Gerald Suster – The Handyman (NEL, 1987: originally Severn House, 1985)
He was helpful. He was deft, neat and skillful.
Plumbing, carpentry, electrics, painting and decorating, he could turn his hand to just about anything in the house. He always turned up when he said he would, he tidied up afterwards and his charges were very reasonable. He was the kind of handyman you dreamed about.
And the kind you have nightmares about.
Julie and Bob Foster are a happily married couple with an adorable five-year-old son. Bob is going from strength to strength in his work, and when Harry, a self-employed do-it-yourself expert, arrives to help out aground the home, nothing seems brighter.
But after Harry’s arrival, things start to go suspiciously wrong. Harry’s cheerfulness and goodwill allow him to be a babysitter as well as helping out around the home and Bob begins to resent Julie’s affection for him, suspecting mischief. And then Bob’s company goes bankrupt, and after a violent struggle with Harry, he finds himself in a near fatal condition.
Harry has seemingly fixed everything – but in a way no one had ever dared to imagine. For the Fosters, the man who rebuilt their home is subtly, savagely destroying their lives …
Old Mrs. Parker is far from the full ticket. A high flier in the local WI and Conservative Club, her proudest moment was meeting Margaret Thatcher. She keeps a framed photograph of someone I assume is the late Mr. Parker for the sole purpose of spitting at and verbally abusing it.
Son Harry the Handyman is reputedly slightly retarded although harmless, perfectly harmless. He’s also a fledgling paperback fanatic!
“One shelf housed luridly covered paperbacks by James Herbert and George Scarman, Nick Carter and James Hadley Chase, Ian Fleming and Mickey Spillane and there was also a stack of Superman and Conan The Barbarian comics”.
‘George Scarman’? Suster himself, perhaps?
Harry is also up for “fifties pop, televised wrestling and table tennis, Practical Household, Walt Disney cartoons and Charles Atlas courses” while his dislikes include “boring intellectual discussions, travel, wine and spirits and indecency, obscenity and blue language” so he’s not quite the nailed-on Vault member he first appears.
Recently a child was murdered in the area and the police have yet to apprehend the sexual pervert responsible, which is the major reason why Bob Foster is against hiring Harry to babysit five year old Michael, no matter how good he is at putting up shelves, fixing the waste-disposal unit and everything else he turns his hand to. Trouble is, Michael has taken to him and Julie Foster is quietly impressed by the “banal” little man ….
After the incredibly ambitious, centuries long global conspiracy of The Elect this is a complete change of pace but no less compelling. Suster is fast becoming a personal favourite.
“Life ain’t much but it’s all you’ve got, Mrs. Foster, so stick a geranium in your ‘at and be ‘appy”
Grim days in the Foster household when Bob loses his job slap bang in the middle of the recession and his descent into near madness is painful to observe, particularly his wife and son. Bob, an American, has never been unemployed and refuses to claim benefit thinking a man with his expertise in airplane safety will stroll into a new, well-paid position. But no-one wants him. Frustration, anger and self-hate lead him to impotence and the beginnings of a sizable drink problem and, for the first time since they met, there’s a breakdown in his relationship with Julie. Speaking of breakdown’s, Harry’s lost his mother to a fatal heart attack and sold the house. Unfortunately, he’s yet to arrange anywhere to stay and, partly out of spite toward Bob, Julie lets him have the spare room for a week while he finds alternate accommodation. He moves his stuff in (you know he’s intent on putting up there for the long haul) with a delighted little Micheal showing great interest in his personal effects.
“My books … they don’t come any tougher than Mickey Spillane. See, it says that on the back.”
Michael is impressed: “Funny pictures on the front. Look that woman’s showing her boobs.”
Micheal will definitely write reviews for Vault in later life …. should he only survive this novel.
There have been hints of the abuse Harry sustained at the hands of his mother down the years – enforced transvestism being a cert – and a violent encounter with an old acquaintance in a pub lets us know that Harry, in his turn, has dished out some nasty behaviour in his younger days, although we’re yet to find out just what the “dirty bastard” did to Phil and the others. Now Bob has come to despise him after the supposedly weedy mummy’s boy thrashed him at table tennis in front of his son and followed that by beating him in an arm wrestling contest, too. It’s high time Harry hauled ass, reckons Bob, but the Handyman isn’t thinking to budge ….
All finished, and at last I’ve found a decent reference points beyond the glaringly obvious Gerald Suster’s Psycho. It’s a novel length variation on Charles Beaumont’s Miss Gentilbelle – but (at least) one louder. As Mark comments in the first post, the going gets very kinky toward the end as Harry (much put-upon and certainly not the least sympathetic character in the novel) brings his dastardly schemes to fruition and plays out on Julia what he could never bring himself to do to his unhinged mother. It is certainly not the worst of the ‘nasties I’ve read in any sense (but I don’t think anyone other than stupid here suggested it was) – Suster doesn’t play it anything like as gratuitously sensationalistic as he could have – but he certainly gives good creepy and pervy.
Thanks to Mark Samuels of Vault!
Julie Foster was happy – with her successful and handsome husband, Bob and their lively young son, Michael. Even Harry, the new lodger, was proving very useful – from putting up shelves to babysitting. Was it merely coincidence that after Harry moved in things started to go wrong? Bob seemed to think so. After Bob loses his job, his resentment of Harry’s intrusion in the family turns to violence, finally resolving in a near-fatal accident. With Bob in a deathlike coma, Julie is forced to rely on Harry more and more…
The Handyman is a novel of terrifying suspense from the author of The Block, Striker and The Force.
Cover (Severn House edition?) and blurb posted by Steve.