Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Classic Horror Book Review: The Legacy

By John Coyne
(Original publication date: 1979)

Folks, it doesn’t get much better than Coyne’s “The Legacy”. This book is the one of the reasons that horror is still cool. Written at the tail end of the 70s, Coyne managed to capture that exciting moment in horror history when all things were possible and there were yet no real clichés to avoid. It was a time when horror readers were being created by the likes of Straub and King, molded by savvy book marketers, and shaped by a burgeoning horror film trend.
A mysterious customer, who requests her specifically, contacts Maggie Walsh- an unknown designer for a small firm. So along with her suspicious fiancé, she travels to England for the job. Instead, she finds herself caught up in a bizarre drama between six strangers and their mysterious benefactor.
What makes this book a page-turner is Coyne’s facility in keeping the prose simple, yet potent. There are some wonderfully creepy moments in “The Legacy” that will give you a chill late at night, after the lights have gone out. His characterization is straightforward, archetypical, and still not without originality. The strangers are a diverse and interesting mix- a stimulating counterpoint to Maggie’s austere personality. The buildup to the ‘surprise’ ending is well thought out, and handled with a master storyteller’s deft touch. The ending is one of the oddest turns in a modern horror novel, and one not expected from the conservative times from which it sprang.
Again, we have a transitional book between the gothic and modern, an updating of the old dark house dramas of the 30s and 40s, without the silly Scooby-Doo ending. Here, we find masked fiends pretending to evil. This is a true evil.
But even that definition is examined in the greater context of what constitutes evil in a world of indifference and avarice. “The Legacy”, aptly named for many reasons that become apparent, as you get further into the story, is a choice of the lesser of two evils, and its place in the universe as a balance. And in essence it’s almost a modern fairy tale in the sense of its worldview of prosaic magic in a non-magical environment.
The great John Coyne hit plenty more homeruns as his career continued. Unfortunately, he’s not as well known as some of his peers from the same period. If you want a new favorite horror writer to explore, pick up Coyne’s other works, which include “Hobgoblin”, “The Searing”, “The Piercing”, “The Hunting Season”, and “The Shroud”.
See his home page
(Warning: he's gone a bit golf crazy since the good old days of horror fiction)
--Nickolas Cook