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E.C. McMullen Jr.
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E.C. McMullen Jr.
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In DARKNESS DEMANDS, Simon Clark continues a theme he used in his recent Leisure released NAILED BY THE HEART and BLOOD CRAZY: the concept of man's primitive instinct affecting his decitions and actions, and primitive or ancient antagonists affecting a wide range of individuals, be it a small town or the entire world.
This time around, the ancient supernatural threat is known as Baby Bones. Clark never quite explains who or what Baby Bones is, but it's unnecessary because the mystery and unknown play a major role in the plot. This Baby Bones force or entity is where the title of the book comes from, as it leaves letters demanding various items at the back doors of the citizens of Skelbrooke. It starts simply, the first letter demanding a bar of chocolate. But before long the demands become larger, and even from the first they come with a simple threat (and Baby Bones makes good on it should citizens deny it the gift).
The protagonist of the story is crime thriller writer John Newton. On the strength of his sales, he moves his family into what appears to be their dream home: a water mill converted into a house. The millstones and water wheel have been removed, and the millrace channel has been covered with heavy glass for observation from above, an attractive extra that made John and his wife fall in love with the place.
Then the letters start coming. At first John assumes they're the result of pranksters. However, the neighbors take the letters very seriously, especially the Haslems, who pack their car in a panic and flee the town in terror. Then John's daughter Elizabeth suffers an injury while riding her bicycle. By the time the second letter comes around, John starts to piece it all together but keeps it from his family, as he doesn't want to believe it himself. When he goes to make the second sacrifice (a pint of porter - beer), he discovers most of the village has made the same sacrifice.
That's when he finds out that making the sacrifice results in good fortune, for suddenly his next book is securing a lot of money for advance rights. But how far will he be willing to go?
The instinct comes into play as John tries to fathom what's really happening. He wants to believe this is all the work of pranksters, but the evidence and his gut prove otherwise. Through this explanation, Clark expounds on man's belief in superstition, from primitive cultures through the modern day, putting an interesting spin on the story.
The real horror of the book comes from the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness at the hands of Baby Bones. There is not a lot of action in the book, and the suspense does not really ramp up until near the climax. However, Clark's prose goes a long way to hook the reader as he leads us through the progression of Baby Bones's dark demands.
DARKNESS DEMANDS is a good, solid read (and the Cemetery Dance edition is handsomely packaged) with an interesting ending. I give it four bookwyrms.
This review copyright 2001 E.C.McMullen Jr.