Although the pulp horror paperback is not as thriving a commodity as it was in the 1970s and 80s (with drab forensic “thrillers” having taken its place on the shelves), one or two of the ‘old hands’ still pump out a book or two once in awhile.
Graham Masterton’s name should be familiar to anyone into the genre, with his having penned some fifty or so potboilers, mostly concerning themselves with evil Native American spirits. One such novel, The Manitou, was even made into a(sadly, quite lacklustre) movie. His latest offering, Edgewise, has just been released by Severn House Publishing and I’m pleased to report that it’s both a solid entry into the cycle and an ideal introduction for newbies.
The novel’s protagonist is an American realtor named Lily Blake who finds herself awoken in the small hours by noises. When she goes to investigate, her search reveals two masked men in the house. For some fairly psychotic reasons, they tie her to a chair, set fire to her and kidnap her children. Not ideal. Thankfully, Lily escapes the blaze but the kids remain missing. Weeks of police (and Federal!) investigation pass and nothing new or hopeful emerges, except for the fact that her violent ex-husband is most likely the man behind the kidnapping, involved as he is with some bizarre, misogynist Father’s Protection League called FLAME.
When all else fails, Lily turns to a spooky Native American private eye (the wonderfully named John Shooks). This Shooks character reckons that he knows people who can track her children, but that it might come “at a cost”. Next thing you know, a shifty old dude called George Iron Walker is summoning evil spirits for Lily faster than you can say, “I saw all those movies! Nothing good can come of this!”
Predictably, nothing good comes of it.
Masterton’s prose elevates this generic cautionary tale higher than it probably has any right to go. From the gripping first chapter to the genuinely scary appearance of the spirit you know that you’re in the hands of a guy who’s a master of his craft. He knows his way around form and structure like a pro and this is refreshing to read. With horror fast becoming a genre that’s being thrown to sub-literates anddegenerates, it’s lovely to just read a book where all the punctuation and grammar is sound, let alone one that’s actually entertaining and well constructed.
Whilst it won’t break any new ground and there are one or two questionable character transplants in the second half, Edgewise is a speedy, entertaining read and provides enough creepy atmosphere to work as a deft little ghost story. It would certainly be a cracker to tell around the campfire and if the descriptions of the forest demon don’t have most of your companions shivering in their sleeping bags, then they’re clearly already dead and you’ll have to cut their Goddamnzombie heads off. Just make sure you sever the spine.