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Humane Sacrifice: The Story of the Aztec Killer
Felix I.D. Dimaro (2023)

Nigerian-Canadian author Felix I.D. Dimaro has a superpower, one that’s surprisingly rare. He can craft an utterly despicable character, one whose actions turn the stomach and shock the conscience, and have you grudgingly nodding your head and thinking, “yeah, I can see where you’re coming from.” 

I first noticed it while reading Us in Pieces: Stories of Shattered Souls (2022), an interconnected group of novellas and short stories about a family of survivalists and… some other things that I wouldn’t dream of revealing. Dimaro crafted a backstory for the two human monsters in that book that gave me whiplash: there was a moment when I realized that he was going to make me feel for them a little, and I wanted to throw the book across the room. But you’re in careful hands in a Dimaro book, and a scant few pages later I found myself thinking, “well, I don’t exactly condone any of this, but I see how you got to the point where you’re doing it.” Dimaro knows that monsters make monsters.

That superpower is so important to Humane Sacrifice: The Story of the Aztec Killer. Melvin, a sad-sack man who lives in his abusive, domineering mother’s basement, adores his cat, Lucy, who is dying of a cancerous tumor. He can’t afford a surgery that may or may not save Lucy’s life, but he refuses to have his only friend put to sleep. He’s visited by a mysterious man (a worthy entry in a long line of mysterious men offering your heart’s desire, including Ray Bradbury’s Mr. Dark in Something Wicked This Way Comes and Stephen King’s Leland Gaunt from Needful Things) who presents him with a way to save Lucy, one that eventually involves becoming the world’s most inept serial killer, dubbed “the Aztec Killer” by the press. Life gives life, you see, and what will save Lucy is the still-beating hearts of people who have wronged Melvin. And when he runs out of people who have wronged him, well. Nobody will ever love you as much as your pet loves you, and that kind of love deserves certain sacrifices.

Dimaro’s superpower is evident in two ways: first, in outlining how Melvin came to be the sad-sack basement-dweller that he is, and second, in painting a truly moving portrait of how a pet can absolutely save your life, give you a reason for living, an escape from the slings and arrows that existence can send your way. For Melvin, those slings and arrows take the form of a lifetime of vicious abuse at the hands of his mother, who becomes his first victim. But you know, she sort of deserves it, so we’re still in Melvin’s corner, especially when the crazy method seems to work: Lucy’s health improves. As the book progresses, “deserve it” turns out to be a slippery slope.

Fans of extreme body horror will find lots to love here, because that slope is slippery with blood and viscera, extracted from the body with Melvin’s bare hands, a process that Dimaro describes in disgusting, loving detail. This is not a book for the squeamish, and there were paragraphs that I had to skim because the descriptions are stomach-churning. There’s also… humor? This book is funny? I think it is—an incredibly dark humor that could easily pass unnoticed. There are chapters where I found myself giggling while feeling vaguely ill, since some of the funniest parts are also the most disgusting.

If you haven’t read Dimaro yet, this is a great place to start on the extensive output of one of my favorite Canadian horror writers.