A review that originally appeared in Black Static #13:-
Charlie Williams: Stairway to Hell
(Serpent’s Tail paperback, 281pp, £7.99)
Rik Suntan is a club singer in the boondocks town of Warchester with ideas way above his station. While Rik’s life might appear, to the onlooker, as rather humdrum, inside Rik knows that if he stays true to his principles, then it’s only a matter of time until the rest of the world cottons on to his greatness. When his latest shot at stardom falls through, Rik’s manager reveals to him a secret. Back in the 70s Jimmy Page (lead guitarist with Led Zeppelin) stayed in the town and experimented with the occult, placing several of his peers’ souls in other bodies. Rik is not at all who he appears to be; he is in fact David Bowie, or at least Bowie’s soul transplanted into the body of a man with a harelip. Manager Ted has discovered the magic book used by Page and plans to put things right, not only for Rik but for other victims as well, those who ended up with the souls of George Foreman, Cat Stevens etc. Rik does not believe in any of this for a single moment, but unfortunately circumstances conspire to force him to take part in Ted’s plans.
There’s a familiar feel to this story. In many ways Rik Suntan is Royston Blake, the nightclub bouncer protagonist of Williams’ three previous novels, here repackaged as a singer. He has the same delusions, the same grandiose affectations and the same lack of self awareness. Where Williams ups his game is in the supernatural elements of the story, which are to be not to be taken seriously and add loads of comedic potential to the story. In between each chapter proper are set various inserts taken from the occult text allegedly used by Jimmy Page, and these are quite simply hilarious, with their straight faced discussion of how to acquire urine (a necessary magic ingredient, in case you didn’t know) and where to place the souls of those taken, while at the same time these do, albeit in a very strange and roundabout way, enhance the verisimilitude of the main text, empowering the reader to suspend disbelief about this crazy stuff and swallow it down. Imagine, if you will, or even can, that mad old Abdul Alhazred had been a physician in his day job, and the infamous Necromonicon came with footnotes on the kidneys and renal system.
There are some marvellous comic set pieces as well, such as the case of the dwarf who happens to be the soul of George Foreman involved in a boxing match, and attempts by bouncer Martin to take on the identity of the bank robber he was supposed to be. Rik has an extra dimension to him also, and you feel that, unlike Royston Blake, he is capable of growth as a character, with a willingness to at least consider sacrificing his dreams for the sake of the woman he loves, even if she does betray him with some ginger bloke. In the end, this is not so much horror fiction as a subversive text in which tropes of the genre are added on to a comic novel dealing with aspects of modern life, such as the lust for fame, reality TV and the superficiality of the media, all of which get the piss taken out of them (sorry, but I couldn’t resist that). Bottom line, Stairway to Hell is a barrel of fun, probably best read to a soundtrack of The Song Remains the Same and Ch-Ch-Changes.