Black Cathedral
L. H. Maynard and M. P. N. Sims

Leisure Fiction
Paperback, 320 pages, $7.99
Review by Sheila Merritt

Ever had a book enrapture, enthrall and be absolutely riveting for its first three quarters, only to have it deflate like a poorly cooked soufflé in its fourth? If so, the experience will be repeated upon finishing Black Cathedral.

The book begins brilliantly with the investigation of a reputedly haunted house in a suburban English town. Robert Carter, who works for Department 18, an organization that scrutinizes supernatural and paranormal activity, is joined by his associate Sian Davies. After several seriously creepy manifestations occur, Sian disappears. No trace of even her DNA in the car.

This disappearance becomes linked to the remote Kulsay Island in Scotland. There, a small group of co-workers from Waincraft Software also mysteriously vanished without a trace. Carter and a crew from Department 18, are dispatched to find out what happened there.

So far, so very good. All the characters are extremely interesting, with layers of backstory. Even the Waincraft Software employees are well written, given the short time they appear in the novel. The atmosphere is excellent, the fear is palatable, the remoteness and eerie quality of the island depicted just perfectly.

Authors L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims did some homework on ley lines: The mystical significance that can occur through the alignment of ancient megaliths and monuments, and integrate that hypothesis into the story in a very clever way. Again, lots of positives and superlatives regarding the book.

Near the novel’s end, however, it all starts unraveling with an unsatisfactory and lengthy explication of the ultimate evil behind the horrors. Later comes the absurd arrival of a secret religious sect to aid Department 18 in its stand off against the big time malign adversary. The book doesn’t descend into a death spiral, but after all the excitement, the sublime ratcheting up of tension, this is a huge letdown.

Maynard and Sims have produced one of the most frustrating reads in recent memory. It seems likely that there will be future novels set in the domain of Department 18. Hopefully, then the writers will harness, and follow through to the end, all the literary gifts they display for the bulk of Black Cathedral. It came so close to excellence, but ultimately disappointed.

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