Monday 24 April 2017

Old School Horrors 6: The Intruder, by Thomas Altman

The sixth, in an occasional thread, of blog posts celebrating those cheesy, sleazy old-school pulp paperbacks from the 70s and 80s, which are now mostly forgotten.  Yes, we’re not talking great art here but these books have their place - for better or worse - in the genre and I think they deserve to be remembered.

This time around, I'm looking at a novel that isn't quite as it appears...
cover scan of my copy - published in 1986 by Corgi
A stranger is bringing a gift to Las Cosimas... A gift no woman can endure

Caroline Cassidy is beautiful and bored.  When a wealthy, attractive stranger enters her life, she has no reason to fear.

Tobias Manning, sharp ex-cop and now security officer in Las Cosimas, is bored too - but he likes it that way.  Until, one by one, the women of this wealthy, fashionable community begin to die, some in compromising positions.

Soon boredom seems like paradise, as the town is trapped in a nightmare of fear.  And now, with the killer due to strike again at any moment, Manning is afraid too - especially for Caroline.  Her new lover's face is starting to look frighteningly familiar.

A suspense novel that is slightly mis-sold by its glorious mid-80s cover art (though that’s not really a problem), this was written by Campbell Armstrong under his 80s genre pseudonym and works well.  The new coastal town of Las Cosimas - built around an old Mexican village by the millionaire J M Dunbar - is home to the rich young executives and experts of the burgeoning computer industry, as well as a small population of Mexicans who have their own quarter.  Caroline Cassidy is marketing chief for Dunbar, young and beautiful and fiesty, who is seduced by newcomer Daniel Romero, a man who enjoys his sexual kinks and might not be who he says he is.  Tobias Manning is an ex-New York city cop, now pounding the beat and trying to live with the grief of losing his son to a heart condition that later killed his wife.  His other son, Paul, is a medical student who is studying away but comes home to visit for the Fourth Of July weekend.  When the wife of a software executive disappears, it’s the most action the town has seen in a while and when she’s later found dead on the beach, stabbed through the heart, panic ensues.  Two more women die in similar circumstances, the list of suspects grows and includes local doctor Andrew Conturas who only treats patients with cardiac issues (the only link between the three deaths) - he also treated Tobias’ wife and came to the town under a cloud after an illegal medical procedure saw him temporarily struck off.  Tobias makes the link and realises that if his suspicion of the pattern of victims is correct, Caroline Cassidy is next...

I enjoyed this a lot, though it took me a while (thanks to the cover) to realise it wasn’t going to be as sleazy as the artwork suggested.  Tightly written and paced, the characters are well rounded - Tobias’ grief is affecting and not over-done whilse Caroline is more charismatic than most sensual 80s young women were portrayed - and surrounded by a decently drawn supporting cast.  Las Cosimas is nicely constructed, there’s a good sense of atmosphere (the early morning mists and cool evenings especially) and the climax, which takes place during the Fourth Of July fireworks display and the light/dark conditions that allows, is gripping and brisk.  The band of red herrings aren’t overdone, the authority figures - especially the town Sheriff who is clearly out of his league - have more depth than normal and as the noose tightens and Tobias tries to save Caroline the last few pages fly by.  As ever, your enjoyment will depend on your tolerance but as a mid-80s suspense novel, this was well written and enjoyable and I’d very much recommend it.

* * *
Campbell Armstrong/Thomas Altman
Campbell Armstrong was born (as Thomas Campbell Black) in Glasgow on 25th February 1944 and received a degree in philosophy from the University of Sussex.  He was married to Rebecca, they had three sons and a daughter and he died in Dublin on 1st March 2013.

His first novel, Assassins & Victims was published in 1969 and three years later he moved to New York where he taught creative writing at the State University at Oswego before moving, in 1975, to teach at Arizona State University.

Growing to dislike teaching, he moved into fulltime writing in 1979, remaining in Arizona until 1991 when he moved to Ireland (living in an old house that was reputed to be haunted).  He once said his work was mainly influenced by R L Stevenson, attributing darker aspects of his wrinting to the opening scenes of Treasure Island.

His novels Assassins & Victims and The Punctual Rape both won Scottish Arts Council Awards, whilst The Last Darkness and White Rage were nominees for the Prix du Polar.

As Campbell Black:
Assassins and Victims (1969)
The Punctual Rape (1970)
Death’s Head (1972)
The Homing (1980) (written as Jeffrey Campbell)
Dressed To Kill (1980) (movie novelisation)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) (movie novelisation - the first time I was aware of him)
Mr. Apology (1984)
Letters from the Dead (1985)
The Piper (1986)
The Wanting (1986)
The Trader’s Wife (1997) (written as Thomas Weldon)
The Surgeon’s Daughter (1998) (written as Thomas Weldon)

Written as Campbell Armstrong:
Asterisk Destiny (1978)
Brainfire (1979)
Agents of Darkness (1991)
A Concert of Ghosts (1992)
Silencer (1997)
Blackout (1998)
Deadline (2000)

As Campbell Armstrong (featuring his character Frank Pagan):
Jig (1987)
Mazurka (1988)
Mambo (1990)
Jigsaw (1994)
Heat (1996)

As Campbell Armstrong (featuring his character Lou Perlman):
The Bad Fire (2001)
The Last Darkness (2002)
White Rage (2004)
Butcher (2006)
Written as Thomas Altman:
Kiss Daddy Goodbye (1980)
The True Bride (1982)
Black Christmas (1983)
Dark Places (1984)
The Intruder (1985)

For a few years now, I've been collecting old 70s and 80s paperbacks (mostly horror), picking them up cheaply in secondhand bookshops and at car boot sales and slowly building a collection.  My friend (and fellow collector) Johnny Mains once told me that charity shops sometimes pulp old books like this because the market for them is so small - I understand why but I think it's terrible.  We might not be talking great art here but on the whole, I think these books deserve to be remembered.

To that end, on an irregular basis (too much cheese isn't good for anyone's diet), I'm going to review these "old-school" horrors (and perhaps include some bonus material, if I can find it).

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