Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Douglas Clegg
Published by Leisure Horror
Before I tell you anything at all about The Attraction, you should know something important; it’s not an entire novel. Even though the description on the back is for the titular story, said story only takes up a little more than half of this book’s length; the rest is a short story of Harrow (Clegg’s recurring haunted house from Nightmare House, The Abandoned, etc.) called The Necromancer. So I guess you’d consider Leisure’s release of The Attraction more as a set of two novellas than one full story.
I have to say I was a bit disappointed when I realized this because I was really digging the storyline of The Attraction and was interested to see how it would progress over the length of a novel. Instead, it just ended. Call it a forewarning, if you will, but I want to make sure no one who reads this suffers the same disappointment.
Back in 1977 a group of kids head out from college on a cross-country trek to hit California over Spring Break. They get to the desert; one of them makes the idiotic (and far too common) mistake of taking a perceived shortcut, and they end up with a blown tire in the middle of nowhere. Luckily they’re able to get a tow truck to the nearest service station, which is also the home of a roadside museum of freaks, atrocities, and a horrible secret of the ancient world… or so the numerous signs on the highway told them. In fact it’s just a lot of strange things in jars, nothing too exciting, until they head down to the basement.
Housed there is Scratch, an ancient creature wrapped in bandages and sporting some nasty claws made of Obsidian. The signs around it tell the tale; it was found many years ago among Aztec ruins and will remain in a state of rest unless blood is spilled on it. It is the Flayer of Men.
Of course, since they’re college kids, the group manages to somehow break the casing the creature is in, bleed on it, and steal it from the nice guy who fixed their car. A few miles down the road they run out of gas (oops) and are forced to spend the night in the desert. And as soon as the sun goes down, Scratch wakes up.
They all die in various nasty ways at the hand of the mini-mummy, all save for our central character, Josh, who gets in touch with some spiritual presence in the desert and makes himself a warrior and sets out to destroy the beast.
It’s not a typical tale in almost any sense, especially the arc the lead takes in the span of one night. I guess seeing your friends flayed alive may change your way of thinking about a lot of things, but normally it takes an entire novel for someone to make the sort of leap Josh does in the span of a few pages. The creature he is fighting is unique both in origin and character as well, but unfortunately Clegg doesn’t really spend enough time revealing the specifics of the monster; just enough info is given for the reader to understand how dangerous Scratch is, but nothing really past that. This is another reason why I was so disappointed in the story’s length; I really had expected the rest of the novel to continue in present day (the time in which it’s narrated) and reveal more truths about this creature.
It was not to be, but upon reflection I still enjoyed the story, The Attraction, especially when put up against the second half of the book, The Necromancer.
My first problem with it was I knew I’d read this story before. All the details of the creator of Harrow’s first trip to London, starting with his troubled youth and ending with his rebirth as some sort of evil god, had been recounted elsewhere though I’ll be damned if I can remember when I’d read it. In any event, the story was familiar to me, and while it was still well written (if anything this book illustrates how good Clegg is with getting into the heads of two completely different kinds of characters), the overall story is a bit dull.
Granted, this may be because I’m not overtly familiar with the rest of the Harrow stories, but the main character of Necromancer, Justin Gravesend, doesn’t really show any tendencies for evil behavior until the last few pages. The story is about his downfall (or uprising, depending on your perspective), and you get the idea Clegg is trying to establish that this creature who keeps showing up at the evil Harrow house was once an innocent, too. I just wish the story of his corruption were a bit more interesting.
In the end, I just don’t know how to feel about this release. Part of me is still a bit mad that they didn’t make it clear from the get-go that this was two stories (the only mention is on the back, in small print), but the rest of me thinks you should check out The Attraction just because it’s a cool story. The Necromancer I could leave or take, but for fans of the Harrow tales I’m sure it’s a must-read. I think all the curious should check it out, however, because it’s a good example of what a good writer Clegg is.
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