The term “quiet horror” gets thrown around everytime you read any review of a Charles Grant story. What exactly is quiet horror. Simply put, its a moniker created by Charlie himself, as a way to describe his writing style. Quiet horror is a slow crescendo of dread that builds in the story. It’s subtle, not in your face. Its a creepy feeling that something isn’t right. It’s also not for the person who has the attention span of a highly caffeinated squirrel with ADD. You’re not going to find blood spattered on every page of a Grant story. Nor will you find non-stop action. This isn’t a Marvel comic. Grant’s stories are all about the ride and not necessarily the destination. Patience is key. If you have it, chances are you’ll see what he’s trying to create and you’ll enjoy it. Now, is every one of his stories a hit? No. But, there is always a certain level of quality in every Grant tale. For Fear of the Night is no exception. Is it his best? No, again.
As Labor Day nears, a group of teenagers are preoccupied with the big changes that have already shaped their lives and the ones that are about to. Going off to college looms in around the corner. Couples are about to become apart and wonder whats in store for them. Career decisions have to be made. Their friend, Julie, was recently killed in a fire that happened in a building near the pier. Devin, the groups older photography friend, receives a message on his answering machine from their dead friend. Was it really her? Is it some sick prank? He doesn’t know, but it sparks off the mystery of what really happened to Julie.
For Fear of the Night is not Grant’s strongest story. Very little action happens for the first 100 pages. It’s his typical slow burn. The storytelling and atmosphere are still there. The ending strikes me as a bit muddied and leaves more questions than answers. If I were looking to read Grant for the first time, this wouldn’t be the one I’d start with. But, if you’re looking for that quiet horror that he specializes in, you could do a lot worse.
3 Popped Balloons out of 5
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I enjoy the slow burn of Grant’s storytelling. If you know anything of him, you know that he doesn’t bludgeon you over the head with nonstop gore and action. He teases you with the horror, slowly building up into a final crescendo. I’ve been reading his Oxrun Station series in chronological order and The Grave is my latest in the journey. Up until now, my complaint has been the weak, shallow and helpless female characters. The kind that have a conniption if they break a nail or are helpless unless a big strong male rescues them. I realize that this stereotype was common in quite a few horror novels from the late 1970s. It still doesn’t help me enjoy it. In The Grave, the female characters can stand on their own two feet and even though the male lead is kind of a dingbat, he’s not so bad that he’s annoying. But what has always been Grant’s strength – a wonderful slow burn of a strong storyline – is miserably empty of plot. In an attempt at being murky to keep you guessing, it actually is an exercise of patience. Nothing, and I mean nothing, happened until 40% into The Grave and then the plot was muddy and incoherent at best. This continued on and on and then at the end, it felt like Grant tried to explain it all as quickly as possible so that he could bring the story to a close. Unfortunately, the explanation doesn’t help or make it any more interesting. You’re just kind of “meh” and closed the book.
2 Unmarked Graves out of 5
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I introduced myself to Charles Grant’s writing a little over a year ago. I started reading his novels in chronological order and The Sound of Midnight is his 2nd in a series that takes place in his twisted little town of Oxrun Station. For those of you that haven’t discovered Grant yet, think of Stephen King’s Derry where strange things always seem to happen. The Sound of Midnight was published in 1978 and his writing was progressively getting better with each novel. His atmospheric dread or “quiet horror”, if you will, was always there. However, the problem that I have had with his writing, up until now, has been the helpless, dim-witted female characters and the annoying, chauvenistic male characters. Charles Grant’s The Curse was a perfect example. His “Hour of the Oxrun Dead” still had it, but was better. With The Sound of Midnight, the female character is better yet, but the male character still holds on to some of those annoying characteristics.
With that out of the way, The Sound of Midnight is an eerie tale of mystery. Dale’s parents were killed and left her a mom & pop toy store in Oxrun Station. Her boyfriend is a teacher at the local HS. One day, Dale is sitting by a pond in the park and is thunked in the head with a rock. She comes to and finds that one of the boys that frequents her toy store is face down in the pond with a few of his classmates looking on. This begins a string of strange deaths that take place and that involve fire and water. Dale and her boyfriend Vic find themselves in the middle of it and the local police chief isn’t liking it. With no one to turn to and not knowing who they can trust, its up to the two to find out what is going on and what it has to do with the town’s children before Dale and Vic end up being next.
As I’ve said, The Sound of Midnight is full of atmosphere that builds up in almost a hazy, dreamlike way. The characters still hold on to a little of those annoying characteristics that seem to be prevelent in many of the novels from the 1970s – helpless females that want to run away from every problem, chavenistic males that try to be way too funny and cute in everything they say, etc. But, to be fair, not nearly as much as Grant’s earlier works. This helps the reader to be able to focus on the story and it is Grant’s best one up to this point. I look forward to seeing his further progression as I go through his catalog of Oxrun tales.
3.5 out of 5 stars