Alan Morrison locks himself in an Isolated farmhouse on a stormy night with only a few recent horror novels for company. When not conversing with little blue aliens (the supposedly ‘true’ Communion) Whitley Streiber can reel off some pretty neat horror tales along the lines of The Wolfen and The Hunger. In his latest hardback tome, Unholy Fire (Macdonald ' l
£14.99), a vicious killer is decimating the congregation of a downtown ‘ New York Catholic church. causing the priests to doubt their faith. Tight enough as a mystery thriller with clerical trappings. the book starts to plod when it strays into supernatural territory.
Thomas M. Disch is another respected exponent of the dark genre, and The M.D.: A Horror Story (HarperCollins £14.99) wears its badge with pride. A bit deceitful really, considering it’s a ‘horror story‘ in terms ofcliché only. not emotional response. A shoddily episodic tale ofa boy given a magic stick with powers to cure or kill. it soon veers off into the realms of apocalyptic pretension.
Much more effective is Helen Zahavi‘s Dirty Weekend (Flamingo £4.50). included here for its moments oftangible terror. With one foot in a strident feminist camp and the other firmly on the exploitative ground of the video nasty, Bella, our heroine. sets out on a graphically described killing spree. While she is rebelling against would-be rapists by taking a hammer to an obscene phone-caller. Zahavi is working on a more subtle level. deﬂatin'g the male ego with pinpricks of black humour.
Two paperback originals definitely worth a mention are Nancy Collins‘s In The Blood and Joe Lansdale’s By Bizarre Hands (both New English Library. £4.99). The first features a
MAD oocs AND
hip and sexy new form ofvampire
. seeking out the more traditional
monster who raped her and made her one of the undead. while the Lansdale volume is a collection of short stories from the most original voice to grab the genre by the scruff of the neck in recent years. Sick and very disturbing. butsharp enough to bring a smile to the lips of the most brain-rotted zombie.
I London Observed Doris Lessing (HarperCollins. £14.99) One ofthe vignettes in this collection. ‘Principles’. concerns a group of drivers sitting in a Hampstead traffic jam. unwilling to budge. The characters‘ motives are illogical but straightforward. described by a woman both honest and opinionated
— it is an important recipe. Such simple observations function as the centrepiece in a series of more complex studies of the unwritten rules of ‘Englishness‘. which ‘one absorbs as one grows up‘.
Some of the stories are American in style, shades of Lorrie Moore hanging over their strange accumulation of detail; others are more classically inspired. with endings which reflect on what has gone before. There is coherence to this extraordinary variety. however— every story relates to England. carefully delineating those aforementioned unwritten rules. Two longer stories. ‘The Pit' and ’The Real Thing‘. explicitly contrast English with foreign. resulting in startling observations about the Sassenach’s complacent sense of belonging. Doris Lessing is unflinching. fiercely intelligent and emotionally honest. (Douglas McCabe)
OUT OF TUNE
I English Music Peter Ackroyd (Hamish Hamilton. £14.99) By turns seductive and irritating. Peter Ackroyd's new novel is the product ofan imagination still consumed by his last book. the overblown life of Dickens. It centres on the experiences of a boy brought up in London between the wars who possesses miraculous healing powers. A straightforward. evocative narrative — about the boy‘s
relationship with his father. his impressions of the city and his grandparents‘ house in the country — unfolds in alternate chapters. interspersed with a series ofstylistic tricks borrowed from Lewis Carroll. William Hogarth and Dickens. representing the boy‘s visionary alternative world. Sadly. Ackroyd is immobilised by this rich texture. every imaginative leap offering a glib commentary rather than any genuine development. His writing is compulsive. but also unforgivably po-faced. (Douglas McC‘abe)
I In the Spirit Of Crazy Horse Peter Matthiessen (Harvill. £20 h/b. £9.99 p/b). When transferred to the silver screen (apparently in the pipeline). this unravelling ofthe FBI’s frame-up of Leonard Petier. a contemporary Native American ‘warrior'. should establish him as a modern-day heir to the defiant legacy of Crazy Horse. Played out against the multi-nationals‘ lust for mineral resources in Indian land. harrassment from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the anti-communist mania ofa ;
repressive government. the exhaustive (600 pages) reconstruction of the circumstances leading to a shoot-out in 1975 between the FBI and two dozen Indians (for which Peltier is still serving two consecutive life sentences). prm ides incontrovertible proof of a government set-up to discredit Native Americans. Unavailable here for over ten years due to gagging libel actions. Matthiessen’s account is. despite its unwieldy length. essential and gripping reading. (Alan Rice)
1 7.30pm. Free. The writer. psychotherapist and co-foundcr of the Women’s Press will
I Book Market Hillhead Library. 348 Byres Road. info 05606 349. Sat 6. 9.30am—4pm. Free. Second-hand and antiquarian books. maps and prints. Books also bought.
I Comic Mart City Halls. Glasgow Cross. info 772 3972. Sat 6. noon—5pm. 50p. Old/new comics. annuals. SF books. posters. artwork. and videos.
I Altematlve Health Talk Waterstone‘s. 13 Princes Street. 556 3034. Fri 5. 7.30pm. Free. Complementary health guru Jan de Vries wil talk about his work. coinciding with the reissue of all his books — more info from shop.
I Stephanie Dowrick Body & Soul. 52 Hamilton Place. 226 3066. Wed 10.
talk about her new book on relationships
Intimacy and Solitude: Balancing § Closeness and Independence (Women‘s Press.£7.99).
I Crime Writers’ Evening Watcrstonc‘s. 13 Princes Street. 556 3034. Thurs l 1 . 7pm. Free. Four variously hard-bitten British and American crime writers — William McIlvanney, Walter Mosley (w hose A Red Death is published by Serpent‘s Tail at £7.99). Jerome Charyn and Mike Phillips will talk about their work and the ccurrent health of the detective genre.
I Book Launch 369 Gallery. 369 Cowgate. info 556 6743. Thurs 11.7pm. Free. Launch party for IK. Annand‘s Selected Poems 1925—1990 (Mercat Press. £6.95). with readings by the authc: and Irene l
I Collins Travel Evening Waterstone's. 83 George Street. 225 3436. Mon 15. 7.30pm. Free. Four young travel writers — Nick Danziger. Peter Ford. Rory MacLean and Henry Shukman — will talk about their aadvcntures around the world.
I Readings From The lcelandic Sagas Fruitmarket Gallery. Market Street. 225 2383. Wed 18. 7pm. Free. An Icelandic festival event. with Professor Hermann Pallsson. Professor of Icelandic at Edinburgh University. Throughout the festival. Steinunn Sigurdardottir will be poet-in-residence at the Scottish Poetry Library in Tweeddale Court. info 557 2876.
I Ian Mitchell James Thin. 53—59 South Bridge. 5566743. Thurs 18.7pm. Free. The mountaineer-writer will talk about and sign copies of his new book Second Man on the Rope (Mercat Press. £6.95 ).
BEFORE THE BREAK 7
Scottish-based writer Lucy Robertson,
whose first novel, Zig lag, is published this month by Black Swan, talks to Sue
Wilson about her other, infinitely more glamorous career.
‘Right now l’m a research parasitologist, investigating intestinal parasites— l’m working on a tiny water-borne protozoan which causes diarrhoea. It can kill you if your immune system is weakened, say if you’re slewing, though if you’re healthy it's self-curing. You get it in Britain as well as abroad; obviously it’s more common in tropical countries, because they can’t afford proper sanitation, but there have been outbreaks in this country, which is why there’s money for research.
‘Basically I do a lot of paddling around in shit, which is where the transmission stage happens- it’s not very pleasant. but you get used to it. i enjoy the research, it’s all new stuff- this thing l’m studying was only discovered quite recently, and there’s no drugs cure as yet. It’s applied research, in a way, with specific aims, and hopefully it will be of benefit to someone eventually.
‘I’ve always been a scientist, apart from working in Kenya when l was seventeen, teaching maths, chemistry, biology, sex education — all those things seventeen-year-olds know all about. That’s when I developed my interest in tropical diseases, because all my students had malaria and so on, though I managed to avoid catching any myself.
‘I always fancied the idea of being a writer, like half the world is meant to do, and when I finished my PhD, there not being many science jobs kicking around. i thought I’d try writing a book before I found work, so I did. It didn’t take very long; it’s set in Kenya, where i worked, and there are a couple of token parasitologists in it, just walk-on parts.
‘Since I've been working here I've carried on writing, I’ve written two more kids’ books— I just do it in the evenings. I really like writing; most scientists hate it, they’re always , moaning about having to write up their l research, but I do it because I enjoy it. It’s very self-indulgent. really, all
these little characters you invent, deciding what to do with them. And l’ve , plenty of ideas for more books- you
just have to look at all the weird people
in the world.’
The List 5 — 18 June 1992 65