cover image All the Bells on Earth

All the Bells on Earth

James P. Blaylock. Ace Books, $21.95 (376pp) ISBN 978-0-441-00247-4

With acrobatic grace, Blaylock (Night Relics), winner of two World Fantasy Awards, once again walks the dividing line between fantasy and horror--this time, as he relates a deal-with-the-devil story set in suburban Southern California. Two decades ago, a clergyman masquerading as a satanic emissary duped three businessmen from the small town of Orange into selling him their souls. As soon as one of them spontaneously combusts during the current Christmas season, however, the others scurry to break the deal. It turns out that there exists a good luck charm that can save the soul of one, millionaire malefactor Robert Argyle, but when that charm is accidentally delivered to Walt Stebbins, Argyle's unsuccessful rival in the mail-order business, a chain of misadventures begins in which Walt, his wife, her uncle and an unlikely pair of clergymen all recognize the taint of the devilish deal in their daily lives. Blaylock's gentle satire on ``capitalism gone rancid'' is supported by his authentic rendering of a small town where the economic reality of having to pay the bills occupies much of people's time. While the author probes the dark side of small-town life, he ultimately celebrates the virtues of simple living, yielding the sort of homey moral one finds in a Garrison Keillor monologue. (Nov.)