A flash of light and Detective Joe Dante steps through. No longer on the cobblestone streets of 1961 Boston, Joe finds himself in a horrifying new world - Hell itself. Joe was in hot pursuit of his family's killer, drug lord Filippo Argenti, when both were killed, and isn't about to let a little thing like death slow him down. So, with a healthy dose of New England stubbornness and the help of a mysterious guide, Virgil DiMini, Joe must evade angry demons and search ever-lower through the rings of the original Dante's Inferno in hopes of finding justice for his wife and children. However, Joe will soon discover that behind every sin lies a secret and each secret revealed could land Joe in an eternity of hot water...
Dante's Journey was a real surprise. The blurb on the back doesn't do the story within the pages justice, in my opinion, because this was an unusual and compelling tale of learning moral aspects of your own character, as well as a trip through the circles of Hell. We spend as much time on Dante's journey to inner peace and rediscovery of faith as we do on his actual journey through Hell.
The strengths of this novel are the writing, which is exuberant good fun, and the characterisation - every single one of those characters deserves to be in hell for their various misdemeanours, and yet Marino manages to make you empathise with them and understand how they could have committed their crimes. I liked the manner in which Marino described the various people Dante meets on his journey, and the fact that they come from all different periods in history, including future periods that he wouldn't be aware of, having died in 1961. This creates some comic interludes.
Just as an aside, I'm also impressed with Marino's level of research: not only are the circles of hell represented very much as in the original Inferno, but he knew that Joe Dante would have been able to see Bugs Bunny before his death in 1961, since Bugs was "born" in 1940! (yes, I like my cartoons!)
As mentioned, the scenes in hell were descriptive - energetic and horrific, by turn. For example: "Without any kind of communication among them, all the iron demons started slashing simultaneously. My eyes still forced open, I watched as the sinners were systematically dismembered and disemboweled by the sword and axe-wielding demons.
'Listen to me,' a Nazi pleaded. 'You never listen to me. I was under orders, you understand. Under orders. Under orders!'
The demon ignored him, plunging his dagger-like fingers into the Nazi's gut."
Despite the horror of some of these scenes, the humour in the novel is ever-present: snappy dialogue between Joe Dante and Argenti being key, as well as some rather slapstick moments:
" 'Faster,' I sang out.
'I am,' Argenti sang back.
'What? Are you pulling?'
'I was pushing.'
We both stared at each other for a moment, not knowing which one of us was the idiot."
I also liked Marino's method of using flashbacks interspersed throughout the main body of the novel to show what really happened to Joe Dante in the time leading up to his death. This represented the idea that, until Dante had his epiphany in the ninth circle of hell, he is, in fact, a deeply unreliable narrator thanks to his hatred for Argenti. It was a neat trick.
On the whole, I enjoyed the book tremendously, although I do think the 'running time' was a little on the long side. There were flabby periods throughout that didn't add a great deal to the overall story - it just needed a little bit of tightening up. Also, the constant encounters with the demons became mighty repetitive at times, and I thought a couple of them could be cut with ease.
And Virgil annoyed me, purely because we weren't given enough hints on the way through about who he might be. I like to work out these little mysteries myself, and I either was not given enough to go on (in the early part of the story) or told outright (in the later part of the novel) - this could have been balanced a little better.
I am very glad a took a chance on this small press book. It was a fun read, with a warm heart and lots of lovely self-realisation. Joe Dante was a vibrant and realistic character and I enjoyed going on his journey. Recommended.