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Charles L Grant: The Almost Forgotten Master of Suspense

Let’s talk about Charles L. Grant.

 

What? Never heard of him? That’s okay, I hadn’t either until two years ago when I accidentally stumbled upon his work having gone down a Google wormhole looking for my next favourite read.

So who is he? A newly published indie author making strides to break down barriers in the current horror scene while shunning bigger publishers that only seem interested in publishing sedate, middle-of-the-road stories made by commission. Nope, Mr. Grant belongs to that bygone golden era of horror publication of the 70s and the 80s whenever everyone wanted horror. He was published alongside Stephen King, Robert R.McCammon, Lisa Turtle, Nancy A. Collins, Peter Straub and Elizabeth Engstrom to name a few and regarded highly by many of them. Yet, sadly Mr. Grant never makes it onto Goodreads or any best-of lists for that time period. Nor are there many articles to be discovered concerning him, those that do exist seem light on information about the author and his work. You won’t find his paperbacks in books stores unless their second hand having gone out of print. Those second-hand ones are available on Amazon, but only at ridiculous prices all.

 

It seems Mr. Grant is almost forgotten.

Charles L. Grant

Personally, as a author myself, I find that to be the saddest thing. There is a saying that we live on as long as people remember us, if that’s true Mr. Grant’s days are numbered.

Why, is this important you may ask? You may ask what are you harping on about, if he’s forgotten surely that’s because his work wasn’t very good? Actually, that’s not the case at all. The stories of Charles L. Grant are fucking excellent!

Mr. Grant was a master of suspense, of gradually building pressure in the readers mind until the skin at the back of their neck tickles with anticipation and fear. He dealt in shadows, fogs and darkness, in worlds like ours, but somehow slightly off-kilter.

Take Oxrun Station for example, a fictional town that is the setting for many of his books. It’s something of a cross between King’s Derry and Lovecraft’s Innsmouth, only while readers get explanations from both authors as to why things in such places are weird Grant never does. His characters often remark that their is something buried in Oxrun Station’s fabric that makes it a spawning place for the horrible things that occur there, but they never uncover what, allowing for stories to continue.

There is a theory as to why he hasn’t lasted as long as those of his contemporaries and that’s because even in the 70s and 80s Grant’s horror did not represent the pulse of the time, that pulse being grotesquery and blood-letting. Even then Mr. Grant’s tales seem to come from a time before when the focus was on shadows and stirrings in the dark rather than being ripped open with a machete. He was old school, yet, only in where he chose to place his storytelling lens. Read The Hour of the Oxrun Dead, the first novel set in Oxrun Station, and you’ll surprised to discover how far ahead of his time Grant has in terms of depicting female protagonists. In fact, reading the novel now, where protagonist, Natalie, is besieged by the townships opinions that a woman of her age should be married, all of which she dismisses with the batting of a hand, believing that no person other than herself will define who she is. Powerful stuff for a book that was published in 1977, especially when every article or essay written about books from that timehighlight the poor quality and stereotypical writing of female characters.

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While I enjoy the gripped-by-the-throat sensation of a fast-paced gruesome book I also enjoy the seduction of a slow burn, which is all Grant. He seduces like no other, turning a slow burn story into a compulsive, a feeling I had whenever I was reading his fantastic novel, The Pet. The Pet concerns a bullied teenager who suddenly finds he has protective, violent friends in interesting places. To read that book is to come under Grant’s spell, to feel like it isn’t a story your reading, but an enchanted thing that’s ever weaving and changing.

So let’s get this straight so far Mr. Grant’s stories are progressive, feature brilliant characterisation and seductive. He’s also skilled at the hooking opening line. Check this out, this is from The Soft Whisper of the Dead.

‘It was November, and the leaves on the ground stirred like rats in the sewer, the wind passing over them the breath of a dead season.’

That is the type of opening line any writer would murder their family to write!

What more could you want?

There is one more thing. If your a writer, or want to be: read Charles L. Grant. His stories will teach you more about suspense and tension than any other. If you are a writer: read Charles L. Grant and discover one of the greats that like his villains lurks in the shadows of horror history.

His books while hard and expensive to find physical copies of exist on Kindle and audiobook at affordable prices. This isn’t enough, with Paperbacks From Hell and other sources encouraging reprints of brilliant stories I hope someday someone takes it upon themselves to offer Grant’s work that opportunity.

In closing if your looking for your next favourite read pick up something from his Oxrun Station series. If your looking for short stories try Scream Quietly, a collection that contains a lot of his work. For novellas try Nightmare Seasons. Or if your looking for some old school horror dealing with the Universal monster archetypes try The Soft Whisper of the Dead, The Long Night of the Grave or The Dark Cry of the Moon.

Basically, Mr. Grant has you covered.

Jamie Stewart

Jamie Stewart

Author

Jamie Stewart started writing stories at the age of nine inspired by R.L Stein's Goosebumps series and the Resident Evil franchise that he was far too young to play in hindsight. He is the author of I Hear the Clattering of the Keys and Other Fever Dreams, a collection of horror stories, and Mr. Jones, a coming-age-novel.  He is also the co-editor of Welcome to the Funhouse, a horror anthology for Blood Rites Horror.  He has also self-published four horror novelette’s that have all peaked at Number 1 on Amazon's Best Seller's List and have been reviewed by the Night Worms team.  He has published short stories in SPINE magazine as well as had audio versions made for various podcast such as Into the Gloom and Horror Oasis. 

He can be found on Instagram @jamie.stewart.33 where he reviews and promotes books.

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