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Star, London, 1988
first published in Great Britain by WH Allen
(price: 3.99; 416 pages)

dedication: for Robert Bloch, Alice Coper, Stephen King
with thanks
and to Howard Phillips Lovecraft

The blurb on the back:

Spectre-like and sinewy, dressed in a grey cape and top hat, with a bone-white face and burning eyes, the Ghoul crawls from the London sewers to kill perversely, bloodily, inexplicably.
Meanwhile in Vancouver the horror-rock group Ghoul shock their audiences with a stage act that could only be described as violent and depraved.
What is the connexion between the orgy of killings in London and the Gothic outrage of Ghoul? The answer lies in the dark obsessions and twisted fantasies of an old Rhode Island family whose tainted past will not lie quiet in its grave...

opening lines:
'Dig,' the Grave Worm said, sucking on a joint and handing Saxon the shovel.

When Mohandas Gandhi was asked what he thought of British civilization, he replied that he thought it would be a good idea. Horror fiction effectively has the same attitude towards the whole of human civilization - the reason the genre continues to thrive nearly two and a half centuries after Horace Walpole is that it tears away at the veneer of rationality with which society has covered itself, and insists that at root we are still the runt of the ape litter, the defenceless mewling infant that developed a big brain to compensate for lack of brawn.

Michael Slade's book does a fair bit of veneer-ripping, but essentially it's too in love with its own genre really to disturb. It mixes in elements of shock rock (old school), Lovecraftian mythology and bits of Hollywood and literary horror, throws in an underworld crime story and a bit of New England incest and dresses the whole thing in the kind of police procedural writing that can't mention someone turning on a light without explaining how electricity is generated.

It's all quite agreeable and it's perfectly readable, but lacking the kind of spark that would make it irresistible. A couple of days after you've read it, you'll have forgotten all about it. I was hoping that it might be saved by the coverage of a rock & roll band - since that's the kind of thing that can amuse me - particularly after I saw recommendations on the cover from Kerrang! and Alice Cooper. (Curiously, of the three living dedicatées, he gets endorsements from Alice and from Robert Bloch, but not from Stephen King, who normally can't be held back when there's a quote needed.) But even that doesn't really work, and its principal attraction in the field is as an historical glimpse at how Canadians viewed rock music in the 1980s; here's our Mountie hero at a club where he discovers that 'death was the latest fad in the world of rock 'n' roll':

The music from the speakers was mostly Doom and Gloom-rock - the Cramps, Marc Bolan and T Rex, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Prince doing '1999' and Bauhaus performing 'Bela Lugosi's Dead'. The cut playing at the moment was Frankie Goes To Hollywood's single 'Relax'. (p.109)

This is the kind of detail you're going to get if, like the three Canadian lawyers who write under the name of Mr Slade, you do your research with Iron Maiden and the absurdly accented Mötley Crüe rather than with a proper band. As he points out 'there is nothing more dreadful in this world than the fantasy life of an adolescent boy' (p.341), and frankly there's not much worse than their taste in music either.

Charming holographic cover though, which unfortunately is entirely lost here.


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