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  • TITLE: A Terrible Beauty
  • AUTHOR: Graham Masterton


    Sometimes I just need to pick one off the shelf. You know, select a reading for all the wrong reasons, like fantastic cover art, syrupy blurbs from well-knowns, or simply just a great title. Masterton's 2003 paperback original is not quite that. I reviewed his first novel, 1975's Manitou, so I knew something about this colorful and quirky dude (reference Manitou Man from British Fantasy Society in 1999 for more info). But I could have picked any number of seasoned limey horror writers like Ramsey Campbell who just won the BFS award this year, or James Herbert , or even Clive Barker.

    But I picked Masterton because he is the consummate professional, writing over 100 novels in a myriad of different styles and subject choices, including even sex manuals. Remember, in the 1970s, reading all those outrageous Penthouse letters while holding the magazine with just one hand? Well, Masterton was the editor of Penthouse Forum back then, so who do you think really wrote them?



    Here, Graham is not out for anything else but to tell you a brutal but good, scary story. Clichés abound as this serial killer police procedural unfolds with supernatural twists, yet Masterton manages to toss in some new blood blisters. I'm not sure I could say I was scared per se, but there are sections of this book that made me so uneasy I skipped pages. Now this book is not Lindsey's Mercy or Ellis' American Psycho. Formulaic currents run too strong here, so just lay back and enjoy the drift.

    The wonderfully evocative title refers to Mor-Rioghain, the Irish witch of witches. They “say that when the Death Queen arrives at your bedside, you're so mesmerized by her beauty that you forget what she came for” (Pocket Star Books PBO, ISBN 0743462939, c.2003, p.279). A summoning has been attempted, as insinuated by a freshly-discovered mass grave on a farmsite outside of Cork. Kathleen Maguire—“the only female Detective Superintendent in the whole of Ireland” (p.20)—is the puzzlemaster given a pit of jumbled bones with hand-made, cloth dolls attached to the femurs, and 11 female skulls “lined up higgledy-piggledy” (p.24). The crusty-but-benign ME announces the skeletons have all had the flesh meticulously scraped off, quite possibly before death. There's speculation about rituals and sociopathic insanity, but, since the grisly remains are almost a century old, not a lot of outcrying pressure for closure. This gives author Masterton time to complicate things with sub-plots and side-bar stories, including a real-time tour with the mad psycho-dog who is about to bring the number to 13. What is wonderful about reading a professional like Graham is that his plot intricacies and fascinations seem to exist specifically for credible characterization and historic relevance, yet they all lead back to the main thrust by unique and interesting paths. I mean, whoever thought old burials in Ireland could relate to the sinking of the Lusitania?

    Another laudation is the way he cloaks his perp among the cast, but that's enough said about that. Then there's the supernatural “only a shimmer away from the world of men and women” (p.283) which is rightly presented just beyond our comprehension as well as our acknowledgement.

    With so prolific an output, some of this author's works are bound to be better than others. But rarely do you encounter the sacred and profane this way:


    She had never yet seen a body that had been so completely desecrated, so stripped of its humanity, so totally disassembled. It reminded her more of a burglary than a homicide. It was almost as if her murderer had been tearing her body apart piece by piece, in a determined search for her soul.



    A Terrible Beauty meanders along that path between arrant tack and a thoroughbred ride.

    You decide.



    © copyright 01/31/2009 by Larry Crawford

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