Mack Dunstan’s Inferno by Paul Collins. Book review

MACK DUNSTAN’S INFERNO by Paul Collins IUniverse, pb, £7.60

Reviewed by Stewart Horn

Mack Dunstan – Hollywood actor, president of the National Rifle Association, a barely disguised Charlton Heston – dies and gets taken on a tour of Hell by Virgil, in a twenty-first century retelling of Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Dunstan starts with the same arrogance and self-importance that he had in life, but gradually comes to realise that his right wing, pro-gun views were wrong.  That’s the story.

There are plenty of interesting ideas in this book, and Collins is not afraid of the big ones: he explores personal and collective responsibility, the nature of life of death, the origin of mankind.  There is also some striking imagery and a supercharged version of the Gaia hypothesis.  With all this going for it, Inferno should have been great.

Sadly, it’s the writing that lets it down.  Collins’s prose is clumsy and repetitive; his dialogue is unrealistic and most of the descriptive passages don’t make any sense.  There is no consistent voice, no connection with any characters, and fundamental mistakes on every page.  I expect a published novelist to know about spelling, grammar and punctuation, but Collins writes like someone who hasn’t read many books, not even this one.

Inferno could have been a strong, tight 10,000 word short story; as a 30,000 word novella it’s rambling, monotonous and loses its impact.

Paul Collins seems like a man with things to say, and I hope that one day he’ll learn to say them better.