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The Colors of Hell (1990): Bits of Molten Glass

Michael Paine, The Colors of Hell (Charter, 1990)

A sinister figure comes crashing through a stained glass window, reaching for the reader, on the book's cover.

Stained Glass Bedsheets.
photo credit: Amazon

Long long ago, in the dark ages of 2002, I reviewed Michael Paine’s novel Owl Light. It’s a fantastic book that suffered from mismarketing; Owl Light is no more a horror novel than Allan Eckert’s The Scarlet Mansion is, but that’s how Charter tried to sell it. Paine had the same problem with The Colors of Hell, which has far more in common with the archaeological thrillers of Katherine Neville (The Eight) or Kate Mosse (Labyrinth) than it does with Stephen King or William Peter Blatty.

Plot: a lawyer, Robert Semnarek, is escorting his clients Charlotte and Steve Alderson (mother and son) on a globe-trotting trip to try and find evidence of the whereabouts, or final resting place, of Charlotte’s sister, Clare Markham. At issue is a nine million dollar inheritance, which certainly wasn’t a pittance at the time the story is set (1958). Clare was one of the Tiffany company’s finest designers, and the three of them have traced her to Marrakesh, where a gone-to-seed hotel sports two stained glass windows that look suspiciously like her work. While there, they hear rumors of an ancient nunnery built into the wall of a cliff—one that is known for sporting legendary stained glass windows. After confirming that Clare Markham was indeed at the Marrakesh hotel, the three of them set out for the convent to see if Clare had stopped there. Each of the three seems to find his or her desire there, but upon scratching the surface of some desires, we find they are best left alone…

Where the book really takes a turn into archaeological-thriller territory is in the second section, about which I can’t say much without spoilers. In vague terms, it takes place thirty years previously and involves a search for ancient stained glass that, legend has it, was colored with the blood of the saints. Right out of an Indiana Jones movie, that, but with a much darker and more despairing tone to it. Once the book flips back to 1958, that darker tone comes with it. Not that you didn’t realize this was going to be a tragedy from the first few pages, but…

The tl;dr version: like every other Michael Paine novel that I have read, it’s a very good novel that has fallen into unjust obscurity. Paine is a writer who deserves to be rediscovered; haunt a few local used paperback stores and you should be able to come with some of his stuff quick enough. They’re well worth the time and effort. *** 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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