Moon Trap

Moon by James Herbert (1985): James Herbert has often been called England’s version of Stephen King. This isn’t a bad comparison, though King doesn’t usually have at least one vaguely soft-core, five-page-long sex scene in almost every novel. The comparison is made more interesting by King’s analysis of Herbert’s early novels in King’s non-fiction horror survey, Danse Macabre.

I’ve certainly enjoyed the half-dozen or so Herbert novels I’ve read, and I enjoyed Moon. Herbert’s good characters are sympathetic, if occasionally a bit too aesthetically pleasing when they’re women (the protagonist’s girlfriend is stunningly beautiful…why is this necessary?). Come to think of it, there’s a thematic reason it’s necessary, one that constitutes a spoiler alert if I explain it further.

Herbert is generally more ruthless than King, or at least more arbitrary when it comes to the question of who dies, and when — there are a couple of wrenching sequences here that derive a lot of their power from that surprising arbitrariness, and Herbert’s decision to not tie certain plot and character threads up neatly.

The plot recalls King’s The Dead Zone: protagonist Jonathan Childes has psychic flashes. They once helped him stop a serial killer. But they also made him a media flashpoint when people found out that he was the only useful psychic to ever work on a police investigation. So he moves from England to one of the Southern coastal islands to try to lay low, and to hope that the psychic flashes are a thing of the past. But then horrifying visions start again.

Childes’ skepticism about his own powers generates a fair amount of drama as we go along, as do the apparent limits of those powers: he can see what the killer is doing in his mind, but he doesn’t know where, and he can’t glean the killer’s identity from these psychic links. This last becomes quite a problem when the killer suddenly realizes that Childes is psychically observing the killer’s actions, and manages to start pulling information out of Childes’ head that immediately puts his ex-wife, his daughter, and eventually everyone around Childes in mortal danger. It all makes for a quick, enjoyable read with some moments of visceral and existential horror. Recommended.

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