Chilling Exceptions

Hollywood as Hell? Nah, I must be missing the point...

The theme being complex, dark and morbid, this book will appeal to those who don't mind a touch of the grotesque, weird, shocking and dismal in their reads.

Internationally acclaimed writer of chillers, James Herbert hopes to open his readers's eyes to what the world is like for the physically handicapped and disabled, for the "exceptions from the norm", through this well-narrated story.

The book opens in Hell, with a condemned soul being visited by two angels. He is a famous Hollywood star who is being given a second chance to redeem his fallen self.

This soul is reborn as Nicholas Dismas - blind in one eye, humpbacked, limping - as ugly and physically repulsive now as he was handsome and charismatic in his earlier life. A well-reputed private investigator, our window to his reincarnation opens when he is being confronted with a curious case. He is commissioned to trace the son of his wealthy client, born eighteen years ago at a hospital that has burnt down long since. Surprisingly, there are no records of this son's birth or death anywhere in England.

Further investigations lead him to an old-age home in a remote, secluded part of Brighton called "Perfect Rest". Here he unearths a whole dormitory and basement full of "others" - humans that are malformed, mutilated and warped, in mind and body, being researched and experimented upon and exploited by the Doctor.

On the road to this discovery, Dismas is tormented by horrifying visions and nightmares, has to put his trust in a psychic, loses a dear friend, and experiences love for the first time on meeting Constance Bell.

The whole book is narrated in first person by Dismas. The tone, therefore, is conversational, chatty and comfortable. Dismas's character is wonderfully interwoven into the twisted, mind-jarring plot of this novel. One is endeared to him by self-confessions of his drug-habits, cynicism, gruff exterior, vulnerability, and his need, like all of us, to be loved and accepted for who we are.

Descriptions - right from Dismas's life and perceptions to those of the sea-side tourist town of Brighton - are graphic and comprehensive. On the downside, it is perhaps this very attention to detail that slows down the pace of the novel for the first twenty-five chapters.

On the whole - conceivably much to the satisfaction of Herbert, if his end-note is to be believed - the story does leave us seriously disturbed.

This article was first published on 15 May 2000.