Tuesday, April 23, 2019

29. The Crib by Paul Kent [Part 1 of the Maternal Anxiety Horror trio]

I found The Crib in the fruitful St-Viateur free shelf, along with two other thematically similar 80s horror paperbacks, The Nursery and The Babysitter and several V.C. Andrews.  At first, I only took one of them, but back at home the missed opportunity of such a find started to gnaw at me.  I was somewhat inspired by the paperback community on Twitter as well, as I thought they would appreciate seeing at least a picture of them.  So the next time I was on St-Viateur, I checked the shelf and fortune smiled upon me as both other books were there.

 Maternal Anxiety Horror trio

At first I was just going to take a picture of them, but once I had them in my hands and saw their beauty as artifacts, I couldn't let them go. You really have to love the parallels in these three books, published across the span of a decade (The Babysitter 1979, The Nursery 1983, The Crib 1989).  As well as the obvious thematic similarities, they are all named The "something" and all written by authors with really boring white guy names.  And once I had them, I realized I can't parade their covers around without actually reading them.  Turns out The Crib was so much fun, that I've decided to read them in baby stage order (Crib, Nursery, Babysitter) and share my findings here.  So I present you the first ever Olmans Fifty Three-Part Maternal Anxiety Horror Special

We start with The Crib itself.  The first half was at worst competent and it held my interest until things started to pick up in the second half.  It ended up quite exciting with a complex and well thought out back story.  The entire premise is sort of obvious and you figure out quite quickly what is going on (though not the precise details, which are cool), but that didn't spoil the fun.  The Crib far exceeded my expectations and is going to be a keeper.

Dr. Stuart Rice is an epidemiologist who used to be a practicing surgeon.  One night in April, his wife wakens him to his neighbours' desperate call; their child has stopped breathing.  From this dark beginning, Stuart is reluctantly drawn into investigating the baby's death, perhaps as his only way to help.  He learns that other distant members of the same family had also lost babies to SIDS, at statistically disproportional rate than should be normal.  The research and work that Stuart does as he digs deeper into the patterns of baby deaths is the competent part of the first half.  Some may find research and investigation action dull and I don't know how accurate it was, but I enjoyed the inside peek at how the W.H.O. organized and distributed its data in the 1980s, the discussions with his buddy the M.E., his visits to the public library, meeting with the new data academics where he actually gets a database programmed for him!  All this rational attempt to explain is entertaining enough to get around the basic fact that it is obviously the crib that is doing this.  At times you are kind of banging your head against the book going, dude, it's The Crib!  What is truly hard to swallow is that anyone would want to re-use a crib that a baby had died in, but especially one where thirteen children had died, all on Easter and each of their names is carved into the wood slats of the crib!  I know it was the 80s where we weren't so obsessed with child safety, but come on.

Despite this whopper, The Crib maintains your suspension of disbelief.  And it gets fun.  The narrative here is much more akin to a men's action book, though more cerebral, than true horror.  Stuart is characterized as a hunter or predator, honing in on the solution to the mystery.  His narrative as he goes farther afield the closer he gets to the truth is alternated with the back story of the piece of wood going backwards in time as it travels across the world and history to its origin.  If I tell you the wood used to make the crib was around 2,000 years old and seemed to have some kind of dark stain on it, do you think you might have a sense of what that might be?  You learn that info and more a quarter of the way into the book and it's not until the last page that what the reader has long since known is thrown out like a shocking reveal.  Dr. Rice seems smart but perhaps sometimes can't see the forest for the trees.

The Crib is imperfect, but well put together and ultimately entertaining.  Turns out Peter Kent is Canadian, an ex-doctor who wrote and lived in Vancouver.  I think this is his only book, which is too bad.  Also turns out that it is kind of collectible.  Paperback copies on Abe Books in good condition going for $30-40!


Brian Busby said...

Great find! I'll be keeping an eye out for a copy. Interesting to note that the author's name appears nowhere on the front or back cover. "A searing new novel in the classic tradition of Stephen King and John Saul." Yes, yes, but who wrote it?

Intentional or yet another publishing cock-up, I wonder.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Yes, I noticed that as well. Actually, the name is there on the little byline on the bottom, but an awfully quiet way to promote the author. Almost like they were ashamed. His name is on the spine, the same size as the title.