Bookworm: ‘Sign Here’ is a book that promises to be very good.

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Correspondent

“Sign Here: A Novel”

  • By Claudia Lux
  • c.2022, Berkley
  • $27, 404 pages

You promise yourself you’ll be very good. You’ll walk the straight-and-narrow path with the best of intentions. You’ll be good, until something happens, something irritates you, someone’s an idiot and your best laid plans go out the window. You’ll do better tomorrow. You’ll read “Sign Here” by Claudia Lux because there’s one place you don’t want to go.

These random meetings were killing him.

Well, technically speaking, Peyote Trip was already dead. He couldn’t remember when it happened or how; it could’ve been last millennium or last week.

“Sign Here: A Novel” by Claudia Lux.

That’s what happens when you work on Hell’s Fifth Floor: centuries feel like minutes and time warps. There’s no fire and brimstone there; no, it’s nothing but constant annoyances. Pens that dry up right when you need them. Full files, dropped to the floor. Radio stations that only play music you hate. Still, working on Fifth Floor was better than being on Second Floor.

Better by a mile. But Pey had a plan.

Once, when he was on Second Floor, an old timer told him something important. Don’t forget your real last name, the old guy said, and Peyote Trip didn’t because that was the key to getting a second chance on Earth.

He just had to get to Sixth Floor.

That should’ve been easy: over time, four members of the Harrison family had signed their names and given their souls in exchange for their most fervent wish. One more signature, and Peyote’d have a complete set and a promotion.

“Sign Here: A Novel” author Claudia Lux.

There was once a time when every member of the Harrison family eagerly anticipated going to their summer retreat. Six weeks of beach and barbecues was usually heavenly, but this year was different. This year, nobody wanted to summer away until daughter Mickey invited a friend along and the girl, Ruth, made the season feel sunnier. And with all the Harrisons in one place, Peyote was eager to get started.

Getting the last signature would take tact. It would take finesse.

It would take the help of a fiendish new colleague who had a plan of her own...

Oh, my, but “Sign Here” is infernally clever!

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The first couple dozen pages – the ones that set the scene in the Underworld – touch upon all the irritations humans hate and, as dreadful as that might seem, it’s hilarious. Imagining an eternity of incessant aggravation is enough to make the worst person laughingly rue their ways – at least, it does until piled vexations and a slow, gradual, wince-worthy darkening of the story turn things not-so-funny anymore. By the time you think you know what’s coming (you don’t), the tale’s already become full of evil – just not where you expect it to be.

Author Claudia Lux doesn’t make things jump out at you to startle you, though. The scary stuff’s within. This might not be a tale for everyone, but for a reader with an uber-dark sense of humor and a love of a twisted and twisty thriller, it’ll be perfect. “Sign Here” is a book that promises to be very good.

For another fiendishly good novel …

One without the humor, try “A History of Fear” by Luke Dumas. It’s the tale of an American graduate school student who confessed to the killing of a classmate. He makes an audacious claim of terror and an underworldly demand. Was he insane, or was he telling the truth?

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.