Hell Awaits: Review of "The Horror Beneath"
The Arbo Files
Every house has a history. Some houses are haunted. You may have heard of such houses. They have ghosts—the dearly departed that are so attached to this mortal coil that they return as vaporous memories that occasionally distress the settee. You may scoff at ghosts, but there are four American states (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Minnesota) that have real estate disclosure laws that address paranormal activity, i.e., if that house has ghosts, then the real estate agent has to tell you about them. And if you have ghosts, you have everything.
Well, Marchley Howe has more than ghosts. It has a well. A very deep well that goes a long way down. Marchley Howe is officially a cumbrance controlled by the real estate agent, Clive Wingood. It is a plush and verdant pile that once belonged to the landed gentry. The House of Venables, to be exact, but they lost the plot when their line degenerated into something rather ugly. As the novel opens, Mr. Wingood is a staid, middle class English gentleman living a rather quiet life in the countryside. There are only two notable things about him: 1) he served in combat during World War II, and 2) he is the erstwhile owner of Marchley Howe.
Wingood’s pedestrian life is interrupted by a German fellow named Konstantin von Hallerstein. The name is aristocratic, and so is his bearing. Herr von Hallerstein is a TV producer and sensationalist reporter who purchases Marchley Howe. The shifty Kraut keeps it close to the vest, but Wingood does suspect something when von Hallerstein begins hiring contractors to do some serious renovations in the manor house’s basement. Herr von Hallerstein is searching for something…
Then, when von Hallerstein goes missing, the constabulary suspects Wingood. Wingood, in turn, suspects the house. One of these two proves right when a local eccentric and folklorist named Antrobus starts…ahem…digging up facts about the property. Antrobus learns that Marchley Howe can be connected to an occult tome, sigil stones, and a pre-Christian tale about a black wyrm. Unsettling stuff, friends.
The Horror Beneath by C.P. Webster is a luxurious mix of weird and Gothic horror set against the background of rainy, rural England in 1978. 1978—the Winter of Discontent, when even the gravediggers went on strike and the dead festered unburied outside in the cold. There are things buried beneath Marchley Howe, to be sure, but they ain’t dead.
Mr. Webster’s book is a true feast for lovers of history, as this 181-page novel makes references to the English Civil War, the Knights Templar, the Anglo-Saxon conquest, the magickian-spy John Dee, and the Ahnenerbe expeditions of the Third Reich. But, wait. There’s more! The Horror Beneath also has one major nod to our beloved H.P. Lovecraft, the godfather of weird. You see, during one ill-fated expedition in Bolivia in 1938, an archaeological expedition carried out by a German professor uncovered something truly deep, old, and tentacled. One of those present had an aristocratic surname. Something beginning with “von” and ending with “-allerstein.” Time is a flat circle, and whatnot.
The Horror Beneath is suspenseful and well-written. Its perfectly executed climax, which is engineered from the very beginning, is guaranteed to stick with readers long after the pages are closed and the book is laid to rest. Mr. Webster claims that this is his first novel, but frankly I don’t buy it. No cherry first-timer writes this good, and no debut novel is this well plotted. If I’m wrong, and if this really is a-number one, then the egg is certainly on my face because The Horror Beneath is that good.
I mean it’s really good, and you should buy it. It would make the old gods happy.