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American Gothic

Novel by Robert Bloch (USA) 1975.

It's 1893 and the Chicago World's Fair has just opened, attracting huge crowds from across the United States and around the globe. Nearby, a gothic castle has been constructed as a pharmacy and hotel by one G Gordon Gregg, a pharmacist and peddler of the Electric Elixir. Gregg's wife dies in a fire and insurance man Jim Frazer has the job of verifying the story and delivering the cheque. Frazer seems satisfied, but his fianc´┐Że Crystal, a journalist after her big exclusive, smells more than a few rats. She persuades her boss to let her investigate, and posing as Gregg's niece who has come to Chicago to see her aunt and the Fair, ends up working as his secretary. What she eventually discovers is much more than even she expected.

Robert Bloch's large dent on popular culture was his novel Psycho, which whilst being a decent book and providing the basis for one of the most famous films of all time, is not his best work. Few people seem to remember that he started out as a contributor to the legendary Weird Tales, encouraged by his mentor, H P Lovecraft himself. His Arkham House debut, The Opener of the Way, published in paperback in two volumes as The Opener of the Way and House of the Hatchet, contains some classic examples of the superb short horror fiction being published in the American pulps of the time. Latter-day novels like American Gothic ought to have cemented his reputation as one of the true greats of the horror genre. No-one can doubt his success and his reputation, but sadly little of that is truly due to anything except Psycho.

Back to the job in hand, and American Gothic was actually based on fact. Surprisingly there really was a G Gordon Gregg (though his name was actually Herman W Mudgett) and he really did build a castle where he really did murder a number of people. But however much it is based on fact, this book is still a work of fiction, and it's a good one at that. Robert Bloch's research on the World's Fair seems to be thorough and it makes for a realistic and believable backdrop to his story which is an excellent example of the detective-horror sub-genre, and certainly one of the most overlooked. The hero of the story is really a heroine, as Crissy the journalist shrugs off the traditional values of womanhood espoused by her fiance and most of the rest of America at the time, and rarely hesitates to thrust herself into danger in search of her exclusive. I can't be the only one to believe that this could all make a great film, and I hope I'm not the only one to believe that it already is a great book. Whilst you're looking for it, look for just about anything else Robert Bloch has ever written as well. You won't be disappointed.


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