#18 -- "Our Lady of Darkness" by Fritz Leiber
This is something I feel kind of bad about: trashing a book that's (I think) out of print and not likely to be picked up anyhow. But somewhere along the line, I committed to documenting everything I read, so:
Boy is this bad. I felt a need for some old-timey horror a while back, and this was one of the few books mentioned in Stephen King's "Danse Macabre" that I never got around to reading. The little I knew about it sounded good. I find the concept of cities-as-entities interesting and I had high hopes.
Instead: a muddled and often incomprehensible plot. Horrible expository dialogue. Unwieldy adjectives and adverbs. Boring cardboard characters. There are three legitimately chilling scenes in the entire book -- one is immediately followed by five or six chapters of a dry conversation recounting an invented San Francisco literary history, another turns out to be a complicated joke. At one point, a character "quirk[s] a smile". Harry Stephen Keeler would be ashamed.
I get the feeling that this was a very personal book for Leiber -- the little bit I've read about his life seems to indicate that. I wonder if that kept editors from pushing some much-needed changes. It needed something.
The kicker: this won the World Fantasy Award for best novel in 1978. I won't be seeking out the runner-up.