The Universal Library Series - Book Review
Experience More - Subscribe to Our Weekly Events Newsletter
A few years ago, I discovered a YouTube channel called Dark Corners Reviews
where the old horror, fantasy and science fiction films I grew up with and loved are reviewed with honesty and irreverence. Well, the presenter is a man named Robin Bailes, and he advertised his books, so at the start of 2022 I bought all five of them as paperbacks. Then he released a sixth, and I got that one as well.
Now, these are books that are self-published, and I usually don't read self-published works, but I am glad I got these. Together, they are called the Universal Library Series
, and are based on the old horror films given a modern update. There is a definite degree of affection in the way they are written, and I enjoyed them so much that I had to review the whole lot. The recurring group investigating strange goings-on is called Universal, so apologies for any confusion.
The Mummy's Quest (Book 1) (2017)
This was advertised as a horror comedy. Unfortunately, both the comedy and horror are light. But… what a book! This is an action-adventure yarn with a few good quips and some decent moments of mounting terror. However, it is as an action-adventure story that this succeeds. And it does succeed. The characters were believable, the mummy was well-constructed, the hidden tomb made sense, and the ending also made sense.
There were some jumps back in time that seemed more for atmosphere until the end and the wonderful twist. This book was really well put together. And its pacing is spot-on.
So, Amelia, an Egyptologist at Cambridge University, and her friend Izzy are dragged by circumstance to find a stolen mummy and end up in Egypt facing a long-dead queen and her minions. Anything else would be spoilers. And the ending with Amelia and Maggie is surely leading to another book in the series. I have to say, apart from a very old Bram Stoker story, I have not read many mummy books that feel 'right". Well, Bailes has changed that. This was well done and a great read to boot.
As for the technical aspects, there are a few formatting issues throughout the book, and the verb tense in the opening prologue felt wrong. And that is all I have to complain about. It is a very clean piece of work.
This is a very good introductory chapter to the series.
The Werewolf Of Priory Grange (Book 2) (2018)
The second book in the series had more comedy, gentle as it was, and more horror, but I guess the werewolf lends itself to that a little stronger. Once again, the main character was well thought-out and believable, and a returning character from the first book sort of tied the two of them together, though not so much that you needed to read the first one to get this one. The sense of horror was well done and, much like the old Universal monster films that inspired it, a lot of the more graphic scenes occurred offstage, so the imagination of the reader is allowed to run wild. And the ending has a slight twist that is intriguing going forward.
The pacing was once again well done, and it was not padded out. The Moors became an important player, and the way the Main Character thought in literary terms (author in parentheses) was a nice character trait.
The story: Lisa and her younger brother Oliver are sent to a new school because of something vague Oliver does – and which is left hanging, so I'm not sure if that's going to come back later on – which is in the thrall of a pack of werewolves. They need to find the alpha, because that will save some of the others, and anything else would be a spoiler so I will leave it there. Because of the recurring character and some of the mentions, this is leading to another book in the series. It was good to read a werewolf story that did not rely on gore (and I am guilty of that), but instead focused on the people behind the wolves. So, another great read in the series.
As for the technical aspects, there were more mistakes in word usage, formatting and other editing issues throughout the book than in the first.
Book two in the series improves upon book one in many aspects and makes the series more intriguing.
The Vengeance Of The Invisible Man (Book 3) (2019)
This book was longer than the other two and I recognised more of the allusions to the black-and-white Universal monster movies. It also had the best mix of adventure and comedy so far, and the story actually had a unique aspect to it that made it really intriguing… and one I'll not give away because the story sort of hinges on it. This story also had a major character from Book 1 as the major character here. While you didn't have to read Book 1 first, it would help to make sense of it, and of the ending. But this was another really strong book and fun to read.
The pacing was excellent, especially the last 50 pages or so, which just kept on moving without pause for breath. The love interest and their hook-up felt natural, and he was just on the outskirts of the story; he did not have to rescue the main character, but he was there for her.
The story: Amelia has come back to Cambridge from the Carpathian Mountains. Her sister is involved in the publishing of a book by someone who calls himself 'The Invisible Man', and who pulls off a series of stunts. Meanwhile, a number of intellectuals at Cambridge University die. It soon becomes apparent that the Invisible Man is involved, and yet maybe not. Then there are diabolical plots and an old police officer and we end with Maggie back in the picture as well.
As for the technical aspects, this was the cleanest of the three so far, though there were still some things that needed looking at.
Book three feels like Bailes has got the pacing and story-telling down well, and had the most intriguing plot thus far.
The Immortal Dracula (Book 4) (2020)
The books are getting progressively longer, and this still has a lot of story to pack into its pages. What is well done is the slow build-up of tension interspersed with the adventures of a female vampire hunter in the nineteenth century. There are some familiar returning characters and Universal is there in the background as always, but this feels more like something based on Hammer Horror films.
The slow build was well done, and the descriptions were strong without bogging down the work. There was a definite feel of the modern Gothic about it all, with old houses, musty libraries and the mysterious stranger, and yet couched in a world that is familiar to us because it is set "now". And the characters – especially our main character, a priest who is having a crisis of faith – come across as real as well.
The story is familiar. A mysterious stranger takes up lodgings in an old house in a small English town, starts to woo a spinster who dies mysteriously of blood loss, and then has designs for the woman our hero sees as his own. Meanwhile, back in the past, we have Bella hunting the infamous Count Dracula. The two stories intersect when the priest finds Bella's diaries and reads them and understands what is going on. But Maggie is still there, having missed the Count in Romania, and her appearance at the end is the only part of the book that didn't "do it" for me. There was a chapter near the end dedicated to what had been happening over the intervening time, catching us up, and it felt rather deus ex machina, to be honest. But the ending came as any good Hammer horror should, and it was presented very, very well otherwise.
This is even cleaner than the rest with tighter editing.
But for a tense horror-thriller, this is a really good example. His use of two time periods to help set the scene is a good choice, and the story was hard to put down - especially the last few chapters.
The Golem Of 2020 (Book 5) (2021)
This longer book had two horrors intersecting within the story. There is less of the slow build and more of jumping in media res. What this does is make it feel different, that the books are not copies of one another. Again, we had some familiar returning characters as well as some new ones with the Universal group still there as well. This was a step away from the book based on film ideas, as the Schreck goes beyond easy visualisation, again making it feel different.
The Golem was well done and the use of the pandemic as a backdrop was amazing. It made being alone make sense, and added a sese of things being awry beyond the story itself. This makes our main character – a nurse – and returning character Harrigan be in an almost dystopian setting. The Schreck was a very interesting addition, and the idea of the Golem being translated to a modern London setting worked very well.
In this one an artist builds a clay Golem which he puts outside a block of flats and into which he has put scraps of paper from the residents with their wants on it. This comes to life and does what the residents want, for better or worse. Meanwhile, an ancient evil has come across the Channel. The two stories intersect through the deaths of some illegal immigrants, there is a human bad guy and the whole is very neatly done. The flashbacks also work well in this situation, as they don't interfere with the story flow. The Golem as an unthinking being is well-realised and I think the only thing that felt convenient was Harrigan's Universal girlfriend being on the trail of the evil, but the way the story was constructed, it did not matter.
This is as clean as the last book. The humour was interspersed mainly in line with the human relationships, and felt rather muted, to be honest, but it also did not hinder the story.
This one, especially with the Schreck, was more in the horror vein, and with story loose ends tied up well come the conclusion, this was possibly the best structured of the series so far.
The Wolf, The Raven And The Black Cat (Book 6) (2022)
This book was even longer again! It had a much wider combination of horror lore at its core, including elements of Poe, ancient Egypt and the other tales. It was also the first one where I think you needed to have read previous books – especially books 1 & 2 – to get the most out of it. We had one very important returning character in the protagonist, and another returning character (of sorts) as one of the antagonists (or the leader of the antagonists – it is hard to explain without spoiling).
The horror, like much of Poe's work, was very psychological, although the addition of Lisa did add a very real animalistic threat, and the cat was there as a counterpoint. Plus, it could easily be said that zombie lore was included as well. I wondered how they were going to be included (as they had to be), and here it was done well with former information from earlier books. Using one of those made-up eastern European war-torn countries as the backdrop of the modern-day action was an excellent choice, and the use of history between Hjannah and Edgar was brilliantly done.
The story: Lisa and Vincent, two Universal agents, are driving through the country of Visaria. They pick up a man in a storm – Edgar – and he directs them to a house he has not been to in twenty years, owned by Hjannah, an old friend. There is to a be a ritual conducted, and there is a young man involved. Vincent disappears, Lisa struggles… And then we have a flashback to Jacqueline and we see what has come to pass to get us where we are. Then we come back to the modern day, and the ritual, and the discovery of something that should not have been done, and it all ends tragically. It did feel convenient that the Universal agents found Edgar, but I am getting the idea throughout this series that this sort of coincidence is par for the course with these people.
This has a few editing errors, and the humour was much lighter, almost non-existent a lot of the time. However, as a psychological horror tale, with that build-up of intensity, it is really well written, and the relationship between Hjannah and Edgar – constantly alluded to as a game of chess – is put together amazingly well, and forms the centre of the tale. The whole section with Jacqueline in Egypt is incredibly intense.
So, this was not the best of the series, but it was still a really good story and a strong tale with that creepiness inherent in psychological horror there. Also, as an aside, I am liking the Universal agents being used more than once, as it gives the series a continuity.
And that is my impressions of the first six books in the series. I dare say more will follow, but this review has been long enough as it is.
You can find them at
82745 - 2023-06-11 06:34:06