Boy battles sinister shadows of madness to save father

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 February, 2011, 12:00am

The Lunatic's Curse
By F. E. Higgins
Published by MacMillan Children's Books
ISBN 978 0 53232 8

It's convenient when the title of a book tells you exactly what you are going to read, and a novel called The Lunatic's Curse can only mean one thing. This is going to deliver a few shivers and thrills. With her first three novels set in the Sinister City, the reclusive F. E. Higgins delivered a trio of thrillers with a good helping of the gruesome. The Lunatic's Curse is another deliciously macabre, and at times downright gory, trip into the shadows for readers who like to ride the literary ghost train.

In the first three novels of the series, Tales from the Sinister City, Higgins crafted the spooky municipality of Urbs Umida with gruesome glee. Anything nasty could happen here, and it did. We now move to the neighbouring town of Opum Oppidulum, where things are not much better.

Opum Oppidulum lies on the banks of the deep, black Lake Beluarum, said to be the home of a hideous monster. In the middle of the lake is Droprock Island, on which perches an inescapable asylum. Once a patient is declared insane and incarcerated in Droprock Asylum, it's goodbye to the world outside. The asylum is a sinister prison from which nobody is ever released.

Geography plays a big part in Higgins' stories: dark hills, cruel cities where evil lurks under leaden skies, freezing lakes and now a shadowy lunatic asylum on a remote island. Opum Oppidulum and its surroundings are seriously unpleasant places to live.

Twelve-year-old Rex Grammaticus lives with his father, a talented engineer and designer, in a mansion on the banks of the lake. Rex can see the asylum from his bedroom. Recently, Grammaticus has remarried - and Rex and his stepmother Acantha do not get on. It's obvious to Rex that Acantha has bewitched his father just to get his fortune, and the tension comes to a terrible head one night.

A shocking act of violence takes place at the dining table, then the story descends into real darkness. Grammaticus is declared insane by the weird superintendent of the asylum, and carted off. Rex must now face his stepmother alone, and the poor boy knows it won't be long before she gets him out of the way as well. He is determined to free his father and expose Acantha for the evil schemer she is.

Higgins spins a fast-paced plot with more mystery and more weird characters on almost every page. One of the great things about this story is that the reader can trust no one as the mystery deepens.

The Lunatic's Curse is a tale of treachery, madness and greed - all tasty ingredients for a delicious horror novel that brings the hairs on the back of the head standing neatly to attention. You have been warned!

John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com