Book Review: TerrorTome by Garth Marenghi

TerrorTome might read as though Robert Rankin or Jasper Fforde penned an amalgamation of Shaun Hutson, James Herbert, and Guy N. Smith books. With maybe a dash of Rick and Morty in there. But it is its own thing, with its own distinctive voice.”


TerrorTome by Garth Marenghi
Once upon a time, a show was made that was so outrageous, so ahead of its time, it was shelved by the TV network, never to be shown. Well, times changed, and that show eventually was released decades later, and it changed the face of television and horror forever. Maybe. Possibly. We can dream. In reality, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was a spark of comedy genius from Matt Holness and Richard Ayoade. Comprising six episodes interspersed with talking heads from some of its stars and creators, it was an intentionally badly made homage to horror books, films, and TV shows. Perhaps it didn’t quite set the world on fire, though those who know, know. You know? But it was something utterly unique, and nothing quite like it has been seen since.

That is, until now …

For the man who starred as Garth Marenghi, Matthew Holness, has written an unholy trinity of novellas as the dream weaver himself. So, sit back dear readers, get comfortable. Maybe even lock your doors and secure the windows. Because who knows what horrors await within the pages of this book? Who knows what might be unleashed? Do you dare? Do you dare to open the … TerrorTome? *

Beginning with an introduction by Marenghi himself, the book sets out its stall straight away. Those familiar with Darkplace will recognise the voice immediately. It’s irreverent, egotistic, and condescending. It’s also incredibly funny. It both captures the spirit of Darkplace and sets up the conceit of the three novellas, in a kind of meta way (more of that anon). Then we’re straight into the first story.

It concerns a writer called Nick Steen, who’s working on what he believes will be his horror magnum opus, when he finds an occult typewriter. This typewriter helps him produce his best work ever, though he doesn’t always remember or know what he’s writing. But it comes at a price; he enters into kinky sexual relations with it. This, of course, affects his mental health, his relationships, and … oh yes, threatens to unleash a world-destroying supernatural catastrophe. Or something. The parallels with Garth Marenghi’s ‘life’ are clear, and the discerning reader might also be able to detect a mild lampooning of those writers who put themselves in their own stories. This is further built on as the book progresses and it becomes clear Marenghi (or Holness) is riffing on various horror icons/imagery. The first novella, ‘Type-Face (Dark Lord of the Prolix)’ for example, has elements of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser mythos, though ingeniously twisted for his own purposes.

This homage is also not immediately apparent because the book is so damn funny. Jokes, puns, and rampant silliness come thick and fast, requiring a reread (or relisten). This is especially evident in the audiobook version, where Holness narrates in character as Marenghi. It’s an inspired choice to do so. His instantly recognisable tones add to the already side-splitting humour, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing this. The next novella, ‘Bride of Bone’, follows on from the end of the first, where Steen’s imagination has now escaped into the world. This one takes in serial killers, mad scientists/doctors, and, if this reviewer is not mistaken, a touch of Mary Shelley’s wonderful Frankenstein. It also, in the wider plot elements, continues the theme of writers inserting themselves into their own plots. It’s hard, for example, not to think of Stephen King’s cameo in his Dark Tower books.

The meta levels reach fever pitch in the last novella, The Dark Fractions. Nick Steen’s unpublished series—of which only one book was written—recalls King’s The Dark Half but takes it all to the nth degree. Steen, a fictional author created by Marenghi (himself a fictional author) has his own fictional self in his novel, and he has a dark twin. And this ‘dark fraction’ has his own dark twin. Etc., etc., ad infinitum. It leads to some absolutely inspired scenes of various, alternate Nick Steens chasing the original, and again the jokes come thick and fast. But beyond the humour, it’s clear Marenghi has a deep love of horror. No one could write this affectionately and sharply about the genre without a deep knowledge. And that knowledge comes from immersion. Holness, a lifelong horror fan, is also a writer of more serious fare. He’s had a number of short stories published to great acclaim, and his film Possum is an absolutely bleak horror steeped in atmosphere from the 70s and 80s. he clearly knows what he’s talking and writing about.

TerrorTome might read as though Robert Rankin or Jasper Fforde penned an amalgamation of Shaun Hutson, James Herbert, and Guy N. Smith books. With maybe a dash of Rick and Morty in there. But it is its own thing, with its own distinctive voice. And that voice is Garth Marenghi. If you watched Darkplace and wished for a full-length version of the hilarious snippets—“Blood. Blood. Blood … And bits of sick.”—this is it. It builds on the promise of those “quotes” and then some. It is quite possibly one of the funniest books this reviewer has read in a long time. Yet it is also a great, pulpy horror novel. It might be ludicrous, but then so were man-eating slugs and monster crabs. That doesn’t make them any less entertaining.

One hopes there will be more of this. Either more Nick Steen (mis)adventures, or something new, or maybe, just maybe, a return to Darkplace. Though there is the sense that show was something akin to lightning in a bottle, this book suggests there’s a lot more fuel in Marenghi’s tank. If you’re a fan of the show, you cannot afford to miss this book. If you’re new to it, but love horror and comedy, this will tickle you silly. Either way, your existence will be the better for it.

Seriously, buy this book.

*You have been warned. Or encouraged. Look, it’s your choice. This is Horror cannot be held responsible for any injuries, losses, or unleashing of hellbeasts incurred.


Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback, Audiobook, and eBook: (304 pp)
Release Date: 3 November 2022

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1 comment

  1. Whoa, TerrorTome sounds intelligent and fantastic. Great review!

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