Thursday, December 16, 2021

The Supernatural Thrillers of Archie Roy

The Scottish astronomer and psychic researcher Archie Roy (1924-2012) was the author of six SF/supernatural thrillers spanning the decade 1968-1978. I found four of them for about £1 each in the cellar of Richard Booth’s at Hay-on-Wye, where genre paperbacks are banished in case they contaminate the literary stock: SF, fantasy, horror, romance, westerns.

If you’re even moderately tall, you have to keep ducking under the beams, which certainly keeps you alert. On the plus side, the stock here is reasonably priced and you can pick up odd things.

The first of his books, Deadlight (1968), mingles Cold War era science and technology with ancient standing stones, like the later The Twelve Maidens (1973) by Stewart Farrar. In Roy’s novel, a scientist who is onto a big discovery that troubles his conscience meets with a fatal ‘accident’ while surveying a stone circle on the island of Arran, and a colleague, coincidentally called Arran, goes to investigate.

Roy’s writing is confident and urbane, brisk and well-structured, albeit following fairly conventional plot routes. His narrator says that ‘every man wants to be James Bond’ (although personally I’d much rather be Catweazle) and there are certainly Bond-like elements in his plot: a secret society that wants to rule the world, a suave villain, a glamorous, sophisticated young woman.

Roy obviously knew the island of Arran well and gives the routes and locations in detail, so that you could follow the story on the map or on the ground if you wished. There is a sustained chase scene across the rugged mountains of the island which makes the reader almost as breathless as the characters, and which certainly earned him the comparisons that were made to John Buchan.

Possibly he was also influenced by the example of Fred Hoyle, another distinguished astronomer who wrote thrillers combining science, ancient sites and pursuits across country, such as Ossian’s Ride (1959) and October the First is Too Late (1966).

In Deadlight, the megalithic monuments are (a little disappointingly) mostly just a backdrop rather than the main cause of the action or the speculative ideas, but in some of Roy’s other books the residues of the past are more to the fore. With their exploration of questions of time and space and other dimensions, and parapsychology, and their pace and vigour, they are an interesting later efflorescence of the metaphysical or supernatural thriller mode that first flourished in the interwar period.

His other novels are: All Evil Shed Away (1970); The Curtained Sleep (1971); Sable Night (1973); The Dark Host (1976); and Devil in the Darkness (1978).

(Mark Valentine)

Image: Orkney International Science Festival

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