Review of Simon Clark - Ghost Monster

Pel Minton is a young American woman with a mission. She wants to see the world, working her way around the globe. Six months into her trip and she's got as far as England and is still there, working as a field archaeologist. She has decided, however, that her current dig, at a cemetery in the coastal village of Crowdale will be her last before moving on.

What she hasn't counted on though, is the Murrain curse. Centuries earlier Crowdale was terrorised by Justice Murrain and his army of the insane. Murrain was eventually defeated and his ghost and those of his Battle Men are trapped in a mystical prison controlled by a mosaic in the family mausoleum. The town is safe as long as the mosaic remains intact.

Unfortunately, though, the cemetery is falling into the sea, a victim of rapid coastal erosion and the spirits of Murrain and his followers are beginning to break out. So, unless the archaeologists can convince the authorities that their site is worthy of protection, the necessary coastal defences to prevent the mausoleum from being destroyed will not be built.

The setting and set up of this book are superb. The town has a wonderfully complex history. It's protectors, the Murrain family, descendants of the former town persecutor, are reviled as outsiders by people unaware of the efforts to keep the town safe. The myths of the "Ghost Monster", the children's nickname for the mosaic itself is endearing and totally believable.

The characters too are, for the most part, very real. Okay the bad guys, the insane Battle Men, are stereotypes for the most part - but in their role as the big bad, this is not detrimental. Pel is a good enough lead character. She's not going to be memorable in the way that some horror characters would be - Mother Abigail anyone? But she's real. You can sympathise with her. As you can with the archaeological site director and the present day Murrain family members.

But it's the story itself that doesn't totally live up to its part of the bargain. It's a good set up. Possession is a disturbing horror concept and Clark handles it well. But the book's progress towards its climax feels, at times, somewhat laboured.

The subplot, with the personal vendetta of one family against Jacob Murrain, after an event decades earlier, may be necessary to trigger certain elements of the main plot, but it doesn't ring true. It feels a little forced, necessary only to speed up the climax. The three characters involved stand out as very one-dimensional when compared to the main roles.

This book is not one of Clark's best. To find out what he can really do you should try Darkness Demands or Vampyrrhic. But it's certainly entertaining. And it's setting in an archaeological dig and its plot use of coastal erosion does make it at least a little bit different from the norm. Shame about the title though.

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