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
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.
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