Be afraid, be Very afraid

20 Jan

I’d like to draw your attention to a classic horror tale that has been re-relased recently by Penguin books – The Watcher by Charles Maclean. I first came across this novel when it was originally published way back in the 1980s and I have to admit that it was all I could back then just to finish it off. This was because, quite simply, it was (and remains) one of the most pant-wettingly frightening books that I’ve ever come across. Before you decide that the fear of having your blood chilled by reading The Watcher is reason enough to give the book a wide berth, I should add that it is also an immensely readable, compelling and devilishly well-written piece of fiction. As well as being a horror, Charles Maclean’s novel is also a terrifying twist on the classic whodunit and this, more than anything else, is what kept me reading long after the sun set when I first came across the book. Or maybe it was just because I was too scared to go to sleep…

The protagonist Martin Gregory at first appears to be a fairly regular sort of chap. We first encounter him on his way to catch a train home, laden with packages for his wife’s birthday, full of love and goodwill. Needless to say, things go to hell – literally – fairly quickly. On the morning of his wife’s birthday Martin awakes and immediately carries out a horrific, inexplicable act which leaves him with no option but to run. So begins a journey towards understanding for Martin, both of a terrifying puzzle and of his own mind and soul. As readers we are with Martin on every step of this nightmarish journey, given hints and clues as to what is going on but still left largely in the dark. We are afforded an insight into the mind of the ‘hero’, which soon turns out to be an extremely scary place. I’m not sure whether Maclean has a background in psychology but you could surely base a thesis on all of his main character’s insecurities, issues and obsessions. Martin often comes across as deeply unpleasant but never in a way that is unrecognisable or implausible – he could be any one of us and that is perhaps the most frightening thing about The Watcher.

I was kept gripped by the book’s intense power and unrelenting tension and I felt that the author did a terrific job of getting the reader into the head of the protagonist. This certainly isn’t a book that you’ll have trouble reading – the prose is clear, concise and to the point. You are told just enough to be able to follow the story and Maclean is sufficiently brave to allow the reader to join the dots by themselves occasionally without being spoon-fed (something that I for one always appreciate). I should emphasise the book’s intelligence – this is not just a blood-and-guts horror, but is thought-provoking in many ways, exploring themes like loneliness, paranoia and the nature of insanity. Be warned, however, because for the short space of time that you read The Watcher (it’s only about 300 pages long in paperback) you won’t be able to think about anything else. In fact, you may get to a point where you hardly dare to set it aside! Unfortunately, Maclean is anything but a prolific author and seems to write one fairly short book a decade. Having said that, the two other novels by him that I’ve come across – The Silence and Home Before Dark – are equally brilliant and scary and, when it comes to books, I’ll take quality over quantity any day!

7 Responses to “Be afraid, be Very afraid”

  1. redplace January 20, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    I just love your posts!

  2. Renae Rude-The Paranormalist January 21, 2012 at 7:48 am #

    Wow. Noted.

  3. envisioningutopia January 21, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    I am so going to read this book. Ps Have you any more Ghostly Tales in the offing?

  4. dogear6 January 31, 2012 at 1:45 am #

    Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll have to look it up.

    Thanks also for subscribing to my blog. I think I looked your blog over when you first subscribed, but got busy and didn’t get back. Sorry about that.


  5. margyll August 15, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    I too read the Watcher about 30 years ago. Then, around 4 years ago it popped into my mind as something I would like to read again. It was out of print and I ordered one thru amazon. At the same time ( the very same time) I was looking for a place to rent, and called a guy in response to an ad….It was Charles Maclean, the author of the watcher…That is a totally true story.

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