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Book Review

Book Cover

Mack Dunstan's Inferno


Author: Paul Collins
RRP: £8.95, US $12.95
ISBN: 978 1 4620 3276 1
Available 27 June 2011

When Mack ‘Max’ Dunstan, finally succumbs to the frailty of his flesh and passes beyond the veil, he is surprised to discover that he has ended up in Hades. Famous in life for starring in the classic Planet of the Apes and Ben-Hur, Mack had spent a considerable portion of his life defending the right of Americans to own firearms, free from the consequence of his political, cocooned as he was in his wealth and fame. Stripped bare of his protection, his spirit is accompanied by the poet Virgil, as he traverses the circles of Hell in search of redemption…

Mack Dunstan’s Inferno is a modernisation of Dante's Inferno, written by Paul Collins. Collins has continued to grow as an author and probably has undertaken his most difficult task in this book. Difficult as he instantly lays himself open to comparisons with the classic original. Written by Dante Alighieri, this fourteenth century epic poem contained ‘Inferno’ (Italian for hell) as the first book of the Divine Comedy.

There is no need to hide the fact that regardless of the name change, the book's central character is supposed to be Charlton Heston; a staunch supporter of the NRA in the states. Thankfully few countries have such organisations as more tempered wisdom instantly sees the carnage waiting to occur if you indiscriminately arm your civilians.

In case anyone is in doubt, Collins peppers the book with references to Heston’s work. Presumably the name change was to avoid any legal issues, I can only presume that the libel laws across the pond are different to here, as Collins not only uses well-known figures from the twentieth century, but also a few which are still alive, having not yet taken their place in Hell.

Collins has kept Dante’s general concept of Hell, consisting of a number of circles where the dammed are punished. However the original, although intentionally witty and a little scurrilous, does not translate well into a modern setting. Out go the Christian icons, originally mocked, and in come arms dealers, fake preachers and celebrities, a positively modern cornucopia of lust, greed and gluttony.

The journey holds up a light to the double standards which pervades much of western capitalist society. This alone would have made for an intellectually engaging piece; however it would have lacked heart. Collins has not just peppered Hell with the guilty, but also the innocent, victims of gun crime, who for personal reasons cannot forgive themselves, whether it is for leaving loved ones behind or through a sense of duty. Here then are the real victims of Hell.

Although with each book Collins continues to grow as a writer I still have some reservations about elements of the book.

The narrative consists of various strands. There is the environmental description, no problems there, but it also consists of Mack’s interactions, thoughts and feelings. I did have a problem with this aspect of the book.

Detailing your characters thoughts can often be interesting for the reader, as it opens a window into the characters mind, but - and it’s a big but - it has to add to either our overall understanding of what is happening or the mind state of your central character. Either way, it has to provide more discreet information.

There was a general confusion between what Mack thought and said, with some of it in italics and some not. Even then his thoughts were not exactly riveting.

Frank Herbert in his Dune series successfully combined thought, fake historical documents and the narrative to create a greater whole. However, even if the individual elements were removed, each would still have had a story to tell. Often, all that goes through Mack’s mind is the same detritus which goes through all of us. This may reflect reality but then if I wanted reality I wouldn’t be reading a book.

Never short of an idea, Collins’s has produced a novel which blends something old with a good mix of modernity to hold a mirror up to our modern society, a reflection which is often unpleasant to behold.


Charles Packer

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