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Stephen Laws

Sphere Books

UK Mass Market Paperback

ISBN 0-7221-5365-1

255 pages; £5.99

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel





Back in 1985, Stephen Laws was proving he had the talent to be a major league horror novelist. In 'Spectre', his second novel, he deals out just about every horror cliché scene you've ever seen or read, described in riveting prose that grabs the reader and makes the familiar fantastic once again.

'Spectre' is a home-town horror novel, set in Stephen Laws' childhood stomping ground of the Byker district in Newcastle upon Tyne in Southern England. Richard Eden, who once belonged to a group of friends who called themselves 'The Byker Chapter' in high school now manages a successful dance club called the Imperial. But something is happening to the six boys and one girl who once belonged to the Byker Club. Members of the group are dying in locked rooms, with the TV and radio blasting. The images of those who die are fading from the old group picture. There is a secret in the past, something hidden that is coming back to claim each member of the group. Richard Eden, his new girlfriend Diane, and the remaining members of the group have to figure out what is happening and why before it happens to them.

In clumsy hands, this could be a boring cliched, stereotypical horror-knock off. Laws proves that it is not the strength of the material, but the strength of the writer that counts. From the gripping opening sequence, to a terrifying scene duplicated poorly in a number of late-eighties movies, to the final twist, Laws uses his incredible powers of description and his atmospheric prose to crank up the terror with monstrous ease. He evokes the depressing squalor and tedium of life in a poor English sea-coast town perfectly, while managing to hurtle his characters through a break-neck plot that wraps up in a tight 255 pages. This novel is all muscle and no bloat, something readers of today's thick-as-a-brick prose slabs should quite appreciate.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this novel is that its descriptions of supernatural horror seem so perfectly suited for the digital effects we now see slathered on the screen in almost every movie that manages to make it to the neighborhood multiplex. Long before ILM made things morph and melt on screen, Laws was doing so in print, in prose as powerful as any image on a screen. The images in 'Spectre' may be familiar, but they are none the less powerful and incredibly well-executed.