If you’re planning a trip to Hell to get back your lost love, the best way to get there is by Checker Cab, because if you live in Los Angeles, the entrance to Hell is probably not where you think it is. This particular cab driver, however, knows the way and will get you there, if not without incident, at least in one piece. Welcome to the singular mind of Steve Boyett, where the souls of the dead are feathers, the torments of Hell are worse than you thought, and it just might be possible to save someone with a song.
Mortality Bridge is the story of Niko, an ex-junkie musician whose fame has come from literally making a deal with the devil (actually, an agent of the devil named Phil). After achieving success and some amount of happiness, Niko’s girlfriend Jemma falls ill and dies, and like Orpheus before him, he sets out on a journey into Hell to try to get her back. That’s the short version. In reality, Niko’s odyssey is a long, painful trip through gleefully rendered torment. As Niko proceeds through the various plains and mountains, rivers and oceans of “The Park,” as its inhabitants fondly refer to Hell, Boyett’s unrelenting descriptions of torture boggle the mind, and like being compelled to look at a car crash on the side of the road, I found myself reading certain horrible passages over and over again. At one point it occurred to me that once Niko got to where he was going, he would have to go back through it all in order to get out. (Not to worry, readers, the return trip is fairly swift.) Niko is aided along the way by a variety of Hell’s denizens, including demons and acquaintances from his past. On a speeding train we meet Nikodemus, Niko’s own demon, a strangely loveable character who embodies all of Niko’s past mistakes and is now determined to help him get home.
The story moves at breakneck speed from start to finish, punctuated by flashbacks from Niko’s past as he reminisces about his fractured relationship with Jemma, life as a drug-addled musician, and the sudden and terrible death of his brother Van. But the horror of Hell is tempered by Steve’s mastery of prose. His lovely, uncommon sentence structure is especially poignant as Niko muses on his past with Jemma:
“…in his heart he’d felt a driven nail of terror because she already loved him more than ever he would her.”
It is sentences like this that enable the reader to understand how keenly Niko feels for those he has failed. And in the background, like an unsteady pulse, Niko’s music accompanies him on his journey, as references to the blues are scattered throughout the story. (The chapter names, in fact, are all blues song titles.)
I won’t tell you what happens to Niko. You’ll just have to read Mortality Bridge for yourself. I will tell you this, however: it was worth the painful trip to Hell and back just to get to the end. Niko’s story may end on page 417, but his journey has just begun.
Subterranean Press, 2011. Limited Edition. Cover art by J.K. Potter. Also available in paperback and e-book versions.
More great reading from Steve Boyett (available in paperback and e-book):
Visit the Mortality Bridge website here.
You can visit Steve’s blog here.