Someone's in the house. He's watching. He's creeping round, only you can't see him. He's watching you from the walls. He's right behind you now. Looking over your shoulder. He wants the remote control. He's a bad boy. He wants to watch bad movies. Bad bad Ronald...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Goodbye to My Horror Hero: James Herbert

Back in 1976, my cousin gave me the paperback novel that would change my life.  It was titled The Survivor.  On the cover was an illustration of a broken doll's head with glaring eyes.  The picture alone creeped me out.  I read the book in a matter of a few days (yeah, slow reader), and I was blown away.  I'd never read anything like it.  I was only 14 years old, but I'd already read a number of "grown up" novels.  I had skipped over the YA book scene (I didn't get into them until I was an adult), virtually jumping from chapter books to the novels that stuffed my Dad's upstairs bookshelf.  I would find a corner in the library, with a pile of books off the paperback racks, mostly TV or movie tie-ins, or anything with a cool cover. But Survivor was different.  Herbert's smooth speech and masterful storytelling spoke to me.  I was drawn in by how he, not only, told the story of the protagonist, but also made the victims of the ghastly killings come to life, with a full chapter dedicated to their (sometimes cruel, sometimes heartbreaking) backstory... and death.

I wasn't in to authors, yet -- except for Charles Dickens, of whom I was keenly aware.  But after I put down The Survivor, I noted the name of the author: James Herbert, and immediately sought out more of his books. Lucky for me,  I found one at my middle school library book sale.  A copy of The Rats, with the cover torn off.  I devoured that one right up.  Finding no Herbert books on the local library shelves, I took to the back pages of the paperback, where they had an order form for his other books at Signet.  I scraped up some of my snow shoveling money and sent off for a copy of The Fog.

Holy shit!  I was hooked.  The Survivor and The Rats were both eloquent and frightening, and they made me an instant fan of Herbert's.  But, The Fog...  truly disturbing and profound, and as creepy as anything I have ever read.  Hands down my favorite of all his books.

I became a regular at the mall bookstore, heading straight to the Horror section, looking for, and awaiting the next of his books.  The first "new" paperback I was treated to was Fluke, a definite change of pace from the mind bending horror of flesh eating rats, killer fog and torturous ghosts.  Fluke, instead, was a murder mystery involving a man who reincarnates in to a dog.  I was undaunted by the change.  This was Jame Herbert, afterall, so it's got to be good.  And it was.  Just as page turning as the previous books.

Every year after that, like clockwork, I was treated to another of Herbert's mind-whirling horror novels.  Some were mildly tedious (The Dark, Moon), others brilliant (the continuing Rat series), but all were welcomed.  And not only was I on the lookout for Herbert novels, I quickly became a fan of his (American) publisher, Signet.  When there wasn't a new Herbert paperback to chew on, I found that most of the other Signet horror novels would do to fill in the gaps.  Books like The Cats, New Blood, Rooftops, Phone Call, Savage Snow.  And authors like, David Lippencott, Nick Sharman, and Guy N. Smith.

The late 70s and early 80s were really such a great time to be a horror reader.  This is when King ruled, and he did good by it.  But, I've always been a James Herbert fan.  He drew me in before I'd even heard of Stephen King -- and he soon became known as the British Stephen King -- but, my heart goes to Herbert... My pulsating, bloody, quivering, lusty heart.

Goodbye James. Thanks for the wonderful nightmares.

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