Friday, May 17, 2024

The Night Creature by Brian N. Ball (1974): She Rides

All over the social media of bibliophiles you can see people who insist that they must finish any book they've started reading. Sometimes this dogged commitment comes off as bragging; more often, as a kind of desperation, a sad realization of a fault: the utter inability to not finish a book that is simply not grabbing you in the way you wanna be grabbed. Me, I've quit more books than I recall, and have my entire book-reading life, but ever since starting this blog I've tried harder to finish the horror novels I start. What if the best part of the book is the ending?! Let me tell you, book lover—and I'm probably not telling you anything you didn't already know—that is rarely the case.

Fortunately it is the case for this 1974 novel The Night Creature (published in the UK as The Venomous Serpent), by British scribe Brian (N.) Ball. For several weeks I meandered through the first two-thirds of it. Not because it was bad, or uninteresting; Ball, a prolific writer of SF, is a capable author, if kinda dry (it's told in first person, a style I've found myself losing interest in over the years). No, I just found it all rather tame and indistinct; for every little aspect that made me perk up, I'd have another several pages of, sure, okay, whatever. The book would sit on my nightstand for days untouched, till last week. Dammit, I can finish this guy! Spurred on by a few positive reviews on Goodreads, I sat down early one afternoon determined to get to the end. And I did! And boy was I glad!

Anyway. I found the hippie-ish young couple, Andy and Sally, enjoyable enough, picturing their artsy 18th century stone farmhouse Seventies-style charmed me, as did their making a living selling crafty antiques and landscape paintings in the touristy British countryside. Everything changes in their idyllic life when Sally comes home with a brass rubbing and... wait, what the fuck is a "brass rubbing"?! Turns out it's a chiefly British hobby, so it made sense, born and bred Yank that I am, that I had no idea what the dang thing was that starts all the trouble. Then I recalled I had seen the cover for the UK edition of the book, under its original title The Venomous Serpent; had, even posted it to this very blog a decade ago! Wonder of wonders.

One night Andy gets the fright of his life when the woman on the rubbing, as well as her dog, seem to come to life when the moonlight filtering in through the high barn windows illuminates it. Ball does a decent enough job describing the eerie escapade, which happens several times, each time more and more disturbing to the young man: I had never known the condition which we call "terror" before. It's something far beyond fear, for it's unreasoning.

(oddly, incorrect names of people on the rubbing on back of NEL edition)

And thus follows standard procedure: Andy convincing Sally what he's seen, a visit to the ruined church where Sally first made the rubbing, learning the local lore of the people in said rubbing, intimidating locals warning them off the church property, cranky coppers (I was fool enough to call on our local policeman), and one truly old eccentric priest Andy tries to enlist in his aid when Sally disappears one day. The lady Andy seeks is one of the blood-drinking living dead: Undead, blood-crazed, monstrous thing from the tomb she might be, there was no doubting her beauty. Can he rescue Sally in time from the Lady Sybil?

Not unlike a contemporaneous Hammer horror film, The Night Creature is a mere wisp of a book at barely 150 pages. It truly does ramp up suspense and interest in the last third, so by the end, the tale has found that sweet spot, the one I personally truly adore and crave, and nuzzles there, suckling and secure.

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