WARNING: THIS MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
I think that the cover for ‘Gil’s All Fright Diner’ might be one of my favourite covers of all time. In all honesty, it’s the main reason that I read, and kept reading (more on that later) the book. It’s by no means a bad book or story, in fact it’s actually a good one which I enjoyed, I just think that it’s important to note that the reason I finished this book was because I liked the cover so much.
I found ‘Gil’s All Fright Diner’ really hard to get into, having to start and restart reading it several times. In the end I had to make a noticeable effort to actually carry on reading. This isn’t indicative of the book being poorly written, boring, or anything like that, I just wasn’t really gripped by anything it offered for at least the first quarter, maybe even third, of the book. That being said, once it did draw me in, I was very much into it, enjoying it a lot. I have tried to go over it and work out a few times exactly what it was I was having a problem with and can’t quite put my finger on it. Yet I know that any other book with a less cool cover I would certainly have put down and never returned to.
However, after it’s uninspiring start (for me at least), I really started to enjoy the ideas behind the supernatural creatures and entities A. Lee Martinez has throughout the book. All of the ‘things’ mostly follow the tried and tested formulas: Vampires “sleep” during the day and survive through stealth and speed, whereas werewolves are straight up ‘tank’ killing machines who can rapidly heal and are much more beholden to their emotions and desires. Beyond these things however, all the supernatural elements seem more grounded than in most other fiction. The characters of Earl and Duke are characters who happen to be a vampire and a werewolf, respectively, rather than simply defined by it. Everything is treated with a measure of “you already know this stuff” so no time is wasted explaining it. We all know a stake through the heart of a vampire is a foil, so when it’s brought up in the story it’s quickly waved, unlike so many books which would then devote pages into explaining exactly why that is the case.
I really liked the characters of Earl and Duke, especially the latter, because both seem like genuine real people who happen to be in this weird version of our own world. Earl is a whiney, quick tempered vampire who is generally just dissatisfied with his life, or rather, after-life. Duke is a quiet, strong willed, bear of a man, slow to anger and a seemingly decent guy. The two are an odd couple but their friendship never seems false, every interaction they have feels genuine and true. For me, this was the best part of the whole book, I really, really liked the friendship that Earl and Duke shared because of just how real it felt.
I felt like A. Lee Martinez tried a little hard with the story to make it quirky and not follow the usual tropes in the usual ways. The hot teenage girl and her dumb, devoted, sex obsessed, boyfriend being the ones trying to bring about the end of the world was done well, but not amazingly. Their characters were great, they just didn’t serve the story as well as they could have. Likewise, a lot of the humour in the book, whilst bringing a smile, didn’t really elect any genuine laughs. It just felt at times like Martinez was trying too hard to break the mould and turn conventions on their head, which pulled away from the things he was doing really well, which were his characters. I don’t think that a single character in this book was a weak one, which is rare for me. I genuinely liked and could believe in all of them throughout.
Overall I enjoyed the book without loving it. A solid story with some very cool characters and an awesome cover. Well worth a read if you’re interested in supernatural fiction which isn’t the ‘Twilight Saga’.