By L. H. Maynard and M. P. N. Sims

Reviewed by Steve Redwood

I don't read much horror, and, with my shelves already groaning with sad-eyed unread SF masterworks gazing reproachfully at me, I probably wouldn't have bought this book (in Madrid, to boot!) if I hadn't wanted to support two people who have, as editors for the UK small press, done so much to help other writers. Of course, I knew from their excellent short stories they were more than competent writers, it's just that horror simply isn't my favourite field. And I certainly didn't have any intention of writing a review. But I am so convinced most WoWers would like this book that here are a few quick comments.

I confess I almost regretted my buy when I saw the back cover blurb, which spoke only of some unnamed terror living in the cellar of an old house. Yes, well... Thanks be to the Great Lords of Darkness, that blurb, though not factually untrue, was quite misleading, in that it seemed to imply a cast of just one helpless woman versus one hungry monster. But in fact there are six or seven main characters, all carefully and realistically drawn, as well as many minor ones. There is the young woman, Laura, of course, who isn't really helpless at all, who makes the initial error of trying to renovate an old house. There's her vengeful rejected lover, Brian Tanner, who unwillingly enters into a very apt and wonderfully gory symbiosis with the terror that has indeed been locked away in a basement for fifty years. And this monster, while really nasty, is also 'humanised' when we learn, with information fed into the novel at just the right places, why it has become what it is and why perhaps it has a certain right to exact vengeance. There are the daughter and grandson of the original perpetrator of the crime, both aware of the horror, but so mistrustful of each other that neither is aware that the other knows. And there are the other victims of the monster (if that is the right word to use) who are given detailed histories and personalities of their own, not merely serving (as in so many horror films) as fodder.

But perhaps more important than the above--but only possible because of the above--the novel is, as they say, a real page-turner, an exciting story wonderfully told. At the basic plot level, although I would not claim total originality (something well-nigh impossible anyway) there is clever structuring, superb pacing, and a satisfying complexity, as past and present, and the disparate lives of the characters, are woven together into a whole. There are different ways to build tension in fiction; these authors use the tried and tested route of the slow, detailed build-up, so that we are told what kind of flowers the characters are treading, details of the contents of rooms, colours, textures, smells (but quickly enough so as not to disturb the flow of the story; the style is fluid and smooth). Other readers have commented on the cinematic qualities of the book, and indeed the authors have given all the scene and set directions--the director simply has to tell his actors what to do.

In short, no barriers broken here (well, a bit of extreme miscegenation!), no scintillating linguistic or novelistic experiments, but a good exciting entertaining read, at all times forcing the reader to ask that question which I believe should in some form accompany all novels--what happens next?!

Shelter by L. H. Maynard & M. P. N. Sims. Mass market pb published by Leisure Books, USA, 321pp, $6.99/US and £5.99/UK. Available from Amazon UK.

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