(Over the next couple of days, I’m going to catch up on a few book posts. More detailed science posts in the works!)
When reporter Harry Clay really screws up a major assignment, his editor sticks him with the most boring stories imaginable — and Harry is willing to do anything to get back on top. When a number of career criminals begin dying horribly after performing a mysterious job, Clay sees a major scoop in the making — and he pursues the case without hesitation or moral scruples. The trail leads to actress Dame Susan Vallance, who is scheduled to premiere in a new play, “Our Lady of Pain,” only days away. The play is about the Countess Elizabeth Báthory, an infamous Hungarian serial killer who is said to have tortured and killed hundreds of women. But what is the connection between the actress, the criminals, and the deaths? Has an ancient disease been released from its slumber, or is something even more sinister going on? In uncovering the answers, Clay will find his sanity and even his life at risk.
Our Lady of Pain is one of Blackburn’s most powerful novels, and most unique. It features none of the familiar stock characters such as General Charles Kirk, and instead gives us a protagonist who is both flawed and vulnerable. Blackburn also departs from his usual plot device of a killer plague and gives us a unique and bizarre threat. The climax of the book is a scene that I find pretty much unforgettable, and the novel as a whole is well-worth reading for not only Blackburn fans but fans of horror in general.
I was excited to write an introduction for this book because it gave me the opportunity to delve into the real-life story of Elizabeth Báthory (1560-1614), who is generally considered the most prolific female serial killer in history. Estimates of the number of slain range from 30 to several hundred, mostly young women who were lured to her castle with the promise of employment. Her actions passed quickly into legend, and grew more bizarre and fantastic as time passed. Most people are familiar with the myth that Báthory bathed in the blood of young women to maintain her vitality, earning her the nickname “The Blood Countess.” There is no evidence that this ever happened, and the truth is perhaps much more horrifying: Báthory just liked to torture and kill.
Blackburn was no doubt aware of the difference between myth and reality, as he was well-read and all his novels show evidence that he thoroughly researched his subjects. He nevertheless found the mythological aspects worth adding to Pain, and he added a number of his own flourishes to the legend, creating a novel monster the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in fiction.
Our Lady of Pain marks the seventh and last novel of John Blackburn’s for which I have written an introduction, and it is a great one to end on. With that in mind, I would like to thank Valancourt Books for introducing me to the writing of John Blackburn and giving me the opportunity to discuss his work!
P.S. I also love the cover for this edition, which was done by M.S. Corley.