|Ballantine Books, 1977|
Oh boy, old fashioned horror stuff going on here! First off in this post is a “classic” I guess you could say. It’s The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz, published in 1974. I give a lot of leeway to 1970's horror novels. Generally they're not going to have the pace of modern novels. Even the saturation of 80's horror paperbacks that hit the bookstores make these older novels seem like silent movies in comparison. Still, I love the "good" old stuff. It had a style and creepy manner (when done right) and, if you give them the patience they sometimes deserve, they're a lot of fun to read. This novel has some good things going for it. It's got a nice New York setting that you'll recognize from movies filmed at the time. I never lived in New York so my impression is only what I grew up seeing of it on TV and movies. No, I'm sure it was a long way from the real thing, but that was all I had to go on. It still is. You get a taste of 1970's manners and culture of that period. It's also a well written example of commercial fiction of the day. The problem I had with it is that the main character, Allison Parker, doesn't present much for the reader to relate to. If you met her at a cocktail party you'd probably remember a pretty, but somewhat vapid, young woman and forget about her soon afterward. Allison has just moved into a brownstone flat that she seems fated to have rented. This, of course means trouble in horror novels. Her boyfriend, Michael Farmer, is a lawyer, of course, and a first class arrogant jerk. You might ask yourself, why is Allison going with such an obvious jerk, then you read on and determine that they probably deserve each other. He's always riding her about being "frigid" and insisting that she come clean about something in her past. I have to say I'm not especially clear on Michael's motives in that regard. He should be satisfied with having a hot, and not particularly bright, model to bang. Instead he's pushy and demanding while giving Allison nothing in return. About halfway into the novel there is a shift in plot that brings in a jaded and obsessive New York police detective named Gatz. Gatz has a hatred for Michael Farmer, and is convinced that Farmer is guilty of the death of Farmer's first wife. Then you learn that Allison was seeing Micheal Farmer while he was still married to his now deceased wife. What the hell? Why should I root for this person? Why should I care? And you read it for the horror stuff you've been promised on the blurb. This includes an eccentric but kindly enough neighbor of Allison's living with his black cat and birds. There is also a pair of Euro-chic lesbians living on her floor. And a pair of grotesque sisters living below her. It's all very bizarre and creepy and builds to a climax that won't surprise you today. I would recommend the book to fans of 70's horror novels. Or you could just see the movie if it ever shows up on Underground Classics on TCM.
|Zebra Books, 1987|
Sleep Tight by Matthew Costello is an entertaining 80's horror from Zebra books. I really did buy this just for the cover. The story inside is chock full of suburban families with their teenage kids getting mixed up in a cosmic horror gig. This book is from a time when publishers like Zebra couldn't print the stuff fast enough. Hence, there are a lot of really bad novels from this period. Still, even some of the bad ones had a completely inappropriate and gory charm to them that, I think, got lost in the 90's and 2000's. There is a Stephen King element to Sleep Tight (just an element mind you) in that white suburban domestic angst is explored along with the scary stuff. I can relate to it on that level and I don't mind its inclusion in plots, but one of my pet peeves in novels, particularly many horror novels, is when a nightmare is described in detail. Nightmares are nightmares, and everyone gets them. To me, a nightmare is page filler. Thankfully, that's not too overdone here, but still enough for me to skip some pages along the way. There are several creepy kidnapping scenes that kick off the novel, and an ex-con punker named Eddie whom you think is going to play the heavy in addition to all the boogyman stuff. But alas...Eddie doesn't last long. There is a "tall man" that haunts the town and sets off a lot of the terror in the book. There is a huge homage to Phantasm going on with this story but a lot of "the tall man" plot goes unexplained or dropped for cutaway scares. I think what I liked more than the horror shenanigans is a look at the period in the 80's in which the story takes place. Music references like "We Built This City on Rock and Roll" and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Yes, "We Built This City" is the worst song ever produced by a band who completely sold out, but I did get an urge to play my Frankie Goes to Hollywood record again. Even Huey Lewis and the News got a shout out. This book is practically an 80's pop culture check list. Star Wars bedsheets, Cherry Coke and all that rot. And teenagers actually had to call each other up or hunt each other down old-school style. I don't remember any scenes of smoking in the school restrooms though, like they did when I was in high school in the late 70's. Different time. Fun novel. Like sticky candy, not exactly nutritious, but still fun to indulge in as the nights cool off.