Tim Powers’ Last Call has just been re-released in a deluxe hardcover edition from Subterranean Press, with dustjacket and dynamic interior illustrations by J.K. Potter. It’s the first of several novels set in Powers’ only slightly unrecognizable fantastical universe, full of ghosts and gods and other unnamed manifestations which walk among us. His world is our world, not romanticized or glamorized, populated with people flawed and scarred — physically, psychically, or otherwise. The ordinary citizen of this world goes about her daily business, not realizing that a rich otherworld shifts just beneath the surface like quicksand beneath a crust of mud.
In Last Call, Scott Crane is an antisocial one-eyed alcoholic widower with a gambling addiction. Nearly twenty years earlier he lost himself — literally — in a rigged card game on a houseboat in a manmade lake near Las Vegas, a game played with a deck of Tarot cards so powerful the artist put his own eyes out after painting them. With the time coming ripe for the man who won Scott’s body to pluck it from his soul, other forces, major and minor, come into play, all vying for position in the repeating paranormal shakeup imminent in a world about to start a new cycle. Scott and his step-sister Diana, alongside his adopted father and cancer-ridden neighbor, must navigate a cast of characters as rich and varied as a Tarot deck’s Major Arcana in an effort to keep Scott from being taken, and to prevent them all from being killed in one form or another by one faction or another in the war for souls, bodies, and the power to control both.
Powers spins a world gritty and harsh enough to repulse yet fascinate simultaneously. There’s no sentimentalization of these characters or settings. The extensive inner flaws of the main characters and the gritty backdrop against which they struggle for survival makes their actions more heroic, their failures more tragic. Not everything is fully explained or clearly defined, and if anything there’s sometimes too much information to keep track of, too much unrelenting action to recover from. The intensity of the story and its refusal to slacken pace actually make for difficult reading at times. This is a book you have to put down periodically. You have to walk around the block, make yourself a cup of tea, and recover a bit before you feel ready to pick it up and dive back in. The true test of its worth is whether you always want to dive back in. No worries on that score with this one,