Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Forgotten Books: Trauma by Graham Masterton

Forgotten Books: Trauma by Graham Masterton

Graham Masterton has had one of those long, prolific careers that fall to writers of the first rank who have never had the break they deserve. He's certainly a finer writer and better storyteller than many of the people on the bestseller lists. He's always been more popular in Europe than the U.S. despite boxcar loads of great reviews he gets here.

If you doubt my words I suggest you pick up a paperback called TRAUMA, which was nominated for a Best PB Edgar several years ago. The storyline follows one Bonnie Winter, middle-aged working class woman who sells cosmetics for a company called Glamorex and runs a business that cleans up crime scenes after the police are done with them.

But that's not all. In the course of this novel we see that Bonnie has one other task, that of trying to hold a family together that has drifted apart to a painful degree. I can't recall any suspense novel of recent vintage that so powerfully depicts a woman coming to realize that her life is loveless and wasted. I'll pay Masterton the highest compliment I know--I think Margaret Millar would have loved this novel.

This being a Masterton novel there is an ominous and disturbing undertow of supernatural dread as well. Bonnie begins to find
strange black caterpillars at the crime scenes she cleans up. She will eventually learn of their significance through a series of violent scenes that are breathtaking in their savagery.

Masterton concludes by tying Bonnie's affection for her Glamorex boss, a decent and attentive guy, into both the familial and supernatural subplots. The climax is shocking and unforgettable.

I reviewed this novel when it first appeared. At the time I said that for all that so many current literary writers try to capture the essence of our time, their work looks shallow compares to what this brief sad volatile novel accomplishes. I still say that.


Craig Clarke said...

This was the book that introduced me to Masterton, and it's still my favorite. Thanks for the reminder, Ed.

Anonymous said...

I agree TRAUMA (or BONNIE WINTER, as was the title for the CD Novella hardcover of the book (which is where I read it)) is a fantastic book, certainly my favorite of Masterton's body of work. I also think he's a terrific short-story writer, and wish that his FEAR OF collections (pub. in the UK and demanding big bucks now) would be gathered into a US omnibus.

I do find, however, that he is an uneven writer. Half of the novels of his that I've read (and they probably only number a dozen or so) read like pale counterparts to the other half. An example would be one I recently read, HOUSE OF BONES, which takes top spot in the Worst Novels I've Read This Year. Anyone as prolific as Masterton is certainly allowed his failings, but it is frustrating for the reader. I recently picked up BLIND PANIC...we'll see which camp that one falls under.

~ Ron C.

The Doctor said...

@Ron C.
Re: House of Bones

HoB is essentially a young-adult rewrite of The Walkers. From Masterton's website: "House of Bones is a well plotted, milder version of 1989's Walkers, that relies heavily on the myths and legends surrounding the Druids for its entertainment value. It's also Masterton's first attempt at writing for a teenage horror market, as part of Scholastic's Point Horror Unleashed label."

I find that all of his YA fiction read like "pale counterparts". Not that they need to...