Review: ‘Amazonas’ by Alan Peter Ryan

The thing that’s simultaneously exciting and frustrating about being an avid reader is that I’ll never get to read everything I want to read. That’s mainly because that list seems to grow every day. The Internet has given us the opportunity to interact with authors and publishers in ways I never would have believed possible, and the thing about authors and publishers is they always have another writer or book they want to recommend. Overwhelming? Yes, it can be, but it’s better than looking around one day and realizing there’s nothing else to read.

I thought about this on the day I received an advance copy of Amazonas, a forthcoming limited edition hardcover from Cemetery Dance. I’d never heard of Alan Peter Ryan, so I figured this was a new author CD had discovered. That notion was dispelled as soon as I read the accompanying press release, which hailed Ryan as the author of two classic horror novels of the ’80s (The Kill and Dead White). The release also carried the sad news of Ryan’s sudden death in June 2011, which came at the age of 68 due to pancreatic cancer.

Wanting to learn more, I found this obituary for Ryan written by Bob Booth, founder of the Necon convention and publisher of Necon Ebooks. Booth noted that Ryan was a regular contributor to the Shadows anthologies edited by Charles L. Grant , so I went and dug up my copies of those and found that I actually had, in the past, read some of Ryan’s stuff. Booth also noted that when the horror market collapsed in the early ’90s, Booth turned to travel writing to continue his career.

Apparently he had begun working his way back into horror fiction, with Amazonas slated to be a major part of that return. After reading the novella, I’m sad to know that it’s one of the last works we’ll get from Ryan, but I’m looking forward to re-reading his Shadows contributions and to hunting down his novels.

Amazonas begins with Edwin, his wife Henrietta, and a man named Crown. The three are on a boat slowly working its way down the Amazon river. Civilization is miles behind them, and no one will tell Henrietta where they are heading – only that they are looking for something called “The Slave Tree.” It may be a myth, may be a fable, or it may be a source of great power – the kind of power that men lose their minds over.

The atmosphere of dread that Ryan conjurs here is as deep and thick as the jungle. Henrietta is at the mercy of the men in her life: the man she married, the man he’s become entangled with, and even the crew of natives Crown has brought along to guide their boat down the treacherous river. Even as the party reaches an unlikely form of civilization deep in the heart of the wilderness, she finds that it’s not the end of the journey, and certainly not the end of the obsession that has brought her and Edwin here in the first place. That obsession proves to be a destructive force in the lives of Henrietta and Edwin, shattering any illusion she might have had of building a happy and prosperous life  in their new home.

Amazonas ends abruptly, almost as though the author had more to say but ran out of time to say it. I don’t mean to imply that this is an unfinished work – it just left me wanting more. (That’s a good thing, right?) It’s 98% buildup and 2% payoff, and while the conclusion may have left me a little unfulfilled, the journey was most excellent. Ryan employs a style that reminded me of Hemingway; brief, compact sentences trimmed of every ounce of excess fat for maximum impact. He piles on the atmosphere and doesn’t shy away from the bloodshed, although it’s spelled out in a way that’s startling without being overly sensational.

It’s only the ending that bothers me. Really, it’s not the way it ended, because it is a definitive conclusion; it just feels like it should have come after another twenty or so pages. Ryan leads us to the end at an almost leisurely pace, and then it’s like he shoves us forward into the events of the last page.

But that’s just my opinion. I encourage you to snag a copy when CD releases them in October and make up your own mind. Because trust me on this: abrupt ending or not, it’s an enjoyable read.

Now, can anyone tell me where to get a copy of his other books?

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5 thoughts on “Review: ‘Amazonas’ by Alan Peter Ryan

  1. This is a great review. I’m really glad I stumbled upon this site. I love the flow and the personal touches. Ryan was a phenomenal writer, and the world has really lost a treasure. Thanks for putting this out there.

    As for more of his work, I found a bunch of stuff at Abebooks. Give it a look. He wrote as Alan Ryan in the 80’s.

  2. Thanks for the kind words about the review and the site – feel free to come back often (and bring a few friends)! I’ve got a lot of stuff in the works for the next couple of months.

    Thanks for the tip about Ryan’s books – I’ll definitely give Abebooks a look.

  3. I believe Ryan’s first novel was ‘Panther!’. I remember being at NECON in the early 80s (Charles L. Grant, David Morrell, Karl Edward Wagner and other great genre writers attended in those days), and Alan was the subject of the roast, emceed by Doug Winter. Doug kicked off the proceedings quoting form some atrocious song lyrics Alan had written in the book.

    I never read that book, but I did have “The Kill’ and “Dead White’, both TOR paperbacks. He also wrote another, ‘Cast A Cold Eye’, an Irish supernatural tale apparently inspired by his traveling in Ireland researching his heritage.

    I only met him that one time, but he was as gracious and accessible as a professional could be to this young wannabe. I was very sad to hear of his passing in June.

  4. when there is no explanation for what’s at the center of the maze when you find it (or when you reach The End, in this case), I have a tendency to think in allegorical terms. I actually like this kind of technique, as it engenders mystery and a search for contextual clues which make the read more expansive. The problem is falling into the deus ex machina pit, perilously so when you’re dealing with possibly the Tree of Life. You know, God’s tree. Fortunately, author Ryan keeps it close without flopping out some heavy symbolism or transparent allusions.

    Just a little bigotry baiting, but nothing like snakes or apples or something, eh?

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