You could be smart and just read Martin Johnson’s “Niedermayer & Hart” on my say so, no questions asked. If you enjoy horror stories with a nice historical background, you will enjoy this book. If you liked “Quatermass and the Pit” (or the later “Five Million Years to Earth”) or Stephen Laws “Ghost Train,” you will like this book. If you like stories with a slow incremental unraveling of the true horror that lies beneath an antiques dealer in Hove (near Brighton, England), you will like this book. If you like a book with an unfortunately high body count, noble sacrifices and stomach turning evil, then you will like this book.
Believe me, the less you know, the better you will enjoy “Niedermayer & Hart” because you might be like me, somewhat jaded about some of the themes and myths used in book. You might think, oh no, not another book about …
But since I had very little information about the novel before I started reading, I never had a chance to form an opinion and thus read with an open mind.
OK, if you’re still reading, then let me explain that “Niedermayer & Hart” follows recently recovered alcoholic Jim Latimer, a photographer who drove his family away by his drinking, but is slowly rebuilding his life with the help of his friends. Thanks to a stroke of someone else’s bad luck, he even landed a job completing a catalog for the eponymously named company. It seems their previous photographer, a man Jim knew thirty years previous, had killed himself and a mutual friend recommended Latimer to the company.
When Latimer goes to the company to complete the photo shoot of the antique porcelains, however, he feels a distinct unease that he puts down to news of the previous photographer’s gruesome suicide and maybe a fetid smell emanating from the basement. He develops a headache that disappears once he leaves the building and its curious inmates. On his first visits, he never meets Mr. Hart and is informed Mr. Niedermayer passed away some time ago.
All this unfolds gradually, but not slowly, as we meet Latimer’s friends: his painterly neighbor Ruth Allison who’s had a psychic vision of Latimer; their mutual friend Erich Ledermann who’s also Latimer’s hypnotherapist; Bob Isherwood, the photographer who recommended Latimer to Niedermayer & Hart; and Jim’s daughter and his estranged wife. Sadly, many of these people will die or will be horribly scarred by Latimer’s introduction to the firm, established in 1957 but so much older than that.
Are you still reading this? You really should turn back because now I have to tell you there’s a parallel story that takes place during and after the Third Crusade (the one with Saladin and Richard the Lionheart). A great evil is unleashed by an act of hubris by a marshal of the Knights Templar, and yes, some of you may be saying, I know where this is going, but believe me, it goes in directions you wouldn’t guess. I will not go further than this, except to say that unspeakable horrors await Latimer. You may lose hope at times and I can only say the book ends as well as it can.
Actually, “Niedermayer & Hart” is three books in one. The first is Latimer’s story, the second the ancient story told to a Cistercian monk, and the third is the police procedural that begins after Latimer’s friends strike a small blow against the company. The third book introduces us to Detective Chief Inspector Susan Harris who gets to uncover the mystery largely without the benefit of Latimer and his friends knowledge, and the tension, of course, comes from not knowing whether the police will discover what they need to know in time.
If you’ve read this much of my review, I’m sorry, but I’m sure you’ll still enjoy Martin Johnson’s “Niedermayer & Hart.” Even if you’ve figured out the nature of the evil, the writing and the action of the climax will still have you turning pages relentlesssly. Just don’t plan to get a lot of sleep between your late-night reading and your nightmares.