THE SOUL STEALER
Graham Masterton (grahammasterton.co.uk)
Head of Zeus (headofzeus.com)
Trinity Fox’s friend, Margo, has had a taste of fame with a bit part in new comedy, Hilarity Jones. But now Margo wants to meet: she is terrified and doesn’t know where to turn. When Trinity arrives at the pub where they’ve agreed to meet, she discovers Margo in the bathroom, on fire. It’s here that she meets ex-LAPD-turned-private-eye Nemo Frisby, and together they try to get to the bottom of what happened to Margo. Their investigation will lead them to a house in Bel Air where the Hollywood elite party almost every night and where an ancient Native American demon holds sway. It’s here that they will discover the true price of fame, if they can survive long enough.
Graham Masterton is a man who favours many genres, and with this latest offering he presents a story that straddles the often-fine line between horror and crime. With Nemo Frisby at the centre of the story, a man with a seemingly chequered past with the LAPD, he grounds us firmly in reality…or as much reality as Hollywood can provide, at any rate. But what Nemo and his new friend discover as they try to get to the bottom of Margo’s inexplicable immolation is far beyond what you’ll find in your average detective novel, even those set in this unique part of the world.
The Soul Stealer harks back to an earlier era where pulp horror was all the rage. I’m talking about the late 70s and early 80s, a time when Masterton himself was a big name in these circles, producing classics such as Manitou and The Pariah. It’s balls-to-the-wall pulp horror that pulls no punches and makes no apologies. Like those early novels, The Soul Stealer has a strong, if somewhat simplistic, plot and characters who, like the rest of us, aren’t built for these situations, but who are doing their best to muddle through and come out the far side in one piece. In Trinity and Nemo, Masterton has given us characters that we can root for and empathise with, while we’ll love or hate the other players as the author deftly manipulates our feelings towards them.
Often graphic in nature, Masterton revels in the little details. This won’t be for everyone and this reader, for one, felt that much of the sexual content was needlessly over-described, the author seemingly aiming for shock value wherever he could get it. But that’s a minor quibble in an otherwise enjoyable novel. Despite the aforementioned simplistic plot, there are some real surprises, where things don’t go as the reader might expect. These are moments to savour and enjoy because they’re proof that we can still be surprised, no matter how jaded we are.
In short, The Soul Stealer is an excellent read from an author with a history of producing solid, entertaining novels. Despite the supernatural flavour, it’s a story designed more to shock than to leave the reader with nightmares. Tense, humorous and intensely graphic, it’s a must-read for anyone who grew up in the 80s on a diet of King, Koontz, Masterton, Herbert and the like, and a good entry-point to that genre for anyone curious about what all the fuss is about.