R.I.P. horror novelist James Herbert

An author who held a particularly special place in the hearts of those genre connoiseurs who came of age between the 70s and the dawn of the internet age, James Herbert has died aged 69, says his publisher Pan Macmillan. No cause of death was disclosed, but Herbert is reputed to have passed peacefully in bed. A perennial library checkout of fathers and older cousins, at least in this writer’s family, the novelist’s bibliography spans from his 1974 debut, The Rats, to what would prove to be his final work, 2012’s Ash.

Author James Smythe, speaking to The Guardian, nails Herbert’s particular magnetism as a signifier of adult tastes for curious teenagers: ‘James Herbert was one of the first adult writers – in both senses of the term – that I ever read. When I stopped reading my gateway teenage books and moved on to my dad’s horror novels, he was one of the big three: him, Stephen King and Dean Koontz.’

The work of those three – with their alternately enigmatic and lurid cover art, authors’ names embossed above the titles in jagged fonts that, to adolescent eyes, loudly proclaimed their horror chops – are inextricable from memories of the era they dominated for a generation of horror fans.

Herbert’s editor Jeremy Trevathan, also speaking to The Guardian, hailed him as ‘one of the keystone authors in a genre that had its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s a true testament to his writing and his enduring creativity that his books continued to be huge bestsellers right up until his death. He has the rare distinction that his novels were considered classics of the genre within his lifetime. His death marks the passing of one of the giants of popular fiction in the 20th century.’

Herbert declined in prolificacy as he aged, although a slowing in work rate was surely inevitable from his initial one -book-per-year rate between 1974 and 1981. Of his later work – the five books he published in the 90s and the three in the 00s – 2006’s ghost story The Secret of Crickley Hall recently gained a particular boost in popularity from a successful 2012 BBC TV adaptation. Herbert’s aforementioned final novel, Ash, saw paperback release just last week.

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