Author: Shaun Hutson
Much in the same way that I need a good 90s horror movie from time to time there’s a special place in my heart and the drawer of shame underneath the bookcase for 80s penny dreadful horror. Every now and then these little gems get a reprint for reasons unknown and my local discount book store was carrying some for R20 (about $1.30) each, and Spawn was part of the haul.
Make no mistake, Spawn is a dreadful book overflowing with the fact that the 80s was a very unhappy time (clearly Margaret Thatcher wasn’t doing enough to make sure that demonic entities towed the line), but if you can revel in the dreadfulness that makes up the novel’s 287 pages it’s no worse a sensation that mild electric shock therapy – you’ll be drooling at the end and you may not know where you are, but you won’t really care so it all balances out.
Harold Pierce is a deeply disturbed individual. After accidentally starting a house fire when he was fourteen that killed his baby brother and mother and left him badly disfigured, Harold’s spent most of his life in a mental asylum. Despite the night terrors and an understandable fear of fire Harold’s actually quite well-mannered and stable, to the extent that he will be taking up a job as a hospital orderly when the asylum moves location and he is deemed well enough to re-integrate into society.
In a twist of karmic irony Harold’s main job at the hospital, other than washing the floors, will be to dispose of aborted foetuses in the hospital’s giant incinerator. Finding himself unable to fulfill this task Harold starts sneaking the foetuses out of the hospital and burying them at night as a kind of atonement for his brother’s death. This is all fine and good until a power line is knocked down into the grave and, in a way that only 80s electricity (that really neon blue kind) could, brings three of the foetuses back to life with frightening psychic powers and a taste for blood instead of breast milk.
While all of this is happening Paul Harvey, a serial killer with a penchant for dismembering his victims, manages to escape from prison and makes his way to Exham, the site of his previous murderous rampage and home to Harold and his three little abominations. Between the two men Exham’s about to be in for a helluva wild ride with bodies hitting the floor everywhere you look.
The Writing Style
I think Shaun Hutson is the first author I’ve come across with an austere writing style.
There’s nothing wrong with the way the story’s been written, it’s just that there’s absolutely no flourish to the language used. There’s some grisliness and some blood-spewing decapitations, but whatever’s happening is described in very efficient ways using no more or complicated words than is absolutely necessary. This is in stark contrast to the rather convoluted plot, which is an accomplishment in itself given that you never struggle to follow what’s happening but have absolutely no idea how a lot of it ties together or moves the book forward.
The only concession to the otherwise spartan writing approach was the word “sardonic”, which was used many a-time in the most unassuming of places.
As with many things that will never be timeless and are complete products of their time Spawn relies on what I imagine were very different attitudes to abortion and women’s careers over 30 years ago. That’s not to say that we should all jump up and down screaming “yay for abortions!”, but the idea of a foetus being disposed of doesn’t shake the bedrock of my outlook on the world, which in turn takes away from part of the shock value that Hutson relied on when the book was published.
The other issue here is that while the book starts off very well and I was deeply invested until about the halfway point the Harold Pierce and Paul Harvey stories don’t intersect until very near the end, so in effect for the most part it’s like reading two separate books alongside one another. I imagine the ending itself was meant to be a clever twist but is poorly executed and actually only muddies the water, leaving you even more unclear as to how the two story arcs were meant to work with one another. If I understand it right the ending should have also happened about 100 pages earlier and set the scene for far more dramatic action afterwards, rather than bringing the book to its rather anticlimactic ending.
I wouldn’t recommend that you run out and search for a copy of Spawn, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend spending any substantial amount of money on it, but if you can get it on the cheap and enjoy some completely rubbish 80s horror angst then it’s a fun read in an odd kind of way.
My Final Rating: 5 / 10
Buy Spawn at Amazon.com