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flesh gothic by edward lee
on 4 March 2006
I liked the idea for this one. A reporter and a bunch of psychics are sent to investigate a series of terrible murders in a massive 5-storied gothic mansion, committed by a tycoon madman who was mixed up in the worst aspects of the porn industry and a bizarre Satanic cult. For some reason this blurb reminded me of the descriptions of Emeric Belasco's past excesses in Richard Matheson's "Hell House", and I thought it would make a pretty effective bit of horror, a refreshingly new slant on the haunted house story. Edward Lee can certainly write, no question whatsoever about that, and he creates strong characters. So where did it fall down for me?
Well partly I personally can well do without professional psychics in a story, and in this story we get no less than 4 of them! I just can't get away from the feeling that it's cheating somewhat to have characters who can do out-of-body experiences, or who can solve mysteries just by touching things, and in "Flesh Gothic" we get rather a lot of all this. And it does get deeply tedious. The scale of the sex and violence in this book is quite Sadean at times. He doesn't flinch away from his subject matter, and yet at the same time we get a bizarre attitude, whereby rape, beheadings, torture etc are all endlessly recorded (in a quite mind-numbing nihilistic way), and yet then he'll get all prissy, like an old woman, about the sort of sexual practice that your average suburban Swingers would probably regard as quite tame! It's hard to see how we're seriously meant to be shocked by that, after reading page after page of truly grotesque excesses! And the scene where Vanni wanders into the S&M playroom, and it takes her AN ABSOLUTE AGE to realise it's not actually a gymnasium, does make you wonder if she should be allowed out on her own!
What really inspired me to give this book only 3 stars though is the final 40 or 50 pages of it. The scene where Our Very Human Hero (actually he's the best part about the whole book, a world-weary but sympathetic man) finally confronts the villain of the piece is one big letdown. No self-respecting horror story should have the hero saying to the villain, in a sort of Frank Spencer-ish way: "you are an evil person". (You blinkin' little fiend you!). I did mistakenly think that Lee might spring a few surprises on us as we headed towards the end, but no it's just more of the same schlocky old nonsense we've seen a hundred times before. I do think he could do better than this.