by Charles Maclean
Published by Penguin Books, 2012.
Originally published in 1982 this is a book I have been meaning to read for a while. It certainly gets some good reviews and was listed among Charlie Higson’s top 10 horror books here so I was delighted to find a copy of the reissue on the shelves of my local Waterstones.
Martin Gregory is a computer programmer who seemingly lives a happy, normal life with his wife and their two dogs. So far so mundane and to be honest for the first 20 pages I was wondering what all the fuss was about..then “it” happens. For no apparent reason Martin carries out a vicious and brutal act, which author Maclean insists on telling with quite uncomfortable detail and description. Perhaps what makes the act so shocking is the aftermath as Martin carries on quite normally. It’s this schizophrenia that becomes the focus of the book as Martin receives psychoanalytical treatment which reveals a whole slew of past lives each with their own story.
So the plot weaves in and out of past lives as we experience the world through Martin and his psychologist’s eyes and things get ever more complex, demanding that the reader pays attention. There is little more horror, the book becomes a tense psychological thriller as the reader is left to ponder the reality of Martin’s paranoia or if things are simply the result of some deep-seated psychosis. There are a couple of extremely tense scenes towards the end which are very enjoyable but the plot conclusion is somewhat disappointing.
This is a deeply strange book which offers the reader little solace and no solutions. Martin is not a particularly likeable protagonist indeed his initial actions also make him a formidable antagonist so viewing the story through his eyes is a difficult journey for the reader. It’s a sign of the authors skill then that, despite his previous brutality, Martin actually begins to be a character the reader can relate to, maybe the reader is confronted with some uncomfortable truths about the latent violence in us all.
So this is not an easy book to like, difficult to relate to characters, complex plot, disappointing ending and a stilted prose style which seems much older than it’s 1982 vintage. It’s a measure of the authors skill then that this book does succeed. Perhaps it’s that initial shock that certainly resonates throughout the book, perhaps it’s the complex experimental plot which keeps the readers attention or perhaps it’s simply because this books is “different” but whatever the reason the end result is an enjoyable piece of dark fiction. It certainly wouldn’t make my top ten horror books but it might well make the top 100.
Rating 4 out of 5