Sunday, June 16, 2013

Book Review: 'Tengu' by Graham Masterton

3 / 5 Stars

‘Tengu’ (380 pp) was published by Tor Books in April, 1983. The cover artist is uncredited.

Appropriately enough for a horror novel, ‘Tengu’ opens with an act of gruesome violence, as Sherry Cantor, a starlet living in an LA apartment, is murdered by a mysterious assailant possessed of superhuman strength.

Sergeant Skrolnik, the Hollywood PD detective assigned to investigate the murder, questions Cantor’s friends and acquaintances, but cannot link any of these individuals to her bloodspattered demise.

Things quickly get complicated when some LA beat cops stop a speeding van, and die in violent combat with a man of superhuman strength – possibly the same individual responsible for the death of Sherry Cantor. Onlookers report the man was wearing an Oriental mask of unique design.

Jerry Sennett, Sherry’s neighbor and a WWII Pacific Theatre veteran, and Mack Holt, Sherry’s former boyfriend, begin their own investigation of the murders. Jerry becomes alarmed when learning of the mask worn by the assailant. For it signals that there are occult forces associated with the murders; occult forces involving Japanese / Shinto mythologies, and the presence of demons from the netherworld.

Foremost among these demons, in terms of malevolence, are the long-nosed Tengu. Legend has it that, under the right circumstances, a willing acolyte of the dark arts can allow himself to be possessed by the spirit of a Tengu, and in return, assume a strength and vitality well beyond those of mortal men.

Who was decided to loose the Tengu among the inhabitants of Southern California ? As Jerry Sennett and his friends seek an answer that question, they find themselves drawn into a dangerous web of black magic and violence, and a confrontation with a villain who plans to wreak a terrible vengeance on the United States….

‘Tengu’ is a quick and engaging read, and one of the better Graham Masterton horror novels.

(For in-depth analysis of Masterton’s output, readers are directed to the ‘Too Much Horror Fiction’ blog.)

Although the book features a large cast of supporting characters, and switches among a number of subplots, Masterton doesn’t allow too much in the way of distractions or contrivances to dilute the essential mission of ‘Tengu’ : provide pulp horror in an easily digestible package.

By keeping his narrative liberally spiced with splatterpunk sequences and softcore porn, Masterton holds the reader’s attention, in contrast to other early 80s horror novels – and here Ramsey Campbell’s ‘The Parasite’ comes too quickly to mind – that were more ‘artistic’, but utter duds.

Masterton also inserts quite a bit of satiric humor, aimed at the early 80s Southern California lifestyle, into the plot.

As well, the intense interest in Japan and things Japanese that dominated early 80s pop culture are channeled here as well; think of Trevanian’s ‘Shibumi’ (1979), Eric Van Lustbader’s ‘The Ninja’ (1980), the Chuck Norris film ‘The Octagon’ (1980), and tee-shirts and bandanas, imprinted with Kanji, sold at Spencer Gifts in the nearest mall.

If you like Masterton’s fiction, and by extension the works of James Herbert, Clive Barker, Shaun Hutson, and the other 80s splatterpunks, then ‘Tengu’ is worth picking up.


Bobby Trosclair said...

Yes! I remember this novel well. I rather liked the incorporation of the lesser-known (and heck, probably made-up by Masterton) Japanese sorcery and magic. A lot of surreal, dreamlike imagery, such as the Plains Indian-like suspension by piercings seen on the cover of the PB, or the white Tengu demon masks of the possessed berserkers.

Will Errickson said...

Yep, Masterton's a real pulp horror treat. Throws in lots of great mythical references, some real, some made-up (like Lovecraft). Wish I'd begun reading him years ago. I can't recommend THE MANITOU highly enough. Don't have TENGU, but I always pick up whatever Masterton I find. Oh and thanks for the link!

Durtal1963 said...

Tengu reminded me of F. Paul Wilson's similarly-themed Black Wind.