When I was a kid, I rather enjoyed Graham Masterton. There was one book in particular, The Walkers, that I remember reading over and over again and so, when I spotted Death Mask during a visit to the hairdressers, I thought I’d see if he was as good as I remembered. All I can say is that I must have had some seriously low standards as a kid, as Death Mask was utter gash from start to finish. It was so bad, in fact, that it completely stopped my hot reading streak in its tracks as I found anything else to instead.
Sissy Sawyer is a fortune-teller who is always proved right. Staying with her son and daughter-in-law, Molly, she witnesses a miracle as some roses that Molly has painted materialise in the back garden. Shortly afterwards Molly is called in to craft a composite drawing for the police of someone who has attacked two people in an elevator, leaving one of them dead. Nicknamed the Red Mask due to his red face, soon he’s popping up everywhere, slashing people to ribbons and seeming to be impervious to any harm himself. It turns out that Molly’s miracle wasn’t limited to roses – every time she draws Red Mask, another copy of him appears and gets stabby, all thanks to a necklace that Molly is wearing. One of the charms on it once belonged to Vincent Van Gogh, you see, and after painting his self-portrait, an evil version of him murdered him (stay with me, it gets worse). And so Sissy and Molly come up with a plan – to draw Sissy’s dead husband so that he can materialise and battle the various Red Masks on their behalf.
As a horror book, this was an utter failure. I’m used to suspending my disbelief – I’m a rather big fantasy fan after all – but Death Mask was so ludicrous that it utterly failed to raise my pulse, prompting only eye rolls instead. The characterisation was thin, the plot ridiculous, and no-one behaved the way anyone actually would, with the police constantly sharing important information with these unqualified civilians and letting them tramp around crime scenes, holding press conferences saying the killer could strike anywhere at any time and that they had no clue who he was, and letting a fortune-teller essentially lead their investigation for them.
Death Mask is apparently one of a series starring Sissy Sawyer. I can safely say that I will be giving the rest a very wide berth.