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The Sphinx

Novel by Graham Masterton (Scotland) 1978.

Another difficult Masterton novel to classify, other than as a modern reworking of Cat People, predating the remake. One of the great advantages of writing horror is that you can write any kind of story you wish. Masterton has written many kinds himself: apart from his usual story of supernatural evil, he's also attempted the thriller in Fireflash 5; the disaster novel in Plague and Famine; and the ages-old love story in The Sphinx. And there are plenty of other stories to write as well: see Robin Cook's medical stories; the sf/fantasy amalgams prevalent in Brian Lumley's work; high adventure like Gary Brandner's Quintana Roo; or romance like Louise Cooper's Crown of Horn.

Gene Keiller, up and coming young Democrat, falls head over heels in love with Lorie Semple, a mysterious half-Egyptian, half-French beauty. The more he tries to approach her, the more she rejects him. The weird thing is this: she tells him she loves him, that he's the first man she's ever loved and she doesn't want to hurt him. However, Gene's as tenacious as they come and the more she rejects him, the more he tries to approach her. But when he breaks into the grounds of the Semple house, he gets mauled by some large animal and things start to get decidedly weirder from then on.

However much of a love story this is (and it was marketed as general fiction), it takes the same premise as his other occult thrillers in that he takes a supernatural element - a single page from a forbidden book, an ancient Arabian vase, a chair that gives it's owner literally the luck of the devil, or a shunned race descended from the carnal joining of women and lions - transposes that element into normal mundane modern life, and tells the reader what happens. It's because he's so good at this that novels like The Sphinx succeed. I don't know how much research he does on each novel, but he gives the impression that he knows instinctively how society functions, at every level. Here it's American political high society, and it's the way that the men and the women circulate separately at barbecues, and just how successful the Washington groupies are, together with many, many other insights. I expect he drew here on his experience as editor of Mayfair and Penthouse, but then that can't be said for all his novels: he must get all the information somewhere. Heartily recommended.

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