Monday, January 12, 2009

The Underrated Coroner of Evil

Jessica Hamilton, who has written as Ken Greenhall in the US, has a distinct, rare voice. Virtually ignored on both sides of the Atlantic, she (or perhaps he?) has been absent from the genre for some time.

'Elizabeth' (Sphere, '76) was the first of Ms. Hamilton's slim, disturbing novels that I encountered. The second was 'Baxter' (Sphere, '77); it was titled 'Hell Hound' in the U.S. (Zebra) and attributed to Greenhall. As is Hamilton/Greenhall's style, the narrative unfolds from a taut, almost sociopathic, first person perspective. Elizabeth is a fourteen year girl who comes under the influence of a dead woman. She is encouraged to commit terrible acts of violence, beginning with the callous murder of her own parents.

The writing style is elegant and precise; the subject matter is dark and sinister.

'Baxter', like James Herbert's 'Fluke', is told from a dog's point of view -- in this case, a malevolent bull terrier. The dog kills each of his masters until he finds one who can command his respect.

The dog contemplates his future: "There must be some who see the world as I do; who know neither love nor fear.. I think I can find such a person..." When he does, death and
destruction result.

Once again, Hamilton takes firm control of the language and paints a macabre portrait of a sinister, cruel mind. The writing is tight and elegant, pretty on the surface, but swarming with rot and disease beneath the skin.

In 1989, French director Jerome Boivin adpated 'Baxter' for the silver screen. The film perfectly captured the book's tone and Hamilton's facility with language. The dog's voice-over, spoken in a throaty French baritone, added enormous weight to the dank, disturbing atmosphere.

Pocket Books, in the U.S., released 'Childgrave' ('82)

...and 'The Companion' ('88) under the Ken Greenhall moniker.

Once again, both novels are superb explorations of evil at a very intimate level. The writing is consistently powerful and disturbing.

Two additional novels, which I haven't read, exist: "Death Chain" (Pocket, '91) and the very well reviewed 'Lenoir' (Zoland Books, 2000), a non-horror effort about a black slave in Amsterdam.

In the UK, the Sunday Times called 'Elizabeth' an "elegant study of a world in which evil is total and triumphant".

Of 'Baxter', the Evening News said it is "A novel of inhuman horror".

Few modern authors have performed literary autopsies on the mechanics of evil so stylishly and as thoroughly as Jessica Hamilton/Ken Greenhall.

The mere recalling of my experiences reading these books gives me a delicious frisson of dread.

The author, a coroner of human evil, is really THAT good.

***** lists Greenhall's birth date as 1928


  1. This post is relevant to my interests.


  2. Will -- I'd love to read your take on the Hamilton/Greenhall books. Apart from my own blogs, etc., I've found virtually nothing written about his/her work except for the fantasticfiction listing.

    The writing is sublime, and the 'Baxter' movie translates the tonal qualities beautifully.

  3. Here's my take on the book and movie: