Written by Tim Lebbon
Published by Leisure Books
Buy it from the Creature Co!
Before I get to the actual review, please allow me an aside:
months ago, I bought and read my first Graham Masterton novel: Manitou
Blood. Unless someone convinces me otherwise, it’ll be my last. It’s a
vampire novel. I try to avoid those like vampires avoid whatever it is
they’re avoiding these days, but what really singed my red-velvet-lined
cape was Masterton’s frequent descriptions of events in cinematic
terms: action transpires in slow-motion; creatures stalk, their motions
jerky, as if frames of film have been snipped from the reel.
I detest this. It’s perhaps the laziest descriptive crutch upon which today’s horror writers throw themselves.
Berserk, Tim Lebbon resorts to many of the same cinematic descriptors
that dotted Manitou Blood like oozing bruises on a rancid corpse, but
he also takes it one step further, comparing a supernaturally-induced
vision to a movie trailer. Not just any trailer – the trailer for a
Lazy and wince-inducing? In the hands of a lesser talent, yes. In this
case, no. By restricting these descriptions to the points of view of
certain characters, Lebbon separates the use of this lazy device from
his own narrative voice – this is how one character sees the world,
this is his frame of reference. Writers take note: if you must use this
crutch, know when to.
And when not to.
So there. Now let’s talk about Berserk.
been ten years since Tom and Jo Roberts lost their son Steven in a
military training accident. One night, while drowning his sorrows in a
local pub, Tom overhears two men discussing Porton Down, the base at
which his son was killed. “They kept monsters there,” one of them says,
and Tom’s life is forever changed. He confronts the men, and learns a
terrible truth: he buried an empty coffin. All of the parents who lost
their children in the supposed accident did. The bodies are buried at
Porton Down. Thus begins Tom’s quest to unearth the truth…
unearth it he does, along with the desiccated body of a small girl,
long dead yet somehow alive and able to speak to his mind, able to draw
him onward, dangling his son’s true fate before him, a carrot on a
stick. Pursued by someone who knows the true nature of the mysterious
berserker girl, Tom journeys into pain, loss, suffering, and,
ultimately, dark revelation.
is swift and entertaining, starting on a somewhat one-dimensional note
and steadily becoming more layered, more textured, richer and morally
complex. Cole, who pursues Tom and his strange companion, would in
other hands be a standard Dean Koontz villain. Instead, Lebbon reveals
his flaws, his fears, his motivations, his shortcomings. He does what
he does out of a desire to do the right thing, compounding mistake
after mistake after mistake – a chain of failure leading back ten
years, when he, motivated by revenge, chose to bury the girl alive
instead of ending her misery.
likewise, is a well-drawn character, doing the berserker girl’s bidding
out of a need to know what happened to his son, utterly destroying his
present in an effort to solve the mystery of his past.
too, is no one-note supernatural beastie, and Lebbon will keep you
guessing – is she the monster Cole (who she thinks of as “Mr. Wolf,” a
clever play on the novel’s semi-lycanthropic elements) believes her to
be, or the sad little nightmare angel presented to Tom, a lost soul
longing only to be among her own kind?
is deservedly one of horror fiction’s biggest names, consistently
providing the goods – from the gritty to the sad to the surreal, his
work shines, although his confidence as a writer (or his faith in his
audience) does sometimes slip, resulting in his telling us something,
long after he’s successfully shown it.
a very short amount of time, Berserk is a decidedly cinematic (that
word again) experience. As with the previously discussed crutch, this
doesn’t always work. Typically, I want to keep my horror movies on
screen, where they belong. Between covers, horror can and should
blossom, exploring themes and telling tales too large for a 100 minute
running time. But a cinematically-paced horror novel – a horror movie
on paper – isn’t a bad thing, if it’s a good thing.
Entertaining, frightening, textured and well-written, Berserk is a good thing.
the text reviewed is the mass market paperback edition, published by
Leisure. Those with a few more bucks to spend will want to purchase the
limited edition of Berserk published by Necessary Evil Press. Not only
is it one of the most beautifully-designed small press titles I’ve ever
seen (the cover art by Caniglia? Wow.), it also features the author’s
preferred text – a cleaner polish and completely different final