Home - The Last Page Bookshop - The Horror Reviews Mail Hal C F Astell - Site Map

A Ring of Roses

Novel by John Blackburn (England) 1965.

Billy Fenwick's father is an Army Major working with top secret decoding equipment. Thus, when Billy disappears from their train, whilst travelling through Communist East Germany, it is naturally assumed that the affair is a political kidnapping. But Billy turns up a few days later, in West Berlin, and is rushed home in England. But he seems to have acquired a bad cold in East Germany, and his temperature is sky-high. By the time renowned micro-biologist Sir Marcus Levin is called in to see the boy, he has developed a rash resembling a ring of dark red roses on his chest and bubos or swellings in his crotch. Sir Marcus realises that Billy has contracted bubonic plague and finds that it is a mutated form resistant to the normal treatment. Everyone is pessimistic for a while, and then Sir Marcus associates the name of an East German town, near where Billy disappeared, with something in his memory. He looks it up and realises that he is dealing with the Black Death, the biggest killer of them all. He must visit Rudisheim and check if the legends are true.

At a time when Europe was beginning to forget the huge death toll of the Second World War, and instead getting used to being wary of the Big Red Menace, this must have come as a pretty disquieting book. Though the madman who nearly wipes out much of the world is an East German, John Blackburn depicts those under the iron Communist fist as simple human beings, in fact just like us. He also gives a good reason why it might be possible to be forced to betray every resistance worker working on the escape routes to the West. Add to that an interesting theory on the Black Death, the form of bubonic plague that wiped out much of Europe in the 17th century and Blackburn has easily achieved what every horror writer tries to do, but so often fails, namely to scare the reader. There are a lot of similarities here with his debut novel, A Scent of New-Mown Hay (1958), the chief difference being that the plague here is not man-made but natural. Like that masterpiece, this book will make you think, and when it does it'll scare you. It's far from gory, but it's one of the scariest books you'll read.


Home - The Last Page Bookshop - The Horror Reviews Mail Hal C F Astell - Site Map