Night of the Beast by Harry Shannon

I first encountered Harry Shannon on an internet forum called the Horror Author’s Network. He arrived on the scene in 2001 with a short story collection called Bad Seed, published by small press publisher Medium Rare Books. I followed his career with interest, watching as he released book after book in a steady flow between then and now (2001-07). Many spoke highly of Shannon’s work, and his mix of horror and crime fascinated me. Unfortunately, it was difficult to get his books in the UK at a reasonable price, even on eBay (he has become quite collectable). Finally, I was able to pick up Night of the Beast (his second book).

I hate saying what I’m about to say, truly I do, because Harry Shannon and I have corresponded briefly; heck, he even purchased a copy of my own first novel. But I am determined to keep this review blog honest. Unfortunately, Night of the Beast is nowhere near publishable standard. The writing style is sloppy and littered with terrible punctuation; nowhere near enough editing and proof reading has been done. One example is the sentence Peter fired BOOM. It’s rendered just like like that – no breaks. Sloppy, impatient writing. Two of the chapter headings even have a completely nosensical Roman numeral: XVIX. The story is based around the familiar cliche of a terrible ancient evil awakening in a town; it fails to say anything we haven’t seen before among the plethora of existing horror novels and movies.

The publisher also lets the book down. While the text is a nice readable size, the lines are cramped together to save a few pages. Widows and orphans abound. Worst of all, part three of the novel is entitled “NIGHT OF THE BEAS. The T and closing closing quotation mark are missing. How, oh how, does a glaring typesetting error like this go unnoticed? It’s inexcusable first time round, let alone being left unfixed in my second edition copy.

Okay, there are some good points. Peter Rourke, the hero of the story, is a fascinating character, and he’s the main reason why I didn’t give up reading long before the end. I loved the idea of an adulterous, drug-taking rock music producer deciding to try and better himself, daring to walk out of the career that is sucking the life out of him and go back home to the quiet Nevada town of his boyhood. Another fascinating character is Timmy Baxter, a naive, noble-hearted little boy who has to confront the reality that his sister has secretly become a vampire. (When reading the Timmy Baxter chapters, I realised that I was reading an expanded version of one of Shannon’s short stories that I had discovered online years ago. Integrating it was a nice touch.)

Amidst the cliched plot elements and the sloppy writing, there were moments of beautiful prose that reveal Shannon to be a writer of some potential. The reason why this mixture of good and bad writing is contained within the pages of one book is perhaps explained by the fact that the novel was written over a long period of time. Here are Harry’s own words from the introduction:

Night of the Beast has just turned thirty this year. It has sections written drunk on my ass, or wired out of my mind on cocaine in the 1980s (a lifestyle I do NOT recommend for creative or any other reasons) and other scenes carefully composed over a cup of coffee with my toddler daughter tugging at my jeans.

Most authors have ancient works tucked away in a drawer somewhere – poor quality stuff they wrote when they were still finding their feet as writers. Most keep them in the drawer, with good reason. I’d like to think that Shannon’s recently written works are on a different level than this one, but his decision to publish Night of the Beast has seriously lessened the likelihood of me taking a chance on him again.

On the back cover, popular authors Graham Masterton, William F. Nolan (of Logan’s Run fame), Ed Gorman, plus Cemetery Dance magazine, all heap praise upon the novel, with words like “Right up there with King and Straub,” and “The chaos that ensues in the final act is as apocalyptic and enthusiastically satisfying as anyone’s ever done.” One has to wonder about the believability of endorsements. Fair enough, you can say my opinion of the story is subjective, but the sub-standard punctuation and grammar should have made any professional writer run a mile from endorsing this.

The small press publishing arena is exactly that: small. We tend to recognise each other. So I need to say that I have no axe to grind against Harry Shannon. I’ve said everything I wanted to say with reluctant honesty.