Books like Others really demonstrate the adaptive writing style of Britain’s best contemporary horror writer. WHen he published his first novel The Rats in the 1970s, it stirred up controversy for its gruesome writing style. It is now (thankfully) seen as a horror classic and the writing style is praised as a necessary plot device for the brutality of the post-war inner city deprivation of the London that Herbert grew up in. Having just looked at his list of novels published to date has made me realise just how good a writer he is and how different each of his works are. Of course there are some I do not enjoy so much but every writer has books that are not well received.
Others is one of his more recent works and through it you can really identify how he has changed. The writing is far less brutal, the jumpy parts are far more clever than most other writers (my favourite scene is a good old-fashioned “banging at the door late at night” section) and because this is essentially a detective novel it has an element of mystery to unravel all the while hinting at the horror to come.
The book opens in hell with three angels giving a silver-screen actor the opportunity to redeem his previous debauched life. Meanwhile, Nick Dismas is a Private Investigator; unfortunately for him he is also malformed and could easily be picked out in a crowd. Despite his disabilities he has managed to carve out a good career for himself and employ two others. Most of his contracts are mundane stuff. However, one day he receives an intriguing request to investigate the case of the missing baby of a woman who had given birth 18 years before. The missing baby is dead – at least according to the authorities – but the woman (who recently lost her husband) is adamant that her baby survived. Nick is not convinced and when the woman tells him that a psychic has made contact with her child and that the child is alive, Nick’s heart sinks. After making a cursory search for records and coming up with nothing he drops the case but is compelled to take it up again when the psychic visits him. So begins Nick’s terror…
You know by now that I do not like to give too much away so as far as the plot summary goes I am going to leave it there. Obviously because this is a James Herbert novel, Nick will uncover unimaginable horror as he searches for the apparently not-dead teenage son of his client. His journey will take him to a retirement home with a sinister secret.
Set in Brighton for reasons that are not clear (well, who says that all British novels must be set in London or Manchester?), Nick is a richly detailed, flawed and ultimately sympathetic character. His two assistants are unfortunately stereotypes: the closeted homosexual and an outwardly butch lesbian. They are a bit underused in my opinion and I often found myself wondering why there were even in the book.
When the truth arrives, it has more of a Clive Barker feel about it though with far less homoerotic BDSM. That’s not a bad thing; Herbert often dabbles in the sub-genres of his contemporaries without making it feel like plagiarism. Once for example almost felt like a work of Neil Gaiman but with a more erotic tone. I feel the final showdown of this book really let the rest of the novel down. What was chugging along as an intriguing detective-horror soon became watered down Cliver Barker territory. Despite this flaw this is an excellent book and I do recommend it. In completing Others, I have just realised that I’ve read all of his novels published to date. Eagerly awaiting the publication of Ash this autumn (yes, that’s David Ash).