Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Underground Horror

The Chosen Child by Graham Masterson (1997): Solid and mostly riveting horror-thriller from the prolific and talented Masterson. And you'll learn tons of interesting things about the history of Poland, where the novel is set in the present day! It's like a twofer -- come for the horror, stay for the history of Warsaw.
In the late 1990's, something or someone periodically emerges from the sewers of Warsaw to kill and behead seemingly random victims. The murder as the novel begins threatens to derail the construction of an American hotel group's new Warsaw location, so Sarah Leonard, the Polish-American woman in charge of the hotel's construction, ends up inserting herself into the investigation, led by old-school detective Stefan Rej.

Soon, all hell is breaking out on a number of fronts as corporate and civic corruption, organized crime, and office politics threaten to derail the investigation. And the body count continues to mount both beneath the streets and above them.

The main characters here are surely drawn and sympathetic when they need to be, while the horrors caused by the killer -- dubbed The Executioner by the press -- are evocatively and brutally shown in several setpieces. The revelation of what The Executioner really is may strain one's suspension of disbelief -- it certainly did mine -- but overall Masterson manages a fairly fascinating mix of the police procedural and the supernatural thriller.

Rej is an especially well-drawn character, occasionally mourning the moral clarity of the bygone days of Communism while doggedly continuing his investigation regardless of opposition from above or danger from below. And the history of Warsaw, especially its opposition to the Nazis, really is gripping stuff. With a number of key scenes set in reeking, filth-clogged sewers, The Chosen Child generates a real sense of dread and bodily horror: it's about as cloachally horrible as a thriller can be. Recommended.

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