The Cellar – Richard Laymon

The Cellar – Richard Laymon
Feature Books – 1990 (Originally published 1980)


When I read Richard Laymon’s Flesh a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised. I planned to read more of his stuff. There’s a lot of authors and books out there though, and I wasn’t sure which of Laymon’s books to check out next, so I forgot about him for a while. Then I read a post on Too Much Horror Fiction that mentioned a Laymon book featuring “a mutation where the tip of the urethra can extend as a kind of “mouth,” with its own tongue”. I put this book on my to-read list immediately. A few months later, I read Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, a history of horror in which the author describes the same book as unsuccessful. I then saw another negative review of this book on Mica’s blog. Things were getting curiouser and curiouser. I knew it was going to be crap, but I had to read The Cellar to see what all the fuss was about.

Yuck. This is a horrible book. Yeah, it’s a splatterpunk novel, and it has lots of blood in it, but that’s not why I’m yucking it.

This book is horrible because it’s paedophiley. I know that horror is supposed to be shocking and all that, but I never want to read about children getting raped. Maybe that makes me a wuss, but I’d prefer to be a wuss than a person that likes reading books about kids getting molested. Nope. No. Fuck off.

This is the story of a woman and her child running away from their abusive husband/father. They run until they end up in a small town that contains a house that has a murderous monster living in it. There, the woman falls in love with a man who is trying to kill the monster. You can guess how this ends – the whole gang goes into the Beast House and things turn out horribly for all of them.

Ok, the plot is dumb, but that’s not important. When I finished my first Laymon book I noted the exact same thing. The problem here is the child rape. The dad gets out of prison and immediately tries to get home to rape his kid again. It’s literally the first thing he does. It’s not really believable that anyone would be so stupid, but he’s the bad guy in a trashy horror novel, so I’ll let that slide. When he gets home and finds that his family have fled, he breaks into another family’s home, kills the parents and then repeatedly rapes the child.

At this point in the novel, I was feeling pretty grossed out, but not at all in the way I want to be grossed out. I continued reading in the hopes that this disgustingness was included in the book for a reason. I thought that Laymon might have been trying to make his readers hate this dude so that they would get a big kick out of his inevitable (and hopefully exceedingly brutal) demise at the hands of the beast. The beast does get the nonce, but his death is swift and dealt with in a few sentences. The descriptions of him raping children are definitely longer than the description of the beast quickly killing him. He gets off nice and easy in comparison to the child he raped. She is kidnapped by the beast and doomed to a life of more rape.

I recently read a book called Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ in which a character is raped multiple times. It was a truly horrible book, and I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, but the rape scenes served a purpose. Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ is about humanity’s apathy to the suffering of others. It’s not pleasant, but it’s supposed to make you think. Richard Laymon’s The Cellar is a novel about a monster with a mouth on his willy. The violence and rape here is served as entertainment. There’s so message or philosophy behind this crap.

Maybe I seem like a hypocrite. I enjoyed Edward Lee’s The Bighead, a book from the same genre with even more rape and bloodshed, but even Lee’s infamous splatterfest is tasteful enough to steer away from paedophilia. There is a scene in it where a child is about to get diddled, but that scene ends, satisfyingly, with the diddler getting diddled himself.

In short, the scenes of child molestation in The Cellar do not serve to enhance the plot. They are entirely superfluous and do nothing than make the book feel creepy in an entirely unenjoyable manner.

This was Laymon’s first novel, and I did enjoy the other book I’ve read by him, so I won’t say I’ll never read anything else of his, but I’ll probably wait a good long while before giving him another chance. I had originally planned to read the 3 sequels to The Cellar, but that’s not going to happen. Even without the rape, this book is crap.

I mentioned at the beginning of this review that Stephen King had poo-pooed The Cellar in Danse Macabre. Funnily enough, the edition pictured above features a quote from King on the cover. I assume that quote was about some of Laymon’s later fiction. I have edited the cover so that it contains what Stephen King actually said about this pooey piece of garbage:

L.A. Morse’s The Flesh Eaters

The Flesh Eaters – L.A. Morse
Warner Books – 1979

I first saw the title of this book on the Too Much Horror Fiction blog’s list of favourites. I didn’t actually read the review, but the title alone was enough for me to put it on my to-read list. I found a copy recently and devoured it in two sittings.

I’m pretty happy that I knew nothing about this book before I started it. It’s based on Sawney Bean, a legendary Scottish cannibal. Historical fiction is not something that interests me, and if I had known this was based on a “true story”, I might have been deterred.

The story of Sawney Bean is probably just a legend, and Morse doesn’t stray far from the usual account. The attraction of this book however, is not its historical accuracy; it is the scenes of brutal violence and perversity. It has cannibalism, rape, incest, and torture, and it has them in abundance. The book is called The Flesh Eaters, so I was expecting it to be exploitative, but I was pretty surprised by the end of the first chapter when a young girl helps stab her father death and then rolls around having sex in a pool of his blood.

It gets worse too. This is an excruciatingly horrible book. It’s written in the present tense, and this makes it feel like watching an utterly Hellish episode of Unsolved Mysteries. I went back and read Too Much Horror Fiction’s review after finishing it, and absolutely agree with Will’s claim that The Flesh Eaters is “a must for every horror fan who likes horror fiction nasty, brutish, and short.” Hell yeah.

The Spectral Link – Thomas Ligotti

The Spectral Link – Thomas Ligotti
Subterranean Press – 2014


This is a very short book containing just two short stories. Like Ligotti’s other stuff, these tales are bleak, bizarre and thought provoking. The phrase “thought provoking” is generally used to describe something that encourages a multitude of ideas or thoughts, but I find that Ligotti’s work is thought provoking in the singular sense. It provokes one thought: the idea a that existence is terrible. The knowable universe isn’t just pointless; it’s actually objectively awful.

He’s serious too. Ligotti is not impressed… ever.

This post involves spoilers, so maybe read the book first if that kind of thing bothers you. Then again, Ligotti’s fiction isn’t generally the kind of stuff that will actually be spoiled by spoilers.

The first story, ‘Metaphysica Morum’, is a truly grim piece of work. Fiction doesn’t really get much darker. An unhappy man suffering from strange nightmares convinces his psychiatrist to commit suicide with him. This tale is presented in the form of the suicide note, and the drawn out, verbose narrative sometimes feels more like a homily on the virtues of self-destruction than a story. It’s not really though. There is a plot to this, and it is as nightmarish as you’d expect.

While Ligotti’s fiction is hugely miserable stuff, it can also be very funny.

“Everybody ends up badly. At best, it’s only the luck of one in a million if you don’t see it coming.”

Metaphysica Morum

I don’t think that Thomas Ligotti set out to convince anyone to kill themselves, but still, if you are feeling suicidal, maybe return this book to the library unread (and please don’t kill yourself!)

The second story, ‘The Small People’, is about a world in which regular humans live separately but alongside a race of small people. These small people live in their own cities, and their cities are forever expanding. It seems that they don’t communicate with regular people. The narrator, a boy, grows to hate these small people. I’ve read other reviews of this book that claim that this is a more conventional story than the first. That might be true, but it is easily as complicated in terms of its themes and existential implications. It seems to me that this is primarily a story about identity. Who are we in relation to each other, ourselves, our families…? Bleh, look elsewhere for a deeper philosophical analysis. This tale was unsettling and genuinely weird.

The Spectral Link is only two stories, but they’re both really good ones. This is top shelf Ligotti.

Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm

The Lair of the White Worm – Bram Stoker
William Rider and Son – 1911


The 1980s saw a veritable boom of worm horror, but this niche genre had been around for a while before that. Bram Stoker, author of horror classic Dracula, published his The Lair of the White Worm in 1911. I love Dracula, but Stoker’s worm book has the reputation of being one of the worst horror novels ever written. I put it off for a while, but in early December I pulled up my socks and read this crazy mess. I read the original 40 chapter version of the text, not the more widely available, 28 chapter, abridged version from 1925.

First off, I want to provide a summary of what I understood of the story. I might be mistaken on a few points, but I’m confident this is pretty close to what Stoker actually wrote:

Adam, an Australian lad, is summoned to England by his great uncle. They have no other living family, and the uncle wishes to leave his land to his nephew. Adam arrives just before Edgar, another foreign chap who is also returning to his family’s ancestral home.

When Adam is on his way to meet Edgar for the first time, he bumps into Lady Arabella March. She’s an awkward weirdo, and it quickly becomes apparent that she wants to marry Edgar for his land. It’s around this point that Oolanga, Edgar’s servant, is introduced to the story. Oolanga isn’t actually very important to the story, but he is one of the most notable parts of the book. (I’ll explain this later.)

Edgar throws a homecoming party where he and Adam meet two girls named Mimi and Lilla. Adam falls in love with Mimi, and Edgar falls in love with Lilla.

The next day all of these characters meet up for tea. Edgar tries to gain influence over Lilla by staring at her intensely. This, for me, was one of the strangest elements of the book. He doesn’t just look at her while they’re chatting. The entire conversation dies and everyone present becomes involved in a big staring match. Despite her desire to marry him, Arabella joins Edgar’s efforts to stare Lilla down. This part is truly bizarre. It felt like reading a Tim and Eric sketch. The scene ends with Edgar and Arabella sneaking away, but nobody seems to remember what happened and the scene is repeated a few days later. I don’t know. If a creepy man came to my house and stared and me intensely, I probably wouldn’t invite him back.

Adam notices some snakes in the neighbourhood, so he buys a mongoose to kill them. At one point the mongoose sees Arabella and attacks her. She tears it in half.

Oolanga expresses his love for Arabella, but she spurns his advances. Soon thereafter Adam, Arabella and Oolanga are sneakily following each other around a forest, each one unaware that they’re being followed themselves. Arabella leads Oolanga into her house. At some point that I don’t think is actually mentioned in the text, Arabella realises that Adam is present and she asks him for help. It seems as though Stoker had forgotten that Adam was supposed to be hiding during this scene.

Once they’re all in her house, Arabella jumps on Oolanga and they fall down a huge hole. She soon reappears and claims that Oolanga is dead but that she herself had not fallen. She claims she actually ran up the stairs.

Adam goes home and chats with his uncle’s friend. They deduce that Arabella is actually a giant luminous snake from the era of the dinosaurs. This involves some pretty ludicrous reasoning.

While this has all been happening, Edgar, the lad Arabella wants to marry, has been going insane. He builds a giant kite shaped like a hawk and spends his time flying that to scare away birds. He has started to think of himself as a god.

Lady Arabella invites Adam and Mimi over for tea. Then she tries to kill Mimi. On failing to do so she turns into a giant snake and chases the couple all around England.

A few days later, Arabella sends Adam a friendly letter offering to sell her house to him for a low price. He accepts. Once he has taken possession of the house, he fills the basement with dynamite. (He does so because he thinks this is where Arabella sleeps.)

Edgar goes to Lilla’s house for a final staredown. This time the staredown is so intense that Lilla dies.

The ending of the book is quite confusing. Mimi confronts Edgar about killing her cousin. By this time he is fully insane, flying his kite in a thunderstorm and boasting of his own power. Arabella finds the two at the top of the castle. She grabs the very long kite-string and takes it home to her lair, the one Adam has filled with dynamite. When lightning strikes the kite, the current goes through the kite-string then down into the dynamite filled lair. It blows Arabella’s enormous worm body into bloody chunks.

A few issues:

  • The mesmeric staring is truly ludicrous.
  • The way the characters don’t call each other out for their behaviour is entirely unbelievable.
  • The lads figure out that Arabella is a giant shapeshifting snake from the name of her home and the fact that a mongoose attacked her. I did notice that the far shorter 1911 version of the story actually addresses this issue somewhat. In the later version of the story, Arabella is actually seen trying to strangle a child. This makes it very clear that she is actually a dinosaur worm.
  • The whole thing of Edgar making the big kite is ridiculous.
  • The discussions between Adam and his uncles friend are presented as Socratic dialogues. These are painfully boring passages of creative reasoning.
  • Arabella is supposedly an ancient monster, but at one point in the story, she goes to her dad’s house to visit him.

The 1911 version of the text is heavily abridged, but it does contain some additions to the story. Along with the aforementioned child strangulation, there is also a brief section at the end of the newer version which mentions a honeymoon for Mimi and Adam. Also, the 1925 version of the text uses the n-word 23 times while the original version only used it 4 times, and all 4 of these instances were in dialogue. I have read that Stoker himself was not responsible for this change. It’s a bit strange to consider somebody sitting down to edit a book and deciding that it needs fewer pages and more uses of the n-word.

Even in the original version, I found the racism towards Oolanga fairly shocking. He dies around the halfway mark, and the tale could get by without him. People have tried defending Stoker by pointing out that Adam, the books protagonist, does end up married to a person of colour. I don’t think this gets him off the hook. Some of the stuff he writes (even in the original version) is rough.

This is not a good book, but there are occasional moments throughout that suggest that it could have been a great book. I have read that Stoker was going mad with syphilis when he wrote it, and that’s why it’s so mental. I certainly would have liked if the book was better, but I found that the weird problems and lack of cohesion actually made it a fairly interesting read in its own right.

The Keepsake – Paul Huson

The Keepsake – Paul Huson
Warner Books – 198
1

I found this book at a thrift store a while back, and although I hadn’t heard of it at the time, I snatched it up immediately. I had two reasons for doing so. The first was that it’s about a cursed rock from Ireland. I have a bit of a thing for horror novels that have anything to do with Ireland. Secondly, I recognised the author’s name. I previously came across Paul Huson’s work when researching a rather silly grimoire a few years back. (It was easy to remember the name Paul Huson as it’s the same as Bono’s real name but spelt differently. Another Irish connection!) When I see a paperback horror novel about Ireland written by a knowledgeable occultist on sale for a couple of dollars, I buy it.

Honestly, I didn’t have very high expectations. Stories about Ireland by non-Irish writers can be pretty awful. I was expecting leprechauns, Riverdance and the IRA. Fortunately, Huson’s depiction of Ireland is pretty good. Reading his descriptions of certain parts of the country, I became convinced he had actually been there. I messaged Mr. Huson to inquire about this and he confirmed that he spent several weeks making a documentary in Ireland in 1963.

A few days after starting this book I had one of those “what are you reading?” discussions with a co-worker. I told him it was about a magical stone from Ireland that turns into a vampire. This isn’t strictly accurate, but it’s close enough to give you an idea of whether or not you’d want to read it. Personally, I think that description makes it sound great, but my co-worker laughed and didn’t ask me to lend it to him. Some people have no taste.

The Keepsake was a lot of fun. It’s well written, well researched, fast paced and quite violent. Definitely give it a read if you find a copy. Huson wrote one other novel, and I’ll be keeping my eye out for that one.

2020, The Year in Review

I did not expect to be able to do this, but for the third consecutive year I am able to boast that I read and reviewed more books and wrote more posts and words than in any year previous. I spent a disgraceful amount of time reading in 2020. The pandemic kept me home for uncomfortable amounts of time, and I took to the books to stave off madness.

First off, let’s deal with the really good stuff. Some of my favourite posts of the year were on the rarest of paperback horror novels. I wrote a post detailing how I got my hands on Brenda Brown Canary’s chilling The Voice of the Clown and another on the history of Nick Blake’s infamous Chainsaw Terror. I was super excited to publish an interview with Garret Boatman, author of Stage Fright. I was even more excited when shortly after that interview’s publication Valancourt Books rereleased Stage Fright as part of their Paperbacks from Hell series. Can you imagine my elation when I got a copy of the rerelease and saw a mention of my blog in the introduction? Perhaps the most satisfying post for me to to write was my article on the sinister origins of Clive Barker’s Candyman.

I don’t want to be a gatekeeper when it comes to horror fiction. People should read whatever the Hell they enjoy. That being said, I like to read as though the gates are being kept. You don’t have to have read every single piece of fiction that Howard Phillips Lovecraft ever wrote to call yourself a horror fan, but I do. This year, I tried to fill in some of the gaping holes in my reading, and I turned to some of the bigger names of horror fiction that I had thus far ignored. I wrote multibook posts on Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Ramsey Campbell, August Derleth, Bernard Taylor, and Ken Greenhall. These authors were either fantastic or highly influential within the horror genre. I also did multibook posts on some lesser known authors of varying ability, including William W. Johnstone, John Halkin, Harry Adam Knight, Simon Ian Childers, Al Sarrantonio, and Richard Jaccoma. Read over the posts to figure out who was good and who sucked.

Perhaps the most important book I read this year was Stephen King’s Danse Macabre. I didn’t actually enjoy it very much, but it led me to read some other great stuff. I also read a bunch by Thomas Ligotti and Clive Barker, but I didn’t group their books into single posts. I’m not finished with either of these guys yet.

I try to keep things varied, but my regular readers will have noticed a recurring antagonist in the horror novels I reviewed this year. Yes, 2020 was undoubtedly the Year of the Worm here on Nocturnal Revelries. I managed to read separate books called Worm, Wurm, Worms, The Worms, Blood Worm and a couple of books titled Slither that were both about… worms. I’m not quite done yet, but 2021 will probably see fewer posts on this niche genre.

I again reduced my intake of non-fiction books on the occult. I just don’t have the stomach for this stuff anymore. I read a trio of utterly bizarre alien/cryptid books: The Goblin Universe, The Psychic Sasquatch and their UFO Connection and The Cryptoterrestrials. These were written by different authors and are of varying quality. None of them were remotely convincing. I put a huge amount of work into a post on Otto Rahn, but his books were awful to read. I think my post on Rollo Ahmed’s The Black Art was pretty good, but again the book itself was very boring. I did a few other atrociously stupid books on Satanism too. One was about Satanic ninjas and the other a Satanic bunty man.

I also got more criticism in 2020 than ever before. I’m getting more traffic than I used to, and I guess my content isn’t for everyone. I’ve signed on a few times to find abusive comments. I’m only ever amused when this happens, but I suppose I should make it clearer that the purpose of this blog is not to convince anyone to read any particular books. This site is more a book journal for me to keep notes on what I’m reading. I post it online because some people are interested. Maybe that might seem a waste of time to some, but it keeps me occupied.

It turns out that this is the 300th post on Nocturnal Revelries. I’m pretty pleased that this blog is still going at this rate after almost 6 years. I’ve read some cool books, expanded my horizons and even made a few friends along the way. I did posts like this for the past few years (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019) if you’re interested in this crap. Thanks to everyone who checks in every now and then. Remember, I try to do a new post every Sunday. You can contact me on twitter or email me. Let me know if you have any suggestions for further reading or if you want to chat about strange tomes.

I hope you all have a great new year!

Stephen King’s Danse Macabre

Danse Macabre – Stephen King
Berkley 1983 (Originally published 1981)


Stephen King’s Danse Macabre is a history of horror. It focuses on the 30 years prior to its publication in 1980. I have read most of the old classics of Gothic horror, and in recent years I have turned my attention to more modern stuff. When I started to read King’s book I assumed that I would be familiar with most of the stuff he was discussing.

I was wrong.

In an opening chapter King discusses Frankenstein, Dracula and Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I felt good. I had read all of these. King claims that nearly all modern horror stories can be traced back to these archetypal novels. I wasn’t convinced. These are certainly important books, but claiming that all horror can be traced back to them seems like a bunch of farfetched college-boy bullshit.

Then there’s some very long chapters on horror movies, TV and radio drama. I like horror movies, but I found these parts really, really boring.

After slogging through that stuff, I finally got to the section on horror fiction. I was expecting a broad overview of the field, but King limits his discussions to 10 books published between 1950 and 1980. He chose these books because they “seem representative of everything in the genre that is fine.” To my dismay and great shame, I had only read one out of these 10.

I put Danse Macabre down and sought out all the books King listed. It took me all of August to read them. It has taken me until the end of the year to finish writing about them. Here’s the list and some brief thoughts. Click the title of each book for my full reviews.

  1. Ghost Story – Peter Straub
    This one was really good. Quite scary in parts.
  2. The House Next Door – Anne Rivers Siddons
    This was the only book included that I had never heard of. I absolutely loved reading it.
  3. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
    This was the only book included that I had actually read before. A classic of classics.
  4. Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin
    Great book. Pity about the sequel.
  5. The Body Snatchers – Jack Finney
    Yeah, I guess it is a horror novel. I certainly enjoyed reading it.
  6. Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
    A great book.
  7. The Shrinking Man – Richard Matheson
    My least favourite Matheson novel. Surely I am Legend is more interesting.
  8. The Doll Who Ate His Mother – Ramsey Campbell
    A decent book, but I’m not convinced that it really deserves to be on this list.
  9. The Fog – James Herbert
    Enjoyable trash.
  10. Strange Wine – Harlan Ellison
    This book was enjoyable, but I find it peculiar that King chose it was the only short story collection to discuss. It contains maybe 3 horror stories. King discusses Bradbury’s Something Wicked, but Bradbury’s Dark Carnival or October Country collections are far more horrory than that novel and this collection by Ellison. It really seems to me that King included Strange Wine on this list because Harlan Ellison was his friend.

Not all of these books were amazing, but most of them were really, really good. I had been planning on reading a few of them beforehand, but God knows how long it would have taken me to get around to them at my own pace.

When I had finally finished these ten books, I picked Danse Macabre back up, ready to read King’s thoughts on my previous month’s reading.

BORING.

Stephen King was an English teacher, and much of this book comes from lecture notes he gave at some writing college. He starts talking about the Apollonian and Dionysian natures of the characters in these novels. Dionysus, my bollocks. Also, if you look at this book’s publication date, it seems to have been written at the height of King’s cocaine use. Cocaine apparently gives its users a sense of grandiosity or inflated self esteem. This might explain how King thought it was acceptable to fill his book with such rambling pseudo-academic hogswash.

Danse Macabre is the most influential book that I read this year. It led me not only to read the books discussed therein but also several other books by their authors. Honestly, I really like Stephen King, and the novels discussed in here are great, but I found this book pretty boring. I far preferred reading the stories than King’s thoughts on them. I guess I don’t have much time for people sharing their opinions on books…

I would advise to stay away from King’s non-fiction, but I actually read his On Writing in February and thought it was great. I was seriously trying to do more creative writing, but then covid hit and I used it as an excuse to quit.

Ramsey Campbell’s First 3 Novels: The Doll who Ate his Mother, The Face that Must Die, and The Parasite

I figured it was about time to give this Ramsey Campell fellow a read. Here’s his first 3 novels.

The Doll Who Ate His Mother
Legend Paperbacks – 1989 (Originally Published 1976)

When I was looking at Campell’s bibliography on wikipedia, I saw a note beside the title of this novel that said, “(1976; revised text, 1985)”. I try to avoid reading anything about the plots of novels before I read them and so instead of risking a spoiler by figuring out which version of the text was better, I read both the 1976 and 1985 versions of the text side by side. Doing so was a bit of a waste of time though as the two versions are identical aside from one small paragraph near the conclusion of the book dealing with how one of the characters dies. I reckon the updated ending is a bit more cohesive in the context of the story, but it’s nothing huge, and if you’ve only a copy of the original version, I wouldn’t be rushing out to replace it for that single paragraph.

The story is pretty good. It’s about a sick freak who abuses animals and steals limbs off corpses. There’s a bit of black magic thrown in too. I enjoyed this book the whole way through, and it left me happy to read more by Campbell, but I chose this as my introduction to Campbell because of its inclusion in Stephen king’s Danse Macabre. It’s a fine first novel, but I’m not sure if it really deserves to be on the same list as The Haunting of Hill House and Something Wicked This Way Comes. I think its inclusion there might have had more to do with Stephen King wanting to include something more modern (or British perhaps) on his list of influential horror. Still though, this was a good read.

The Face that Must Die
Star – 1979

The first thing I noticed about this book was that it felt very a bit like a sequel to The Doll Who Ate His Mother. It’s about totally different people, and there’s no supernatural element to this one at all, but the writing style and setting were so similar that it almost felt like a continuation. These two novels would make good episodes of some kind of horror series set in Liverpool.

The Face that Must Die is the horrible story of an insane serial killer who likes slicing people (especially if they’re gay) up with a razor. I don’t feel much need to say anything else about this novel. It’s pretty straightforward and very dark. There’s nothing to laugh about in this book, but there is some interesting insight into mental illness. In a sad and lengthy introduction Campbell explains that his mother suffered with severe mental health problems at the end of her life, and these problems seemed to give him ideas to fuel a serial killer. This book is fucking grim, but I liked it.

Like The Doll Who Ate His Mother, there are also two different versions of this novel. I read the “definitive” 1983 version, the author’s restoration of the original text.

The Parasite
Tor – 1989 (Originally Published 1980)

Of the three Ramsey Campbell novels I have read so far, The Parasite contains the scariest scenes. There’s a couple of parts in this book that actually left me feeling frightened. I occasionally suffer from sleep paralysis, and some of the stuff the protagonist goes through felt very familiar. Reading this before bed gave me nightmares.

This is the story of a film critic who starts developing psychic powers. Along with these powers, she also gains a mysterious bald stalker. Her newfound abilities start ruining her life, and by the end of the book she finds herself in the middle of a Lovecraftian nightmare of cosmic proportions.

The story itself is great, but the telling is scattershot. There’s a bunch of unnecessary characters, journeys and description. The Parasite is almost 340 pages long, and I reckon it would be a better book at 250-300 pages. In an afterword Campbell acknowledges as much himself. He even admits to including “some occult history and related bullshit to attract the Dennis Wheatley brigade”. Haha, in truth, I became very attentive when I got the the occult history paragraphs, but they’re not hugely important to the story. It was kind of cool to make the antagonist a member of the Golden Dawn.

Also, one of the most tantalizing parts of this story is a booked called Astral Rape by Hugh Willis. It’s first mentioned alongside some real occult texts, and I had already tried to track down a copy before Campbell made it clear that the book was fictional. I’ve had to file it alongside The Necronomicon and Megapolisomancy in the Library of the Unreal.

Despite its shortcomings, The Parasite was really good at times. If Campbell considers this his worst novel, I will be more than happy to check out more of his stuff in the future. Oh, and like the other two novels reviewed here, there are two versions of this book. They’re the same apart from the endings. I read both endings. I don’t have a favourite.

I have more of Campbell’s novels on my shelf, but I think the next thing I read by him will be his early Lovecraftian short stories. I’ve been meaning to get back into that kinda thing.

Ghost Story – Peter Straub

Ghost Story – Peter Straub
Pocket Books – 1980
(Originally published 1979)

I have heard a lot of good things about Peter Straub, and I knew that Ghost Story is considered to be one of his best books. It was the last book I read of the 10 discussed in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, and it was also the last book of my summer vacation. (That might give you an idea of the backlog of posts I have.) I had high expectations for this book, and it did not disappoint.

This is a very long novel, but its influences are the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, M.R. James, Arthur Machen, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James. With the exception of Hawthorne, I have tracked down and read all of the supernatural fiction by these authors, so it’s not super surprising that I enjoyed this. (I read Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Twice told Tales years ago but none of his later short fiction. I’ll have to see if there is a dedicated collection of his ghost stories out there.) While this book wears its influences on its sleeve, it has in turn become very influential on modern horror. One of the stories in Ryan Harding’s Genital Grinder uses this book’s opening line as homage.

There’s a part in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre where King discusses how the unknown is perhaps the most potent element of horror. The scary thing behind the closed door is always scarier when that door remains closed. Regardless of how terrifying the menace actually is, by making itself known it loses some its power. (Sure it’s scary, but it’s teeth and claws could always be a little bit longer.) In short, the question is scarier than the answer.

I reckon the first half of Ghost Story is one of the greatest set-ups in all horror fiction. The mystery, atmosphere and tension are magnificent. What the hell is happening here? Why has this man kidnapped a child? Who or what is picking off the small group of old men in Milburn? What’s the unspeakable event that occurred between these old men and the mysterious Eva Galli in the past? How are the answers to these questions linked?

The problem with this book is that those questions have to be answered. As King notes, the answers are doomed to fall short of the horror of the questions themselves. The ending of this book is fine. The characters remain interesting, and there’s plenty of creepy bits, but for my money, the malevolent supernatural force at the heart of the story is just a little bit too complicated for the second half of the book to live up to the first.

Maybe that sounds like a jerk thing to say. There’s literally no way to keep this kind of tension consistent until the end of a story, so this critique isn’t really fair. At least Straub tried. Most writers wouldn’t be able to come anything close to what he has achieved in this book. There are some seriously creepy moments in here. Even thinking of one particularly skillful use of foreshadowing near the beginning of the book makes me shudder, months after finishing the novel.

Jesus she moved she can’t she’s dead.

I really enjoyed Ghost Story, and I recommend it to any fan of horror. Straub has written a bunch of other novels too, including two with Stephen King. I am entirely certain I’ll be reading more of him in the future.

The Cormorant – Stephen Gregory

The Cormorant – Stephen Gregory
Valancourt Books – 2013 (Originally published 1987)

This horror novel was reiussed by Valancourt books in 2013, so I knew it was going to be pretty good. It’s about a man who inherits a cormorant, a big dirty bird, from his uncle. I’ve done quite a few evil animal books this year, but I anticipated this one being quite a bit better. It won a Somerset Maugham Award, and I had seen it being compared to Poe’s writing. In ways it was classier than my standard fare, but it also contained more crass swearing and disturbing pervy bits than any of the horror novels about beetles or worms that I’ve read in 2020.

This is suspenseful, creepy, sometimes funny and breathtakingly dark. I’m not going to try any harder to convince you to read it. For the rest of this post, I am going to talk about the plot and give away big spoilers. If you haven’t read it already, fuck off and come back when you’re done.

The narrator repeatedly alludes to his previous career as a teacher, and although he claims to feel that he was never cut out for that job, his actions suggest otherwise. His final acts of vengeance against the cormorant prove that he is extremely efficient at teaching lessons.

The whole way through the book I was expecting him to turn violent against the bird. When he finally snaps, he does so with grace, determinacy and cunning. He hits the unruly bird on the wing with a fire poker, shoves it in a box and then gives it a golden shower. Take that, you filthy beast!

I have nothing else to say other than that the bathtub scene was weird and probably unnecessary and that the ending is unbearably grim. I really enjoyed The Cormorant, and I’ll definitely check out more of Gregory’s stuff when I get the chance.