Monday, August 14, 2023

Death Tour

In Stephen King's Danse Macabre, the 1978 horror novel Death Tour is described as “funny/horrible”. The book, authored by a rather obscure guy named David J. Michael, made an appearance in Grady Hendrix's Paperbacks from Hell, and is often a novel lumped in erroneously with the “fall, mauled, and clawed” animal-attack genre that permeated the 1970s and 1980s. No matter which cover used, the hardback version published by Bobbs-Merrill Company in 1978 or the NEL 1980 paperback (painting by Bob Martin), both versions suggests the book feeds the urban myth of raging, ravenous alligators attacking unsuspecting maintenance workers and sewage tourists (they exist!). 

Unlike David Hagberg's 1976 genuine sewer-dwelling creature-feature Croc, reviewed right HERE, Death Tour isn't really a gator-munchin' tale at all. It just seems that way.

Tom Marsh is a journalism student that leads a five-member band of spunky production workers contributing to the University, a college news-rag. It's a hip group of kids, cleverly calling themselves Five-Star, that drive around in a hearse to investigate sensational newsworthy incidents. Tom's girlfriend Mary is in the group, and their relationship is central to the narrative. Mary's father, a disgruntled sanitation manager that oversees shit (literally), is overprotective and absolutely despises Tom, aka Academic Scholar. 

Through Mary, Tom learns that there is a real possibility that alligators are ravaging the city's sewer pipes. You see, this was a thing that started in New York City in the 1970s, when people would purchase baby alligators from pet stores. When responsibility and space became too cumbersome, owners flushed their beloved reptiles down the toilet where they grew into monstrous creatures devouring underpaid union workers. The flushing of the reptiles probably happened, but nothing resembling the mass hysteria created by the film Alligator (1980). 

Soon, the Five-Star gang are driving their hearse to a nearby manhole cover where they descend into the madness with a dead duck and lots of camping gear. While the hunt for a gator was fun, the narrative was really bogged down with a lot of filler and sludge. I almost threw in the towel...or toilet paper...but by 100 of 193 pages, this novel rose through the mediocre crap to be totally badass. 

It turns out that alligators may or may not be in the sewer, but the real menace is human. When one of the group is impaled with a metal spear, the Five-Star gang discover a grizzled, cloaked human living in this nasty underwater dwelling. Does Death Tour become Hunter's Blood in the sewers? It's not quite the “cannibals hunting humans” gimmick you're thinking of. But, there is definitely a similar cool vibe throughout the book's third act. I was pleasantly surprised to learn what the real menace was and it neatly tied up an earlier plot development.

By no means is Death Tour riveting, well-written action-adventure. Nor is it a shocking, white-knuckle terror-ride. It doesn't have to be. Instead, this obscure novel demanded my attention and I was well-rewarded with a fun reading experience. This was really enjoyable and I highly recommend hunting down a copy. Don't listen to Stephen King. It isn't funny or horrible, it's just a damn good time.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

1 comment:

  1. Might have to check it out. Always enjoy reading off the beaten path stuff. Never know what you might get. Often awful, sometimes great, but usually find a few interesting things in them that can make it worth it.