Review of Harvest of Scorn, by F. G. Cottam

Abandoned House in Lewis and Harris

It is a huge relief to be finally off New Hope Island and realize the new hope of never setting foot on it again. And yet this trilogy – The Colony, Dark Resurrection & Harvest of Scorn – proves that F. G. Cottam deserves recognition as the principal author of full-length horror fiction in the English-speaking world. In the last two centuries two distinct species of supernatural stories have developed since Poe established and J. Sheridan LeFanu perfected the genre. There are classic ghost stories in the tradition of the master M. R. James. These tend to be placed in a homely setting such as manor house, cathedral, college – one of the greatest in a seaside hotel. They sneak up but can culminate in a climax that is scary as all get-out. They work best for me @ short-story or novella length: horse artillery – get into action fast, strike hard. Susan Hill & Andrew Taylor are the greatest contemporary exponents. Then there are the siege-artillerymen of horror fiction who create elaborate full-scale imaginary worlds. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the standard and archetype. Stephen King is the most successful contemporary commercial practitioner, Adam Nevil & Graham Masterton haven’t ever quite got it together, Sarah Rayne will be a star if she ever learns how to write a believable back-story – she excels @ horrid deaths. Mike (formerly M. C.) Carey is superb but now writes spiritual rather than supernatural fiction tho’ in that tradition, and F. G. (formerly Francis) Cottam is simply the best.

Back-story is plausible & generally accurate, tho’ I can no more believe that an 18th-century English-speaking Scot would be called Seamus instead of James (perhaps Jamie, pronounced Jimmy) than that I go about being addressed as Wilhelm rather than William (actually Will, pronounced Bill! The notion among English speakers that Gaelic names were somehow romantic surely dates only from the second quarter the 19th century, when bastard forms such as Hamish were invented—now in America we have the unisex name Shawn.) The tale of the slaver Andromeda and the witch-doctor’s curse, the slave ship captain who converted (like John Newton who wrote Amazing Grace), became a religious fanatic who tried to create his own utopia in the Hebrides (one such attempt BTW is still very much with us in America – it’s called Utah, formerly Deseret), and the really scary apparitions of the ghost of Rachel Ballantyne were all very effective. But the contemporary cast is too large to develop convincingly. For me the characters are only types: Baxter the sleazy resort developer, Lassiter the recovering alcoholic cop, Fortescue the bereaved marine historian, Ruthie the goth fiction writer, Helen the architect . . . it goes on – I’m still wondering how the name of an infamous Belgian SS-man got attached to Monseigneur Degrelle – all tend to be mere types with a label to keep them straight. For me, in contrast, the characters in Brodmaw Bay, The Waiting Room (especially when a character travels back in time to be with his love), & Cottam’s 1st out-&-out supernatural thriller The House of Lost Souls, were much more interesting and Dark Echo perhaps the most engaging story. (But authors: please ask me before issuing military rifles!) So whilst the Colony trilogy is Cottam’s greatest accomplishment, Harvest of Scorn is not his best book. But worth the effort, even if like me you have to recruit an Audible reader to carry you over the finish line.

 

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