Friday, April 10, 2009

Classic Horror Book Review: The Spear

By James Herbert
(Original publication date: 1978)
When Herbert is on, he’s one of the best horror writers in the world. And I’m not just saying that. For anyone who’s ever read “The Rats”, “The Fog”, or “The Dark” can tell you he writes splatter horror like no one else in the business. But he has been known to write a quieter horror as well, as evidenced by such books as “The Magic Cottage” and “Fluke”. “The Spear” falls into that quieter category, as he tells the story of Harry Steadman, ex agent for Mossad living in London and working as a private investigator. When he’s asked to find a missing Mossad agent for his old spy fraternity, he refuses, tired of the violence of his old life. But his partner is tortured and killed at his front step and he makes it his business to find and destroy the people responsible. What he doesn’t bargain for is the desperate depths that his old Nazi enemies have sunk to regain world power.
“The Spear” plays more as a spy novel than a horror novel, and with that caveat having been said, fear not...there are moments of horror. For Herbert has attempted one of the few true mummy novels in horror. There are only a few of them around, and most were written long before this one. He does an admirable job of working the Nazi angle into his tale, and if nothing else “The Spear” makes for one heck of a rousing action story. But the horror isn’t going to come as a surprise to anyone who’s actually reading the book. There are plenty of hints of what’s to come, as we learn how Heinrich Himmler never actually died and the body identified as his was only someone pretending to be him to save the last power circle of Nazi masters from the righteous fury of the conquering armies. There is a certain surprising conservative message between the lines, as hedonistic sex and a hermaphrodite are made the targets of some pretty vile remarks, something I would never have seen coming from Herbert, who may be one of England’s most subversive living authors. But as this was written in the early 80s, things do change, so perhaps his philosophy has as well.
There is also a nice subplot about Hitler and his love for Wagner’s works, and a pseudo-religious one about the spear used to stab Jesus Christ as a weapon of mass evil destruction. But in the end, as much as the story seemed to rely on these dual components, neither of them carry through to the end as much as the spy angle, or the Himmler angle.
Herbert’s use of the solitary hero strongman was also used in another excellent horror novel, much like “The Spear” in its quiet insinuations instead of full blown blood and guts extremes: “Sepulcher”. And if you find “The Spear” to your liking, then I would suggest finding a copy of this one as well.
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