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A Dark and Scary Place
Dan Cook is an American cartographer who is in France researching for a friend's book on the Normandy D-Day landings. He comes across a long-abandoned rusting Sherman tank which has the rural locals living in fear. They say it causes bad luck. Madeleide is a farmer's daughter who is convinced the tank was responsible for her mother's death. Many others say they hear voices emanating from within. Dan talks to father Anton, a priest in his nineties, who informs him that at the bridge of Le Vey in July 1944, thirteen mysterious black tanks smashed through the German lines, killing hundreds of Hitler's troops, before moving on. At no time had any of the hatches opened, and it was discovered afterwards that they were sealed - as is this one which was left behind.
When Dan suggests opening up the tank to see what is inside, he is warned of the consequences - least not by Eloise, Madeleide's father's housekeeper. Others are grateful for his strength to do something about the evil they have lived under for years. Madeleide and Father Anton go with him. Eloise chooses not to go, but gives him a ring of hair from a firstborn child who was sacrificed to Moloch centuries ago when devils plagued Rouen. It shows that you have already paid your respects to the evil.
Dan uses tools from the farm to chisel away the welding from around the turret. Inside, he finds an ancient sack which feels like it contains loose bones. Father Anton instructs him to put it in a medieval chest he has in the cellar of his house, and they lock it in for the night. Dan later hears a disturbance and checks on Father Anton. The priest's entrails have been ripped-out and the demon from the tank uses the man's body like a puppet. When Antoinette, the priest's housekeeper, runs from her room, every knife and blade in the vicinity flies towards her and she is killed.
The demon announces itself as Elmek - sometimes known as Asmorod - the devil of knives and sharp edges. It threatens the life of Madeleide, telling Dan they must transport the chest to England and find the Reverend Taylor, with whom Elmek has past experience. The plan is to find the brethren twelve demons and, when they are together, to raise the more powerful Adramelech.
Dan and Madeleide find the Reverend Taylor in England. He gives them an English language version of L'Invocation des Anges, that describes the identities of the thirteen demons and how to invoke their corresponding angels. The other demons are in an unofficial military building in London, so - threatened by small demonstrations of Elmek's power - they push on. The building is in the charge of Lieutenant Colonel Thanet. The sacks are laid out in the cellar. Madeleide seems to come into her own. She tells Dan she will release each demon, thereby identifying it, and he should read-out the passage in the book invoking the appropriate angel to combat it.
When they have all been revived and the demons have called-up Adramelech - the Grand Chancellor of Hell - Thanet tries to bargain with it. When he realises he can't pay the price he runs for the stairs and is engulfed in flame. Madeleide finally understands her purpose when she learns she is the reincarnation of the martyred girl given to Adramelech by General Patton in exchange for help against the Germans, using the tanks. But this time she is possessed by the deceitful angel Hod, who can bring down the invoked angels. The demons are destroyed but only a mortal can banish Adramelech with proof of the existence of Christ. Eloise had given Dan the last help she was able, and Dan steps forward and banishes the master demon by opening the tin and throwing the ashes of Christ's seamless robe over it. Dan is informed by Hod that Madeleide will be reincarnated again, with no memories of these events. She deserves a happy life, free of fear and responsibilty.
This is the second random choice (Following The Wells of Hell) in my marathon re-read of Graham Masterton's early horror novels. In my opinion, he is unsurpassed in reliably writing a string of outstanding and gripping horror tales - the majority of which are unmissable. His writing style is fast-paced and tightly edited, with no padding and unnecessary exposition. In this one, the demon presence is mainly made known through its actions and influences. It is only seen in its real form in the climatic scene in the cellar. By doing this Masterton keeps the villain hidden - or at least faceless until the end.
It's quite a psychoanalytic horror. The fact that the locals had been living in fear of the evil in the tank, most seem uncharacteristically ready to open the tank - even though it might unleash an even greater evil on them. When Dan and Madeleide are crossing the English Channel, Dan briefly has the idea of throwing the chest into the sea. I think this would be the logical solution for most intelligent people, and there isn't a proper explanation why this isn't done. Ironically, in a subsequent unrelated novel, Masterton returns to this quandary and this time offers a convincing argument - almost as if this moment had been playing on his mind.
You could be excused for calling this a book version of a road movie; however, it isn't so much a journey or discovery as a threatening obligation. The main character is very much a product of the 1970s, as he hardly ever eats but smokes like a trooper. This is both comfortable and compelling reading. I have off-loaded many of my books over the years - as I have so many - but I've held onto my favourite authors and still have all the original paperbacks of Graham Masterton, among others. Like records, they form a part of your life. Masterton was one of the writers that you could say I grew up with. Do yourself a favour and share in the experience by downloading a copy.
(Original Review Ty Power 2020)
Bloomsbury Sigma publishes Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, one of the most influential and moral novels of all time. It is said to have single-handedly kick-started the genre of Science Fiction and, along with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, spawned more adaptations than any other book. This offering explores the background and influences of the masterpiece of fiction, referencing breakthroughs of the time. It is written by Kathryn Harkup, a professional chemist and author who splits her time between talks, demonstrations, and writing for The Guardian. She is the bestselling author of the mystery tale A Is For Arsenic. This is a very nicely presented hardback book with a striking red and black cover design depicting Doctor Frankenstein’s tools of the trade.
This book is split into three parts – Part 1: Conception (Enlightenment, Development, Elopement, Nascent); Part 2: Creation (Education, Inspiration, Collection, Preservation, Construction, Electrification, Reanimation); Part 3: Birth (Life, Death). There is also an Epilogue, and a Timeline of Events.
After an introductory overview of the book, I would have to say that the early sections are much more enjoyable. These read like a biography, telling a linear timeline of events from Mary’s origins and upbringing, her relationship with Shelley, through that fateful meeting of minds and the horror/ghost story competition, the reactions to her tale, and the ultimate publication of her ground-breaking book. But it also goes beyond this point. Although the background to the story is reasonably well-known, it is significantly more in depth than we are accustomed to without ever becoming dull. For example, there was a real Castle Frankenstein. Although there is no evidence she visited the castle, Mary would have passed nearby on her travels and certainly heard the tales of illicit attempted experiments to transfer souls.
The latter sections cover body science through the ages. It wasn’t just electricity and the power of sunlight/solar energy. Experimentation was the key here, much of it clandestine but without which we would be much more in the dark. Breakthroughs are explained, along with the problems surrounding them. Unorthodox methods were more common than anything authorised. But then tampering with the human body was at that time tantamount to playing God.
This is a book of two halves, for the reasons I’ve just pointed out. The science of Frankenstein takes a backseat to Mary Shelley’s story, so treat this as her biography and you won’t be disappointed. However, I don’t think casual horror fans will see much of interest inherent. Better that they just read Frankenstein; it’s an all-time classic which deserves to live forever.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2018)
The next generation of comic book writers get their turn in the spotlight. With in-depth contributions from those responsible for some of the biggest selling comics titles on shelves, and including behind the scenes info, anecdotes and untold stories...
Writers on Comics Scriptwriting 2 is a book of long interviews with story scriptwriters who work (or have worked) in the comics industry. It's cited as a sequel to the top-selling original version, but not having seen that one I can't compare the two. What I can do is weigh it up against Comics Creators on Spider-Man, also from Titan Books, which I reviewed in June. In that book Tom DeFalco, a major page in the character's legend himself, put together interviews with most of the comics writers involved with the webslinger. There was continuity, background, and story reactions. Furthermore, there was a guaranteed audience, because Spider-Man has a huge following. Herein lies the main problem. Writers on Comics Scriptwriting 2 has nothing on the cover other than a lot of names, most or all of which nobody will have heard of. I recognised five of the seventeen names, but I think I might be in a minority.
The writers collected here come from different walks of life, work for different companies, and have written for or created many various characters, so you get the impression of disconnection, sporadic mutterings instead of various slants or interpretations of the same subject. That is not to say this won't be a valid reference book for those in the trade or avid fans of the comics in question, but this won't appeal to the casual reader. A much better idea might have been to keep the character continuity and interview many of the writers who have worked on Batman, Superman or the X-Men, but only one of the characters at a time.
Of course, this might prove priceless to anyone wishing to get into the business and learn more about their chosen trade. As someone interested in the mechanics of writing, I found the most intriguing parts to be the discussion of layouts and plotting, but with no definite context for what is briefly being explained it soon lost its appeal. I loved the Spider-Man book, but couldn't get on with this one.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2004)
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