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Novel by Martin Cruz Smith (USA) 1977.

The odour of decay is but one of the strange phenomena circulating round Hazeldean. The old house also has a bizarrely selective mould growing in certain places and the three sisters who have recently inherited the place are undergoing surprising personality changes. The eldest, graphic designer Belinda, starts having fits at the age of 26; Nan, the schoolteacher, is developing an unhealthy fascination with death; and Sarah, the youngest and still a virgin, is turning into a sadistic nymphomaniac. It falls to Belinda's much older fiance to locate the source of the evil and destroy it.

Martin Jenson's debut, The Village of Fear, was a strange and interesting entity; An Odour of Decay is equally interesting and almost as strange. Though the plot is relatively straightforward and predictable, Jenson's style of writing is pretty absorbing and his small collection of characters are fleshed out and three dimensional. He doesn't cop out too much on the ending either.

Though Jenson is a little known writer and his books short and obscure mid 70s paperback originals, the concept of An Odour of Decay survived deservedly well, as Graham Masterton used a startlingly similar idea in his superb The House that Jack Built, namely the ability of a previous occupant of a building transporting his characteristics down the intervening years into the bodies of its current occupants, with the resulting personality shifts and horrific outcome. Masterton is a dab hand at the horror game and The House that Jack Built is one of his masterpieces, but for an earlier stab at the same concept, this is well worth the search.

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