Claudia Lux’s debut novel, “Sign Here,” is darkly humorous, surprisingly poignant and gripping, and uniquely original.
Peyote Trip is a guy who is trying to climb Hell’s corporate ladder and is vying for a promotion. Since he died and was sent to Hell, Peyote has worked his way up from being tortured on the second floor to torturing other souls on the prestigious fifth floor. The fifth floor beats the hell out of the lower floors but is still constantly frustrating. The offices and apartments are sweltering, the pens don’t work, the coffeemaker has been broken for a century, they purposely play the music all day long that you hated when you were alive, and the only alcoholic beverage available is Jägermeister.
Peyote is now a dealmaker, but he is not satisfied. He has corporate aspirations of being promoted to the Hell’s executive suite, the sixth floor. In case you don’t know what a dealmaker is, let me explain. A dealmaker offers the living an out when things get rough if they will sign over their immortal soul to the Devil. He is willing to promise a person almost anything to get them to sign and help him make his quota. Peyote truly enjoys his job, which involves brief trips back to Earth to get his marks.
Peyote has been following the Harrison family for generations. Thus far, he has successfully signed up four members. But if he can sign a fifth generation he will have a highly-coveted complete set, which could set him up for the promotion he so desperately relishes, and now he secretly thinks his opportunity is finally here as the Harrisons make their annual summer trek to their lake house in New Hampshire, taking their daughter Mickey’s new best friend, Ruth, along as a house guest. Peyote sees the deal as doable even though his boss has assigned him to work with a new colleague, Calamity, a seemingly naïve girl with deer-in-the-headlights looks that could derail his plan. Little does he know that Calamity may have her own secret agenda.
But Peyote and Calamity aren’t the only ones with secrets. The Harrison family is full of secrets of their own. Silas, the father, is still trying to connect with his long dead brother who was convicted of being a murderer, and Silas’ wife, Lily, is secretly having an affair with a man connected to the family’s past. Their disconnected son, Sean, lives behind locked doors with his head buried in video games, and 12-year-old Mickey was suffering from puberty issues and bullying schoolmates until she recently met Ruth, who has issues of her own.
The book is split into several perspectives and two major storylines, one on Earth and one in Hell. Both storylines center around the protection of young girls. Most but not all major conflicts are rooted in the betrayal of a girl by a man in her life. However, the women do levy smaller but still vicious blows against one another. The suspense builds slowly but steadily with the topics of friendship, family, death, grief, deception and mortality all being addressed. The book manages to be serious without taking itself too seriously. It accepts Hell as being an inevitability rather than something to be vanquished. Hell is not all fire and brimstone; it has a corporate feel about it. The chapters are short, and the dialogue felt natural and consistent. Those who relish mild horror with family drama and suspense will enjoy this book.
Reviewed by David Beckwith, author of “A Cruising Conspiracy.”