Fiction Reviews

Garth Marenghi's Terrortome

(2022) Garth Marenghi, Hodder Studio, £16.99, hrdbk, 295pp, ISBN 978-1-529-39940-0


Garth Marenghi's Darkplace was a horror comedy TV show that ran for just 6 episodes in the UK in 2004 but gained a considerable cult-following. It was fronted by Matthew Holness (Marenghi being his pseudonym in authoring this book). Marenghi is closely modeled on horror author Stephen King, and Terrortome is presented as Marenghi’s latest in a long line of best-selling masterpieces of the macabre.

It is a trilogy of interconnected novellas, centred on a Marenghi-esque horror writer, Nick Steen, who finds his literary creations coming to life in the real World around him.

The opening and best by far of the novellas is 'Type-Face', with the mind-boggling premise of an author, Steen, falling in love with, and even making love to a demon-possessed Victorian type-writer he buys in an antique shop. This is an extreme body-shock pastiche of Stephen King’s 'The Word Processor Of The Gods'. (Playboy magazine, 1993, and later included in King’s Skeleton Crew collection in 1995).

Many people know of Steen’s strange affair and treat it as rather odd rather than truly perverse. The typewriter also affects his literary output, making much of his writing simply incomprehensible, even filled with coded runic symbols and seemingly random use of asterisks and other punctuation symbols.

Steen’s books also get bigger, and rarely sell, so they are consuming the World’s resources and threatening to collapse the floors of book shops stocking them. One minor character is crushed to death when one falls on him.

Nick’s editor and human love interest, Roz, sets out to save his sanity and soul. She is in many ways the true hero of the opening tale.

The second yarn, 'Bride of Bone', changes point of view, style and tone considerably. THe opening tale is told by Steen. 'Bride' is told in the third person, and reduces Roz from the smart half of the team to helpless damsel in distress, abducted by a demented serial killer brought to life from the pages of Steen’s own novels, along with a noir-ish private detective, who ends up teaming up with Steen to stop the madman, his army of skeletal zombies, etc, even though he knows he will also cease to exist when the case is solved.

While 'Type-Face' is an extreme comedy, 'Bride Of Bone' has so many serious elements that it could have worked as a conventional horror novel, and at times Marenghi does seem to forget to include the jokes, only to then go into overdrive adding them like afterthoughts in rapid succession. The mood of the second story is all over the place and it lacks the outrageousness of the preceding premise of hot typewriter lust.

'The Dark Fraction' closes the book with another distinct nod to Stephen King, especially to his 1989 novel The Dark Half. 'The Dark Fraction' takes the horror writer’s evil alter-ego premise to extremes in that the alter ego has its own dark stalker, which also has a sinister alter ego, and so on into infinity. The real Steen finds himself pursued by all of them, and the writer keeps apologizing for leaving us confused by his convoluted ill-thought out premise.

Roz is more marginalized than she was even in Bride Of Bone, having fallen out with Steen, to become a biker’s moll to the lead villain. Steen is torn between salvaging his literary reputation and regaining her love. He gets extremely unlikely help from a childhood friend, Bruford, the telepathic dugong from the local aquarium.

Hugely inventive, and often Pythonesque in the extreme, the comedy doesn’t sit well with the attempt to create tension and horror as well. The elements pull the reader away from the mood generated one minute to take us somewhere else. Only the first story stands out as that one gets the balance mostly right, but the book is certainly a wild and entertaining ride.

One great touch is the opening map page, showing the town of Stalkford (setting for all the stories) as a Tolkienesque landscape complete with ‘Ancient Yokel Burial Ground’ and a ‘Victorian Mime Theatre’ among much more.

Horror with more laughs than screams and a guarantee that typewriters will never look the same again.

Arthur Chappell


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