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Unspeakable, by Graham Masterson Book Review | SFReader.com
Unspeakable, by Graham Masterson Genre: Horror Publisher: Pocket Books Published: 2005 Review Posted: 6/7/2005 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 2 out of 10
Unspeakable, by Graham Masterson
Book Review by Benjamin Boulden
Have you read this book?
"What about bad luck? Do you believe in that?" The words are spoken
by the heroine of the story, Holly Summers. They are part of a conversation
between friends, but they represent the essence of the story: bad luck,
curses, horror, betrayal. Graham Masterton's (The House that Jack Built, The
Doorkeepers) latest novel is filled with omens, both good and bad. It is a
mixture of the classical horror story and a detective novel. It seems to
rattle and rumble almost aimlessly until the plot, the characters begin to
crystalize into a broader meaning and then suddenly it all begins to make
sense . . . until the final few scenes, which we will discuss later.
Unspeakable is the story of Holly Summers, a deaf lipreading caseworker for
the Portland Children's Welfare Department. The first few chapters are
agonizing and painful-they are not poorly written, but rather the events
portrayed are painful, almost too real. A young Native American boy is
nearly beaten to death by his father in a drunken ritual meant to expel a
demon called Raven. The boy narrowly survives. He escapes death only because
of Holly's intervention. The boy's father is sent to jail, and at the
preliminary hearing he curses Holly with the same spirit he believed to
inhabit his son: Raven-who is said to feed on the good luck of its victims.
Masterton is an old hand in the horror field, and his style and technique
are solid. He uses a stark, almost artless prose to move the story forward.
Unfortunately his characters are weak, hollow and contrived. The protagonist
is deaf, but she doesn't act, or even feel deaf. In one scene even Masterton
seems to forget his heroine can't hear. "She [Holly Summers] climbed the
stairs, and as she put her key in the lock she heard laughter. . ." The
dialogue is too crisp, quick and complicated to believe Holly is deaf. She
seems to have all of the attributes of the hearing, with the added benefits
of lipreading. There are few, if any, moments when Holly is hampered in
communicating with her fellow cast members. In fact, the entire cast of
Unspeakable is lacking. They are blank and unreal: cardboard cutouts that
could have been more, better-should have been more. They don't match the
horror and violence Holly sees on a daily basis. They don't fit the
seriousness of the subject of child abuse. This shallowness of character is
not unexpected, and is easily excused because the storyline moves so
quickly-it can be excused so long as the story moves forward, makes sense,
but unfortunately in the end even that breaks down.
This novel is purely plot. It lives by plot (it has to, because there is
nothing else), and dies by plot. There are a few legitimate frights-a
sequence where Holly feels a presence, she thinks Raven is following her, is
well done and spooky-but unfortunately all the good is erased quickly and
without mercy by an abrupt and completely unexpected ending. The climax is
so ill-fitting, so bad, that it will probably alienate most readers from not
only the story, but very possibly the writer as well. It feels like
Masterton wanted a surprise so sudden, so unexpected that he contrived one,
giving no clues, no notice, no nothing. He just attached it as the ending;
it failed, and failed badly.
Masterton has proven himself better than this outing offers. Unspeakable is
one you should avoid.
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