Nobody True by James Herbert
Macmillan (UK) HCVR: ISBN 140500519X PubDate: 09/01/03
Review by John Berlyne
393 pgs. List price $ 17.99
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When I was a lad, I used to read every James Herbert novel I could lay my hands on. I clearly remember the horrific thrill I got from reading The Rats and Lair, and those scary Nazi bad guys brought back to life by The Spear. Great stuff! Those were formative times and thereís no doubt that Mr Herbert is partly responsible for why Iím still hooked on genre fiction to this very day. As I grew older, my tastes diversified and I discovered other authors and so after The Jonah (which, in truth, I found disappointing) I moved on to other writers and it has been some years then since I last picked up a Herbert novel. As Iíve been reading on, so has Herbert been writing. Nobody True is his twenty first novel and dipping into it, it is clear heís as entertaining as ever.
James True suffers from (if thatís the right way of putting it!) out-of-body experiences. He can lift right out of himself and go flying off, leaving his inert body behind him. At first it seemed accidental, happening at (in)opportune moments and often prompted by some physical cataclysm Ė such as when he was knocked off his motorbike and knocked out. Through time though, he finds himself able to have a degree of control over when these OBEs occur and he can even direct himself to wherever he wishes in this amorphous state. One night heís off floating about, only to find, on his return to his body, that heís been murdered quite brutally in his absence. This is not an enviable position to find oneself in and naturally James is deeply traumatized by the experience.
A soul without a home, he watches as the police come to pick over his bones and thus learns that a serial killer is on the loose. However, though it looks like the modus operandi of this killer, this murder has some worrying details about it that leads the police to suggest a copycat killing. Poor James floats about, unsure what to do with himself. He witnesses his own funeral, sharing in the grief of his poor wife and daughter but in his insubstantial state heís unable to comfort them. But heís not a ghost as such. He feels as alive as ever, just disembodied and thus unable to participate; the ultimate voyeur.
In this wandering, grief stricken state True stumbles upon the truth behind the serial killings and itís not pretty. The killer is a gloriously horrible Herbert creation, a real nasty piece of work and, whatís worse, James find out that his wife and child are next on the killerís hit list. Somehow he must find a way to save his family from this monster Ė not an easy task when nobody can see or hear you and youíre not able to move even a feather with your fingertips.
The substance of this novel sits firmly on the horns of this dilemma. Herbert is by no means our most literary writer Ė his style and form hasnít really changed in twenty years, but at the same time, his skill with story and structure is as solid as it ever was. Yes, the novel can be easily digested in a couple of sittings (his books are great holiday reading) and yes, the characters are pretty two dimensional Ė but then I suppose this is essentially modern day pulp horror. Whatever your feelings are about that, I like Herbertís work for its unapologetic and unpretentious entertainment value. Nobody True is a single (albeit superb genre) idea stretched out to novel length, but it is done well, with great pace and many twists and surprises along the way. Herbert doesnít need to be groundbreaking Ė indeed, his readers might desert him if he starts getting all avant guarde on us. He knows his market and his formula and caters directly to them. A supernatural thriller with a solid, dependably built plot, Nobody True is a worthy addition to his canon.