The late, great British Ace of horror fiction, Mr James Herbert, sadly passed away in early 2013. He left behind him an awesome legacy of shock and terror-fuelled prose, from The Rats, through to The Magic Cottage and The Fog, to date his works have graced the shelves of book stores over a period of four decades.
Herbert was hugely responsible for my burgeoning love of the darker-flavoured texts from my early teens through to present day. And it is his supernatural chiller Sepulchre which remains lodged in my grey matter quite firmly. I recall seeing its powerful cover, of a green fanged, writhing and long toothed serpent, wrapping around an architectural structure of the book’s namesake, on the shelves of W H Smith as a child – too young to be allowed to read (understandably) but oh so keen to pick it up.
Whilst the cover planted a seed of curiosity, it wasn’t until the mid 1990s that I actually got around to reading the book, which had a strong impact upon me. I’d read several of Herbert’s other books, and was suitably, consistently, scared/shocked/impressed at his ability to weave a horror tale. His range, from the subtle, nuanced, to the outright splatterpunk-like, meant you were always in for a decent ride.
This fast-paced horror shocker follows Halloran, a highly professional and skilled employee of the private corporate security concern, Achilles’ Shield. He is charged with the protection of one Felix Kline – a hugely important employee of a mineral and oil exploration company. Kline has a unique talent – his uncanny knack at locating oil reserves. This ability isn’t something that’s measured, or employed, using any conventional methods however. For Kline is a psychic, and can often see the deposits through his mind’s eye.
Having received death threats Klein’s employer has turned to Achilles’ Shield – renowned experts in their field – to protect him. His own, existing dubious entourage of body guards viewed as not fully up to task given the stakes.
Immediately Halloran has a sense that something’s rotten. Whether it’s by Kline’s own shady entourage or his own somewhat troubling ways, things clearly aren’t okay in the psychic’s camp. Then more is revealed about the corruptions that encompass Kline’s sphere of existence – alongside an action packed plot that does more than enough to keep the flow of adrenaline steady. And soon both Halloran’s and Kline’s worlds collide, catching many in the field of otherworldly debris.
Sepulchre is an interesting supernatural novel. With wisps of thriller, hints at the likes of Lovecraft, Derleth pervade, whilst maintain the usual Herbert lock on suspense driven action-horror. It’s a book that represents the type of catalyst that still ignited the wave of horror fiction engine in the 1980s and beyond. And for that reason alone is well worth checking out.