Thursday, 31 October 2019


eBook cover
Author: Guy N. Smith
First Published: 1980
File size/Pages: 473KB / 207pp
Ebook Publisher: Black Hill Books
Ebook Date: February 2011

When I finished reading Bamboo Guerillas, the first Guy N. Smith book to appear on Digital Bibliophilia, I really did not think I would be reviewing a third Smith book within five months. I was not very impressed with that first novel, however I gave Cannibals a chance and thought it was better, so I thought why the hell not give a him a third try. I'm glad I did, as Deathbell is a significant improvement on both those earlier novels.

Written in 1980, it would appear that Deathbell could have been written before GNS embarked on a crazy schedule of six books in the next twelve months. I fear (no pun intended) for the quality of those books - that is a lot of books for one person to release. However, 1980 itself consisted of three other novels; Thirst; Satan's Snowdrop and Caracal, so who am I to criticise!

Deathbell takes place in the English fictional village of Turbury. A typical sleepy place, bank, church, a few pubs, tiny police presence and a small school, with links to the nearby larger town of Lichfield. One day the local town elders, who while away the days gossipping and smoking their pipes, notice that someone has moved into the long abandoned Caelogy Hall (formerly known as Sodom, with a gruesome past). They sneer at the old house, with its new light coming through the old windows and heavily chained-up gates. Who can afford to live there? And why have they moved into such a place with a blasphemous history?

The new owner is wealthy businessman Martyn Hamilton, fresh from his successes in far flung Tibet. He is accompanied by his wife Sylvia and a strange Chinese young woman by the name of Karamaneh. They prove to be very private, never venturing outside, and never inviting anyone to visit.

That is until Fred Reubens, local builder, is asked to pop over and talk about some work required in the Caelogy Hall chapel. Hamilton wants Reubens to erect a strange bell he has had transported to the UK from Tibet up into the chapel tower. He says it is for his own family's religious purposes. Reubens is reluctant to do the job at first. It's getting colder and it will be difficult to work in the bad weather and increasingly poor light as winter approaches. But he is convinced by Hamilton, and the extra money is too tempting. He sets to work, despite the misgivings he has and strange aura that seems to be emanating from the bell itself. Reubens finishes his work as quickly as he can, better to be done with the job and long gone.

...then someone rings the bell...

GNS takes his time with Deathbell - much more than he did in the previous books I have read and it is all the better for it. The staging and set up for his characters feels more solid. Reubens, simpleton Donald Hughes, Vicar Rawsthorne and others get more character building than some of his other work. He also allows the story to take its time, more restrained and less gung-ho. Of course this is GNS, so you know things will eventually get nasty and he does not let you down. We get blood, we get titillating sex, we get murder and rape and mutilation.

1981 edition
There are still those recognisable GNS tropes. A number of characters are introduced, given some touching background, then ruthlessly dispatched like throwaway cutlery. He also repeats his pattern of introducing the hero/heroine of the story later in the story, bringing them into Turbury after things have already turned nasty.

One thing of note: Smith's father was a bank manager I believe. In Deathbell, the village bank manager is given a bit of flavour by saying he isn't really a bank manager, but a branch manager. This is almost exactly the same characterisation he gave one of the main protagonists in Cannibals. Is he saying something about his own father?

I've got to say I really enjoyed this book. I might be turning into a GNS fan if this continues. The slightly slower pace in the build up of the plot really suited my tastes. I'm aware that there is a follow up titled Demons. I will be looking to fit that into my schedule some time.

I purchased Deathbell via the Kindle store for £3.59. Quite an expensive purchase for me in eBook; normally I would look out for a cheaper paperback copy in a used bookstore. However, taking into account how much I enjoyed the story and the improvement in Smith's story-telling I think it was actually good value.

A recommended read if you are a fan of horror or Smith, or want to try one of his books for the first time.