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Thursday, October 17, 2013

31 Days of Horror: Day 17-- Review: The Devils of D-Day

Today's review is of an old out of print book by a horror master who is still writing today-- The Devils of D-Day by Graham Masterton. This novel is from 1978, making it one of Masterton's first books. He has gone on to become a modern horror master.  While The Devils of D-Day is currently out of print and not available in my library system (I bought a used copy for $4.50), we own many of his books at the BPL, and in fact, Masterton still has quite a following.  It's not Stephen King numbers, but he is more popular at our library than Bentley Little, for example, and just as popular as fellow Brit Ramsey Campbell.

Specifically Masterton writes fast paced, suspenseful horror with short chapters, lots of anxious tension building and great plot twists.  He tends to focus on ancient evil and demons.  His work does have gruesome violence but it also has a nice sense of humor.  Unlike a Joe Hill from today, who places his horror in a very realistic frame, Masterton's horror can be over-the-top and set in completely impossible situations.  But that is part of the fun and the charm.  Knowing this off the bat, allows you to enjoy the ride.

So why did I read this hard to find, old horror title.  Well, I have a very good reason.  If you follow RA for All, you would know that I will be interviewing Luis Alberto Urrea next week as part of the Fox Valley Reads programming.  A few weeks ago, Luis and I got to know each other during a very fun phone call.  During this conversation he told me that his next book was going to be "sort of a horror novel," and he mentioned The Devil's of D-Day specifically as an inspiration.  I told him I would give it a read before we met up on October 24th on stage.  So thanks Luis.

Everything I said about Masterton as a writer in general, holds true for The Devils of D-Day. Our frame is set in Normandy France about 35 years D-Day.  Of course the area is forever scarred by the real life horrors they have only recently lived through, but, in one town there are still some lingering demons--literal demons.  From the publisher:
ARMY OF EVIL...
At the bridge of Le Vey in July 1944, thirteen black tanks smashed through the German lines in an unstoppable, all-destroying fury ride. Leaving hundreds of Hitler’s soldiers horribly dead. 
Thirty-five years later, Dan McCook visited that area of Normandy on an investigation of the battle site. There he found a rusting tank by the roadside that was perfectly sealed, upon its turret a protective crucifix. Skeptical, he dared open it, releasing upon himself and the innocents who had helped him an unimaginable horror that led back to that black day in 1944. And re-opened the ages-old physical battle between the world and Evil Incarnate...
From today’s master of the occult thriller, here is a riveting, mega-chill novel of modern-day demonism. THE DEVILS OF D-DAY IS ABOUT A NEW SATANIC KIND OF WAR.
So what we have a a short, action packed horror novel with a WWII frame.  This book is clearly in the devil and demonic possession subgenre of horror.  So it is a sure bet for those fans. There is an old priest, cool incantations to the Devil to release the demons, and an awesome showdown between good and evil.

We have a dark and menacing tone from page one: abandoned tank, freezing temperatures, old farm house, mysterious illness that killed mistress of the farm.  It is all very atmospheric.  The addition of the legacy of the horrors of war and how they still ravaged these small European towns 3 decades after the fighting ended added an extra layer of menace.  I really enjoyed that angle.

This book has very little set up before the demons are trying to communicate with our hero; in my mass market paperback copy its on page 45.  I am not exaggerating about the fast pace. There is suspense, murders, blood, violence, congregations of demons, and a big climatic battle.  And it all can be read in a single afternoon.

Remember, this is a 1978 title, and it is set to its present day, so there is not the ambiguity that we see in much 21 Century horror.  So, the good guys are all good here, the bad guys are all bad, the ending is resolved and unambiguous.  Reading The Devils of D-Day was a refreshingly old school experience [without being cheesy] and  highly enjoyable too.

Three Words That Describe This Book: demons, fast paced, atmospheric

Readalikes: There are many "classic" horror authors who are still writing today whom I would suggest for fans of Masterton: Robert McCammon (love him), Douglas Clegg, and Ramsey Campbell.  All are discussed multiple times in my book. Like Masterton, you can expect a reliably well written and scary horror novel from them, each and every time.  There are very few stinkers in this group.  And all have a huge back catalog as well as new material coming out regularly.

Richard Matheson, who just passed away in June, is also a great choice.  As I saw on NoveList comparing Masterton to Matheson:
Both authors write fast-paced, plot-driven horror fiction about supernatural evils. Their clear, direct, and vivid prose and carefully-plotted stories make their books quick and fun reads for horror fans who don't like to wait long for chills."
I second that from personal experience.

Another classic horror novel with a WWII frame that I highly suggest is F. Paul Wilson's The Keep.

For a newer option, The Devils of D-Day reminded me of Coronation by Lee F. Jordan which was on the Bram Stoker Long List this year.  I also reviewed it here. In Coronation, our demons have been trapped on a sunken ship, not sealed in a tank, but the feel of both books, separated by 35 years, is strikingly similar.

Finally, if you really enjoy horror with a demonic angle, I have an entire chapter in my book on the topic with an annotated list of suggested reads.

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