Ritual creator Graham Masterton, a most prolific horror writer and famous for his Manitou series of books, was the first author to genuinely shock me. The content in question I considered to be absolute overkill in its use of violence, and associated emotional overplay, to elicit a response from the reader.
I think I was around fourteen, and had wandered around to the library to pick up a few books to read. I don’t think it was too long before I saw Black Angel, something with a fairly graphic depiction of some demonic figure splashed upon its cover and thought it might make an interesting read. It was certainly that, and I can still recall being pulled along in a story, which was if I recall correctly, interspersed with hardcore demonic serial killings.
Whilst that book was disturbing, I recall being nonetheless really involved, and I put aside my disdain for the more brutal aspects of his writing to give the whole of the novel more of a chance. Checking on Masterton’s site nowadays, a disclaimer in his bibliography claims that that book is ‘perhaps his most brutal novel’. No wonder I was so shaken then; I must reread that today and see if my mind has been desensitised in the years since.
Ritual likewise has its moments of gore. Being about cannibalism, a restaurant critic’s strained relations with his son, fairly epic carnage; you could say it doesn’t stray too far from those aspects of Masterton that managed to set a young reader’s mind a trembling as mentioned earlier.
But unlike some writers who just churn out shock, Masterton generally does enough to keep the reader engaged in his twisted worlds, and often a fair bit more than enough. Yes, there’s overkill as should be expected in a horror book with more than faint pulp-leaning, but there’s also compassion and genuine human interest.
It’s Masterton’s tapping into often the more primordial of familial relations here that stretches to such extremes the brutal nature of the scenes about which he often writes. As the story in Ritual unwinds it’s the old father/son bond that’s pushed to the maximum, with the schlock horror tools of Masterton’s trade employed to maximum effect.
Look out for a scene in Ritual where the main character is forced to abandon certain ethical and moral choices and make a personal sacrifice to try and infiltrate the cannibalistic group that threatens his family.
It’s both shocking and more than just a little uncomfortable, but also handled with occasional aspect of tongue-in-cheek humour that makes you wonder if Masterton didn’t quite enjoy writing it as much as the reader does soaking up his words. This is a well paced book, with thrills and spills a plenty that keep the reader occupied for the duration of the ride though I did find its conclusion to be a little trite.
One piece of advice I might offer: don’t read Ritual before dinner. Unless you’re on a diet maybe. Unless that diet is the Atkins Diet, in which case definitely give it a miss. There’s enough protein consumption in this book to cover you for an evening.