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Mark Morris

Judy Piatkus Publishers

UK Hardcover

ISBN 0-861-88855-3

Publication Date: 09-28-1989

522 Pages; Price: £13.99

Date Reviewed: 08-09-02

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002




05-09-02, 12-13-02

Big novels of supernatural horror are no longer guaranteed the instant bestseller status they once were accorded. In the UK, horror novels have a stigma attached, as if they were something nasty that has to be hidden. In the US, only Stephen King seems to be able to rack up any significant sales. When 'Toady' was published, the public's thirst for horror had just crested. Released in the US as 'The Horror Club', it never received much notice. However, this novel, while comprised of what may be regarded as the "typical" elements of mainstream horror, is a wonderfully executed and imaginative take on the classic "boys find real horror" scenario. Morris' writing is excellent. His grasp of setting, character and place is firm, and he knows how to take his brain out for a walk when his imagination kicks in. 'Toady' is gripping, entertaining and surprising at every juncture where it needs to be. If supernatural horror has to come in big packages, they should all be this good.

'Toady' starts as Richard, Robin and Nigel, the school's three outcasts add a new member to The Horror Club. The Horror Club sits about and discusses all the latest incarnations of popular horror in one boy's room or another. Morris captures the UK version of King's, McCammon's, Simmons' and Bradbury's childhood odes to the outsider kids with a darker, chillier, British edge. Things are a bit grimier than the more halcyon American versions of boyhood. The school is crueler, the weather is worse, and the neighborhoods crowd closer. This is a more claustrophobic version than we usually get in these excursions and it's the better for it. Toady, the new kid in the club, definitely comes from the wrong side of the tracks, and brings with him some unpleasant abilities. The boys hold a séance in a house where killings performed with relish have occurred, and the result is an invasion of weirdness into their heretofore stable lives.

Morris is an expert at threading the horrific illusions into the boys' lives. The illusions are matched part and parcel by the unpleasantness that is the boys' lives, as they and the reader experience some of the seedier aspects of life with Toady. Abusive bullies, parents and kitchens that will make the reader gulp with nausea compete with the supernatural terror that works its way into the boys lives. Morris' prose captures this all very nicely. It's easy to read, but not too slick or gross for the sake of grossness. Thus far you have an excellent, low-key version of a novel you've read many times before, and probably enjoyed every time. And if 'Toady' went only this far, it would still be worthy of attention after the horror bubble burst.

But Morris isn't content to let nature takes its course with this novel. It's a novel of the supernatural, and he's willing to take it to a level other writers aren't. 'Toady' takes the boys into a world of the supernatural, a netherworld that J. R. R. Tolkien and three dozen Orcs would feel quite at home in. The boys become the illusion in an unreal reality that threatens to trap them. Morris effortlessly carries the reader away and intertwines the two worlds expertly. He offers a satisfying conclusion to a novel that should be put in amongst the bona fide classics of the Horror Boom. Readers who enjoyed 'Summer of Night', 'Boy's Life' and 'It' will find a lot to admire in 'Toady'.