Roadside Attractions by Eric Lahti

Roadside Attractions by Eric Lahti

roadside attractions eric lahti the heron kings eric lewis paranormal fantasy humor arrogant bastard ale

Forgive the plain picture- most of my stuff is packed up in anticipation of a move that may never come…

This has been long overdue, but I’ve finally got around to writing up this review for Roadside Attractions, Eric (no relation) Lahti’s smartassed, fast-paced genre-bender packed with ghosts, ghost investigators, witches, devils, and one jackalope. If you were to make a smoothie by throwing Anne Rice, Ghostbusters and a shot of Everclear into a blender, this is just about what you’d get.

This is a bit of a departure from the often grimdark fantasy I’ve posted before, and indeed defies any one genre classification. Paranormal fantasy, satirical horror, supernatural thriller, maybe acid-induced fever dream is accurate. I suppose the best way to describe it is the opening scene, in which a kidnapped heroin junkie is being sacrificed to a gang of incompetent satanists, and it is hilarious. Wait, before you call any of the various alphabet agencies on me, understand it’s from the POV of the victim Jennine, a woman for whom life has become intolerable and narrates the deadly ordeal with dripping sarcasm. When she immediately turns into a ghost, one gets the sense that the fun is about to begin. The style of prose struck me as almost a younger, bolder Stephen King without the thousand pages of filler. Jennine is quickly taken in by The Stranger, a powerful spirit working some hidden scheme of his own. We are also quickly introduced to Jordan and Char, a perfectly paired paranormal investigator and a powerful witch for hire to fulfill all your ghost extermination needs, and later in the story Lilith, an enforcer sent from Hell to kick ass and not really bother taking names. One thing I appreciated only after finishing the book was that there is no one main character. At various points I thought maybe it’s one of these or another, but really it’s a true ensemble cast. This can be tricky for some writers, switching POVs like that, but here it’s no problem. I feel I got a sense for who each character was and never got confused about who was speaking, as each has a unique, individual voice.

The story mostly takes place in the desolate desert town of Dragoon, Arizona. However, there’s almost nothing of the town in the story, as we really only encounter two of its residents, and pretty loathsome ones at that. It might’ve served the story better to be set in a completely uninhabited stretch of road, since most of the action takes place in and around a convenience store connected to, as the title proclaims, a roadside attraction hilariously named …The Terror! What …The Terror! is and what it really is unfolds in a very satisfying archetype of the escalating stakes, where what begins as a curiosity when Jordan and Char are mysteriously summoned to Dragoon to investigate a run of the mill haunting, and becomes a literal save-the-world type situation. As the cavalcade of supernatural characters emerge, there’s an almost Anne Rice-like world-building, with an exposition of the histories and motivations of each ghost and devil that shows how they got to where they are, and an intricacy to the mechanics of magic spells that Brandon Sanderson might approve of. Some of the characters do get a bit preachy at times, smugly lecturing the dumb as rocks humans about their wrongness about literally everything, and these eye-rolling soliloquies can slow the otherwise brisk pace.

There is definitely a level of campiness to the whole story with a ton of pop culture references (and a surprisingly large number of physical porno mags for this day and age), but it never overrides the action-thriller aspect or descends into farce, and the stakes are fully felt. This requires a careful management of expectations, but the setup in the first half threads this needle nicely. Indeed, along with the humor, ghosts are in fact portrayed as mostly tragic figures, and hauntings the result of scared and confused spirits who might just need someone to hold their noncorporeal hand a bit. The pace is appropriately fast, with short chapters that keep the action moving along. I found myself reading far beyond what I’d expected in any given reading session, turning each page without really feeling the need to take a break. But unlike the gimmicky cliffhanger technique of, for example, Dan Brown, the momentum here felt earned, as each twist and turn in the plot really is an important development in the story. But this does make some of the drawn-out fight scenes, with expository speeches and witty one-liners awkwardly intercalated at certain points, disrupt the pacing just a bit.

I won’t say too much more about the plot since the interconnected lines make it difficult without spoiling it. I will say that if you’re looking for a fun paranormal thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously even when threatening to unleash Hell itself, this would be a great choice for a weekend read. The ending leaves the door open for a sequel, even though the story stands alone as is, so watch out for more in this vein from Lahti.


Eric Lahti’s website:


Pairs well with: Arrogant Bastard Ale

Given the Devil mascot on the bottle, this was an easy one to pair with this book. You might think this is a bit of a cheat, since I already did the Double Bastard in the Rye version of this ale, also I’ve drunk a lot of this stuff. You would be wrong. That was a strong barleywine, while this is the standard 7.2% abv strong ale. I first had this back in…I don’t know, 2010 maybe? Back then it only came in 22oz bottles, with the taunting phrase “You’re Not Worthy” printed on it. Since then the maker, Stone Brewing Co, has split off from the Arrogant Bastard and now makes, as far as I can tell from my most recent trip to the liquor store, infinite varieties of IPAs? That’s tragic. Anyway, this is a well-known ale now made by Arrogant Consortia in Escondido. It remains one of the few very hoppy ales I really like, because all of its other big, bold flavors mostly balance out in the end. Thus even with its 100 IBUs it won’t kick your ass like some of the newer experiments in bitterness extremism, but keep in mind when it first came out back in 1997, it was a bit of a revolution compared to the watery macros that were mostly available. It’s got a dark red amber color with a medium head that lingers but doesn’t overstay its welcome. There’s a light, malty aroma with a bit of floral and citrus character. The hoppiness is almost, but not quite balanced out by the maltiness, along with dark tea hints, caramel, grapefruit and pine. It’s actually surprisingly light-bodied with medium carbonation, not too sweet and doesn’t stay on the tongue very long. Though there is a long, bitter finish that dries out the mouth and nudges you on to another sip. This is a craft beer that was ahead of its time in years past, and set the stage for what we have today. It remains a perfectly respectable addition to any bottle shop or beer cave, though the devils in Roadside Attractions would definitely scoff at the claim that they’re “Not Worthy” to handle it in 2021.


heron kings logo The Heron Kings by Eric Lewis dark grimdark fantasy novel