Sunday, 29 November 2015

The first of the old reviews I threatened

A little while ago I asked on Twitter whether it might be an idea to post some of the old book reviews I did on this blog. Well I received a number of likes and positive responses so I thought I'd dig one out and post it here.

The book in question is by one of my favourite horror writers Graham Masterton and is called the 5th Witch. It was published by Leisure Books back in the good old days before things went a little wrong at Dorchester (read about it on Wikipedia here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorchester_Publishing)

I hope you enjoy reading the review and if you like the sound of it you can find old copies of it on Amazon for next to nothing (apart from postage)

UK
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fifth-Witch-Graham-Masterton/dp/0843957905/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1448810602&sr=8-1&keywords=graham+masterton+5th+witch

US
http://www.amazon.com/5th-Witch-Graham-Masterton/dp/0843957905/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1448811238&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Fifth+Witch

Here's a quick cover scan - the review will follow
 
The battle between organised crime and the forces of law takes a turn for the supernatural when four witches, one each from the worlds of Voodoo, Christian myth, Eastern European mysticism and Native American spirituality, come to town and ally themselves with the city's leading crime lords.
Part of the problem the police have in dealing with this new threat is they just don't believe in its cause.  Even when events can have no other explanation leading police officials continue to battle the crime gangs using conventional tactics, and pay a very heavy price for their mistake.  Detective Dan Fisher, though, is quicker to believe, and sees the only way to fight magic is to use magic - even if he can't persuade his superiors that he is right.
Graham Masterton has been one of the most consistent and prolific horror writers of the last thirty years.  The 5th Witch will not wreck this reputation.  It is an entertaining read, although it doesn't reach the heights some of his earlier books - it's not going to challenge Manitou, Charnel House or Tengu for a mention in the author's bio.
Part of the reason for its position in Masterton's second tier is that nothing here is new.  Some of the plot devices seem a little too convenient, the twists predictable and the characters done before. Lead character Detective Dan Fisher is jaded in just the kind of way you expect in a tale such as this, and his friendship with Annie Conjure (the fifth witch of the title) is far too set-up.
His Latino partner Eddie Munoz is overly familiar; you recognise bits of him from various TV shows and films - but like many of his counterparts he is likeable.  Good witch Annie reads like a blend of Buffy's Willow Rosenberg, Charmed's Piper Halliwell and a grown-up Sabrina - aside from her magic there is little remarkable about her.  In many ways her pet cat (or familiar) Malkin is more memorable.
The supporting cast members fair no better, the three crime lords being incredibly two-dimensional, and Fisher's fellow officers stereotypical.  In fact the only convincing character is the Detective's father, a retired illusionist - although you do have to get past a certain degree of contrivance in having him there at all (there has to be some way of Fisher getting his information).
But it's in the horror that the author shows his skill.  Okay, we've had witchcraft and voodoo before but Masterton brings them to life, using a brilliant efficiency of prose, he's the master of allowing the reader's imagination to create the real scare.
 
He also blends the different forms of witchcraft well; the four forms don't clash because he doesn't try to make them merge together.  There is no attempt to explain all magic as coming form a single source with a single magic bullet solution.  He makes his heroes work for their victories.  You won't put this book down feeling cheated or short-changed, it's competent and proficient writing, but it just doesn't shine.

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