Ghoul Trouble by John Passarella: B-

Ghoul_TroubleFrom the back cover:
Something wicked has been preying on Sunnydale students—and whatever it is, its methods are pretty gruesome. Buffy locates some human bones that have been picked clean, and knows that she’s dealing with an unearthly evil. Some help from the Scooby Gang would be ideal, but they’ve run into trouble of their own. Oz and Xander are literally (perhaps unnaturally) mesmerized by a hottie new chick band headlining at the Bronze, and Willow has been captured by Sunnydale’s latest resident carnivores.

What they need is the Slayer. But in order to help her friends, Buffy must first dust a vampire—one that has an urgent interest in Joyce Summers, the unique ability to resist sunlight, and an open invitation to the Summers’ house…

I don’t think I even read the back cover blurb when I found this used several years ago. I think I just liked the goofy title and bought it on that fact alone. It certainly doesn’t sound very promising, does it? It turns out, though, that it’s actually pretty decent.

I’ve tallied up its various attributes into two columns: flaws and merits.

* The story is set in season three, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it occurs. Much is made of Cordelia and Xander having broken up, which would put it after episode 3.08, “Lover’s Walk.” Willow and Oz are together, which would place it after 3.10, “Amends.” However, there’s no mention at all of why Cordelia and Xander broke up or the fact that Willow and Oz are newly reconciled, so I am uncertain. There’s no mention of Faith at all, either.

* Tying in with my first point, there’s not a lot of relationship continuity. Why not mention Xander and Willow’s illicit smoochies? There were plenty of chances, including one scene where they’re imprisoned together and she’s surprised to learn that he thinks she’s pretty. Because Wesley is nowhere in sight during scenes in the school library, this probably takes place before 3.14, “Bad Girls,” so the incident should be fresh on everyone’s mind.

* The supernatural foes are very boring. We are reminded every time we see the ghouls about their green skin and many rows of teeth, and the vampire dude, Solitaire, has cheesy affectations like leaving playing cards at the scenes of his attacks and wearing only black and red so as to represent the suits in a deck of cards. Cheesy!

* Passarella has a really good feel for characterization and Whedony dialogue. I think it’s pretty easy to get characters like Buffy and Xander right, but when I read lines from Oz and Angel and can actually hear the characters saying them in my head, that’s a very good sign. Also, I snickered more than once.

* Action scenes are described in a manner that is easy to picture. It’s not that I enjoy details about the extent of a person’s injuries, but having a mental image of what’s going makes one feel as if one is watching an episode of the show, which I assume is the desired effect.

To sum up: the plot is dumb, but the dialogue is good. That’s not too different from many early episodes of the series, actually, and I’d ordinarily award a higher grade because of that, but Passarella really dropped the ball when it came to acknowledging the interpersonal complications among the group at this point in time. He’s written two other Buffyverse novels, both starring the cast of Angel, and I enjoyed this enough that I’ll probably seek those out as well.

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