John Blackburn – Children Of The Night (Jonathon Cape, 1966, Panther, 1968)
“The Children of Paul withdrew from the world because they hated the rest of humanity which they considered tainted and evil … they are now waiting for the day of judgement when they will come forth and assist in the destruction of mankind.”
1966. Dunstoneholme villagers are in a state of near panic after several gruesome deaths in the locality. The village has a history of such tragedy’s dating back to 1300 when a religious sect, the Children Of Paul Of Ely, arrived on their way to the Feyne islands. Refused transport, they massacred the locals and the small garrison at the castle, then set to sea in stolen boats which promptly capsized.
The Priest, Ainger, believes that, rather than drown as is universally believed, the sect took refuge in the pot holes on the moors, where, having adopted the Sawney Beane approach, they have lived on for 666 years. According to him, they have also perfected telepathy and cultivated the ability to drive people and animals insane. He cites previous mysterious incidents as being accountable to them: the abandonment of a railway-line in 1847 and that of a lead mine three decades later. More bizarre deaths than you can shake a stick at: “It appears that these manifestations of terror, or madness, … only take place after the earth has been disturbed.”
You’ve probably already sussed that the 666th anniversary is one the Children are keen to commemorate.
“Fast paced” doesn’t begin to do this one justice, and neither does “busy”. Weighing in at a mere 150 pages, Blackburn has his work cut out to fit everything in and, with a huge body count to accomodate, at times he makes Robert Lory seem like M. R. James. He makes a great fist of it, even if the ending seems slightly rushed. The deaths are spectacular, as is the state of the ‘Children when we eventually get to meet them. Not that they’re the only Religious nutters involved: Reverend Fenge seems to have got it into his head that they’re misunderstood and is planning a reception for them! I should also mention the nominal heroes, Molden Mott – explorer, man of letters, egomaniacal pain – and doctor Tom Allen as these are the only men who have any idea how to prevent catastrophe. But will they succeed?