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When mum moved house to be in the same area as me last year, she started indulging in one of her hobbies - car booting - to see if she could find any bargains for her new home and one day I decided to toddle along in the hope of finding a cheap supply of books to keep me from going stir crazy when commuting to London. Sure enough, plenty of sellers were keen to offload their old copies of books covering pretty much anything under the sun and, finding one with a few Dean Koontz books offering about four books for £1, I was scrabbling around for a fourth and decided on Moon by James Herbert. Having finally gotten around to reading it, here's the review.
Basically, one of Britain's most famous and prolific horror writers. Born in 1943, his success as a writer has led to his being awarded an OBE in 2010. His books have sold over 40 million copies the world over, underlining the strength in numbers of his army of fans. He first published The Rats in 1974 and Moon came along roughly 10 years later.
Herbert's stories are often of either the extreme horror disaster (The Rats - giant man eating rats, I believe) or supernatural horror, which was the nature of the only previous book of his that I have read, The Magic Cottage. Whilst I enjoyed that read I for some reason found the supernatural horror of it quite unnervingly graphic (but then I sometimes find that some books I would think might put me on edge in fact don't). With that memory and also the feeling of not enjoying his previous work overall, I was reluctant to buy this but needed to pick up a fourth book and, as a regular reader of some fairly dark and sinister stuff, I figured I could allow Herbert another chance (for which I'm sure he is eternally grateful, when I've never purchased a single book of his brand new therefore never given him a penny).
***MOON - THE BASIC INFO***
My copy is a paperback reprinted in 2000.
This version of the book can be bought for virtually the postage alone via Amazon and also for Kindle, contains 352 pages and has the ISBN 978-0330376297. The cover features a dark, sepia-tinted moon against a clouded dark sky but gives no further clue to the story.
The 'blurb' reads: "The nightmare begins before you sleep... He had fled from the terrors of his past, finding refuge in the quietness of the island. And for a time he lived in peace. Until the 'sightings' began, visions of horror seeping into his mind like poisonous tendrils, violent acts that were hideously macabre, the thoughts becoming intense. He witnessed the grotesque acts of another thing, a thing that glorified in myrder and mutilation, a monster that soon became aware of the observer within its own mind. And relished contact. A creature that would eventually come to the island to seek him out...".
We are also treated to the quote "Guaranteed to give you nightmares," from the Daily Mail. Frankly the Daily Mail is enough to give me nightmares (for its journalistic and editorial quality as opposed to it's nightmarish content...although it pretty much is just that), so that's not saying much in my book!
***MOON - THE BOOK***
We open with a scenario of a terrified boy witnessing a supernatural event in his bedroom one night. He can feel another presence in the room but the main event is the appearance of a spectral being at the foot of his bed. But it can't be, and then the boy's drunken, angry father hears him talk to the being in front of his and charges into the room to beat the boy until he accepts that there is nothing in front of him. This scene sets the tone that there is an obvious undercurrent from the past that will be returned to later in the book.
We then see, in defining italics, the experience of the 'being' that wreaks evil havoc throughout the plot as it glorifies in the murder and mutilation of one victim. This is a fairly short chapter, and highlights the level of graphic scenes you can expect throughout.
We then meet our leading man. Jon Childes is a man who has a gift, one that he would rather not have. Some years before he realised that he could see through the thoughts of a child killer, and took his knowledge to the police, one of whom believed him and in his ability that could lead them to the victims. One man's support and belief was not enough, however, and inevitably when the media learnt of this power, Childes was suspected and hounded, subsequently suffering unendurable stresses on his marriage. Desperate to escape, both from his gift and the situation that it led him into, he flees to a quiet island life, but took with him the guilt of leaving behind his daughter, as his wife could not make the same move and abandon her career and life.
When we meet Childes he is snorkelling. He has lived on the island in peace for some time, finding work as he needed it as a computer lecturer at colleges on the island. He has been spared his visions and has attained the peaceful existence he yearned for. Until, underwater, he has his first vision from the mind of a new killer, a hideously violent and sadistic one at that. He is saved from drowning by Amy Sebire, and now we learn a little of his personal life.
Childes' relationship with Sebire is a fledgling one and he is wary of letting the younger woman get close, although clearly both desire to - although there is further complication in the form of the strong distrust for Childes felt by Amy's powerful and influential father.
As Childes' visions continue and become more intense, powerful and almost physically manifest themselves, Amy supports Childes as best she can, whilst also trying to persuade him that he should try to break through his own psychological barriers to understand not only where his gift is coming from but how powerful it can actually be - something that becomes essential when his already increasingly desperate situation becomes even darker, as the mind of the murderer begins to sense the presence of another who shares their psychological connection and ability, and starts to hunt down the person they know to be seeing their thoughts - a twist which puts all who Childes holds dear in grave danger as he starts to see not just what the killer sees, but also portents of the future acts they will commit.
Childes has to try to protect those who he cares about whilst also battling this foe, one he is reluctant to describe as human, as well as face the true significance and agony of his past, as the killer changes the rules and comes after him.
I can't say much more without compromising the flow and enjoyability of the story, so I'll move on to characterisation and my overall opinion of the plot and the experience of reading this book.
My first reservation was that I would find this book disturbing. I'm pleased to say that I didn't, although some of the acts portrayed in it are extremely graphic and those of a deeply sadistic character. It is not for the faint-hearted.
I found this an easy enough read - I went through it in about three days on various train journeys. Childes is portrayed as a fairly reserved, almost cold character and Herbert is obviously at pains to illustrate to strains and barriers this establishes with Amy early on and quickly as possible. The same goes for the relationship between Amy's father and Childes - the reasons for this animosity is never truly explained, and to me just seemed to be used as a plot thickener that never serves a huge amount of purpose and is not truly resolved at the end.
This leads me to the next point in my opinion; I found the characters to be too formulaic, one-dimensional and devoid of individualisation. They were all faintly text-book, tools to be utilised to navigate the plot, and I even found Amy, one of the most fundamental characters, to be initially plot-perfect (younger, well-bred, beautiful, adoring, understanding and supportive, with the only flaw of having a father who wishes her to not be with the one she loves). Yet when the tension and plot becomes darker, more intense and twisted and she is put in danger, the personal relationship between her and Childes and her reaction to what she has to endure seems flat, devoid of realism and the strength of true human emotion.
Childes, whilst an innocent man who has not committed any of the crimes people may suspect of him, and striving to fight this murderer he has been put against through no fault of his own, I also found unlikable, cold and for all by continuing to read the story you are of course supporting their challenge, I didn't feel any great support for him but rather wanted to see what the ending would hold, what or who the killer was and how they were motivated. Childes is not a character that elicits strong support from the reader, and his eventual understanding of his gift is not played out in a way that has any emotional ramification with me despite it's deeply personal nature.
It is worth remembering that this book was written in the 80s. Therefore the work Childes does with computer lessons is still at the turning point in the machines becoming a pivotal point in our social evolution - no smartphones here, indeed no mobile phones. In fairness, even being firmly a part of the technological age, I don't think this compromised the plot, it's just something to be aware of if, like me, you can be very precise about details and practicality (the old "no, don't run up the stairs when being chase by a mad knife wielding murder, you daft bint" stance when watching films for example!).
So in conclusion, I personally wouldn't recommend this book. However, I have full respect for any author who can write and sell successfully over such a period of time as Herbert has and therefore I have to tip a deferential nod to the fact that there are clearly people out there who relish his tone and style and would probably enjoy this. Personally I found little satisfaction in the conclusion of the book, both in its dramatic conclusion regarding the core storyline of Childes versus the unknown killer, but even more so in the fact that the emotional and personal undercurrents were then dealt with minimally in a matter of pages, with little real resolution and conclusion there either.
So, for the fans of Herbert, I'm sure there will be something in this for you, but I am starting to think that his writing style and characterisation is just not for me, and that in future I should try to look elsewhere.
Thanks for reading.
A lot has moved on since the mid 80s including computers and horror fiction. In the 80s you would all be crammed around the one screen typing in basic code so that you could change red dots into green, amazing. Horror fiction was written by aging blokes whose flowery language made some of the books uncomfortable to read. I take my initial statement back; computers have changed immensely over the past 30 years, but horror fiction is still written by old man using flowery language. The likes of King, Koontz and Herbert have been stalwarts of the genre for years, but have any of them actually produced their best work in recent years? No, you need to go back to the time of the humble BBC and tales of psychic investigators to get their best work - or is it?
Jonathan Childes has moved away from the English mainland after he was implemented in the murders of several children. He was not the killer, but a psychic who saw visions of the deaths. However, the stigma would not leave him so be moved to a quiet island community and got a part time job as an IT teacher in a posh private school. Here he met Amy, a fellow teacher and his new love. Things seem to be settling down for Jon, until the visions return. Once again Jon begins to see images of death and violence. His new life is shattered as the locals begin to realise that there is more to this mild mannered man than first meets the eye. Can Jon discover what the images are about before he is ostracised from the island? Will Amy understand why he kept his past hidden?
I am a fan of James Herbert's writing, but it does vary vastly in quality. 'Moon' sits squarely in the middle range of his work and reads almost like a by numbers attempt when compared to his better works. The use of a reluctant psychic as the lead is not a new one, even back in 1985 when the book was published. This means that Herbert is immediately struggling to bring anything to the genre, and he certainly does not. At its best the book is a pot boiler that builds the tension up slowly. The first half is an effective look at how a cursed man's perfect life can fall apart if he sees visions of the dead. I enjoyed the way that Herbert hinted at the horrors and concentrated more on character development than brutal slayings.
It is the second half of the book that Herbert abandons this slow pace and the book loses its way. In some of his work, e.g. 'Once', Herbert can, in some part, rescue an abysmal book by having an exciting horror ending. In 'Moon' this is almost the exact opposite. A sophisticated ghost story is plunged into below average thriller territory as the book shifts in style and pace to that of a crime novel. At times it almost feels that this is two separate novels that have been stitched together to make a whole; not the only time that a novel by Herbert has done this.
There are also issues once again with Herbert's writing style. His use of language is outstanding and he adds a sense of intelligence and poetry to horror. However, it is also incredibly old fashioned in feel. When describing the denizens of hell, this is not an issue as his language on occasion can take on Poe like levels of quality. However, this is a novel that deals with some very modern technology as the character of Jon is an IT teacher. The fact that technology from 1985 is incredibly dated is only compounded by Herbert's olde worlde language. It seems that during the 80s Herbert was genuinely intrigued by the future of computers, but he describes them in such an old fashioned manner that the book is unintentionally funny in places.
I must not be overly harsh with 'Moon' as the first section that leads up to the horror elements is vintage Herbert. The slow ghost story and blossoming love affair is a pleasure to read as well as being mildly spooky. Even the later elements that see the pace increase and the consequences darken are still of a decent enough standard to make the book readable. The dated feel of the book is fine in the areas of fashion and attitude, only the repeat references to redundant technology jar. 'Moon' is a fun ghost story that does not delve too deeply into the macabre. I would suggest that first time readers of the author try one of his better books e.g. 'Shrine', and leave this one for the completeists.
Author: James Herbert
Price: amazon uk - £4.17
play.com - £5.49
James Herbert is my favourite British author who has so far released 19 fantastic books with one coming out early next year. This book Moon is my favourite of the lot as it has memorable, plots, scenes and characters.
What is the book about?
Reading from the back of the book;
The nightmare begins before you sleep
He had fled from the terrors of his past, finding refuge in the quietness of the island. And for a time he lived in peace. Until the sightings began, visions of horror seeping into his mind like poisonous tendrils, violent acts that were hideously macabre, the thoughts becoming intense.
He witnessed the grotesque acts of another thing, a thing that glorified in murder and mutilation, a monster that soon became aware of the observer within its own mind. A creature that would eventually come to the island to seek him out
How I discovered this book.
My mom was a big fan of James Herbert when she was in her twenties and used to read his books alone on her night shifts as a nurse at the hospital. As he is a horror writer, I think she was mad to do this but still she bought me Moon on my nineteenth birthday and I read it in two days.
What is the book like?
This book is a good old horror novel written very well by Herbert. The creepy atmosphere and tension is felt when you read the book and you can imagine everything as Herbert goes into great detail in his novels. If you imagine this book to be like a crisp that has gone a bit green and you want to eat it but just dont know if you should but then you end up eating it anyway. This book is the same, you really want to read it but at times you just look at it and think I just have to carry on.
Who are the characters?
The characters in this book are as follows;
Jonathan Childes The (not sure if I should call him this but) hero of the piece. He has disturbing visions of another being who he cant picture but he can picture the macabre acts he is doing as if it is he Childes who is performing them.
Amy Sebire Childes girlfriend. She knows about what Childes sees and what he has been through in his past.
Miss Piprelly The school head teacher where Childes and Amy work.
Fran Childes ex wife.
Gabby Childes daughter.
Inspector Overoy Inspector who has worked with Childes before but is sent to investigate the new visions Childes is having.
The monster The being Childes sees doing vile and terrifying things. But who or what is it?
I have only listed the main characters because there are so many minor characters that I could mention including all the school children in the school where Childes works.
I love this book, the story is quite creepy but the characters are so memorable. I have actually read this book about five times now and sometimes I do just read my favourite parts. It also has some fabulous comedy such as lines like Im only wearing swimming trunks remember and this is a private place, I can hear all of you who know what Im on about laughing now.
The characters are wonderful and as in all Herbert novels, he goes into great detail about their lives and how they live them. He gets characters so right that you just believe they could be real. Like the affectionate way Amy still refers to her father as daddy but this drives Childes mad. Or the way Childes and Gabby put xs on the end of their letters to each other and every five is sealed by a real one. The characters play out their parts in the book but even small character parts such as the role of schoolchild Jeanette can become fabulously touching and you do not wish anything bad to happen to her. I believe Herbert has a talent in creating characters and their traits to identify in some we have ourselves.
The set for this movie is in a small coastal town and quite a bit of the story is centred on Childes occupation as a school teacher. Herbert describes the place in such a way that it makes you want to go there. They drove to the cottage, not bothering to change back in their clothes, semi-nude figures driving cars being a common feature of the island while the weather was warm. It makes you wish you could be warm enough to drive home from the beach in your bikini but we cant often do that here in Britain.
The action in this book is fantastic but I cant say much without giving anything away. There are sequences in this book that you would just love to see on film.
The horror aspect of the book as always in James Herbert novels is very apparent. Herbert has a talent for scaring the reader but not too much to drive them away from the book. Some of the descriptions in the acts the monster is doing make you actually feel queasy. But as fans of Herbert will know all is never as it seems and even though you can feel fine at one point in the book, you could be being scared the next. Herbert is a big fan of creating atmosphere in his novels so that you can really get involved with the happenings in the novel.
As I said at the beginning, James Herbert is my favourite author and I have read all of his 19 novels and have loved everyone. I think this novel stands out as being the greatest because it builds up the tension so well and the storyline has you guessing and just wanting to read the whole book so you know the truth. I recommend Herbert books to everyone who isnt afraid of horror and wants a really good read. Moon is fantastic and retailing at £5.99 for 340 pages in paperback. You may even be able to get this cheaper on eBay as it is a pretty old book being published in 1985.
Buy, read and enjoy.
Thanks for reading.
I’ve got to be honest about this one and say its not the best James Herbert I’ve read, this doesn’t mean it wont appeal to other James Herbert fans. That all depends on which elements of his work you prefer, myself I enjoy the more macabre elements or a really strong storyline. Although this does have these to a certain degree it didn’t “scare” m or entertain me in the same way as some of his other pieces, again though this is only my opinion so don’t let it put you off. The story itself centres around one man – Johnathon Childes, who experienced vivid physiological links with a child murderer, he was himself responsible for identifying the murderer via a telepathic link and as such helped the police track him down. The ensuing effect in the form of negative publicity led him to flee to an island to escape the aftermath. For a while he lived his life in peace on the island, working as and when he wanted in several schools and even finding a new love. However, things didn’t remain that way as he once again began to have “sightings”, after initially ignoring these it got to a stage where he couldn’t any longer and the story escalates from there. As I said earlier it didn’t grip me in the way other stories have and I found it quite easy to detach myself when it was time to put the book down. Others however have different opinions and some describe it as “un put downable”, as I said, we each have our own opinions. Read it and see.
The nightmare begins before you sleep...He had fled from the terrors of his past, finding refuge in the quietness of the island. And for a time he lived in peace. Until the 'sightings' began, visions of horror seeping into his mind like poisonous tendrils, violent acts that were hideously macabre, the thoughts becoming intense. He witnessed the grotesque acts of another thing, a thing that glorified in murder and mutilation, a monster that soon became aware of the observer within its own mind. And relished contact. A creature that would eventually come to the island to seek him out.