I am forced to admit to a terrible shame. I am yet to finish Hal Duncan's amazing Book of All Hours. I got stuck halfway through Ink and it still awaits my return to its impossible multiverse. That said, I loved Vellum and what I read from its sequel. It was just too much, too fast, and at the wrong time, but I have every intention of finishing it. I consider The Book of All Hours to be one of the very few truly unique and genius pieces of speculative literature out there.
Escape From Hell! is a completely different work. It is a small book, almost a novella, in which Duncan pays tribute to a very particular brand of B-movies. It is the ultimate "escape from..." story, in which four characters die and are sent to Hell - a demonic, twisted version of New York City. A hooker, killed by her pimp. A homosexual boy, beaten to death for his orientation (his name is Matthew btw). A hitman, done in by his competitors. A hobo suicide. They couldn't be more different and the places they find themselves in Hell have nothing in common. The hooker is locked into a cheap motel room, where a never-ending stream of Hell's brutal sadistic policemen come to use her as they please. The kid is sent into a "hospital", to be "cured" from his homosexuality. The hitman is constantly beaten and tortured in an underground facility, while the hobo becomes part of Hells homeless community, who are - literally - invisible, except for the special scanners of the police force that raids the streets mercilessly. But as the four of them manage to break away from their personal horrors, something draws them to each other and finally they decide to do the impossible. But the media quickly starts following their progress, and as every denizen of Hell focuses their attention on the escapees, the four find a secret, hidden in the bowels of the city - the reason for Hell's very existence.
Escape From Hell! is disarmingly camp and funny, but it is also bloody, vicious and somewhat disquieting. The blending of B-movie action scenes with character studies and the very real and complicated relationships between the four heroes of the story makes for a really interesting experience, and while the plot is ridiculous in its extremity, it is still intense and compelling. Hal Duncan - a fervent attacker of Christianity's hypocrisy (the way he perceives it) - does not shy from uncomfortable topics, and his book has some very interesting thoughts on the nature of faith, religion and dogmas.
Still, Escape From Hell! is by no means any sort of propaganda. It is a work of pulp art, elegantly executed, flamboyant, charming and disturbing. The characters are likable with all their flaws, and even though the story is short, I truly cared for them by the end. If you are into intentionally campy entertainment, this one is a must. Even if you aren't though, it still offers a lot more than many other "serious" books out there.