August 4, 2009

Book Review: "The Chosen Child" by Graham Masterton

Title: The Chosen Child
Author: Graham Masterton
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.(American release); originally published by Mandarin Paperbacks (UK)
Published:: 1997
Genre: Horror
Pages: 333
ISBN 0-312-87382-4

I believe it was J.A. Konrath, in a podcast interview, who recommended Graham Masterton's Master of Lies as an essential horror novel for fans of the genre. Since I enjoyed Konrath's (or should I say Jack Kilborn's) horror novel, Afraid, I added Masterton's name to my wish list. I haven't come across "MoL" yet, but I did come across The Chosen Child at a used-book store. So, happy to find at least one of Masterton's novels on the shelves, I took it home.

There's a serial killer on the loose in Warsaw, Poland. And this killer is especially brutal, decapitating all of his victims with no apparent rhyme or reason behind the killings. There have been no witnesses to the killings, but now there is a rumor of a child or woman heard crying in the sewers of Warsaw just before the latest killing--a journalist nosing around a new hotel being developed by foreign investors is found headless at the construction site in the sewers.

Construction workers refuse to go back to work fearing it is a "devil" committing the horrendous acts, so the businesswoman in charge, Sarah Leonard (a Polish ex-pat), has to find a way to get the hotel built before she's out of a job. In her attempts to get everything back in motion, more murders take place. And the lead detective, Komisarz Stefan Rej, is angry and at a loss for answers. It is only through an unlikely pairing of Sarah and Stefan that they begin to find clues to the killer's identity. And when they do, they discover they're in way over their heads and confronting something neither person could have believed possible.

Despite the praise for Masterton's skill in the terror game, it took me a while to get into this novel. For the longest time it felt like two completely dissimilar genres were competing with each other for attention. On one hand, there was the suspenseful and gruesome slayings occurring across the city, all connected via the vast sewer system running under Warsaw. And on the other hand, there was a kind of political mystery unfolding with Sarah Leonard and her company's suspected shady dealings with some of the more unsavory "businessmen" in Poland. I often find the mix of horror stories with police procedural mysteries to be a poor blend, and I was starting to think this book would end up as no exception.

After a hundred pages or so, however, the story finds it's own rhythm and takes off. The suspense behind "the Executioner" and the beheadings, not to mention the dismemberments, ratchet up with each passing chapter. And the mystery behind the hotel's shady financial dealings becomes tolerable, and even downright intriguing in the latter pages.

Masterton immerses you hip-deep in Warsaw's post-Cold War atmosphere--literally too, as there is a lot of trudging through the sewers--and Stefan and several other characters become more than believable. They become downright genuine, some of them. Anything close to a cliché is easily forgiven, as the intensity of the story sucks you in as Stephen and Sarah try to hunt down the Executioner without having their own heads chopped off or those of the people they enlist.

The history behind the characters and the setting is admirable too, and Masterton adds such realism to what his Warsaw suffers through, you'd swear he was raised on Polish sausage and sauerkraut.

I'll certainly be looking for more Graham Masterton titles in the future. I only hope that not all of his novels involve a grizzled detective. I'm a little grizzled out for a while. I have another of his novels, The 5th Witch, and chances are I'll be reading that sooner than later.

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