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The Black Cathedral (2009): That’s the End of Another Lullaby

L. H. Maynard and M. P. N. Sims, The Black Cathedral (Leisure, 2009)


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White houses last longer. They go in the end.

Maynard and Sims (who according to fantasticfiction have been at this as a partnership since 1979, though only one book exists under their names before 2000) kick off a new series with The Black Cathedral, a horror/mystery centered on Department 18, who seem to be a secret British government agency specializing in the investigation of paranormal phenomena. And honestly, my biggest problem with the book may not be a problem at all, though I feel a little vindicated since I dropped by FF and confirmed that this is indeed the first in the series. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Plot: Department 18 are on the government’s black books since a handful of cases recently went south, and the director is scrambling for tasks that will keep proving the department’s viability. A seemingly perfect—and easy—one comes along when six people on a team-building exercise, along with their helicopter pilot, go missing whilst spending a weekend at a long-abandoned mansion perched on a remote Scottish island. But the members of Dept. 18 themselves may be enough to hamstring the deal—everyone’s dealing with emotional baggage, from the top-drawer psychic convinced to come out of retirement for one last job (he still blames himself for one of those jobs gone bad, which resulted in the disappearance and presumed death of his protegé) to the newest member of the team, all are bringing things to the island that any supernatural presences might be able to use against them…

It’s nothing you haven’t seen before (and I specifically mentioned the convincing-someone-to-come-out-of-retirement angle to let you know just how many times), but that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, and The Black Cathedral is a good whack of fun when it’s on its game, which is usually. But what bothered me—repeatedly–about the book is the feeling that I had (almost constantly in the first third, and sporadically thereafter) that I was jumping into the middle of a series; there were a lot of incidents alluded to, etc., that we never get a chance to see, and we’re never given background on. If I really had jumped into the middle of a series, I wouldn’t be taking any points off, but like I said, at least according to FF, this is the first book. So I found myself a bit confused a little more than I’d like, and usually for the wrong reasons—but if you can get past that, The Black Cathedral is a solid little horror novel, and I will be checking out book two when I get a moment. ** ½

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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