There is a fine line between psychological horror, the kind that crawls into your head and won’t let go, and gruesomeness for the sake of it. People, of course, have different triggers, and one man’s knee-shaking horror is merely another’s mildly amusing supernatural thriller.
It is easy to see where The Noctuary: Pandemonium lies. The author, Greg Chapman, relies heavily on a style of reality-bending that would do Phillip K Dick proud, while also slathering the blood and gore around to an at-times alarming degree.
The book opens in the basement of author Simon Ryan, a haunted man. Literally in this case, as he is trapped by the memories of vile childhood abuse, but also being psychically stalked by the sometimes spectral, sometimes corporeal figure of Meknok, a thoroughly unlikeable piece of work of which we learn more as the book advances.
Meknok is a muse, a dark muse, and he has chosen Simon to be his new scribe, as his old one has worn out. Scribes are important to Meknok, as only through scribes can he create the fear the he and his fellow muses feed off.
Simon creates a book, The Noctuary, then disappears, leaving his psychiatrist, his literary agent and a Homicide detective to pick up the pieces. Of course, it is never that simple, as it seems The Noctuary has the ability to change and shape reality as new passages are written on its pages.
While The Noctuary: Pandemonium is heavy and redolent with modern gothic and occult overtones, its plot is never clear. If Meknok needs his scribe to write to cause human fear, why is there only one copy of the book? Surely mass production would be more in the game plan? Similarly, Meknok and his mates behave more like demons than muses, with very little encouragement of human behaviour taking place, just a lot of threats and leering. The book has three main plots, no one of which dominates, and none of which lead to a satisfying conclusion. Why does detective Ambrose’s partner still speak to him? What drives Dr Carter to write in The Noctuary?
It would be easy to dismiss The Noctuary: Pandemonium as an excuse for some slasher fiction, but the device of the reality-altering book ultimately gives it the edge and makes it a satisfying read.
Reviewed by D C White
Rating out of 10: 6