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  • It’s astonishingly repetitive, to an extent that you’d think it hadn’t been through any editing process at all. Every single incident comes with an explanation chaser, which we don’t need, since the characters’ reactions have told us all we need to know. ‘Ah, I can tell I’m boring you. But decent exposition takes time,’ says psychic investigator Gordon Pyke to Eve. It needn’t, not this much. You know you’re in trouble when the technical details of a marine current turbine’s rotor and drive chain (Gabe is an engineer) are of more interest than the spooky goings-on at Crickley Hall. To pass the time you can play spot-the-cliché, but after ‘ruling with a rod of iron’, ‘firm friends’, ‘West Country burr’ and ‘scudding clouds’, you tire even of that.

    If genital mutilation is the horror novelist’s equivalent of the knob gag, Herbert is a stand-up apparently condemned to perform the same old routine. In ‘The Fog’ he punished a schoolteacher with a pair of garden shears; more than 30 years later, he’s downsized to a cut-throat razor, but the circumstances of its use are in extraordinarily poor taste.

    King’s great skill has always been to disappear behind his writing. His style is so natural and his characters so believable, you almost forget
    you’re reading a book. Herbert is more of a puppet-master and, in ‘The Secret of Crickley Hall’, you can’t half see the strings.

    The Secret of Crickley Hall’ is published by Macmillan. Nicholas Royle’s short story collection ‘Mortality’ is published by Serpent’s Tail.


    How do other novelists rate James Herbert?

    Have they even read him? Time Out asked some...

    Will Self

    ‘Sadly, Herbert’s oeuvre has eluded me, although I did once share a room in a mental hospital with a glue-sniffer who was addicted to his stuff. He’s the rat man, isn’t he?’

    Jonathan Coe

    ‘Never read him – sorry.’

    Neil Cross

    ‘I was never really a James Herbert fan, although I read quite a few – and later, when I worked in publishing, I worked on his books. I was always, then and now, a Stephen King boy. I spent a lot of my imaginary life in Bangor, Maine.’

    Toby Litt

    ‘When I was about 12, Herbert was a God of the playground. Everyone read “The Rats” and “The Fog”. I went back and re-read them last year, as research for “Hospital”, the novel I’ve just finished. It contains a weird fog, and I wanted to have a look at how Herbert’s fog worked. I thought both books stood up. I particularly like the way Herbert introduces repulsive characters, then offs them a couple of pages later. I think that’s one of the main satisfactions of horror writing. More seriously, the books are very good on the atmosphere of the 1970s. Much better than lots of pseudo-literary novels.’

    Matt Thorne

    ‘I spent a boring weekend on holiday as a child reading the Rats trilogy. I was amazed at how anyone could write that much about rats, but then I suppose Guy N Smith wrote six books about killer crabs… I read a few others but stopped altogether after the one about Hitler unleashing a “blood death” on Britain in an alternate reality. I just couldn’t follow him there.’

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