on 16 January 2015
I discovered Graham Masterton quite by chance. A colleague who left his job somewhat unexpectedly left one of his novels in his desk, a thoroughly enjoyable read called "The Sleepless". They were, I wasn't, but I was hooked. I am a huge horror fan, this was a new author, so let's have some more!
There was a small independent bookshop not too far from where I was living at the time. I used to visit frequently and chat to the owner, who is also a horror fan. I loved that place, and I miss it still. Where else can it take you half an hour to make a purchase, even after you've chosen the book and got to the counter? One day, amongst a couple of other things, I picked "Black Angel" from the shelf. "I've just started reading this," she said "the first chapter's really nasty." Well, that was like a red rag to a bull with me, and I nearly ran home to get started.
So, are you sitting comfortably? Yes? Good! It's probably just as well, because if you were the one reading this novel, you wouldn't be for long! This is most definitely not bedtime reading. I wouldn't recommend reading it after a heavy meal, either. It's nasty, and I love it, but it is only for those with a strong stomach!
The novel opens on the kind of family scene that Americans seem to like calling "typically American". The children in bed, ex-cop Joe Berry and his wife Nina are doing typically homely things. He's finishing dinner, she’s making a pie. (Apple? Of course!) But there's a little countdown happening between the lines. What's that all about? By this time, I've already taken a liking to Joe, as he has indicated a shared belief in one of my own philosophies: "Decaff isn't coffee. Same as lite beer isn't beer." You tell 'em, Joe!
By the end of the first chapter, however, the countdown has reached zero. And what was it counting down to? A brutal attack on the Berry family. When I say brutal, I mean BRUTAL! A man breaks into their apartment, nails Joe and Nina to the floor, making each hammer the first nail into their spouse's hand, on their hands and knees (nails through their knees, oh yes!), rapes Nina and nails their two children to the wall before setting them alight, whilst their parents are forced to watch. Well, they can't really go anyplace else. This is our first introduction to the man known to San Francisco Police as the Fog City Satan.
Detective Larry Foggia is assigned to the case, to take over from a colleague. Now that the Fog City Satan has started killing their own, the police and the city mayor suddenly have a new urgency, and want the killer caught NOW. Larry is chosen largely due to his being high profile, and good with the media. Larry immediately suspects that he has been handed the case in an effort to end his career, and that there are reasons behind the case being transferred that he does not know about. There are, but not the ones he suspects.
After certain inexplicable events, Larry begins to suspect a supernatural force behind the murders. Much to the disgust of his superiors and colleagues, he begins investigating along these lines. Despite their reservations, further incidents and hearing stories that sounds familiar to what he has seen with his own eyes confirm his suspicions. As he continues, more and more inexplicable and gruesome things happen, convincing Larry he’s on the right track, but confusing him and scaring him more and more.
And it’s not just Larry Foggia that’s likely to be scared by what described either. Masterton has this wonderful way of both scaring and grossing out the reader. The action keeps coming, with hardly time to draw breath between one shocking event and the next, before building into a huge finish.
But it’s the death scenes that make this as good (or bad, depending on your viewpoint!) as it is. Every time you get to another death, it is described in such detail, almost lovingly, that you get the impression that Masterton is really enjoying his death scenes. Which, in all honesty, makes two of us. This is the kind of thing you read horror novels to see, and I’ve not seen a death described in as much detail anywhere, particularly the one where a character is hit by a truck. The images of that one have stayed in my memory for a long time, and not in the best kind of way. Masterton does the disgustingly messy death better than anyone I can think of!
This is quite possibly one of the books I've most enjoyed, in my own warped little way! The deaths, whilst largely unrealistic, are vividly described down to the last drop of blood and Wilbert Fraser's demise is particularly painful from a male point of view! In every death Masterton puts King and Koontz to shame - they never killed anybody this well! This is a novel you really want to see on screen, just to see how they handle the deaths but, at the same time you don't, as you know they will ruin the novel, as films often do!
There are also, despite all this, some nice humorous touches throughout the novel. Larry's leaving of a message for his informant, and the confusion of the person trying to accept that the message really should read "Tell Dogmeat he's dogmeat" is good fun, as is Larry's snide remarks and running battle with his mother's parrot. There are other mildly amusing moments, but although they do lighten the mood slightly, they can’t take your mind off the blood and gore for long.
If you have a weak stomach, or a nervous disposition, or have trouble sleeping at the best of times, stay well away from this book. But if you’re the kind of twisted person who enjoys a good horror novel and loves a big dollop of blood and gore, a bit like me, in fact, you've got to jump aboard.
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