I knew there was a horror writer named David Gurney from browsing catalogs but there was nothing that desperately screamed read me from the often pitiful descriptions. Along came the new Paperback Fanatic and the excellent article about NEL´s horror output. Amazon marketplace was accommodating, so I bought two of his novels.
THE DEVIL IN THE ATLAS is a quite a departure from the standard NEL of its time with its rather small print and 190 pages of text.
And it managed to surprise me. Expecting one of those Dennis Wheatley rip-offs I instead got a very well written mixture of a black magic novel and a straight adventure novel. Of course there is some real trash and some of the "why did he thought this a good idea?" – which in this kind of book can be a good thing – but on the whole this is quite a page turner.
Spoilers follow. You have been warned.
It is a sequel to the novel THE CONJURER. Peter Fletcher, hero and narrator of the book, marries blonde Liz, also heroine of the novel – if I got the extensive flashbacks right. They honeymoon on a tropical island, but then Liz vanishes form one second to the other. Peter discovers that Liz is a member of an archaeological dig in Morocco, but since the beginning of THE CONJURERS. Whom did he marry?
The dig is searching for a kind of a satanic bibel, led by Liz, who is a satanist and a bitch of the first order. There is blackmail, sex, backstabbing, a power-mad native satanist who wants to use the satanic bibel for political power and a long chase in the High Atlas. There is also murder, the forces of darkness, which like to fuck with the minds of the heroes, just because they can, and a gruesome rape by Satan as a goatman. Oh, and an truly dark end with more twists than your average Hollywood horror movie, except that here they work.
The pace is brisk, the characterization is often remarkable and delightfully mean-spirited and very cynical for its time.
Sure, some scenes and descriptions don´t really work and come across more laughable than gruesome, but the writer has a great eye for nasty details. And the novel is worth its money alone for the great summoning scene where the hero has to deliver the required sexual energy by courtesy of a two page long blow-job. Interesting way to build suspense for the climax
This one is highly recommended. A true classic and a subtle but great cover too Rather a shame Gurney wrote only those three novels.