(2020) Brian Moorland, Flame Tree Press, £9.95 / US$14.95, pbk, 288pp, 978-1-787-58413-6
.In 1935 a team of British archaeologists explored an Egyptian tomb in the mountains and vanished. A year later only one man returned, insane and covered in mysterious scars. Decades later, following clues, and the granddaughter leads second team to the siteÖ.
Unlike the monster and the vampire, horror fiction has always lacked a really big mummy novel. Anne Rice dabbled with it, and the late great Charlie Grant did too, in his trilogy of novels showcasing his love of old Hammer movies Ė the werewolf and the vampire being the other two beasties he tackled. Yet Tomb of Gods isnít the iconic mummy novel either, because it is more than that, itís science fiction horror, and epic in scale. Expect no shambling, bandaged-wrapped creatures here.
Tomb of Gods starts with a prologue set in Egypt in 1250BC in the company of Commander Tarik who is over-seeing the mummification and burial of the pharaoh, which necessitates the death of everyone involved in the burial. Some will take their own lives, others donít need to bother as Tarik soon finds out to his cost as he encounters something lurking in the dark that is willing to do the job for them.
Cut to 1935 where there was an expedition to an Egyptian cave which ended in tragedy claiming the lives of everyone involved, that is what everyone thought until a year later when archaeologist, Harlan Riley surfaces, covered in scars and speaking a strange language that no-one understands. Two years later, Harlanís grand-daughter, Imogen, who is also an Egyptologist has Harlanís journal which hints of unbelievable discoveries, so in order to solve the mystery of the previous expedition she joins another one made up of archaeologists and soldiers who enter the cave which leads to a maze of tunnels, but of course these caves are more than tombs and something is waiting for them down in the dark.
Horror fiction and horror films abound with stories of the ďyou-donít-want-to-go thereĒ and while Tomb of Gods can be filed within this sub-genre, Moreland has come up with something different within that trope by combining Egyptian mythology (which he clearly knows a lot about) with great scene-setting, claustrophobic horror, uncovering the unknown, thrills and action and maybe a smattering of romance, driven along by very short chapters Ė we are talking about a book with less than 300 pages which has a prologue and an epilogue and 63 chapters in between so itís my kind of book. He also very cleverly, doesnít pile on the gore, nor give us graphic descriptions of the creatures that the expedition encounters. However, while the novel picks up a pace, it does so at the lack of detailed characterisation, and the shreddies are there to be shredded. Iím not a big computer game player, but I did think of Doom or the Resident Evil movies where there are trial after trial to complete to get to the climax, but despite the broad-brush characterisation the reader is sufficiently hooked to care enough for the main characters Ė who, of course, have hidden depths or a secret from their past that will come to the surface - and see what happens with them at the end of this nightmarish adventure.
Flame Tree Press are getting a reputation of being a publisher of horror novels to look out for, publishing books by the likes of Tim Waggoner, David Tallerman, Catherine Cavendish, and Ramsey Campbell, no less, and Tomb of Gods joins a growing list of fun, entertaining titles (or as fun an entertaining as horror can be). Moreland is a new novelist to me, but Iíll certainly be looking out some of his previous books like The Witching House and Dead of Winter.
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