THE HAPPY MAN by Eric C. Higgs


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Like Carolyn Slaughter's The Banquet (1984), this short horror novel uses kinkiness and social backgrounds to fill out an old Roald Dahl short-story idea--with middling success. The narrator is youngish engineer Charles Ripley, happily married to pretty Shelly and happily dwelling in a so-so development, Mesa Vista Estates, outside of San Diego. But things start changing when Ruskin and Sybil Marsh--a sexy, dynamic, slightly older couple--move in next door. Charles is oddly drawn to Ruskin, with ""the feeling that being Ruskin's friend would somehow help to change my life""--which has begun to seem too tame and dreary. True, violent things have a way of happening whenever Ruskin is around: a car-crash, mysterious murders, an ugly fist-fight with a cuckolded husband. (Ruskin is an insatiable sexual adventurer.) Still, Charles remains mesmerized by his devilish neighbor; and, soon after Ruskin lends Charles a rare English translation of some outrageous Marquis de Sade tales, Charles finds himself discovering the joys of sadism (in steamy S&M adultery), the freedom of uninhibited sexual action. (""I felt as if I had gotten over a once-insurmountable hurdle, and was now suffused with a sublime victory."") But there are dark pitfalls ahead, of course--starting with the departure of wife Shelly (who's been seduced by Sybil), leading to Charles' initiation into the Marshes' ""sacred brotherhood"" (involving much more than just sex), and ending with Charles' determination to wipe out all those heinous cultists. Less creepily convincing than the Dahl original, less stylish than Slaughter's battle-of-the-sexes approach--but a serviceable diversion for readers in search of kinky chills.

Pub Date: April 9th, 1985
Publisher: St. Martin's