By William W. Johnstone (Zebra Books; 1983)
Readers in the mood for trashy fiction could certainly do worse than the Zebra published horror novels of William W. Johnstone, this one in particular. It can be read as the literary equivalent of the Christian scare films of Ron Ormond and others, what with its consistently sleazy and exploitive set-pieces matched by equally consistent Christian sermonizing to remind us that we shouldn’t be enjoying the lovingly described mayhem–which I’m certain would be censored or at least toned down were it not for the religious overlay.
Given that Mr. Johnstone was the son of a minister and peppers the novel with right wing political screeds, I’ll assume THE NURSERY’S spiritual bent is genuine. Too bad it’s offset by none-too-devout descriptions of rape, incest, anal sex (which is frequent enough that a character is moved to ask “What is this preoccupation with anal sex?”), torture and mass slaughter, all described in strikingly coarse language. Words like “fuck,” “cock,” “cunt” and “cum” are frequently employed in descriptions like “Mike got the distinct impression this lady never had and never would get enough cock” and dialogue like “Look, man; see my hole…You don’t even have to get any KY Jelly or anything. Just wet me from my cunt and give it to me.”
This novel also stands as something of a reality check for readers who pine over the days of pre-internet publishing, when the industry gate-keepers allegedly kept a lid on crappy writing. I guess those gate keepers were asleep on the job when it came to THE NURSERY, which is poorly conceived, crudely written and derivative. There’s also the issue of the title, which is quite misleading, referring as it does to a satanic nursery that’s largely peripheral to the central narrative (which is a shameless rehash of the same author’s 1980 novel THE DEVIL’S KISS and its sequels THE DEVIL’S HEART and THE DEVIL’S TOUCH).
THE NURSERY involves Mike, a hunky ‘Nam veteran who returns to his Louisiana hometown, unaware that the place has been taken over by emissaries of Satan. Mike quickly learns that not all is right in this seemingly quiet and conservative environ; among other things, when Mike disciplines his girlfriend’s troublemaking teen daughter by beating her she actually enjoys the strapping and begs for more.
Being the tough guy he is, Mike isn’t averse to taking on the Satanic stronghold, leading the non-infected townspeople to conclude that he was sent by God. Mike subsequently demonstrates his Godliness by using his military skills to indiscriminately massacre his oppressors, be they Satanic emissaries or innocent people brainwashed by the former, in a succession of fitfully gory shoot-outs and explosions.
The ending, rest assured, is a happy one, although Johnstone isn’t above concluding the book with an exploitive sentence that could be a slasher movie tagline: “And where are your children this evening?”