The Witches : Book 5 The Meeting by James Darke - Sphere 1985.
Reputed to be irredeemable - Darke's series of 8 books about Robert Monk the self styled witchfinder of Sphere cause the heart to quicken in anticipitation.Would The Meeting disgust me or was it all fabrication?All five pages of chapter one serve to introduce Robert Monk. He skulks in the darke as the literary camera focusses on an old man laying atop a table - eyes burn't out and pizzle frizzled. His wife dead in the corner. By the light of a brazier we can see Monk's scarred face leering.
'It was the face of a man who preferred dark corners of rooms'.
That's a brilliant line from anybody.
The Meeting is set in the colony of Virginia.Micheal Reeves' WITCHFINDER GENERAL has been quoted as a British western and James figured a proper western setting would benefit this latest book. It broadens the scope , though the coincidence of both Monk and Andrew Ferris ( from previous installments) both sailing to the same place are stretching it. But this is fiction not fact and the story moves at too quick a pace to worry about such boring things. Monk having been left for dead in the previous book is after revenge and plots to kill Ferris' friends and wife before slaying the good captain. He is aided by the thuggish Cattermole - a barbaric highwayman who takes sadism to new heights when Ferris' friend and pregnant wife are slaughtered. James wisely opts not to describe this but relates it to us after the event when Ferris views the corpses. It's a clever distancing tool which marks this as more than a simple exercise in brutality.
The main focus of the book is on Ferris and his lovely Romany bride Sarah - their dreams of building a home and family. By careful construction James fleshes out his characters enough so we do care - no mean feat in a book like this. With the introduction of Andrew an albino halfbreed with a mystical way with animals ( he talks to wolves and has a pet Jay on his shoulder) - we get a sense of *real* magic at play - not just the harsh realities of witch burnings. When their lives all come crashing down it's doubly shocking - the emotional punch testament to Laurence James' skill as a writer.
Contains strong language and violent images - a good dramatic story - very sad ending - a great book in fact.
He is aided by the thuggish Cattermole - a barbaric highwayman who takes sadism to new heights when Ferris' friend and pregnant wife are slaughtered. James wisely opts not to describe this but relates it to us after the event when Ferris views the corpses. It's a clever distancing tool which marks this as more than a simple exercise in brutality.
That final sentence has prompted me to notch the first few Witches way up the to re-read list because, when I encountered the first three (early-mid 'nineties, i think), they certainly struck me as exercises in brutality! But do i risk my fond memories of nearly being sick with revulsion at *certain scenes* in Witches #1: The Prisoner? From MEMORY, the opening line - "A trickle of bright blood trickled across the woman's naked body" - is maybe as subtle as the book gets. Mr *ahem* 'Darke's approach to horror is perhaps best described as 'no nonsense'. None of the long, drawn out anti-suspense of Kowlongo Plaything for him: it is heads down, no nonsense mindless sadism and filthy sex from the off. No wonder people love him so.
I gather from Justin that, depending on your viewpoint, the final installment in the series, (The Plague?) is even more devoid of redeemable features than the others put together, which is quite some achievement.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.
That final sentence has prompted me to notch the first few Witches way up the to re-read list because, when I encountered the first three (early-mid 'nineties, i think), they certainly struck me as exercises in brutality! But do i risk my fond memories of nearly being sick with revulsion at *certain scenes* in Witches #1: The Prisoner. From MEMORY, the opening line - "A trickle of bright blood trickled across the woman's naked body" - is maybe as subtle as the book gets. >>
I'd not argue that the brutality isn't strong - but it's not on every page either. I was speaking to Steve and we agreed that LJ was a far better writer than a mere exploitation merchant. On a level with say Terry Harknett. Sure they don't stint on graphic detail but they are storytellers first and formost - The Witches no exception in my view. Honestly I've read sicker Pan Horror stories than this - so The Witches shouldn't be too hard to stomach! I guess though I need to base my thoughts on more than one book. I'm now interested in getting the final installment...
I won the first 6 of these books off ebay a fair while back (for an absolute steal, i should add). I read them all back-to-back over the course of about two days. So you could say I immersed myself in these books, leading to them blending into one a little (not a bad thing). I really, really must get the last two, as I was gripped by the end of 6 and wanted to know what fate befell John Ferris.
The emphasis in these books is on adventure. There is a lot of sex and nasty violence, but as related in a post above, none of it really makes you shudder like the darker moments of the Pans. The torture scenes are, I assume, pretty realistic - this is what happened at the time. Even though it's rough, it doesn't quite feel gratuitous. I've used this cinematic comparison about books before, but 'The Witches' is akin to 'Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS', in that some pretty gross stuff goes down, but it's delivered in such a swashbuckling spirit of adventure that it seems almost wholesome.
Also, having read a lot more LJ since this, it's interesting to see some of his little tropes and trademark plot devices in there. In one of the books, John Ferris' huge hard-as-nails black companion saves John from some bloodthirsty gypsies by pretending to be a demon. Almost the exact same thing happens in "Crow: The Black Trail", except with Injuns not Romany folk. (I wish I had made notes of all these things when reading all these books, and the puns and references - it would appeal to my obsessive nature and probably interest at least 3 people on this board...)
Actually, on reflection I may just be a jaded sicko who's watched 'Cannibal Ferox' too many times! I love these books, anyhoo...
Also, having read a lot more LJ since this, it's interesting to see some of his little tropes and trademark plot devices in there. >>
I reckoned that andrew the albino was a reference to Moorcock's Elric - till Steve mentioned that LJ was fond of including albinos in many of his books. I remember you mentioning reading these books awhile back over a weekend.Hardly ever run across these in secondhand shops. The covers are a hoot too - like cheesy electric blue vid covers.
Post by franklinmarsh on Nov 20, 2008 11:04:24 GMT
Nice one chaps. Here's some tripe from the old place -
Sphere published this eight novel series in the early 1980s. 'James Darke' was hackmeister Laurence James who somehow stretched the plot of the film Witchfinder General out over these 150 page penny dreadfuls. And if you've seen the film, you'll probably realise the problem. Is torture and dreadfully bloody violence 'entertainment'? One of my reference books Hammer & Beyond points out the fact that although it's taken as a given that the British press were outraged by Hammer's first colour horror The Curse Of Frankenstein, if you collate all the surviving reviews it was a minority that actually condemned the film's bloodletting - although those that did were particularly virulent. Reviews of Hammer's original Dracula were similar - people (or critics) went to see horror films at the cinema expecting a laugh - a bit of campy fun - and were outraged with all this tomato ketchup squirting all over the screen. It seems things had settled down by the time Witchfinder General was released, only for this film to kick start the violence debate again (which,over the next few years would scale unforseen heights). H&B quotes an article in The Listener by Alan Bennett (not sure if this is the playwright and humourist) who took the director, Michael Reeves, to task for his portrayal of violent acts in the film. Reeves, who had addressed the question of 'enjoying' cinematic violence in his previous film The Sorcerors, replied by saying that violence is grim,nasty,hateful,unpleasant and that his film was showing this. Anyone who enjoyed watching torture etc had a problem. Laurence James appears to have taken this to heart and the descriptions of the torture meted out to innocents in these novels are relentlessly nasty and depressing. But, you could argue, they were 'in real life'. Reeves' film inspired Euro-imitators such as Mark Of The Devil which would attempt to go even further. If you have a strong stomach you can give these a go. LJ can spin a yarn and,as I've mentioned before, and will again, he's fond of putting in-jokes and contemporary refences into his works. The Sphere 'Adult' series warning on the covers is classic exploitation. What small kid yearning for thrills could miss that? They also billed The Gunslinger series (which also involved LJ) as Sphere 'Adult' Westerns.
Just* reread No 1 The Prisoner. A couple of awful torture scenes at beginning and end but the middle of the book was mercifully tale-telling. Our hero comes across some of his old Parlimentarian cronies -Ford, Hawks and Henry Hathaway!
Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne guest star in the first book, and give Monk some top tips on how to obtain confessions (no, not those confessions) and swindle gullible townsfolk. LJ seems at pains to describe Monk as colourless,grey,unremarkable **etc apart from his sibilant,fingers on velvet voice. It's ironically amusing that Rip found Ferris the colourless one.
PS - if you've seen the documentary about Michael Reeves you'll know he considered Witchfinder General 'a Western' to some degree!
* In 2005 (bloody hell!) I think I've got 1 2 & 3 of these, somewhere.
** I think it's fairly well known that Reeves wanted Donald Pleasance to play Hopkins as a dull, grey, humourless squit of a man etc., and initially objected to Vincent Price as being too flamboyant for the role.
Post by David A. Riley on Nov 20, 2008 11:15:10 GMT
I think it's fairly well known that Reeves wanted Donald Pleasance to play Hopkins as a dull, grey, humourless squit of a man etc., and initially objected to Vincent Price as being too flamboyant for the role.
At the danger of pulling this thread off track, this is the first time I've come across this comment. What a totally different film Witchfinder General would have been if Reeves had had his way! Even when his acting is quite subdued (for him, anyway) Price was still a charismatic character, and though Pleasance could be charismatic too at time (see Death Line) he could play the dull, grey, humourless squit of a man to perfection. In retrospect, I think I would have preferred Pleasance in that role. The one thing that always jarred for me about Witchfinder General was Price, who I never thought ideally suited the role.