Back at the end of November I reviews a novel by Keith Healing called ‘The Burnt Watcher‘, I was, you may recall, quite taken with it, and the post cataclysm world in which it took place. Not least because it had echo’s of the ‘old tentacle hugger’ from Providence Rhode Island and more importantly Robert W Chambers. And lets face it I’m a sucker for an old gods, pervasive evil and dark undercurrents…
One problem I did have with the first novel, which I didn’t bring up in the review, was the perspective and tense in which it was written, which is first person present tense. When I say problem, the problem was not in the writing, so much as in the reader. That is to say it is not a style I am overly fond of in anything but short stories, and even in short stories it has to be done well. It is perhaps a tribute to the novel and Healings writing that after the first chapter or so, this was a minor niggle and something that only threw me occasionally, while the advantages of this style lent themselves perfectly to the brooding pensive atmosphere that drags you along.
It’s a style Lovecraft used a lot, to a greater or lesser success in his short stories. The Rats in the Walls being a fine example. He also used it less successfully in other short stories, but the main strength of the style is that you learn everything for the central characters point of view, and if done right you can feel the consequences and certainly for Lovecrafts characters the slow descent in to madness along with a sense of disconnection and uncanniness as it creeps in. But while as a style this lends itself to a short story, across the breath of a novel it is harder to pull off, with ‘The Brunt Watcher’ Keith did a impressive job of maintaining the slightly off kilter nature of the narrative without it losing me as a reader. It did however beg the question he could continue to play this hand successfully in the sequel…
Which brings me, rather neatly, to ‘Visitation’ the second novel in Healings ‘the Fear’ series. Like the previous novel it is written from the perspective of Hobb Grey, the burnt watcher form the title of the first novel, once again inn that first person present tense style. Form the off however it is clear that this novel has a much broader scope than the first, in which events took place in a small isolated village called Stonehouse just south of the city of Gloster (analogous to modern day Gloucester, though a few miles south of the current city for reasons that stem from one of the main premises of the novels…) Instead of almost the entire novel been set in a single isolated community, the first half of this novel takes the reader on a trip through the west country, giving the reader a much broader view of this post calamity world and the people who inhabit it.
Along the way Hobb’s ‘apprentice of sorts’ Alice is revealed to be more than she seems. The hangover of Stonehouse is perhaps not the only reason for this. Hobb’s own hangover from Stonehouse also broods at the back of his mind. The encounter in the first novel with the yellow king is far from resolved. the tension between the pair of them increases as they travel to the south west to investigate what caused a ship to crash into the docks back in Gloster. There is something dark and pernicious at play, and the further they travel the more Hobb starts to fear what they will find, and what it will mean.
What they find at the end of their journey changes the relationship between the pair for ever, as measures Hobb feels forced to take to save Alice leave her scared both outwardly and inwardly. But it is on their return to Gloster that things take a real turn for the worse. There is a plague in the city, a plague that is not entirely natural. Hobb must take steps, but every step he takes costs him a little more, and takes him further down a dark road, a road littered with broken friendships, broken bodies and broken minds. All the while their is a presence, shrouded in darkness with just a hint of sickly yellow, prying its way into Hobbs consciousness…
That and a certain city…
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is Lost Carcosa.
Despite, or perhaps regardless of limitations of a first person present tense narrative Visitation is engrossing, dark and pervasive Horror fiction at its best in a strange and interesting world. Indeed, that slightly off-putting style adds to the sense of disconnection and strangeness, so works perfectly in that regard. There is much more for Healing to explore in the world of The Fear, your left with many questions and wanting to know more, and fearing to know more in the same instance.
You can read this as a stand alone, though I am not sure why you would, as it is as masterfully written and engrossing as the first novel.
There is also a artist, who Hobb befriends. An artist who becomes obsessed with a strange vision and driven by it… If you’ve read as much Lovecraft as me, I suspect you will fear for him from the moment he is introduced… You’ll not be disappointed.