It was with great sadness that many readers learnt of the passing of James Herbert on the 20th March 2013.
There are many like me who went through a ‘horror’ phase. I’m not saying I was a horror – maybe my mother might disagree with me there – but rather a lot of people go through a phase of reading horror books. Some are absorbed by the genre and never leave again, most leave for pastures new – this happens with all genres until the reader finds the right genre for them and beds down for the rest of their lives and gets reading! For me, it was a short foray in to horror, I think it was about a year but it was definitely intense as all late teenagers can be. Plus, I had a group of friends who were all going through the horror phase with me, so we would sit and discuss the merits and de-merits of such-and-such a writer. Normally we stuck with the big three: Dean Koontz, Stephen King and of course our very own, home-bred, James Herbert. Koontz was always good at writing action-based horror, King excelled at highlighting different characters regardless if they had a major role or purely had a walk-on part to play. But for us, James Herbert was the whole package.
Thinking about it now I reckon we had formed a book club without realising it. The books we talked and raved about were Stephen King’s ‘Needful Things’ where we constantly asked each other ‘What bit are you up to?’ as we all read through this huge tome, Koontz’s ‘Phantoms’ and my personal fav, ‘Lightening’, but the one we loved was ‘Fluke’ which has stayed with me all these years. In anybody else’s hands this story could have been a total disaster.
The premise of the book can be a little hard to handle: a dog who remembers being a man whose life was violently ended. As his memories return he begins to search for the truth. For me, Herbert perfectly put his mind inside a dog, allowing his readers to feel the life of this domestic animal. This is not your typical Herbert novel. Many claim ‘The Rats’ trilogy to be his best work but for me it was too gruesome. (‘The Rats’ is based around Epping Forest – maybe a little too close to home as I grew up in that neck of the woods). I would never claim to be a true horror fan, nor do I enjoy horror/gore films although I love any ghost story by M.R. James or ‘The Woman in Black’, so I know that ‘Fluke’ was creepy enough for me. His other novel, a pure ghost story was ‘Haunted’ (don’t bother with the film) which left me with a definite chill down my spine when I closed the book at the end. I remember I was alone in the house and had to go out to get some air I was that spooked! And it was still daylight! If a writer can get your imagination working like that then he is worth his weight in gold.
In recent years some of Herbert’s work did not always hit the mark. It would be a shame if people remembered him for this last effort and not praise him for the stunning horror/ghost stories he weaved with such frightening panache. In his honour I will re-read his other book I loved, ‘The Dark’ which frightened me to bits twenty odd years ago – and it is due to his talent for setting my hairs on end that I am prepared to have to sleep with the light on yet again!
I end with a tweet by William Hussey on hearing of Herbert’s passing:
“The Fog has dispersed, the lights in the Magic Cottage have dimmed, Crickley Hall stands silent. RIP #JamesHerbert.”
Such is the effect the man had on millions of readers.