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Darkness Demands

Simon Clark

Cemetery Dance

US Hardcover First

ISBN 1-58767-008-9

433 Pages ; $40.00

Leisure Books

US Mass Market Paperback

ISBN: 0843948981

395 Pages; $5.99

Date Reviewed: 03-15-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2002




03-07-02, 04-29-02, 01-17-03

Formulaic horror is a real writer-trap. If it sounds too easy to be true, it probably is. Just as with science fiction, scores of writers have decided that they, too can write horror, if they follow the simple formula laid out in numerous Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels. The trouble is that there is no simple formula, and the best novels by these writers succeed because they make something that is very difficult to do look absurdly easy because it is so easy to read. That's why those foil covers with gerund titles pile up at the Goodwill and garage sales. You can add Simon Clark to the non-legions of horror writers who have studied the form, worked in it for years, polished their craft, and learned their lessons. If readers are lucky -- and in this case they are -- the result is a novel as compelling and intense as 'Darkness Demands'.

Now part the joy of my experience of reading this novel was that I read the Cemetery Dance hardcover copy. I have to respect Leisure for putting out Clark's work, but the CD copy really shines, from the work of another Clark -- Alan M. Clark -- to the typesetting, great production values and relatively low cost that make this book an outstanding book value. Still, in the end, it would be nothing without the fantastic writing of Simon Clark.

Clark posits a relatively simple but original Horror MacGuffin to get the action going. True crime writer John Newton has moved to a new bucolic location with his lovely family. One day, a letter arrives on the back porch, asking that a small gift be left on a grave in the nearby graveyard. Should he or shouldn't he? The letter is vague, troubling. Perhaps there will be consequences for his family. From that moment on, the reader is in for a long night reading to find out what will happen to Newton and his charming family.

Clark's skills as a writer are great, but they're practically invisible because the reader literally disappears into the story. The protagonist, John Newton is a bundle of worries -- about his children, the progress of his new book (IE, job), his annoying neighbors, all the kinds things that real people worry about every damn day of their lives. Clark seamlessly draws the reader into this world, then with his MacGuffin, slowly tweaks it as things become worse and worse. The neighbors, as it happens are not just annoying -- they verge on being full bore monsters. If the book has a weakness, it is that the brush used to paint the book's most hateful character is lacking in the number of colors used, particularly when compared with the ease that Clarks has in conveying the complexities of Newton and his family. Clark does compensate for this by creating an interesting domestic situation in the neighbor's house, one that is currently becoming more and more common. Clark treats it with taste. But in the reader's front-windshield view of the novel, the neighbor is more of a man standing by the side of the road -- you're in the car with the driver and his family, plummeting down the dark highway, edging closer to terror as things spin out of control.

Clark also does well with the supernatural menace in this novel. It is in fact rather novel, and it is in fact menacing. He doesn't over-explain or try to make more sense of things than needs to be made. It is simply something that exists, and because you believe in the characters you believe them when they find the increasingly sinister notes in the back yard. It's nice to see someone demonstrating that evil exists rather than insisting that it does. Clark knows when to turn up the heat and when to back off.

'Darkness Demands' is the kind of quintessential page turning horror novel that King Produced in 'Pet Semetery' and Koontz produced in 'Watchers'. There's not an excess of philosophy, reflection, gore or sentiment. It's a delicate balance and Clark walks the razor's edge without trumpeting the triumph of the swill. It's not a book for every reader. But for those legions, and yes there are legions, of readers who like their horror fast, hard, yet balanced with characters you like and the right amount of feeling, 'Darkness Demands' is just what you've been demanding.