(2017) Christopher Golden, Headline, £8.99, pbk, 305pp, ISBN 978-1-472-23430-8
The first group to reach a massive cave revealed by an avalanche discover an ancient ship; a relic some believe is Noah’s Ark. Deep inside is a coffin inscribed with mysterious symbols that none of the archaeologists in the team can identify. Outside a storm begins to break...oh, dear.
For years, nay decades, I have been a big fan of Christopher Golden’s work ever since reading his novel Strangewood, a sort of warped take on the Oz novels, and I’ve been lucky enough to bump into him at a couple of Fantasycons. He is a good writer, and he’s very prolific and unless his work is part of a series, no two books of his are ever alike. Recently, from his time with Headline, we’ve had the ghostly (but it’s so much more than that) novel, Snowblind, followed by The Tin Men, a military science fiction novel that gets turned into the sort of film that Tom Cruise stars in these days. This was followed by Dead Ringers – not the radio programme but – a tale of doppelgangers and a demonic deal that went wrong (don’t they always?). All very different stories, and now we have Ararat, again, something very different from his other previous Headline offerings.
The clue is probably in the title, but even a non-Biblical scholar like me has heard the theories that Noah’s ark settled on Mount Ararat after the Flood, so is it any surprise that when an avalanche uncovers a huge cave on the mountainside with a vessel inside that people start jumping to the obvious conclusion? An expedition of archaeologists and film-makers is soon mounted and dispatched to uncover the secrets of this ancient artefact and they find a whopper inside in the form of a huge coffin-like object. What could lie within, they wonder? The body of Noah himself? Or someone else mentioned in the Bible? Well, there is only one way to find out, and after a heated debate, the coffin is opened to reveal the remains of a nasty-looking creature with horns on their head. Clearly, it isn’t human, but what could it be? Time for a swift exit but here comes a blizzard, trapping everyone in the cave with the remains of this creature.
Given the religious references, and the way characters are cut off from the outside world, and the fact that some of the expedition start to go missing and then others start to act strangely, almost as if they have been possessed, Ararat certainly brings to mind John Carpenter’s flawed, but fun, film Prince of Darkness; and given the snow and ice setting, readers can’t help be reminded of the claustrophobic terrors of Carpenter’s other movie, The Thing, where fear and paranoia ran riot, and like that movie, Golden keeps racking up the tension with several surprises in the form of events and revelations about the characters and their motives.
Ararat is a mixture of horror novel and supernatural thriller and is a great, page-turning yarn with several surprises up its snow encrusted sleeves, and has a cracker of a twist right at the end that possibly sets up a sequel. Given its close setting and lack of any need for grand and costly special effects, I would not be at all surprised if this snapped up by some film studio. Ararat is another very different book from an author who is always worth reading and I look forward to seeing what he does next.
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