Secrets Of The Dead; A Novel Of Mummies And Ancient Curses
by Simon Clark [Severn House HB, 1994, 217pp]
In 1997 I read my first and until-now only novel of Yorkshire-born author Simon Clark. It was his third novel, Darker, and was about an ancient invisible horror that squashed people flat. It was also very poorly written, poorly edited and proofread, and poorly everything. It was a pretty crap book [there was even a large error on the first page] and just gave every indication of being a rush-job, possibly of an earlier manuscript by Clark that had been quickly polished off and published to cash in on the success of his first two novels. Darker is among the worst horror novels I have ever read, and it single-handedly put me off Clark for over 20 years. Then, on a trip to my local library recently I noticed a book I’d never heard of before, Secrets Of The Dead by Simon Clarke. With some trepidation I borrowed it and over the next year constantly renewed it without reading it, perhaps sub-consciously putting it off. In all I’ve had the book kicking around for over a year, until, when an e-mail from the library tells me it absolutely definitely can’t be renewed again and please bring it back so we can confirm you haven’t eaten it or something, I put my current book down and started, finally, reading the thing, finishing it in less than a week. Darker was pretty terrible, but Secrets Of The Dead, to my utter surprise, was great fun.
The story revolves around John Tolworth, who has made a reputation for himself as a technological archaeologist; he photographs and scans broken archaeological artefacts and puts together the pieces using a computer program. In the story he has been employed to help work on a collection of Egyptian mummies which have until-recently been in the possession of the Kemmis family of Baverstock Castle in Devon. The work will last over the summer and John has brought his family with him to stay in a nearby cottage. However, John briefly lived in this area as a child, and the looming castle, the neighbourhood populace, the wild forests and moorlands quickly begin to rekindle memories of a horrific event in John’s past, an event that is reaching dry, withered and bandaged fingers through the years to create danger for himself and his family. Is the local madman right about the mummies waking up at night? And are they somehow changing, as X-ray scans seem to reveal – and, more bizarrely still, what are they changing into?
I really enjoyed Secrets Of The Dead. When it began, I wasn’t sure I liked the simple style and Young Adult-flavour but pretty quickly I found the pages rushing by as I was sucked into the story. It’s a reasonably quick and easy read, and reminded me a little of a sort of Hammer Horror style of story, with some creepy incidents and ideas but not extreme gory horror. The mood does darken towards the end, as a further danger – a real-world danger – threatens the family, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the second half, where the climax only very slightly let me down, but nevertheless I was satisfied and happy at the time spent reading the book. Clark obviously has a skill at writing and creating his characters; I was ‘in the zone’ with this book much more than with many others by supposed better writers. He does have though a throwback from his earlier style in the amount of repetition in his work – while it does make the story very easy to understand, he often tells you again what you’ve just read a few pages ago, just in case you’ve forgotten, which of course, unless you’re a cabbage, you haven’t. There are also one or two small editing errors here, including an occasion of a character having the wrong name. I don’t know what’s up with Clark’s editor and proofreaders but this problem seems to have plagued his books throughout his career. Nevertheless, it is barely noticeable here, and my thought is that one last edit or read-through could have easily smartened out these occasional errors in the text.
This is all a slight shame, because I really did enjoy the book and would be willing now to try some of Clark’s other works. The subject matter is slightly different in that mummies haven’t yet been done to death and bastardized into caricatures of themselves [but give it time!] like zombies and vampires. It was a quick, enjoyable, and, dare I say it, even exciting read – a perfect antidote to those rambling epics that go on forever, and when I was stuck in a bit of a reading rut, this has brought me back to the fold. Now, it wasn’t really that scary, but I still want my mummy... 8/10