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The Burning

Novel by Robert Charles (UK) 1979.

Martin Shaw (not the Professional) is a part-time journalist and retained fireman in a small town that of late has been plagued by large numbers of fires. We start the novel with a road traffic accident, and the tension escalates with each successive incident, from haystacks through house fires to petrol tanker collisions. Shaw knows something is going on because his dreams are taking him back in time to the days of the local Benedictine monastery, to show him dark rituals, lecherous nuns, satanic rites and an evil witch cackling through a halo of flames. He hooks up with Kelly Preston (not John Travolta's wife), a reporter for the USAF at their nearby Brentheath base, who is also unhappy about the media witchhunting a local chemical treatment works, and is trying for herself to work out just what is going on.

Apart from gaining my automatic approval for a novel which takes a mere page and a half to get its main character into a pub, Robert Charles deserves some more conventional credit for The Burning. With at least twenty-four previous works of fiction to his name (not within the horror genre), he ought to know how to construct a novel. But here, he gives us a masterclass in tension, with a book that starts off relatively restrained and then builds and builds towards an electric finale. Very English in style, the only real faults to be found are the usual Robert Hale typos and an annoying recurrent misspelling of the word 'approximately'. To say it isn't a patch on Robert Charles' other horror novel, Flowers of Evil, doesn't put this down, merely underlines how good he can be. For fans of horror in the vein of John Blackburn.


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