Paperback Head, Issue #1: The Morgow Rises!
Does it live up to that cover?
That’s the problem with most pulp horror paperbacks of the seventies and eighties: they never could. Like their video-store-horror-aisle brethren, so many immaculate and eye-catching designs on the exterior, leaving nowhere for the story to go but down once that thin layer is peeled back. The intrigue of something so surreal and horrific begs anyone looking for that sort of thing to peek inside-- to catch even the slightest hint of what that cover is promising. The Morgow Rises! has earned its place amongst the finest covers of its breed, but does it succeed where so many others have failed?
Peter Tremayne’s novel brings us to the Cornish village of Bosbradoe, where a father-son fisherman duo have mysteriously vanished not too far from shore. Meanwhile, local mining enthusiast Happy Penrose disappears into the local defunct caverns in an attempt to strike a new fortune. Happy’s niece Claire arrives in town, desperate to find her uncle, as the townspeople try to get a handle on what exactly is transpiring. Is it all just coincidence? Is it the fabled Morgow, come to wreak havoc? Or is something more sinister at play?
The setup behind The Morgow Rises! is quite a bit of fun. All of the classic tropes of a horror film are in there, from the lazy police force to the harbinger of impending doom. The characters are thinly drawn across the board, but accessible in the sense that you immediately understand what Tremayne is going for here-- he paces the first few monster attacks excellently, harkening back to films like Jaws or Alien by refusing to show what exactly is behind the violence. Something begs to been seen in the shadows, all you need to do is wait… and wait… and wait…
That fun at the start of The Morgow Rises! fades as you realize there isn’t much behind what’s on the surface here, and some of those comforting tropes turn cringey. Claire Penrose isn’t given much agency aside from her desperate search for Happy, but her love interest is described in great detail-- the faultless and impeccably put-together local is also clearly stand-in wish-fulfillment for the author. Try as he might to fill the story with lived-in citizens and local haunts, Tremayne falls victim to freely operating within the trappings of the male gaze more frequently than desired. It’s to be expected, but your tolerance may wear thin.
When all is said and done, The Morgow Rises! does a great job setting up the reader for a riveting tale about an ancient sea beast, until all of that setup is abandoned in favor of a plotline that isn’t truly introduced until nearly half-way through the novel. Tremayne also has the habit of turning away from the carnage, shifting focus just as the “monster” shows up. This wouldn’t really be an issue if it worked, but in a novel such as this, that’s not the case. Instead, we’re treated to a story in which the build-up and Celtic history asides amount to nothing more than padding for the page count, rather than building towards a cohesive or satisfying whole.
Your mileage may vary, but there’s nothing in here that will blow a seasoned horror reader away. Aside from the cover, that is-- keep that in the camera roll. Forget the rest.