First published back in 1980, British horror author James Herbert’s seventh novel to be published was entitled ‘The Dark’.

DLS Synopsis:
Paranormal investigator Chris Bishop has been called back to the abandoned Victorian premises known as Beechwood, located along the usually quiet Willow Road within the city of London.  Nine month ago Bishop had entered the detached home to find the ravaged corpses of thirty-seven suicide victims.  He has no memory of the events directly after the gruesome discovery, or how he was found outside, collapsed and unconscious on the pavement.  And now he has returned to Beechwood after being enlisted by the Jessica Kulek and her farther, the founder and president of the Research Institute of Para-psychological Study – Jacob Kulek.

The re-investigation into Beechwood is as the result of sudden outbreaks in violence and deaths that are beginning to appear along what used to be the peaceful Willow Road.  The Kulek’s are convinced that the recent re-emergence of murderous violence is connected to the mass-suicide at Beechwood.  And at the root of this, they are determined that a man named Boris Pryszlak is ultimately responsible.  A man whose vicious sect believed that evil is in fact a physical and tangible entity.  That if he was to put his mind to it, Pryszlak could harness and control this incredible force of pure evil.  A man who has been very much dead for quite some time now.

Witnessing the powerful presence of evil that remains within Beechwood, where Jacob Kulek is almost strangled to death by a frenzied nurse hiding out in the dark depths of the cellar, Bishop decides to give the go-ahead for the property’s demolition.  Two days later, Beechwood is nothing more than rubble.  Rubble and a deep, dark pit.

However, when the violence begins to escalate along Willow Road, the local police force has no choice but to listen to the warnings of Kulek and the previously sceptical Bishop.  Madness and frenzied violence continue to breakout upon nightfall along the road.  An experiment to bring out the evil presence to the area, in a vague hope of destroying it results in mass mayhem and frenzied slaughter.  Once the sun goes down, the streets of London become a warzone between the sane and the murderous crazies infected by the dominating evil now dubbed The Dark.

Together with the Kulek’s and the spiritualist Edith Metlock, Chris Bishop is put at the forefront of the government’s efforts to combat this plague of madness that terrorises the city of London each night.  No one knows how or why people are becoming affected by the madness, or indeed, where the victims of The Dark hide once the sun rises the next morning.  What they do know is light seems to help ward off the attacks.  But they can’t keep the entirety of the city alight forever.  Where there are shadows, The Dark will be found.  And where The Dark can get to, so death will soon follow…

DLS Review:
Written during Herbert’s court case as a result of details with his earlier novel ‘The Spear’ (1978), the novel starts off instantly dark and downbeat, with an oppressive atmosphere of a constant unseen threat lingering over the characters (and soon to be the whole of the city of London).  The first obvious point that jumps out at the reader is the similarities in plot to that of his earlier novel ‘The Fog’ (1975).  Indeed, so much of the backbone of the plot is so incredibly familiar that it begins to feel very much like simply a darker, more supernatural reworking of this earlier tale.

Furthermore, the principal protagonist of Chris Bishop seems to be the early sketchings that would later become a recurring character theme within Herbert’s work, most notably with the like of David Ash from novels such as ‘Haunted’ (1988) and ‘The Ghosts Of Sleath’ (1994).  This re-working and re-moulding of plotlines and characters is very much an integral part of Herbert’s earlier novels (with a few obvious exceptions).

Herbert one again plays his splatterpunk card well, throwing in a veritable barrage of vicious violence and a tirade of graphic bloodshed at every opportunity.  Expect scenes of maniacal violence and mass-suicide as the result of the spreading infection of The Dark.  Unusually for Herbert, sex takes a bit of a backseat in the novel, only really cropping up early on within a small substory involving a nurse and her elderly patient (yes, it’s pretty grim reading).

The outbreak of The Dark within a crowded football grounds around the midway point of the novel is as harrowing and ingeniously memorable as the London Underground attack in ‘The Rats’ (1974).  However, Herbert doesn’t stop for a breather there, but instead keeps his foot firmly on the pedal, tearing up the majority of London in an unrelenting violent rampage that will see the once great city brought to its knees night after night.

Characterisation is pretty typical of a Herbert novel.  Expect gritty and inherently cynical characters, a fairly irrelevant love-interest for our protagonist, and a hefty helping of spiritualist mumbo-jumbo thrown in for good measure.  It’s all there – pretty much a paint-by-numbers Herbert novel as far as the characters are concerned.  But it’s been (and continues to be) a winning formula for the author – so why tamper with it?

The build-up to the ending and the final finale itself is perfectly in-tune with the down beaten bleakness of the preceding storyline.  The tension and nail-biting action continues to mount to a final peak that ends abruptly but entirely fittingly.

All in all, the tale is a monstrously dark and menacing horror story, packed with hard-hitting violence and adrenaline-pumping action.  The near-intangible threat that is infecting and then ripping apart London each night is chilling in its vagueness.  It’s always there; and its evil shadow is constantly lingering over the novel.  But its immaterial presence is somehow what continues to claw away at you.

The novel runs for a total of 336 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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