Sunday, March 20, 2005

Guy N. Smith

I'm editing a reference book on foreign horror writers with my friend, Jukka Halme, for the Finnish library books publisher. I don't have much to write myself - I will handle Nancy A. Collins, Thomas Tryon (The Other), Peter Ackroyd (Hawksmoor is easily the most frightening book I've ever read) and Guy N. Smith. (I may have forgotten something, but Jukka will surely correct me.) The rest of the job is editing the entries we receive (and we of course have to write the introduction). Jukka will write about authors like Joe Lansdale and Richard Matheson. (I envy him.)

I just finished Smith's "Cannibals" (1986) last night. It's his only translation (apart from one or two short stories) and I only wonder why he hasn't had any more translations. It must have something to do with the fact that the Finnish readers have never really cared for horror - with the possible exception of Stephen King and Dean Koontz and couple other bestsellers. Smith has been hugely popular in England, his homeland, and he has produced paperbacks steadily for over thirty years now, starting from "Werewolf by Moonlight" (1974). He has also written Westerns and some crime novels. (I have a hardback Western novel from Robert Hale's Black Horse imprint that is dedicated to Guy N. Smith. I wonder if it's really Smith himself thus giving away his authorship...) He has a large following in Poland (!), so why not in Finland? I don't know. Maybe it has to do with the fact the Finnish cover is just awful. One of the ugliest in fact. (But f**k me if I know how to post a picture here!)

I don't really know if "Cannibals" is a good book or not. It's a fast read and it's very nasty - even children get killed and eaten. But there are problems. Some subplots are left unravelled. The premise of the book is a bit implausible - how on earth no one outside the small village of Invercurie knows nothing about the cannibals living in the caves near the village? Is it really possible that the Great Britain should have such remote corners that no one hears about ravaging human eaters? (The same impossibility is seen in such celebrated movies as The Wicker Man, in which Christopher Lee has a cultish league of worshippers of Celtic gods on an island - well, Invercurie is not even an island.)

The characters are not very vivid, but some of them come alive with small strokes. The dialogue borders on ridiculous and the hero in the lead - a policeman called Phil Drake - is nothing but muscles and some hard guts. He is brother to one of the early victims, but he never touches the situation. Strong, silent type, huh?

I think "Cannibals" is a horror novel that you might call "hilarious". It is scary at times and very nasty at all times, but it's never serious. John Wyndham's and other writers' horror novels from the fifties and sixties stem from an era when the UK was under threat to lose its power on seas and losing its imperialist dominions. In the seventies and eighties there were no such threats (at least not so big to warrant a flow of genre books and films). So it seems fairly safe to say that "Cannibals" is a pastiche of Wyndham's and John Christopher's serious catastrophe fantasies. (There is also influence of "Straw Dogs" and other films where the protagonists suffer under the hands of undereducated country people, but you'd think it had lost its power in 1986.)

Since this is the only translation by Guy N. Smith, I won't be reading anything else by him, except for the short stories. Maybe in the future I'll pick something up when I want something that is both stupid and scary at the same time...

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