Mania is set in a hotel situated in the middle of the English countryside and with a name like The Donnington Country Hotel it sounds like a very respectable establishment. This is not the case. It used to be a private nursing home, run by a pretty nasty pair of individuals—George and Brenda Clements—who mistreated their patients. One patient, Walter Gull—sick and tired of laying in his own filth and being tortured by the Clements—managed to escape. He got as far as the main road and died under the wheels of a truck.
The truth about the Clements never came out, but the fact that a patient had wandered off, while in their care, did not bode well for them and the authorities shut down the establishment. The strange thing about all of this is that, when the Clements reopened as a country hotel, all of the patients returned there to live as paying guests.
The two main characters in the story are Owain Pugh and Suzannah Mitchell. Suzannah’s husband left her for a younger woman and to make matters worse Suzannah’s daughter Rose holds her responsible for the split. Rose is a good kid really, but she is also very strong-willed and is used to getting her own way; so when her teacher announces an extra rehearsal for the school pantomime, Rose expects her mother to get her there at any cost, even though it is the middle of winter and snowing heavily outside.
After enduring a little emotional blackmail at the hands of her daughter, Suzannah finally gives up trying to talk sense into her and agrees to risk the weather and try to get her to the rehearsal on time. They don’t get there of course. The car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and Suzannah and Rose end up having to seek shelter at the Donnington Country Hotel.
Owain is a book dealer by profession and when his car skids off the road he is also forced to seek shelter under the Clements’ roof. By this time Suzannah has seen enough of her hosts to realize that there is something not quite right about them, so it is a big relief for her when she see the handsome stranger walk into the kitchen and, right from the start, Owen tries his best to take charge of the situation and protect Suzannah and Rose.
Mania was first published in 1989, but it does not feel dated and it is not too hard to get dragged into the story once you forget the unlikely scenario of patients returning to a nursing home as paying guests. Could this happen? I don’t know, but if it could I doubt anyone would voluntarily put themselves at the mercy of people like the Clements.
The Donnington Country Hotel is a strange place where even stranger things happen, including a virgin birth. The virgin in question is a young lady name Alison Darke-Smith and when she tells fellow guest Jack Christopher that she has never been touched by a man, Jack believes her, decides that the second coming is imminent, and appoints himself as her protector. As you might have guessed, Jack is a holier than thou kind of guy—well versed in the scriptures, and full of prayer. It’s just a pity he cannot find the strength to retire his flasher mac and stop exposing himself to the other residents, but I suppose we all have our cross to bear.
George Clements has other ideas about Alison’s baby. He believes that Satan has impregnated the girl and that she will bear a daughter. Not just any daughter either. George believes that it will be his own daughter, Elspeth, returned to life, but not without strings attached—sacrifices will have to be made.
I cannot say that I Iove this book, but Mania is a reasonably entertaining story and it is hard not to want things to turn out okay for Owain, Suzannah and Rose—who has key importance later on in the book—because they are pretty likable characters. The Clements, on the other hand, are so nasty that it is an easy matter for the reader to root for their downfall. In a way though, they are victims as well, to a certain extent, because they may have been very different people if dark forces had not conspired to rob them of their daughter.
Mania is a little slow moving and at times it seems like some aspects of the story have been either totally discarded or else forgotten about, but it is not by any means a terrible book. Is it spicy? No. The closest things to sex scenes are when Jack Christopher goes into flashing mode, or Vera Brown has one of her masturbation sessions. The one is more pathetic than spicy and the other is kind of icky. Is there any gore? Yes, there are a few nasty scenes, including a decapitation courtesy of a shovel-wielding madman, followed by a kind of barbecue your baby DIY-style scenario. If either of these things are likely to offend, you may want to give Mania a wide berth. If you can get away with that though, the rest of the book should be child’s play.