The Legacy - John Coyne

For my full review, please visit Casual Debris.

Former horror and current golf author John Coyne wrote The Legacy early in his fiction writing career, and it helped establish him among the ranks of best-selling young American horror authors of the period, such as Peter Straub and Stephen King. While the novel was a best-seller and Coyne did pen some other successful horror books, most notably Hobgoblin (1981), he never reached the heights of Straub or King and his name is not well recognized today. Though regarded generally as a good craftsman who has written horror, literary fiction and a number of non-fiction works, as well as a marketable commodity, it is odd that Coyne did not reach greater heights, nor maintained the height he did achieve. In his introduction to the 1983 anthology The Dodd Mead Gallery of Horror, writer and editor Charles L. Grant honours Coyne by referring to him as "one of the most gifted and literary writers."

The Legacy is a novelization of the 1978 movie of the same title, directed by Richard Marquand (best known for Return of the Jedi) with story and screenplay by Jimmy Sangster. It tells the story of six people invited to Ravenhurst, a remote estate in rural England. They are brought together by the mysterious and wealthy Jason Mountolive, yet while five are familiar with Mountolive and the reason for the gathering, the novel's protagonist, Maggie Walsh, along with her partner Pete Danner, believe they have been recruited from California for an architectural project. The story is a combination of murder mystery along the lines of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, and dark demonic fantasy.

Though it is lacking in some areas, the book is an enjoyable and quick read. The writing is strong and suits the work: it is straightforward and clear, nothing intrusive, simply well constructed prose that allows character, setting and plot to function on their own merits. The characters are recognizable caricatures, but so well delineated that their stock qualities work nicely with the story. The dialogue is strong and the interaction between the diverse members of the gathering worked particularly well. The setting is so clearly rendered that while reading the entire landscape appeared before my mind's eye. There are some grey areas in plotting and resolution, but personally I like my fiction with a little grey. Everything spelled out would eliminate much of the story's required obscurity. Of course many of these elements are likely the result of having to follow the film's screenplay, but regardless are a part of the completed text.

My only real problem with the book is the climax (some spoilers ahead). I did not care for the final showdown with Jacques Grandier. In fact, I did not fully understand it. Grandier was not behind the killings at Mountolive's estate, and I figure he is attacking Maggie and Pete because he believes they are the one's responsible for the recent deaths, and hence believes he is defending himself. Yet there was something odd about Grandier walking the plank of the roof (so to speak) in that I could not imagine him being so lithe and athletic. It does not help that someone who was such a great marksman with bow and arrow cannot shoot a couple of people with a shotgun. Perhaps because the book is so visual yet we are never given a clear image of Grandier on the rooftop that the action appears to be playing out in a kind of fog.