Sunday, 5 September 2010

Guy N Smith Book Review - Satan's Snowdrop

Satan's Snowdrop is another entry in the rich tradition of flower-themed horror, which includes The Devil's Daisy, Beelzebub's Buttercup and other titles I just made up. I'm not sure what Smith had in mind when he named this book after the humble galanthus nivalis, but to be fair the main source of the horror is not really a killer flower but instead La Massion des Fleurs, a mysterious mansion in the Swiss Alps that was home to a Nazi torturer who died under mysterious and violent circumstances.

Obviously the locals give the mansion a wide berth, but an American family, Al and Veronica Pennant and their weiner son Tod, express some interest in buying the mansion and shipping it back to America, piece by piece. This part is pretty funny, because during their inspection the real estate agent realises that he just plain forgot to clean up the bloodstains and remove the blood-encrusted torture implements from the wall of the living room. You know how it is; you've got the freshly roasted coffee brewing on the stove, the pamphlets laid out on the table, but you forget to clean up the torture dungeon. It's always the little things.

Al decides to buy the property anyway, but soon strange things begin to happen. There's a horrible smell of putrefaction and horrific visions appear to them in the night, and although such incidents could easily be ascribed to some bad Chinese food, things eventually get worse. One of their party guests dies from a heart attack after a ghostly visitation and one of the renovation workers gets spooked by a ghost and falls off a ladder, breaking his back. Al comes to the Scooby-Doo-esque conclusion that a local is trying to scare them off the property by dressing up like a ghost, and the mansion is shipped back to America with only a prematurely ejaculating cabin boy (don't ask) among the casualties.

Naturally the hauntings continue after the mansion is reconstructed in Long Island. This culminates in their son Tod, and I'm not making this up, being chased through the house by a killer space hopper. Eventually he gets trapped between some undead zombies and the demonic rubber balloon, opting to leap down a third-floor stairwell to his death. I don't know, I would have taken my chances with the space hopper. After this incident Al and Veronica decide to sell the mansion to a family in the UK, the Parlanes, so La Massion des Fleurs gets shipped back to Europe.

Once the house is nestled in the heart of Warwickshire the hauntings continue. The Parlanes' pet Alsation and the local exorcist both die mysteriously, while their son Rusty has frequent visitations from the ghost of Tod Pennant, who warns them of the horrors of the mansion (presumably he leaves out the part where he was killed by a space hopper). The Parlanes put the house up for sale and move out, but no dice; Rusty is still beset by ghostly visions and finds himself blacking out and sleepwalking over to the mansion. Maybe they should have moved a little further away than a few houses down the street.

So far I haven't mentioned the titular flower which, as it turns out, is source of all the ghostly horror. The snowdrop was once at the focal point of a druidic ceremony, absorbing the soul of a human sacrifice. You may wonder why the ghosts are still in the house at all, but in fact they make a point to mention that the flowers from the garden bed have been shipped around the world with the house. This is stupid. Apparently the only way to appease the souls of the damned is to send the snowdrop back to it's original resting place at the peak of Reichenbach falls. Burning down the house? That won't do it. Stepping on the flower? Nope. Why? I don't know, but Tod's ghost says so and that's good enough for the Parlanes. They hop on a plane to Switzerland and do as he asks, but it's only after Mr Parlane is killed by the undead spirits that Ghost Tod reveals that they have to toss the bulb over the falls rather than plant it in the soil. Nice of you to bring this up now that he's dead, asshole. Anyway, they do it. Hauntings over.

The fact that the protagonists in a haunted house story never just pack up and leave is such an entrenched cliche that it's become a cliche to point it out, so it's clever for Smith to split the hauntings between two separate families. True the two families are fairly interchangeable, but the Pennants are slightly more interesting thanks to the tasteful, nuanced portrayal of Americans that we've come to expect from Smith i.e. Al Pennant is an arrogant asshole and Tod eats a hamburger at one point. If you can get past some cardboard characters (and if you've read much Guy N. Smith then you probably can) there's some nice tension and atmosphere and great torture scenes. Quality Smith.

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