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Graham Masterton – Charnel House

Posted by demonik on June 2, 2009

Graham Masterton – Charnel House (Sphere, 1979)

Les Edwards

Les Edwards

Review by Nightreader:

Set in San Francisco the story opens with retired engineer Seymour Wallis visiting the Sanitation Department to report that his house is breathing. He thinks he’s got an animal trapped in the walls. John Hyatt (narrator and hero of the piece) is sceptical but agrees to make a house call anyway.

Cue creepy house with it’s coyote doorknocker, framed and dusty pictures and a bronze carving of bear with the face of a sleeping woman.

As one taxi driver says: “Weird with a capital ‘wuh’ “.

The story begins to unfold gradually through various manifestations – possession and grisly death (the guy really shouldn’t have stuck his head up a chimney in that house)…

After the obligatory “these things don’t happen” scene, the characters become involved – Dr. Jarvis, and Jane (who works in a New Age bookshop) who uncovers a Navahoe legend about the return of an Indian demon…

Thank goodness the gang decided to call in the old medicine man, George Thousand Names. “He was compassionate, and understanding, but he was also cynical and wise, and you knew that whatever he said was God’s honest truth.” A good guy to have on your side then.

Meanwhile more death and destruction ensue as the demon gains strength. Masterton seems to find the most inventive ways of slaughtering people.

But amid all the supernatural horror and gruesome violent death there is a lot of humour. When John goes to visit George Thousand Names at his hotel: “He was wearing a red satin bathrobe and slippers with beads sewn all over them. He looked as if he were starring in a cowboy movie financed by Liberace.” The wisecracking humour of the main characters makes them likeable, and by the end you are really rooting for them.

The final conflict is spectacular but quite far-fetched. But what else could it be? I’ve read so many books that get to the final few pages and you’re left thinking “is that it?”. The ending here is big, bold, cinematic, daft but satisfying.

You might have guessed I enjoyed this one. But if I’m really honest it was ‘The Manitou’ all over again basically. The same criticism can be levelled at the majority of Masterton’s horrors – he found a formula that worked so he carried on using it, and still is (the demon from ‘The Manitou’ returned again in 2005 in ‘Manitou Blood’). Having said that I’m still prepared to set aside my cynicism for an exciting, mostly undemanding but entertaining supernatural horror read.

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