I get the distinct feeling that John Blackburn, whose name I first discovered the other day, is going to join Francis Lathom, Richard Marsh, and others as one of my reclamation projects. Blackburn is evidence that you don't need to go back 100 or 200 years to find an example of an unfortunately forgotten novelist. Indeed, although he was still publishing even in my lifetime, I'd never heard of him, and many of his books command several hundred dollars on the secondhand market.
Blackburn seems to be a writer that publishers had some difficulty classifying. His books are thrilling, mysterious, and horrifying, but they're not exactly "thrillers," "mysteries," or "horror"; rather, they're a combination of the three. Blackburn himself was well-educated and an antiquarian bookseller and thus very literate. What's interesting about Blackburn's books, though, is that unlike most mysteries, thrillers, and horror novels of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, which are only remembered if they were adapted for films and otherwise have been discarded as semi-literate trash, his books are highly intelligent.
I was lucky enough to find a couple of his books at the Kansas City public library. On the back jacket flap of Blow the House Down (1970) appear the following quotes (check out his book titles!) -- and note how he even gets rave reviews from the highbrow Times Literary Supplement:
BURY HIM DARKLY
'He is bang on curdling form with this tale of a sealed tomb in a cathedral city and the Destroyer that lurks. Not for the timid.' -- Evening Standard.
NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT
'A real creepy-crawly... Recommended to those who like their thrills chilled.' -- Evening Standard
'Absurdly enjoyable.' -- Times Literary Supplement
CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT
'John Blackburn is today's master of horror, and this latest novel about a village gripped by the culmination of ancient vileness, induces proper shivers.' -- Times Literary Supplement
I tracked down Bury Him Darkly (1968) on eBay for 99 cents and requested some of the others through interlibrary loan, including Our Lady of Pain (1974), a vampire novel about Countess Elizabeth Bathory, dedicated to actor Christopher Lee and suggested by him to Blackburn.
What do you think? Does he sound great or what?