An ancient Egyptian priest lurks in Central Park in Obelisk (1988), “a novel of blinding terror” by Ehren M. Ehly. Published by Leisure Books, Obelisk is a pulp horror novel of the eighties, nasty, fast and pleasantly cheesy.
The story starts in Egypt, where a young American plots to rob a newly discovered tomb. Little does he know that the tomb belongs to Menket, a powerful magician. Menket’s spirit possesses the American and takes his body on a ride across continents, dining on dogs and men on the way. After raping the American’s girlfriend, Menket hides in Central Park. It’s at the (actual) Egyptian obelisk in the park that the story finally plays out.
Alas, but it’s an uneven story. The first half of the story is great; it’s mostly told from the American’s viewpoint as he gradually succumbs to Menket’s spirit. After blacking out for hours, he wakes up with a taste of blood in his mouth and the ear of a dog in his pocket. What a hangover! Menket, it seems, requires bone marrow to sustain himself, which also happily provides the novel with some nice visceral moments.
Menket’s rampage through Egypt, London and New York reaches its’ high point in the middle of the novel, as he kills a rich collector of Egyptian artifacts. It’s a fierce scene that gives a nice jolt to an otherwise pleasurable storytelling. Then the viewpoint shifts away from Menket, and the novel falls apart.
The second half concentrates on secondary characters, mostly Menket’s victims. There’s far too much detail and backstory for each, and as a result the story loses momentum. Some characters seem completely pointless, like a little kid who stumbles upon Menket in the park and doesn’t even die, or an Egyptian diplomat who seems to have an inkling of what Menket actually is. Neither story seems to go anywhere. The finale is unsatisfying, almost an afterthought.
Obelisk could’ve been great. It has all the right ingredients of a pulp horror novel, especially the exotic Egyptian parts of the story are in the best pulp tradition. The American is not a very likeable main character, but his possession by Menket makes him sympathetic. However, Menket never seems to have any actual objectives, other than survival. His deeds are enjoyably nasty, but there’s only so much you can do with decapitations or crushing and sucking of bones. The ending meanders out, the ideas of the novel long since spent. Ehly‘s writing works well throughout, and it’s a pity that the plot doesn’t hold up.
A special mention goes to the embossed two-part cover that opens up to reveal a skeletal mummy. Now that’s something you don’t see much anymore these days.