Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Horror on the Loch - David Whitelaw

This had an interesting start but Whitelaw has a verbose writing style that bogs down the action with overly detailed geographic descriptions and rambling tangential passages unrelated to the main plot. E.F. Bleiler's comment about Margery Lawrence's writing style as "drowning in words" comes to mind.

The initial problem seems like something out of a John Dickson Carr novel.  In the opening of the book a burial vault under observation is broken into and a body is stolen but no one was seen leaving with the corpse. I had great hopes for a thriller of a detective novel. The writing has wonderful Gothic atmosphere in the descriptive passages of the Scottish landscape and the cast of quirky minor characters. There is much hinting at supernatural interference. Among the possibilities discussed are a local legend of some beast that haunts the moors, a vampire when the carcass of a gigantic bat is found near the burial vault, and later when the sexton is found with his throat ripped open.  All of this, however,  is dismissed when the real reason for the bizarre events is discovered halfway through the book.

A local physician has been conducting genetic experiments (Island of Dr. Moreau redux) and one of the specimens from his collection of freakish animals escaped and killed the sexton. The hero discovers the stolen corpse in the lab and learns the physician was starting human experiments. His Malay servant was his earliest guinea pig in the first of the human experiments. He now has larger than normal hands and a freakishly out of proportion upper torso and odd facial features. The physician is killed in a fight with the protagonist who escapes with the doctor's niece from the gloomy castle and dungeon-like lab.

The rest of the book is spent in looking for a stolen treasure (a second reason for the burial vault break-in) and locating a black sheep relative of the stolen corpse who was responsible for hiring a crook to break into the vault. No supernatural content at all. More science fiction horror than anything else. It might be worth reading some of his other books to see if he was a Carr wanna-be.


  1. I have to say: I LOVE LOVE LOVE that cover!! Oh, these vintage covers!!!

    As for 'drowning in words' - I kind of know what you mean. I tend to go 'there' myself. HA! But I must say that occasionally John Dickson Carr did so as well. In the book, DEATH WATCH, which I recently tried to re-read, I began rolling my eyes and skimming pretty early on. I simply lost track of what was going on and who was doing what to whom and why did I care?

    So, occasionally, this sort of thing happened even to the best of 'em.

    I've never read David Whitelaw - John you are definitely giving me an inferiority complex! :-)

  2. Hey now, this ain't a contest. I don't think you could ever get an inferiority complex from anyone. But I may check out my new found hypnotic powers on those I'd really like to change. ;^)

    I'm thinking of adding a regular weekly feature, as so many other bloggers do, on nothing but cover art. So few blogs or websites are devoted to vintage dust jackets from hardcover books. Many of them are even better than the paperback and pulp magazine covers that are regularly celebrated all over the internet.

  3. Ha! Thanks, John. You cheered up what has otherwise been a 'yuck!' of a day. ;)

    The dustjacket thing sounds like a great idea. While I love the old paperbacks and often show them on my blog, I also love the vintage dustjackets. The Nero Wolfe ones I recently featured were GORGEOUS. But you probably have access to more of them than what I can find on google which is really my only source. There are a couple of websites which specialize in the old paperback artwork, but not, far as I can find, the dustjackets. I wish there were. Maybe you should start one. It's a long term project though, that's for sure.

  4. Wow, this sounds like one of my favourite set-ups with an ultimate let-down...

  5. I have this and one by Gilbert Collins, Horror Comes to Thripplands, which also involves putatively supernatural elemnts. I wonder where the horror is worse, on the loch or at Thripplands.

    The plot from the description also somewhat resembles that of Sydney Horler's outlandish Horror's Head.

  6. Off topic, but I got THE CRIME CLUB COMPENDIUM in the mail a couple days ago, ordering it after reading your review. A wonderful reference work and one I'll enjoy having and using. Thanks.

  7. Richard -

    I knew you'd like it. I still pore over it once or twice a month. When I was selling books on-line I used it all the time to write up plot blurbs when I didn't have the DJ for a particular Criem Club title. Made me sound so well read.

  8. Curt -

    Sorry I gave away so much of the plot if you hadn't yet read this book. I couldn't resist talking about the Wellsian aspects. The Horler book sounds like something I'd enjoy. I read some of theHoler books published by Mystery League and they were fun as "alternative classics." His over-the-top dialogue cracks me up.