Ginger Nuts of Horror
When asked "which writer was your first encounter with horror?" My answer is always James Herbert, but while he was my first, he was not the one that switched on that part of my brain hardwired into loving horror. That honour has to go to Graham Masterton. I remember the day very well. I was in a deep conversation that only kids of a certain age could have about the different types of superheroes you could get. The ones born into it, the ones who have it thrust upon them, those who want to be one, the reluctant ones and a few other types. When one of the group brought up Graham Masterton. Now being a sixteen-year-old in St. Andrews in the late 1980's was a far different time than those we live in now. We had a John Menzies, one bookshop and one record store. Moreover, that was it. I think at one point we had a Wimpy, but that might be just old age getting me all confused.
The bookshop, The St. Andrews Citizen, was an old building on two levels, the downstairs sold magazines, pens and all the pointless tacky gifts you could only ever find in a provincial shop. It was where I got my first deck of Tarot Cards, which were kept behind lock and key in the shop, for fear of the evil spilling out. Upstairs was where they held the books, and where I spent nearly all of my pocket money. It has to be out in perspective though this was not a large shop, it was barely larger than a decent sized living room, but they crammed in books like there was no tomorrow. Moreover, if you wanted a book that they did not stock, it was not just a case of them typing the name of it into a computer, no they had to either search through massive catalogues or phone the distributor up directly.
They did not have any Graham Masterton books on sale, so I had to ask them to order me a copy of The Night Warriors. The lady working the till was shocked when she read the synopsis and asked if this was the sort of book a young man should be reading. I said it was, and please get me a copy posthaste or words to that effect.
When the book arrived, I was transfixed by the cover, a demonic eel, under a cover that had an oily rainbow like font. I hated eels then, and I hate them now I knew I was going to have some nightmares with this book. And I did to the point that now nearly thirty years later I still look forward to reading the next book from the man who brought me into the horror fold.
And as a means to thank you to the great man I present to you my personal top ten Graham Masterton Books.
(Please click on the titles or cover images to purchase any of these books if they take your fancy)
A secret race of beings who have lived among us since the beginning of time. A race of beings who like to suck out certain bodily fluids via silver straws. The Lily White Men still haunt my dreams to this day. With an opening that ranks amongst one of the finest introductions to a horror novel, The Sleepless never lets up on the Thrill count.
The Sleepless is one of what I like to call Masterton's Folk Horror novels; these are the books where he takes an old myth or even a nursery rhyme ( more on that to come in a later entry) and twists into a grisly, ghastly and gruesome version of the source material.
I have never liked the idea of scuba diving or even swimming in the sea but unlike most people of my age, this didn't come from watching Jaws, no this fear came from the claustrophobic and oppressive scene where the hero of the book goes diving and comes face to face with terror of the book. Pariah mixes small town paranoia, ancient Mayan demons and sunken ships into a terrifying novel of dread. This is one of a select few books that scared me mentally as I read it.
You might see a recurring theme to some of my reactions to Graham Masterton's novels. In that so many of them,have, at some point scared me, some have kept me awake a night, some have as you will find out in a later entry cause me to sleep on the stairs, and some as in the case of this book have given me a phobia of wardrobes.
Prey it all, Lovecraftian undertones, a mysterious house, Brown Jenkins, pictures that move, the Long Legged Man. Masterton weaves all of this into a terrifying tale of missing children and Dr Barnado's. I had read tales of Brown Jenkins before but none of them ever affected me in the way that this book did. I was in the middle of reading this in my bedroom at night when I looked over at my wardrobe and convinced myself that the pile of clothes that slumped at the bottom of the wardrobe was indeed the half man, half rat himself. Whereby I proceeded to throw the contents of the wardrobe around my room just to assure myself that no monster lurked there.
And as for The Long Legged Man thanks to him I now no longer like looking at pictures on a wall. When people talk about books that are truly terrifying, what they are really talking about are books that aren't as terrifying as this one.
The legends surrounding The Green Man have always fascinated me, especially when they paint him as both a force for good and a force for evil, and for Masterton to use this as a basis for a horror story that also deals with genetic experimentation, giant pigs and the consequences of family history is a stroke of pure genius. This is one his longest books, and while it may not be the one of best loved among his fans I for one love how the book's length gave Masteron the space needed to cover the story properly. He doesn't waste a single line in the narrative. This was the book that I used to introduce my wife to his writing as she spent a year living in Iowa, where the book is set. She has since become a fan of the great man.
Lavender's blue, dilly, dilly, lavender's green
When I am king, dilly, dilly, You shall be queen
No this isn't a reference to Marillion's Misplaced Childhood, it's the rhyme used by the Walkers of the novel, an evil branch of druid magic that allows it's users to walk in the earth, travel through walls and all other sort of cool stuff. The only problem is they have been trapped in the walls by Christian magic.
Vampires can't cross the threshold, but this crafty devils can walk right through your locked door. This is a classic Masterton bending mythology to create a great horror story. It is also the story that caused me to sleep on the stairs one night. I was visiting a girlfriends house, and like the house of the walkers it used to be part of a mental hospital and like the book I was told it was haunted. The house was in the middle of nowhere with no street lights, so when it was dark, it was really dark. I went to toilet in the middle of the night, and as I was going up the stairs in pitch darkness, my brain did what it loved doing to me the most and made me think, hey what if one of the walkers came out of the walls here. I took one long look up the stairs at the enveloping darkness and just went nope. Too sacred to turn around, too scared to go up the stairs I spent the night asleep on the stairs praying the Walkers wouldn't get me.
Everyone is well aware of The Manitou, but a lot of people won't be aware that Masterton also touched on Native American legends with this classic short novel Charnel House. Where Seymore Willis is convinced his house is breathing, so it is down to sanitation officer John Hyatt and a band of true believers to stop the evil of the coyote.
To this day whenever I see a large number of crows I think back to this book. It is a classic example of 80's horror, a quick read that doesn't ry to be anything other than B movietastic.
To many people, this is THE Graham Masterton novel to end all Masterton novels. Featuring his two most iconic and long living creations the beleaguered reluctant hero Harry Erskine, and his perpetual adversary Misquamacus, the real great adversary. Everything about this book just clicks perfectly into place and lays the foundations for many of Masterton's later novels where an ancient legend or a misplaced traveller from our past seeks revenge on those who he deems has wronged him. And the only thing standing in its way is a hero so far out of his depth he is drowning.
It is a partnership that neither Masterton or his fans can get enough of. There is a real sense of chemistry between the two of them, and while their battle may start on on a more personal note, it soon ramps up to apocalyptic levels in the later books, such as the next one on this list.
Not content with destroying Erskine and those close to him Misquamacus decides to go for broke and destroy everything, by using mystical sinkholes to suck buildings, streets and whole towns into the abyss. This is perhaps Mastertons most cinematic novel, like Flesh and Blood, Burial is a longer than usual novel, and Masterton makes the most of it, creating a blockbuster feel to the book. In this day and age of remakes and reimagining, the fact that a book like this is crying out for a big screen treatment, still goes unnoticed is a crime against the genre.
I couldn't finish this list of my favourite Graham Masterton books with talking about my first date with the Master of Horror. Out of all of the hundreds of horror books I have read over the years, this is the book that I think about the most, even as a 40 something I still occasionally dream about what my Night Warrior character would be like. Would I be and archer, a slide Boxer or an energy Ninja. The concept of a select few being chosen by an angelic like creature to become the custodians of our dreams, the final guard against the demons of our nightmares, is just so gloriously perfect. The possibilities are endless, and Night Warriors sees Masterton's imagination take full flight. A demon impregnating women in their dreams, who then give birth to demonic eels, is as nasty and gut wrenching as you could imagine. That scene on the beach with the eel is permanently burned into my mind. I wanted to be a night warrior as a 16-year-old, and I still want to be one. Perhaps tonight in my dreams I will become one.