Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Greely's Cove by John Gideon (1991): Praying for the End of Your Wide-Awake Nightmare

Fairly shouting at you from the cover that it's AN EPIC MASTERPIECE OF MODERN HORROR!, this 1991 paperback cover is generic to the point of meaninglessness: spooky castle in the mist framed by a full moon and surrounded by dark waters, its tagline boasting "It's the place where your worst nightmares come true" which could be said about any place in a work of horror fiction, and author John Gideon has no genre identity whatsoever (turns out it's the pseudonym of an Oregon politico named Lonn Hoklin, the name this novel's copyright is under). Greely's Cove was published at the outskirts of my "vintage horror fiction" dateline, and is definitely the kind of overly familiar tale that novels in the Dell/Abyss line were making obsolete. Still, I decided to take a chance since it has a bunch of rave reviews on Amazon. Maybe an overlooked classic? Er, no.

The small, foggy Washington town in Puget Sound is beset by evil and its everyday American citizens have been disappearing for months, leaving no trace behind. It's up to a regular cast of characters, some noble, some embittered, some doomed, to do battle against an ancient enemy whose evil knows no bounds...

I don't mean to sound too harsh or snarky; Greely's Cove is an agreeable and at times nicely grotesque horror novel, particularly in its climax. Its faults lie in the usual areas: there are far too many King and Straub touches, and Gideon's prose, while quite serviceable, falters under the weight of horror that he's trying to conjure up. Dialogue is often expositionary and wordy; an amateur's inexperience is all too obvious. I skimmed lots of pages after awhile, but fortunately got more into the story as the end neared, because the climactic battles and revelations were kinda epic. But only kinda.

However, I loved the modus operandi of the novel's villain - the Giver of Dreams: he forces the missing people to "live" the vast horrors of humanity's past, unwilling victims trapped in an all-too-real nightmare world. I wish Gideon had expanded on this idea as I found it truly horrific - can you imagine waking up to find you're a serial killer, a Nazi, a Mongol army's whore, a demonic child torturing its mother? And even enjoying it? Ick. I know this sounds terrible but... more please. A more powerful writer could have really taken this concept all the way, rubbed the reader's face in it, got in there deep and true. Oh well. One character really stood out too: a sad-sack boozehound named Mitch Nistler, a mortuary attendant driven to unholy extremes of lust and desire. And you know what that means!

PS. Finally I've figured out the font on the edition at top; it's ITC Benguiat. Designed in 1977, it was used on all kinds of paperbacks throughout the '70s and '80s, and has always been a favorite of mine.


Tim Mayer said...

As soon as the cover blurb proclaims "instant masterpiece", you know it'll be a dud.

Will Errickson said...

To be fair it's not a complete dud - it has some good moments when those missing folks show up to haunt their friends and family, looking much worse for the wear - but yeah, real masterpieces never have that emblazoned on the covers of their first printing!