First published back in September of 1978 British horror author James Herbert’s fifth novel was published entitled ‘The Spear’. Following on from the likes of ‘The Rats’ (1974), ‘The Fog’ (1975), ‘The Survivor’ (1976) and ‘Fluke’ (1977), Herbert’s next publication was highly anticipated by a fast growing audience.
After the first edition of the novel was released, Trevor Ravenscroft, author of ‘The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail’ (1982), claimed that Herbert’s novel infringed upon passages from his earlier book - ‘The Spear Of Destiny’ (1973). The passages in question were said to have been written by Ravenscroft from transcendental meditation, and even though Herbert had clearly credited Ravenscroft’s book, Ravenscroft wanted a large amount of compensation for the use of his work. Herbert fought the case in court, but after he and NEL lost, Herbert was made to remove thirteen lines of the ‘offending' content from all later publications. The passages that were removed (and therefore only available in the first edition hardback) are a number of wartime sequences describing Hitler’s fascination with the Spear of Longinus, which Herbert incorrectly thought were factual events that had taken place (which were those detailed within Ravencroft’s book), as well as a sizeable prologue that is told through the eyes of the centurion who pierced Christ’s side with the spear. The centurion is sympathetic towards Christ and so gives him a soldier’s death rather than further torture at the hands of the Temple Guard. These sub-chapter-prologues, as well as the main prologue to the novel, added an extra layer of depth to the novel’s plot, making the first edition well worth keeping an eye out for.
Harry Steadman is an ex-agent for Mossad (the national intelligence agency for Israel) who now works as one of two partners within a small private enquiry agency (similar to a private investigators). When Steadman is contacted to investigate the disappearance of a young Mossad agent, he soon finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into a much wider operation. Somewhat coerced into helping out the British Secret Services to expose this powerful organisation that is being run by extremist far-right fanatics (of which many are some of the most powerful men in Britain), Steadman is put into the thick of the group – undercover and constantly under scrutiny.
This vile and corrupt organisation of Neo-Nazi Thulists will stop at nothing to achieve their cause. Their powerful and near-untouchable leaders deal in the heavy arms trade with connections that run deep within the government. Steadman is forced to infiltrate the organisation alone. He must put his very life on the line to pull back the layers and expose the truth behind this hideous organisation. A truth that is immersed in the occult and the dark power that this group is attempting to wield from the spear that pierced Christ's side - the Spear of Longinus.
Suddenly the back and white concept of true evil is all too real. The powerful cult is on the very cusp of unleashing an unholy power into our world. A power that threatens to bring hell to earth. And only one man has the position to get in the way of this madness. One man alone who struggles to believe in what he is seeing. Steadman’s mission is close to impossible...but nevertheless it’s one he can’t run away from...
Littered with actual quotes from the likes of Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Hitler, ‘The Spear’ has a storyline that finds itself predominately focussed towards the atrocities and sheer evil behind these two true life historical individuals from World War II. Incorporating a multitude of historical elements into the tale, Herbert masterfully links together fact and fiction, creating a montage of this cunningly elaborate back-story for the storyline to grow forth from.
With such a detailed complexity to the storyline, Herbert finds himself regularly detailing the intricacies of the plotline to the reader via a somewhat clichéd ‘antagonist is compelled to explain his elaborate plot’ like something out of an early James Bond movie. Admittedly, this does come across as quite comical, but as a whole it doesn't detract too much from the overall atmosphere and enjoyment of the novel.
The character of Steadman is yet another one of Herbert's typical gritty but charismatic characters who the reader can find themselves easily identifying with and indeed building up somewhat of a rapport with. His constant inner-torment in face of the violence portrayed within the novel, humanises the character, often achieving an array of sympathies from the reader towards this very troubled character.
The book has the usual injection of sex and over-the-top violence that has become almost staple with Herbert’s work (obviously with the odd exception here and there, such as with ‘Fluke’ (1977)). Like with so many of Herbert’s novels, ‘The Spear’ starts off predominately as more of an action packed crime thriller than a horror story per se; that is until the dark and twisted truth is finally revealed. Snippets of the more supernatural side behind the tale are thrown in at carefully selected moments during this first half of the tale, but nothing to really sway the reader’s overall impression away from it being a fast-paced thriller at this stage.
At times the deeply elaborate storyline seems somewhat overcomplicated for what is actually transpiring in the tale. What becomes more and more apparent the further the reader is within the tale is that Herbert’s intricate plot soon becomes too carefully formulated, without much time spent on how the various explanations will be uncovered and eventually delivered to the reader. This is certainly a very disappointing aspect of the book, especially considering that this is written by a horror author of such high calibre.
The ending is suitably dramatic and wraps up the entire storyline well. All subplots, however small, are efficiently tied up leaving the grand finale to deliver its unashamedly symbolic conclusion.
‘The Spear’ is certainly not one of Herbert's stronger novels, but still delivers a thoroughly entertaining tale with an action packed storyline and an intricate plot.
The novel runs for a total of 253 pages.
© DLS Reviews