Christopher Moore,
Practical Demonkeeping
(St. Martin's, 1992)

Practical Demonkeeping is Christopher Moore's first novel, and it demonstrates the quirky talent that is the hallmark of his subsequent titles Coyote Blue, Bloodsucking Fiends, Island of the Sequined Love Nun and Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove.

It's the story of a man and his demon -- a human-eating demon named Catch, to be specific. The man is Travis O'Hearn, and he has been on the road for 70 years with no other companion than the demon he invoked by accident while a seminary student. Thanks to Catch, Travis hasn't aged in all that time, but Travis has precious little else for which to thank him. He is searching for the young woman -- now, certainly, no longer young -- with whom he accidentally left the means with which he can rid himself of the demon.

Travis and Catch come to Pine Cove, a quiet little tourist town in Northern California, and that's when all hell breaks loose. He finds the woman, but loses Catch -- who promptly convinces local witch Rachel Henderson that he is an Earth Spirit who will help her rule the world for good -- and now Travis's energies must go into catching the wayward demon, as Catch can and will consume most of the population if the mood strikes him.

Fortunately, Gian Hen Gian, King of the Djinn, has finally caught up with the pair, and he enlists the aid of Augustus Brine, the Zen-inspired proprietor of a bait, tackle, and fine wine store, to capture Catch. Also caught up in the tangle of events is Jenny Masterson, a waitress at H.P.'s Cafe and long-suffering soon-to-be-ex-wife of failed photographer and alcoholic Robert Masterson; Robert himself; Howard Phillips, owner of H.P.'s Cafe; and Detective Sergeant Alphonso Rivera of the San Junipero Sheriff's Department, who only wanted to conduct a simple drug raid.

Told from multiple perspectives, the story's pace is breathtaking right up until the incredibly credible conclusion. The tone of the book is reminiscent but not derivative of books by Tom Robbins and will likely appeal to Robbins fans. Overall, the book is less sophisticated than Moore's later books, but with likeable appealing characters and a plot that's at once loopy and tightly woven, it's a terrific place to start.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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