Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Graham Masterton

Graham Masterton is a British author of over 40 horror novels, though these aren’t easy to find on this side of the water. If you like your horror served with a supernatural twist, a dash of mysticism and a lot of imagination, I recommend some of these books.

Masterton always starts out scary. The Hymn begins with a woman pouring gasoline over herself in a parking lot, striking a match and smiling. Master of Lies begins with something I hope never to read again – a description of a husband and wife finishing dinner at night while the narrative explicitly tells us that this is the last meal they will ever eat. They talk happily as the story counts down the last minutes of their lives. 3:05, the man takes a cup of coffee upstairs. 2:28, the woman finishes crimping the edge of an apple pie she will never bake. 1:19, even if they wanted to listen to their favorite song for the last time, they wouldn’t have enough time to do so. 0:03. 0:02. 0:01. By then I was sweating. Needless to say, what happened after that was much worse.

This is a great example of how a good enough author can break a rule and get away with it, by the way.

The supernatural elements in these stories are another plus. The horror in these books is slowly revealed through Native American rituals, Tarot cards and Celtic mythology, which lends it an ancient, elegant aura. The House That Jack Built goes into detail about the apocryphal story of Lilith, and Ritual does the same for voodoo. I always pick up a Masterton novel with the anticipation of encountering different beliefs and cultures, and that inspires me for my own work.

The horror is so visceral that these books would be a difficult read otherwise; don’t pick up a Masterton novel unless you’re prepared for people being dismembered, raped, tortured, burned and so on. Sometimes this is brutal but fascinating, as in The Doorkeepers, where the hero is tortured with a device called the Holy Harp. Throughout the novel, characters had referred to the Harp and how no one lasted longer than one hymn on it, so I couldn’t wait to see what it was like. Sometimes this is is just impossible to read. I could barely finish Ritual because of the description of the fanatics literally eating each other.

Imagination-wise, Masterton antagonists are memorable. They live under the floor, reaching their arms up like sharks’ fins to grab you on the surface and drag you down into the ground (Walkers). They have died in fire and come back to life, their skins grey, their touch immolating (The Hymn). They live in mirrors, in portraits, in alternate dimensions, in what is only glimpsed from the corner of your eye. They don’t have the Stephen King sense of “this could be your father, your drinking buddy, your number one fan”, but they’re always colorful. His heroes sometimes seem a little underpowered in comparison, but they succeed though sheer courage and goodness of heart. The only other caveat I’d add is that some Masterton novels feature explicit sex, and the caveat is that so far none of these sex scenes have worked for me – which is puzzling because Masterton also wrote over a dozen sex instruction books.

The horror novels do work, though. Read them and see.

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