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The Fall

Simon Clark

Hodder & Stoughton

UK Trade Hardcover

ISBN 0-340-69610-9

537 pages; £17.99($42.95)

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 1999



Horror, Science Fiction

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

The difference between good horror writers and great horror writers is the ability to evoke not just terror but wonder as well. Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub, Stephen King -- all of them have moments of wonder equal in power to moments of terror. At best, the two are inextricably intertwined. In 'The Fall', British writer Simon "buckets of blood" Clark proves himself equal to the task. His plotting is inventive, his characters are clearly defined, and his prose is clear and strong. Simon Clark is definitely ready for the big leagues. Heck, he may even be able to get this book published in America.

'The Fall' starts with Sam Baker, an American TV director, in England, at the site of an ancient amphitheater, getting ready to orchestrate the broadcast of a live rock concert. In a well-rendered moment of surreal disorientation, he and the others are moved back in time one day. Then one week. Then...

Each time jump offers Clark the opportunity to zero in on a different era. The reluctant travelers are at first convinced that they cannot affect the past. But when Sam Baker finds himself accused of murder, he is determined to try. That's when the first cracks begin to appear in the time travel jumps. And that's when Clark's writing really begins to take off. It helps that he's set himself up with some of the clearest and most easily enjoyed characters this side of a Dean Koontz novel. It also helps that he's apparently learned his craft well enough to render action set-pieces with a precision and clarity that turns them into big-screen movies before the reader's eyes. But in the end, it's his boundless sense of invention that really kicks 'The Fall' into the highest category of horror successes.

There is to begin with his idea to use time travel as a vehicle for horror. Yes, he's taken a page from sources as different as Doctor Who and Kurt Vonnegut. But what he does with his time travelers is pure Simon Clark. He creates stunningly surreal scenes that pan out beyond terror and become wondrous. It's remarkably enjoyable to read.

This is not to say that there are no problems with 'The Fall'. The dénouement, though as usual well rendered, may strike some readers as anti-climactic. And though he picks up most of the loose ends he's scattered about in the narrative there are a few left hanging. But most readers will forgive him for these oversights, and those who do not are likely to hope that they will be resolved in a sequel. He does leave that possibility open. 'The Fall' is good enough to hope that if there is a sequel, it comes soon.