The premise of The 37th Mandala is excellent: that of New Age charlatan Derek Crowe, who steals from an occult text to write his latest book. Little does he know that the text is real, and has unleashed the deadly Mandalas, cosmic creatures who feed on misery and pain.
True horror comes from revulsion and disgust, and the novel does this very well in many parts. There is plenty of suspense in the conversations between Crowe, a devout non-believer, and the mystic he steals the text from. Is he a crazy recluse, or the real thing? Perhaps the best horror comes in what Crowe, for inexplicable reasons, decides to wear to the climactic party. Of course, there's deep childhood traumas, a common horror trope, here it's executed quite well and adds good character depth.
What's sad, then, is that the novel is uneven, due to its unusual structure. It starts with the book already published, and gives away too many surprises too early. There's also the problem of the mandalas...
Laidlaw has created one of the more unique horror novels I have ever read. I must admit that I had some difficulty getting through the first 50 pages or so of this novel, but after that, I simply could not stop reading this story.
Derek Crowe is a hack writer of new age/occult self-help books. His only concern is how to write "the" novel that will make him rich and famous. His disdain for his readers as well as his rather stunted personal life, however, combine to leave him feeling empty. While on the obligatory speaking engagement, Crowe meets the very young Michael and Lenore Renzler. What none of them realizes is that Derek's latest novel is a deceptively benevolent presentation of some serious evil. As it turns out, Derek has knowingly altered these ancient texts of the mandalas, thus allowing a powerful, horrible force into the world. Derek, Michael and Lenore are all drawn into a spiraling life-threatening chase to fight or join the mandalas...
This is Laidlaw's best novel, and not to be missed. It's a brilliant and truly creepy look at obsessive behavior and occult happenings, and rewards close readings by those who really like and study the horror genre. The plot? Others give you an idea below-- but just pick this up and read it. It's as good as the best King or Straub or Simmons-- a modern Lovecraft story for those who want a nasty night with a book that causes memorable dreams of flayed skins and the suffering of millions offered up as a paean to... but that would be telling.
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