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The Ogre's Laboratory
Louis Buss
Jonathan Cape, 393 pages

The Ogre's Laboratory
Louis Buss
Louis Buss, a British author, was born in 1963. He studied politics at Durham University and until recently, worked as a teacher. His first novel, The Luxury of Exile, won a Betty Trask Award in 1996.

Random House UK Ltd.

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Father Snow is visited by his saintly mentor, Archbishop Vincent, who reassigns him to the small rural parish of Wodden, where the previous incumbent, Father Conner, committed suicide under mysterious circumstances. Besides the local villagers, Father Snow must tend to the spiritual needs of the local aristocracy, the long-time Catholic family of Earl Trevellyan, and his influential political friend, Gerald Pitman, charismatic, but of dubious morals.

Curious about Father Conner's demise, Father Snow discovers that his predecessor had been investigating the current Earl and his ancestors. With a local newspaper reporter, Susan Fenton, Father Snow discovers that the third Earl, Everard -- also, like the current Earl, of giant stature -- lived in Elizabethan times and was comparable to Gilles de Rais (the Grand Marshal of France, who in Joan of Arc's time, tortured, sexually abused, and killed several hundred children in Satanic rituals). A mysterious hidden room appears to exist in the old wing of the mansion. Despite Father Vincent's specific instructions, Father Snow follows him to the mansion, and is scared silly by the evil presence which Father Vincent exorcises.

Father Snow's further investigations lead him into a closer and increasingly inappropriate relationship with Susan, the reporter. Meanwhile, female school children in Wodden who have visited the Trevellyan mansion have strange dreams of having been abducted and they begin to behave in oddly promiscuous ways. The school superintendent appears to be attempting to cover up the situation. Father Snow's housekeeper's dying husband, who had previously worked for the Earl, seems to be taking his secrets to the grave with him. Despite warnings, implied and explicit, to curtail his investigations, Father Snow continues. Finally, he finds a sexually explicit paedophilic photo of his predecessor on his front porch, with a warning suggesting that other such photos exist. Where does the circle of depravity end? Who can Father Snow trust?

If you are looking for the modern psycho-with-a-big-knife school of schlock horror, this is certainly not the book for you. Buss' style harkens back to the rich tradition of atmospheric British horror by authors such as Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James, and more recently Robert Aickman. Unlike the graphic presentation of many of today's American horror writers, nothing happens in plain sight -- and horror is left to suggestion and innuendo. While Buss' work might not have the narrative brilliance and level of atmospheric development of Blackwood or Aickman, he certainly succeeds in creating the sense of an increasing web of conspiracy and despair, while maintaining enough grim and grue to titillate today's average graphic horror-starved reader.

Compared to John Buchan's recently reprinted classic Witch Wood (1927), in which a priest is sent to a community where witchcraft persists, Buss' novel is much more modern in theme and treatment, but not nEarly as evocative of the nastiness of the Black Arts and the occult. This is perhaps because much of the novel interweaves into the suspense-horror elements interesting elements of folklore, history, and personal development of the main character, Father Snow. The progression of the amorous relationship between Father Snow and Susan, his reluctant admission that the paedophilic photo arouses his baser instincts, and his son-father relationship with Father Vincent, all tie into childhood events that molded his psyche, and make the character much more human than the stock character straight-and-narrow priest. It is perhaps because of his flaws that his view and treatment of the paedophiles shows an element of sympathy amidst his outrage. This is only Louis Buss' second novel and despite being well-written, it is apparent he is still honing his craft. Nonetheless, he is an author to watch for.

Copyright © 1998 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on Early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

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