Tuesday, 28 October 2008

‘Black Cathedral’ – L.H. Maynard & M.P.N. Sims

You know what they say, if you fall off your bike then the best thing to do is to get straight back on and try again... Last year, I thought that L.H. Maynard & M.P.N. Sims’ ‘Demon Eyes’ sounded like just the thing for a spooky Halloween read. I couldn’t have been more wrong as it turned out for reasons that are best gone into over Here.
It’s Halloween time once again and an advance copy of Maynard & Sims’ latest book came through the door a couple of days ago. Once I recognised the names on the cover I had some misgivings about picking the book up but I figured I’d give them another chance. After all, ‘Demon Eyes’ wasn’t so bad that it put me off giving their other books a go.
I finished ‘Black Cathedral’ last night and am pleased to say that it doesn’t suffer from any of the problems that plagued ‘Demon Eyes’, in fact it’s rather good up to a point. Unfortunately that ‘point’ is the very end of the book where I felt that things took a rather large dive...

Six managerial types, on a week long course, disappear days after taking up residence in a manor house on a remote Scottish island. If this wasn’t bad enough, the helicopter (and pilot) assigned to pick them up disappears as well. In fact, the island has a history of people disappearing in mysterious circumstances...
The British Government assigns this case to Department 18, a special unit assigned to investigate supernatural and paranormal occurrences. However, the manor on Kulsay Island is no mere haunted house but the home of an evil that is centuries old. The time has come for this evil to strike in the worst way possible and the members of Department 18 must race to uncover Kulsay’s secrets before this happens...

‘Black Cathedral’ opens with a haunted house in suburbia and an unexpected tragedy, cleverly linking these to events to what’s building up on Kulsay Island. Characters are introduced and relationships are both hinted at and explored. This is done in such depth to suggest that ‘Department 18’ may end up as a series of books; the concept and the characters that flesh it out certainly make this an appealing prospect.

Maynard and Sims have gone all out to make ‘Black Cathedral’ a very scary read and for the most part they succeeded as far as I was concerned. The tension is racked up throughout the book and is accompanied by generic ‘ghostly images’ (statues suddenly moving etc) that the authors make their own. The communion scene and Robert’s encounter at the fountain were key moments for me and the ‘Ley Line’ plot underpins these moments very well.
I was less convinced by the introduction of the ‘evil behind the evil’ though, not so much with what it was but more by the amount of explanation it was given (especially when certain characters had to get people to repeat themselves as they didn’t understand...) The dark atmosphere and ghostly happenings more than balanced this out though.

And then we get to the end of the book. An ending where events have been built up into a soaring crescendo of fear and terror. An ending where our heroes must face near insurmountable odds in a confrontation where it has been predicted that they will more than likely not survive...

An ending where one character discovers she is a powerful psychic ‘just in the nick of time’ and our heroes are bailed out by a secret religious order at the very last second...

Now, this could simply be a case of Maynard & Sims pulling the wool over the reader’s eyes and springing a surprise on us. If this is the case then they did the job almost too well, hiding certain players motives so well that the ending came across (to me) as an acknowledgement that the stakes were too high for the heroes to deal with and that something had to be done to get them out of a fix...
After such an impressive build up this manoeuvre just spoilt the whole book for me....

‘Black Cathedral’ is a marked improvement on ‘Demon Eyes’ but suffers from a complete let down of an ending. There’s enough potential though, in the concept of Department 18, to persuade me to look out for future books and see if there’s any improvement...

Six out of Ten

18 comments:

James said...

"An ending where one character discovers she is a powerful psychic ‘just in the nick of time’ and our heroes are bailed out by a secret religious order at the very last second..."

And once more the despairing cry of 'Not AGAIN ?!?' is heard throughout the land. **sigh**

You think books like this have a tendency to go all Hollywood on us? As in a sudden convenient discovery.

Graeme Flory said...

I don't know what happened here... :o(
It was looking really interesting in terms of the 'final confrontation' and then they pulled out a huge 'get out of jail free card'... I wonder if it was just a case of them writing themselves into a corner and not knowing how to get themselves out...

Sally said...

I think you are completely wrong.

The "one character discovers she is a powerful psychic ‘just in the nick of time’" I assume is Jane.
it's discussed in great detail in chapter 28 that she's psychic. In chapters 16 and 28 she experiences supernatural events that set her apart. I found her actions in the finale totally within character and, while it was a surprise that is what I want from an ending - not boring predictability.

the same with "are bailed out by a secret religious order at the very last second..."". The society is fully discussed and investigated in chapter 29 and the events of chapter 35 set up their later intervention in affairs. Again I found that what that intervention turned out to be was a huge surprise but in a good way.

I found the ending fantastic. Well described and tense. It pulled all the strings of the characters and supernatural happenings together and set up a series of sequels.

Graeme Flory said...

I think I'm completely right :o)

Jane's psychic abilities were discussed at great length but she conveniently couldn't access them (as she didn't believe they were there) right up until the last few pages when they were most needed. Very, very predictable and a big fat 'get out of jail free card'. The only reason she had those powers was so that she could use them 'just in the nick of time'.

While the society is discussed and investigated there is nothing to suggest their true purpose right up until the very when our heroes "are bailed out by a secret religious order at the very last second..." Because it's left so late (with nothing to back it up) it just seems very convenient that they arrive 'just in the nick of time'... And, oh look! They're a secret religious order as well! Well, fancy that...
To be fair I can see this introduction working in terms of things being set up for future sequels but not in terms of the story standing on it's own.

I'm glad you enjoyed it though. Apart from the ending I enjoyed it too :o)

Steve Andrews said...

No, Graeme, on this occasion - and usually your reviews are excellent - you are wrong.
I agree with Sally. The character who has repressed abilities - let's keep names out of it as lots of people haven't read the book yet - it's not out until January! - is very well set up. There are a couple of events that happen, but fair enough they can be misunderstood as part of the general supernatural build up. But when she discusses the reasons for keeping her abilities under wraps with another powerful psychic, and then she disappears from the book, anyone who is reading it carefully will know she will re-appear and pretty much be aware that when she does she will be using her powers. far from not believing they were there she describes how she used them and why she buried them.
It's a classic ticking bomb plot device that can be found in thousands of books and here it works particularly well. She didn't have the powers for the last chapter, any more than any of the psychics had powers. I am guessing she and the others will feature in a sequel.
It is the same with the secret society. Didn't you wonder what they were about? Didn't you think that the loose ends were going to be tied up in the crescendo of an ending that you accurately say is so well set up. Of course they were going to feature and it is to the author's credit that when they do appear it is such a powerful surprise how they do it and what they are. If they had been described earlier in greater detail there would have been no shock.
And I assume James hasn't even read the book.

Rod said...

I've been reading horror for years and this is one of the best endings I have ever seen.
I can't believe the reviewer has missed it.

Jane has a long talk with Robert about how she knows she is psychic but what happened in her past has kept the gift hidden.
I agree with the earlier comment. Once she leaves the book it is glaringly obvious she will come back and because of the setting up of her powers it is obvious the powers will be unleashed.
It isn't a nick of time job at all and I am shocked you mis-read it like that.
It's a standard plotting technique done really well here.

I agree the Sorority isn't so obvious but if you're reading the book with any understanding then you want to know what the society is all about.
The Department runs a check on it and the two officers have a long talk about it that clearly sets it up for later use.

What I want from an ending is a few surprises and twists and you get them by the bucket load here.

I want character and plot strands to come together and they do that and also set up an inevitable sequel. The last line alone does that anyway.

The descriptions of the sunken cathedral are wonderful. The way the things on the walls and the pews are described is poetic. When the main baddie shrugs off his skin it's fantastic.

As I said this is one of the best endings I have ever read in a horror book.

This is taken from the author's website and it's on a free download.

Black Cathedral SPECIAL PRE-PUBLICATION REVIEW
LH Maynard & MPN Sims Leisure Books / Reviewed by Mario Guslandi
A house infested by alien beetles, but, more importantly, by unknown,
powerful, alien forces....A desolate island three miles off the east coast of
Scotland becoming the location of a survival course for a group of people who
get lost to the world within a couple of days... Soon death and terror take hold
of the men and women now staying on the island, but helping them is a very
difficult task even for a veteran like Robert Carter, used to the fight against
human and inhuman enemies. Yet Carter has his own very good reason to get
to the heart of the puzzle...
The Minister of Defense is interested, a rescue team, including also a couple of
psychics, is sent to the island to discover what’s happening and to straighten
things up. As it turns out, behind the island’s mysteries hide a wealthy women
outfit called The Sorority, ancient depravities involving the Jesuits, Satanism
and evil forces now at loose.
I’m purposely avoiding trying to describe the plot in a straight manner, in order
not to spoil for the reader the pleasure of fully enjoying the book.
Despite some minor inconsistencies, the novel is a breathtaking chain of horror,
a frightening reading experience that will reveal to the reader the malignant
forces lying behind the smooth surface of everyday’s reality.
Once again Maynard & Sims has contrived to create a powerful work of
fiction, which reminds me of one of those nightmares that make you glad to
wake up and find out it was just a dream.
As a long-time reader of horror fiction I promise I’m not squeamish but,
believe me, this book is terrifying, so much so that even if now and then
suspension of disbelief becomes a bit hard to keep, the avalanche of emotions
and the flow of adrenaline will carry you on.
So I’m warning you: if you have important engagements ahead don’t even
think of starting this novel because you won’t be able to put it down until
you’ve reached the last page.

Amy Wyatt said...

'Nick of time' ?? Hardly.

What did you think Jane and Robert were talking about 'cos it isn't who's going to win X Factor.

It's so obvious she is going to come back at the end I was waiting for it. Though how she does it and what she does is so well done it still came as a surprise.

'bailed out...last second' ?? Hardly.

Yes it's well hidden what their true purpose is but it's so obvious they are going to feature that again I was waiting for it.

And again it was a great and delightful shock what that true purpose was.

I found this a great read. fast paced, good characters you believed in, and a phenomenal ending.

You've done an injustice here with your incorrect focus on the ending. You've missed some key plot elements and that's not the writers fault.

Graeme Flory said...

Apologies for my slightly flippant opening reply to Sally...

Thanks for commenting guys, part of why I do this is so I can discuss what I've been reading and have my eyes opened to different perspectives on the same book. I'm always willing to hold my hands up and admit I'm wrong but, based on my reading of the book (not anyone elses), I'm standing by what I said. Before I go into any detail though I want to make it clear that I did enjoy the book and am looking forward to seeing where the story goes next...

"and then she disappears from the book, anyone who is reading it carefully will know she will re-appear and pretty much be aware that when she does she will be using her powers."

"I agree with the earlier comment. Once she leaves the book it is glaringly obvious she will come back and because of the setting up of her powers it is obvious the powers will be unleashed.
It isn't a nick of time job at all and I am shocked you mis-read it like that."

"It's so obvious she is going to come back at the end I was waiting for it."

Steve, Amy and Rod - It was really obvious wasn't it? I thought it was obvious too. And for whatever reason (I was wrong, she did believe she had the power) she couldn't/wouldn't access these powers until the story demanded that she absolutely had to, which was the point where her colleagues needed rescuing...
I exchanged a couple of emails with Mick Syms and basically said that while I could see what was being done (it is a standard plot device used in thousands of other books) it felt to me that it was left so late that it came across (to me) as conveniently getting certain characters out of a tricky spot.

As far as the secret society goes... yes, I was left wondering what they were all about(Especially when something happened to a certain female character whom I thought was going to be around a lot longer than that!) What I said in my review, and in my email to Mick, was that the eventual revelation was covered up so well that having it sprung at the last minute again came across to me as being a little too convenient for my liking. Our heroes are in trouble, bring in the cavalry!
Now I may have missed out on some pretty big clues but that's almost besides the point. The fact is I read the book and my first impressions were that I had a big issue with the way it all ended. I still do but I still enjoyed 'Black Cathedral' and want to read more. The last line in Mario Guslandi's review is bang on the money as far as I'm concerned.

Amy - I'm sorry you feel that I've 'done an injustice here with my incorrect focus on the ending'. I had an issue with the ending so I focussed on it. It's not really a matter of being 'correct' or 'incorrect', it's all subjective. You loved it, I didn't.

Amy said...

"it’s rather good up to a point. Unfortunately that ‘point’ is the very end of the book where I felt that things took a rather large dive..."

"An ending where one character discovers she is a powerful psychic ‘just in the nick of time’ and our heroes are bailed out by a secret religious order at the very last second..."

"the ending came across (to me) as an acknowledgement that the stakes were too high for the heroes to deal with and that something had to be done to get them out of a fix..."

"After such an impressive build up this manoeuvre just spoilt the whole book for me...."

"suffers from a complete let down of an ending."

You don't just focus on the ending - you dwell on it repeatedly.

And you are wrong about it. It's not just a case of a subjective personal view.

Jane is psychic, it is discussed earlier in the book, it is not pulled out of the air at the end.

That is fact not subjective opinion.

Ditto the society. You knew they were going to feature or else why have them in.

It's not a cavalry moment when they arrive then is it?

You say you enjoyed it but as a reviewer you influence people's opinions. Someone who might see the book might not read it because of your comments - witness James who is clearly just reacting to your words.

You say you enjoyed it but what other books have you scored so low?

Sorry but I think your review is inaccurate and that's not right.

Amy said...

This was the case right up until the end when the entire thing was spoilt by the biggest cop-out ending I think I've ever read. Dammit...

and that's you on this website
http://www.scifinow.co.uk/forum/

Graeme Flory said...

Hi Amy,

"You don't just focus on the ending - you dwell on it repeatedly."

I gave it a little more time as it would be unfair to slate it without giving my reasons. I wouldn't say that I dwell on it though. I did say nice things about the book as well! :o)

"Jane is psychic, it is discussed earlier in the book, it is not pulled out of the air at the end."

Jane is psychic, it is discussed earlier in the book. To have the ultimate manifestation of her power thrust upon the reader right at the end of the book, however, feels like it comes just in the nick of time. At least it did to me when I read it. Same deal with the Sorority (as far as I was concerned when I read it).

"And you are wrong about it. It's not just a case of a subjective personal view."

"That is fact not subjective opinion."

That's your subjective personal view of my review. I'm cool with that, I've never expected everyone to agree with what I say :o)

"Sorry but I think your review is inaccurate and that's not right."

The review is an accurate and honest account of my impression of 'Black Cathedral' when I first read it. Same deal with everything else that I read. I'm sorry that you're not happy with that but I'm not changing my mind. A re-read might make a difference. When I read the next book in the series I'm sure it will make a difference (when placed in the context of a series). In the meantime though...

"You say you enjoyed it but as a reviewer you influence people's opinions. Someone who might see the book might not read it because of your comments"

If people read the whole review then they wil see that I enjoyed it despite the issues that I had with the book.

"You say you enjoyed it but what other books have you scored so low?"

There have been plenty of books that have scored a lot lower. There are also books that I've read that I felt didn't merit a score at all. It might take a bit of digging but they are all in here somewhere ;o)

Graeme Flory said...

Hi Amy,

I just missed your last comment...

"This was the case right up until the end when the entire thing was spoilt by the biggest cop-out ending I think I've ever read. Dammit...

and that's you on this website
http://www.scifinow.co.uk/forum/"

Yep, I said that. I also said that,

"I loved the concept and the execution with some moments that were really quite scary."

Graham Canfield said...

I haven't read the book, but it is on pre-order. But I have read the comments here.

What strikes me is that what has happened is what happens to a lot of amatuer bloggers - the 'reviewer' (in their mind) has become more important than what they are reviewing.

There are 7 I's in the first two paragraphs, and these are paragraphs about the blogger not the book.

The 'review' is an opinion rather than a report with comments about the book.

When inconsistencies are pointed out by others who've read the book the blogger resorts to arrogance and a patronising air of I'm right and you're wrong.

The review is about the bloggers opinion and that opinion is dominated by the ending. That he's misunderstood the ending is blatantly obvious but will he admit it?

Of course not, because writing these things makes him important. Don't argue with him though because he's the blogger.

Graeme Flory said...

Hi Graham,

Thanks for your comments. I'm doing this from work so I'm sorry that I need to chop your comment up and deal with it piece by piece...

"the blogger resorts to arrogance and a patronising air of I'm right and you're wrong."

It's more a case of "the blogger reacts to the patronising air of I'm right and you're wrong" that he encounters in the comments section... Maybe I shouldn't have reacted but it's a perfectly normal human response. Much like yours in fact, you felt that you had to react to my review... It is cool that everyone has enjoyed the book so much though that they feel they need to comment :o) I'm only about telling people what I thought, I'm not out to change people's minds if they have enjoyed the book.

"That he's misunderstood the ending is blatantly obvious but will he admit it?"

There's nothing to admit. My comments on the ending (and on the rest of the book, which I enjoyed) are based on my understanding of the book. As a reader, my understanding of the text (and the meaning I take from it) is just as valid as anyone else's, reading is an intensely personal experience after all. Oh yes, if you haven't read the book yet then how can you be so sure that I've misunderstood the ending?

"Don't argue with him though because he's the blogger."

What were you saying about a patronising air of "I'm right and you're wrong"? By the way, I'm absolutely cool with you arguing this (it makes no difference that I'm 'the blogger')

"When inconsistencies are pointed out by others who've read the book"

If reading is a personal experience (and the meaning taken from a text varies depending on the person reading it) then how can anyone say that someone else's views are inconsistent? The text itself may be black and white but the person reading it isn't...

As far as being an 'amateur blogger', well... you've got me there. I don't get paid for this, I just like to talk about what I've read :o) And as far as making reference to myself in the review... Well, this is about my experiences with what I've read so I'm bound to make reference to myself...

Like I said though, it is all about subjective personal opinion at the end of the day. I had mixed feelings about 'Black Cathedral' and backed them up with my thoughts on what I'd read. You've got mixed feelings about my review (although you have still to read the book) and backed these up with your own opinions. We're at a bit of an impasse aren't we?

Anonymous said...

Why is everyone so upset about this review? I read Graeme's blog because I enjoy his style of writing and it gives me some pointers about which books I might like to read. There seems to be some really strong feelings about something that someone has admitted is just a personal feeling. Why is everyone getting so personal? Graeme has never pretended that this blog is anything other than his own opinion which is what I have always seen a review being anyway. He always describes the plot and then says what he thinks about it, no different to any other review on the net, papers or anywhere else. It spoils things when people start to get personal and unpleasant.

Graham Canfield said...

Why 'everyone is so upset' about the review I imagine is that the reviewer has made a mistake about the characters and that has clouded his opinion of the ending.

A reviewer is entitles to their opinion - that's all a review is - but when that opinion is clearly based on an error of reading, as as has been evidenced, then that is wrong.

That the review mentions the ending once would be bad enough, but he goes on and on and on about it so that it colours the entire review.

It's like me saying the song Yesterday is great but I didn't like the way it keeps going on about tomorrow all the time. Obviously it doesn't - that is an error. But i can't justify that error by claiming it's my opinion and I'm sticking to it!

Reviews are subjective but they should also be accurate.

steve andrews said...

L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims once again write a scary horror story that will frighten the audience into leaving all lights on. There is plenty of action with unexpected twists to shake readers from any complacency they might feel. The protagonist is also shaken by the disappearance of Sian and believes there is a link between the two incidents. Robert is hero in spite of himself as he courageously goes about his investigation into otherworldly activities on the mortal plain.

Harriet Klausner

The evil in the book does some really disgusting things to people and it really does pump up the fear levels. L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims have themselves a winner here and I think that they have themselves a franchise in the works with the characters that make up Department 18. This is a book to watch out for, and one that really grabs you from the first chapter on. L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims are a horror duo that know how to scare the reader and suck them down into their horrific stories. Pick this one up when it hits book shelves in January and get ready for a whole new paranormal experience with Department 18.

- Horror Bob

Graeme Flory said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks for including what other people have said regarding 'Black Cathedral' and balancing things out a bit (although I pretty much said exactly the same thing about being scared etc...)

Hi Graham,

Thanks for coming back and commenting further. I noticed that while you addressed the concerns of 'Anonymous' you didn't actually address any of the replies that I made to you. I'm not sure how this will get us past the impasse that I mentioned earlier...
I'm quite happy to address your points though :o)

"Why 'everyone is so upset' about the review I imagine is that the reviewer has made a mistake about the characters and that has clouded his opinion of the ending."

I've mentioned before that different people can take different meanings from the same text. That is clear in this case as the resulting discussion has shown. This being the case, how can you be so sure that I've made a 'mistake'? The ending didn't work for me and I said so, the ending worked for other people and they've said so. Different people can read the same book in different ways, an established fan will be happier with certain things whereas someone who's fairly new to an author's work may have issues with the same things...

"but when that opinion is clearly based on an error of reading, as as has been evidenced, then that is wrong."

What evidence? That more people here didn't have a problem with the ending? That doesn't mean that my perception is any less valid, just different.

"That the review mentions the ending once would be bad enough, but he goes on and on and on about it so that it colours the entire review."

If I've got an issue with something then I will back it up, if I've got a real issue with something then I will go into detail explaining why. That's only fair to the author and the people reading the review.

"It's like me saying the song Yesterday is great but I didn't like the way it keeps going on about tomorrow all the time. Obviously it doesn't - that is an error. But i can't justify that error by claiming it's my opinion and I'm sticking to it!"

This would be a good example if there was any mention of 'tomorrow' in the lyrics you've mentioned. There isn't so of course it would be an error to go on about it... My reading of 'Black Cathedral' highlighted issues that I had with the book based on my interpretation of things that were actually in the text... These things actually happened in the book, my perception of their worth (to the story as a whole) differs from others, that's all.

"Reviews are subjective but they should also be accurate."

Accurate based on what exactly? My own perception of what I've read? Someone else's perception of the same book? Someone who hasn't read the book yet? I don't know about you but I'd go for the first option and that's what other people have done here as well. They've read the book and formed an opinion of what they've read.

I'm assuming that you haven't read 'Black Cathedral' yet as you mentioned that you had it on pre-order a fortnight ago. If this is still the case then I'm left wondering what you're basing your comments on... At least everyone else has read the ending and can make an informed judgment about whether it works for them or not. You're just giving an opinion based on an opinion.

I do hope you enjoy the book though :o)