Forbidden Tomes: THE WATCHER by CHARLES MACLEAN

I came across this tome completely by accident, while working in development at a production company. After completing it, I was baffled that it was not more well-known, even in the more obscure horror circles. For that reason, today I’ll discuss Charles Maclean’s THE WATCHER.

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What draws me to this book is its undeniable 70s/80s atmosphere, and its classical weird-fiction plot. Most of the novel is narrated by Martin Gregory, a successful businessman and devoted husband who gives his wife a special present on her birthday… something utterly horrific and damning. This incident, which he does not recall, begins a descent into an otherworldly fabric of dreams and past lives as Gregory struggles to discover what drove him to the unforgivable act. He begins to suspect that his life is caught up in something cosmic and eternal – perhaps not one life at all. Or is he really just insane?

It’s impossible to say more about the book without ruining the surprises it contains. There are so many brilliant twists and massive detours that it almost feels like the book is creating itself between the covers as you read. Gregory is the pinnacle unreliable narrator, constantly being questioned and even questioning himself – the reader is unable to trust him, but also unable to stop listening. As his story deepens and explodes into something Lovecraftian, it’s impossible to turn away. Though it is quite clear that it all may be a lie.

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Maclean crafts a story here that echoes many classics – “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” by Lovecraft and “Xeethra” by Clark Ashton Smith are clear influences – but also subverts them with its psychological slant. The reader is never sure who to believe, and becomes less so as the book hurtles on toward a wild ending. That is a nearly impossible feat to accomplish, but Maclean does so beautifully, rising to the level even of Henry James’s “Turn of the Screw” in the way he tricks his readers.

Because of this, I think “The Watcher” will appeal to a range of horror fans – those who like their frights grounded in reality, and those who prefer to be transported to otherworldly environs. Both aspects of the novel are handled with intensity and intelligence. It’s one of the most excitingly mysterious horror stories I’ve read in a while, especially because its answers are not all divulged. Authors are so often afraid of being misunderstood that they give away too much. Maclean is the opposite.

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Its only significant flaw is its obscurity – I never would have found it if it hadn’t been for that production company. If you come across a copy, don’t hesitate – it’s worth a read no matter what. Just hold onto your sanity while you do. And maybe just get your wife a gift card for her birthday.

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