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The Community

Ben Leech (Stephen Bowkett)

Pan MacMillan

UK Mass Market Paperback Original

ISBN 0-330-32973-1

244 pages; £4.99

Review Date: 03-05-1996

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002


Horror, Science Fiction

In the realm of speculative fiction, it's hard to tell where one genre stops and another starts. As Stephen Bowkett, Ben Leech has written several science fiction novels for young adults, and it shows (in the best possible way) in his first horror novel for adults. 'The Community' applies science fiction-style logic to its premise of another race co-existing on earth with ours, and lovingly descibes the extremely horrific consequences. But Leech does so within the very real and rather depressing background of a slowly dying, post-industrial, sleazy suburban city in England. His characters come to angst-ridden life and if they're lucky stay that way. But Leech doesn't let his bleak view bog down the novel. He's written a hybrid of mystery, SF and horror that manages to be atmospheric, compelling, logical and extremely visceral.

Like most good novels, however, it's not the plot that carries 'The Community' along and gives it its verve. Leech's characters, miserable and mystified comes to life in his careful prose. Peter McAuliffe, a man forced to face rapidly approaching middle-age and a relentlessly boring career teaching at an English school, is asked to take Christina Lamb, a former student, who is now a counselor, into his classes so she can observe first-hand the difficulties of his students. With his marriange turning to stone, he's immediately attracted to her, but incredibly insecure. But as Christina arrives, a series of savage killings begins. The victims are burned, but not thoroughly enough to conceal the strange deformities from the local coroner, Doctor Marius, and the DI assigned to the case, Scobie. Slowly, the two threads draw together as Leech creates a world hidden within ours, woven through ours since time immemorial.

Unlike the average supernatural-serial killer novel, Leech throws in a solid science-fictional basis behind the surreal scenes of shapeshifting and murder. His grounding of the material in a logical manner makes the emotions of his characters seem much more authentic and likable, and is supported by atmospheric prose not seen much since the 'Books of Blood' came out. Moreover, 'The Community' is mercifully brief, leaving you wanting more not wishing for less. 'The Community' proves that there is still room for soemthing new under the rain and fog and miserable weather we all associate with the dreariest parts of England.