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Master of Lies

Graham Masterton

Tor Horror

US Hardcover

ISBN 0-312-85102-2

330 pages; $19.95

Date Reviewed: 10-16-1992

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel




In tough times a cheap shot can hit you pretty hard. That's part of the perverse appeal of horror -- its message that yes, life can get worse. In the opening passage of "Master of Lies", Graham Masterton describes the last moments of a happy San Francisco family, then details their torture and murder by a brutal serial killer. It's so distasteful that the rest of the book seems bland in comparison. But even if the opening section described a delicious recipe for Hamburger Helper, the rest of "Master of Lies" would still seem pretty bland.

It's not as if Graham Masterton isn't a skillful writer. Even though the opening passage is a cheap shot, it's, shall we say, well executed. In fact, in other circumstances, it might have been a superb start. But the follow up is incredibly weak as Larry Foggia, San Francisco cop, is put in charge of the investigation of the "Fog City Satan". Essentially, it's the old maniac-killings-hoping-to-raise-the-devil plot, set in an excellently drawn San Francisco. As you read the book, you know that you could call up the Italian restaurants that Foggia frequents and get some excellent pasta. As he tools around town from good neighborhoods to bad, you know that you could probably trace his route in a Thomas Brothers Guide. Unfortunately, this is the Sicko Serial Killer Tour Line, and your hosts, Larry Foggia and Mandrax are not the best of company.

Anybody who's ever read a Stephen King novel is going to guess the outcome long before it comes out. Anybody who's ever watched "The Streets of San Francisco" has probably seen the scenery. To his credit, Masterton does come up with a couple of interesting supernatural surprises. The really unbelievable stuff is not hands sprouting human faces, however, but the way Foggia's character acts. For example, at one point in the novel, he decides to tell a newspaper reporter that the killings are supernatural in origin, and requests her to put it in print. If the descriptions and the prose weren't so professional, you'd think is like one of those amateurish movies where they always go into the basement with the lights off.

Graham Masterton is an excellent writer. His novel "Walkers" was well-written and imaginative with good characters and nasty surprises. Although the San Francisco setting of "Master of Lies" is nearly letter-perfect, the plot and characters that move through Masterton's Fog City are best left in the haze.