First published back in May of 1992, British author Mark Morris’ novel ‘The Immaculate’ was his third full-length novel to see publication. A revised and reworked version of the tale was later published in February of 2006 by Leisure Books. This review is for the original version of the novel.
Jack Stone’s career as a horror writer has been going extremely well for him of late. His publisher and readership alike have taken to his imaginatively dark stories with surprising gusto. And still only in his early thirties, the young author feels that he still has plenty more left in him. Furthermore, the relationship he has with his live-in girlfriend of nine months Gail Reeves has brought nothing but joy. All in all, everything seems to be going pretty darn well for Jack.
But things weren’t always so hunky-dory for the young horror author. Before moving to London at the tender age of eighteen, Jack had lived out in the countryside close to the small town of Beckford. And his childhood through to that of a young adult in this rural out-of-the-way setting was far from easy. After his mother died in labour, Jack’s father had continued to blame Jack for her death. Furthermore, outside of their unloving household, Jack was subjected to a seemingly never-ending stream of vicious bullying at the hands of a local thug by the name of Patty Bates.
But that was all in his past. A past that Jack Stone had tried hard to forget ever since he left Beckford and all those bitter memories. But when his Aunt Georgina phones Jack to inform him of his father’s death, he knows that he must return to his hometown and confront a past that has tormented him ever since.
However, following the phonecall from his much-loved Aunt, Jack begins to see disturbing apparitions of a figure that resembles his father. The father that Jack believes hated him. The father that he is told has just died but he is convinced he has just seen staring in at him from the empty street outside a restaurant where he and Gail are eating.
And so, still troubled by what he thinks he saw, Jack nevertheless heads back to Beckford, leaving Gail behind following their decision that she shouldn’t miss out on a teaching opportunity in Lewisham. Upon arriving at his childhood home, Jack finds the old house brings back wave after wave of memories for him. Some good…many more not so good.
Not long into his return to Beckford, Jack is in the local pub, The Seven Stars, when he bumps into seventeen-year old Tracey Bates, who had been helping his Aunt Georgina out with the house following the death of his father. Being a big fan of Jack’s novels, Georgina saw no harm in allowing her to prepare the house for Jack’s stay. But as Jack was soon to find out, the flirtatious young minx turned out to be the daughter of the pub’s landlord – none other than Patty Bates.
All of a sudden Jack Stone’s childhood hell has come crashing down on him once again. Patty Bates has matured into a full-grown thug with one hell of a chip on his shoulder. Not only that by he once again has Stone in his sights. And perhaps worse still for the young writer, Jack has been witnessing more and more freakish apparitions in and around his childhood home.
Beckford has once again become Jack Stone’s personal hell. But there’s much more than just bullies and ghosts waiting for Jack Stone. Much, much more…
‘The Immaculate’ is first and foremost quite a departure from the horror style of Morris’ previous two full-length novels – ‘Toady’ (1989) and ‘Stitch’ (1991). Indeed, although the novel does still contain some pretty chilling supernatural elements, it’s more of a character-driven ghost story than a full-blown horror novel.
Morris goes to great lengths to set down some incredibly involved and lovingly written characters, most notably with our principal protagonist – Jack Stone. Indeed the overriding factor of the novel is the emotional conflict that Stone has with returning to his hometown and confronting his bitter fears. Taking this fully onboard, Morris utilises a strong supernatural edge to force through these jarring emotions, creating physical manifestations that await the young writer and turn his stay into a mentally-crushing hell.
Having Stone as an author of horror novels makes the reader instantly ponder how autobiographical the principal character is. Indeed, Stone comes across as an all-round pretty good guy. Not exactly heroic or overly charismatic, but on the whole a pretty darn solid fella with plenty of charm and wit making him instantly likeable. Okay, so Morris has subscribed to the Stephen King ‘write-what-you-know’ school of characterisation. But fair do’s, it does add a certain knowing warmth to the character which perhaps would not be achieved without this connecting relationship.
And to be honest, it’s mostly the strength of the characterisation in the novel that really pushes the tale onwards, keeping together the interest value with a particularly solid bond maintained between the reader and the handful of characters. Morris clearly aimed for such a tight bond to be formed, and in doing so, purposefully plays up to the emotional investment the reader has made with Stone throughout the length of the story.
The writing itself flows with the ease of a great storyteller at work. It’s so darn easy to get wrapped up in the tale, no matter what’s going on, and how impactful or not it is on the grand scale of things. It’s true that the novel doesn’t deliver the same levels of in-your-face energy as the author’s previous two offerings. But that does not in any way detract from the sheer enjoyment to be had from reading the novel. It’s quite simply a very different type of story.
The finale to the novel is utterly spectacular. There’s no other word for it. Morris builds the novel to an emotionally dramatic pinnacle where he finally unleashes a finale that will leave you breathless. In one fell swoop Morris changes everything. In one utterly intense revelation, the novel is thrust into the category of a work of absolute genius. It’s a stunning achievement to pull off a finale of this magnitude so perfectly.
And that’s what really makes the novel the utter success that it is. A truly spectacular supernatural ghost story, with a wealth of rich characterisation and an incredibly well delivered finale.
The novel runs for a total of 244 pages.
© DLS Reviews