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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


Masques

By Bill Pronzini
Leisure Books, 269 pp,1999

This is a sleek, fast-paced and unique little tale set in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Pronzini has used a very effective and time-tested technique. Take a likeable character and place him in a perilous situation. Throw in an exotic setting and you've got a great premise.

Steven Giroux has come to Mardi Gras to blow off some steam and forget his troubles. Recently divorced from an unfaithful wife, Giroux is a borderline alcoholic struggling to get his life back together. He meets a voodoo babe who wants to have sex with him. Something freaky happens and he wakes up the next morning with the voodoo babe gone and he's covered in blood. So he runs back to his hotel.

On the way, he meets a seemingly normal babe who also wants to have sex with him, though she makes him take her out to dinner first.

He also gets a strange phone call from someone demanding a photograph or he'll be sorry. This is the novel's main plot line and it's a nice little mystery, since Giroux has no idea what the caller is talking about.

Over the next few days during Mardi Gras, Giroux tries to figure everything out while being terrorized by the caller and his buddies.

It's a simple plot with a minimum of characters, and it works. In fact, the POV never shifts away from Giroux, so the reader is just as clueless as the character.

The main quibble I would make is that Pronzini gives us a lot of detail about New Orleans and Mardi Gras, with endless descriptions of the sights, sounds, and human wildlife. For the most part, it's interesting and adds some nice texture. But at times, it slows down the pacing and gets in the way. I felt like skipping over some paragraphs to get on with the story.

But overall, this is an enjoyable book from a very good horror writer.

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