The Hour Of The Oxrun Dead (Charles L Grant)

Those staples of horror–the rundown graveyard, the sinister shape in the fog, the strange noises in the night–they’re all here in spades, but rather than feeling clichéd, the late Charles L. Grant (who wrote under 5 other names as well) has fashioned them into an engaging little novel of 1970s paranoia. And his style is very moody and languid. He makes you wait, and if you enjoy the journey, that seemed to be his goal. Grant was a leading proponent of the quiet horror movement. Other than the odd quirk that might annoy the reader, like his heroine repeatedly fainting, if you like misdirection and mystery this just might be your cup of tea.

While this novel was marketed firmly in the horror genre, I feel it was really only peripherally horror. It was very much more a mystery with horror undertones. In fact, until the last 20-30 pages, it really didn’t have much in the horror area either. The entire book was quite successful in conveying the thinly-veiled threat of the ruling body of Oxrun Station, but most of the time, that was it, only threats. Although the introduction to events in the town of Oxrun Station was a little clunky, it did capture my interest, and soon I was contentedly following the life of small town librarian, Natalie Windsor. There are strong, creepy moments here, times when I didn’t even know I was holding my breath until it shuddered out of me.

What surprised me was how well-drawn the characters were. You laugh with them, care about them and mourn for them. They are strong enough to pull you through despite the slower pace. The relationship between Natalie and Marc is a high point. Now, I don’t much care for romance in my novels, but these two are such real people that it’s hard not to get pulled in. The fact that Marc never takes center stage away from Nat certainly helps. And, as events quickly began to point to some sort of sinister conspiracy, and a possible supernatural connection, I was hooked! What connections between fraternity rings and missing books at the town library have in common? What was the mysterious killer that lurked in the night?

How did the leading citizens of Oxrun Station all fit into this puzzle? And for someone who believes that she is marked for murder, Nat and Marc seem to be indifferent to her being alone, walking home alone, and staying late at work. I didn’t understand why they really didn’t take the idea that she was threatened very seriously. Also, as the book was written in the 70’s, some of the ideas about media manipulation and thought control seem quaint in this internet era (some romantic asides in the book seem a little dated as well), but the concept was chilling enough. This book is not really for horror fans who like detailed nuts and bolts descriptions and drawn out endings. And despite the wing chair that “suddenly sprouted a head”, and a rather abrupt ending which suggested Grant had backed himself into a corner, it was good enough to get me thinking about the other books set in the town of Oxrun Station…


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