Wednesday, October 31, 2012

John Blackburn (1923-1993)

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:

'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.

'A real creepy-crawly... Recommended to those who like their thrills chilled.' -- Evening Standard
'Absurdly enjoyable.' -- Times Literary Supplement

'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?


  1. Blackburn is an excellent writer. I have been collecting him for many years. It can be difficult because most of his later books were only published in England. Altogether, he wrote about 29 novels and a number of short stories. His most prominent character was General Kirk with an associated character Marcus Levin. Kirk and/or Levin appeared in at least 12 novels, from his first, A Scent of New-Mown Hay (1958) to his last, The Bad Penny (1985). The ones I can't get my hands on (usually because of the insane prices asked by booksellers) are books like Blow the House Down or the later ones such as Dead Man's Handle, A Beastly Business and A Book of the Dead. I am happy to see that you have two books I don't have on your list for republication. I will be sure to get them when they come out.

    Blackburn's strength (and publishing weakness) is that he wrote in a mixed genre mode of science fiction, mystery and horror, so you had to have some interest in all three genres. I get the feeling that they were influenced by Nigel Kneale's Quatermass stories, which have the same genre mix. I haven't been able to get Blow the House Down, so that would be my candidate if you are going to reprint any more.

  2. Valancourt gets the loveliest book treasures - I think many people would love you for reprinting Blackburn.