The Forbidden by F R Tallis. Macmillan £12.99
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn
F R Tallis is the cunning disguise of crime writer Frank Tallis – now branching into supernatural horror with this novel mostly set in late 19th century France. The first-person narrative is the story of Paul Clément. As a trainee doctor he takes a position in the Caribbean where he witnesses a voodoo murder. On his return to Paris he investigates the use of electricity to save lives (an antecedent of today’s defibrillator) … and marrying his experience on the tropical island he embarks on a quest to explore the moments after death to discover what, if anything, is out there. (I will try to avoid plot spoilers in the following but I fear some will leak through.)
To pursue this he “kills” himself, to be re-vitalised by a colleague using batteries. But Clément doesn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, he encounters the depravities of hell, of demons and devils inflicting unending torture on the condemned souls. On his return to life Clément unwittingly brings with him a demon, infecting him, gradually altering his actions, his perceptions of right and wrong. And then there is the exorcism with its terrifying consequences.
Clément is a sceptic, doubting the existence of an omnipotent God. And yet he soon accepts demons and hell as real, not simply illusions or metaphors, even though the first exorcism required a priest and hallowed ground his scepticism persists. It is only when he finally believes that he finds the strength to face and possibly defeat the evil of the demon.
At times this novel felt too polemical. Also, I think the book would’ve worked better from the third person perspective. In horror fiction it’s not unusual for the narrative to come from beyond the grave. However, as the story progressed I knew that Clément would survive to recount his tale, would be redeemed, which takes away some of the uncertainty of the finale. Nevertheless, I enjoyed The Forbidden and I recommend it. The story is compelling, the characters engaging. But note: it’s not a pacy read; the story develops slowly, perhaps mirroring the speed of life of those times. Indeed, the style emulates that of a 19th century novel, a little wordy, where unfurling events are described deliberately – with, I suggest for a 21st century horror fan, a bit too much research slipping through.
Some of the set pieces seem destined to be scenes in a movie. The exorcism and trip to hell reminded me of The Exorcist and Constantine, for example. It’s not “Hell on Earth” – as the press release states – it is, most certainly, Clément’s personal hell.