the novelization of his own radio serial, The Last Rose of Summer), and techno-horror (in Chimera). Oktober appeared, and here was Gallagher's murkiest and probably most ambitious novel at that juncture. A Kafka-esque tale of a man literally in the wrong place at the wrong time, Oktober is a tale of chemical malpractice on a continental scale, dealing as it does with a drug which unleashes the collective subconscious. The unfortunate protagonist is experimented on and afterwards persecuted, not least in the hallucinogenic scenes in the Nightmare Country. The book went on to out-sell even the successful Valley of Lights. But Stephen Gallagher was not resting on his laurels. He published mainstream thrillers for a while, although some of the material he presented during this time had been written earlier.

Stephen Gallagher Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Interview: Stephen Gallagher

Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson

White Bizango Another crime novel set in Louisiana with magical overtones, Stephen Gallagher's White Bizango refers to: "A secret society of practitioners who operate outside of accepted vodoun practice, often performing harmful services for their clients in exchange for payment." In this case the practitioner is a white convict, a con man who uses his knowledge of voodoo to fleece the rich and gullible, especially through the use of a poison that simulates death. Blending elements reminiscent of the folksy procedurals of James Lee Burke with the occult horrors of Lucius Shepard amongst others, Gallagher attempts to capture the best of both in this short novel, turning in a well-crafted if lackluster effort.

In his introduction Mojo storyteller Joe Lansdale suggests "Voodoo-Hoodoo Be Cookin'." However this story rarely gets beyond a slow boil. Starting out well enough with a kidnapping and paralysis of the protagonist that leads to a horrific scene in a morgue, the story soon backs away from its more gripping entrance to dwell upon characterization and novelties of setting. The plot is neither mysterious nor exciting, and the horror elements rarely, after the opening chapters, achieve a sense of dread. Instead the narrative devolves into a step-by-step procedural whose only real merits exist in an identification with its lead character, a sympathy and interest which for me never took place. We've seen this type of hero all too often before: the cynical detective undergoing a divorce, reexamining his life and alienated in his social role yet able to fit in with the grittier proletariat he associates with. The basic setting and premise are familiar, and after years of detective novels, some of which have incorporated elements of witchcraft and the occult, especially whenever set in Louisiana, another tale doing the same is unlikely to raise much of a stir.

I've never read any of Gallagher's previous work, but this novel never frees itself from the tired traditions which it follows.

Copyright © 2003 William Thompson

William Thompson is a regular contributor to SF Site and Interzone magazine. His reviews have also appeared in Revolution Science Fiction and Locus Online. In addition to his own writing, he possesses an MLS degree in Special Collections, and serves as an advisor to the Lilly Library for their collection of fantasy and science fiction. He is currently working with scifi/fantasy bibliographer Hal Hall, at the Cushing Collection at Texas A&M on the Moorcock manuscripts, and is a contributor to the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Themes in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Gary Westfahl.

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