The 1870s. When young doctor Paul Clement returns to Paris from the French Colony of San Sebastien, he unwittingly takes with him a curse that defines the plot of The Forbidden, a superb novel of the undead and demonic possession by F.R. Tallis. Experimenting in Paris with new resuscitation techniques in order to sight the mysteries of life and death, Clement allows himself to die and be returned – but forgetting his island curse, does not reanimate quite as planned.
In a gothic tour de force, The Forbidden reminded this reader of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Dracula, The Island of Dr Moreau and of a dark and brilliant novel that I had somehow forgotten, The Lightning Cage by Alan Wall. Occasionally too, those two eerie masterpieces of Peter Ackroyd, Hawsksmoor and The House of Doctor Dee and one of the most underrated books, ever, the marvellous Pilgrim, by Timothy Findley. There are also quite strong echoes of Interview with the Vampire.
Rather than a negative, it’s always a good sign here at Shade Point when all these fleeting similarities bubble up, because it means a book has captured that macabre junction between the historical, the otherworldly, the thrilling and the unsettling that really is so much the meat and drink of all the favourites of this site. The Forbidden is a fast paced whirlwind through Zombie curses, undead transformations, arcane knowledge, demonic possession and was so enjoyable it was read in a couple of days. Not for the faint hearted, the book is often extremely gruesome, and memorably creepy in places, and it has an undercurrent of dread and menace conveyed brilliantly by the exceptional period narration. The book is really well written.
Great fun can be had with many of the events of the novel – the hurried trap rides in darkness, the exorcisms, the Brundle-esque physical transformations, the esoteric lore, the fabulously realised demons. These are little escapist wonders for genre fans. But the novel has deeper darker layers: the psychological study of good and evil, some eye watering sadism and a trip to Hell that is as unforgettably grim as any Heironymus Bosch imagining.
Overall, this is the first real genre masterwork we’ve read this year, and it is incredibly exciting to learn that Tallis, a crime writer ‘by day’, has a ghost novel appearing later this year. We may have a very special series about to take shape. The Forbidden at least will be the excellent, page turning, cheerfully malevolent opener.
F.R. Tallis has some really interesting background to the novel on his site here.