by Robert Devereaux
Dell Abyss, pb, 353 pages, $4.99
ISBN: 0-440-21482-3

I could not finish this book, even though I spent three months trying. The problem wasn't with the quality of the novel--Devereaux's prose style is strong, and his characterizations are terrific. But for the first time in years, I found myself reading a book that was too horrific; the book literally gave me nightmares, and by the time I had gotten two thirds of the way through, I found that the graphic scenes of sexual violence, mutilation, and torture-murders made me extraordinarily uncomfortable. If you like strong, violent horror with a high quotient of sexual violence, this is a good read. The back-from-the-dead plot is hardly new, but Devereaux makes his characters come alive, and his protagonists' inability to understand and communicate with each other, despite their basic goodness and caring for each other, adds a level of poignancy to the story that many horror writers are unable to achieve.

In retrospect, this book (one of the last of the Dell Abyss line before editor Jean Cavelos left Dell to teach at St. Anselm College and found the Odyssey writing workshop) was symptomatic of why the horror market collapsed. The books tried to compete with horror movies for splatter, which was ultimately an unwinnable game, and in the process lost their core literary audience. In the late 1980s and early 1990s adult horror was huge, with the Stephen Kings and Peter Straubs at the top of the best-seller lists and second-tier horror writers selling hundreds of thousands of copies of their books. When the market collapsed the folks at the top survived, but the second-tier writers went from a comfortable living to being completely unable to sell their books.

First appeared in Horror magazine, March 1994.

Copyright © 1994 by Leigh Grossman