For Fear of the Night

November 1, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

fearFor Fear of the Night by Charles L. Grant


A few years ago, I rekindled my interest in ’80s horror by going through and reading all of Charles L. Grant’s horror fiction. I thought I had hit all of them, but earlier this year I realized I had missed a few of them. For Fear of the Night is the first of three, and it’s a reminder of how well Grant could command fear and atmosphere without resorting to jump scares and graphic descriptions.

For Fear of the Night is about Devin Graham, a photographer who witnessed the burning of a pier a week previous. He managed to get shots of the fire to sell to papers, but one photo he kept to himself was one that featured Julie, a teenager from a group of friends Devin knows. She was the only one to die in the fire, and while he and Julie’s friends are still grieving her loss, Devin receives a phone call from Julie asking for her picture back.

Grant takes his time building his stories, creating atmosphere and setting before he settles in to the story proper, but even with that in mind, this book takes a long time to get going. He teases and hints at the plot during the exposition, but it takes half the book before it finally gels. Strangely, the story doesn’t feel too long, nor does it feel like nothing’s happening; it’s just Grant taking his time to evoke a feeling before worrying about piddly details like plot.

Speaking of evoking mood, another thing Grant does well is repeating phrases through his chapters to help set the scene, the mood, and the atmosphere of his stories. In the opening chapter of For Fear of the Night, he writes about how the August breeze cools at the end of a summer day. It’s a little reminder that gets lodged in the brain amid the other details of his scene, but it tells us how it feels, how it smells, and how it looks, all in a simple refrain. We’ve all been on a beach at the end of a hot day, thankful for the cool air while lamenting the loss of the fun time has during the day, and that single, repeated phrase tells us everything we need to know to identify where we are, as well as to name the mood it evokes: melancholy.

I see Grant as a like-him-or-hate-him author because of this characteristic, but I enjoy that aspect of his fiction. When I was younger, in my hardcore horror phase, he didn’t do much for me, but now, when I find I can appreciate a more subtle approach to horror, he’s helping me identify what good horror is. This isn’t a book for everyone (not even every fan of horror), but those who appreciate mood would do well to read his books.

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