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Summary

Charles Ripley has a good job as an engineer, a pretty wife, and an expensive house in a fashionable San Diego suburb. But it isn't until Ruskin Marsh moves in next door that Ripley realizes how passionless his life really is. Marsh, a connoisseur of the arts, high-powered lawyer, model husband and father, and effortless seducer of women, is so supremely alive that Ripley finds himself irresistibly drawn to him.

But after Marsh's arrival, local girls begin to vanish, marriages end violently, nights are split with endless, desperate screams, and horribly mutilated corpses are found. Soon, Ripley becomes caught up in an accelerating maelstrom of sex, drugs, violence, and ghastly, unimaginable rites...and begins to see the beauty of life.

From its profoundly unsettling first pages, Eric C. Higgs's The Happy Man (1985) reveals the nightmare underside of the American dream and brilliantly echoes the Gothic horror tradition of Edgar Allan Poe and Roald Dahl.

"The Happy Man is an essential '80s horror read: smart, sharp, unforgiving, unlike anything else in the genre." - Too Much Horror Fiction

"[A] grisly shocker, understated for the most part but carrying the impact of a fist to the stomach...a most promising debut." - San Diego Union

"A thoroughly engrossing Gothic horror story." - South Bend Tribune

©1985, 2018 Eric C. Higgs (P)2018 Valancourt Books LLC

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Ennui and intensity in Suburbia

A decent short novel about ennui, the death of the soul in modern, mechanised society and suburbia, and the pursuit of intense experience which seems further away than it once was; about mid-life crisis of sorts, and finally a tale of redemption and regaining one's decency, perhaps.

Not Virginia Woolf or Nabokov, but an engaging read with some thoughtful themes running along in the background.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Dark Satire That's Lost None of its Bite

This novel is one of only two ascribed to Eric C. Higgs and the world is a lesser place for not having more of his fiction in it. This is a dark and insightful satire of the material, upper-middle-class lifestyle that was so celebrated, in the west, in the nineteen eighties. Engineer Charles Ripley has a pretty wife, a good job, a great home and a huge hole at the centre of his life. A hole that he hopes to fill through his friendship with the new neighbour, Ruskin Marsh. But Marsh has dark secrets and even darker appetites.
The fact that the book is over forty years old, is of no significance, it has only become more relevant in the intervening years. It is literate, well observed and excoriating in its dissection of the emptiness of modern life and the extremes to which we'll go to fill it with some meaning.
Credit should also go to Matt Godfrey's carefully judged performance, which brings Ripley's laconic voice to life and fleshes out every other character he portrays.

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Profile Image for Midwestbonsai
  • Midwestbonsai
  • 15-04-18

a neighborhood friend telling you a crazy story

In the opening moments of Eric C. Higgs's The Happy Man: A Tale of Horror, we learn of a murder - the Marsh family has been shot dead next door. We're told this by Charles Ripley, whose first-person account gives us insight into the San Diego neighborhood he inhabits. The victims next door are not the only murders this neighborhood has seen recently, and Ripley recounts the events leading up to this penultimate act of violence. In fact, strange things have been brewing ever since the Marshes moved in...

Outside of his marriage, Ripley doesn't have a lot of friends and few men he can connect with. He quickly bonds with the newly arrived Ruskin Marsh, and their wives form a fast friendship. As Ripley and Marsh become better acquainted with each other, Charles is introduced to a very rare work of writing from the sexual libertine Marquis de Sade. Entranced by Marsh's own sexual exploits and lack of inhibitions, Ripley soon finds his own constraints diminishing and begins straying into extramarital affairs and, soon enough, darker exploits encouraged in de Sade's writings.

Narrated by Matt Godfrey, The Happy Man is a slow-burn work of suburban horror that finely balances placidity with hair-raising, horrifying drama. This is a well-crafted work of psychosexual drama, and Godfrey's reading of the material captures the feel of a neighborhood friend telling you a crazy story. At only a bit over 5 hours long, Godfrey keeps the narrative moving along nicely. Higgs, meanwhile, keeps the work grounded, and the moments of horror are never implausible or outlandish. Higgs earns each of his twists and turns by giving us believable characters and a pot-boiler narrative that slowly builds toward the inevitable.

Written in 1985, and recently reissued by Valancourt Books, The Happy Man taps into the anxiety of The Other with its themes of sexual promiscuity, casual drug use, fear of immigrants, and the rise of the Christian Right and their idea of what constitutes family values. While this latter is never overtly mentioned, given the period Higgs was writing in I can't help but feel like much of this book is a response to the political climate surrounding it. Marsh is very much a hedonistic figure, the kind of guy Nancy Reagan would encourage you to Just Say No! to, and his arrival to this suburban neighborhood threatens to destroy everything his fellow yuppies hold dear, upsetting the balance of their perfectly coiffed all-American lifestyles. With its themes of racism and the sexual objectification of women, The Happy Man is very much a product of the 1980s, yet much of horrors its reacting to, and certainly expounding upon, still feel topical today. Higgs takes all the fears of 80s Evangelicalism and runs with them toward their worst-case finale - the destruction of families at the hands of an outsider. It's telling, though, that while Mexican immigrants are often blamed for some of the seedier aspects of this white collar, upper-crust San Diego subdivision, the root cause of their problems lie much, much closer to home. Perhaps, in between the moments of eroticism and shocking violence, Higgs was trying to tell us something after all.

Audiobook was provided for review by the narrator.

Please find this complete review and many others at my review blog.

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  • Simone
  • 24-03-18

Moderately Good

I wanted to like this book so badly. From the description to the narrator to the cover, it sounded right up my alley. I had the hardest time getting into this one. It seemed to get interesting in bursts to me but never really grabbed me. Perhaps it just wasn't for me! Matt Godfrey literally always does fantastic work, so it may be worth the listen just for him. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone only because it didn't strike a chord with me.

I was voluntarily provided this free review copy audiobook by the author, narrator, or publisher.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Amanda
  • 05-05-18

Not sue what that was

First off the narration was excellent but the story was disturbingly not what I was expecting. It was as deluded dark psychological tale of one mans trip into disturbing sexual fantasy led by a sadistic friend. A very weird tale of internal monologue. Again the narrator was fabulous though. I received a free review copy of this book at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • James
  • 01-05-18

Happy - not happy

Very strange and twisted neighbors destroy the nice couple next door and the neighborhood. The plot started out really strong, but fizzled just toward the end, however, this was a really good listen.

“I was voluntarily provided this free review copy audiobook by the author, narrator, or publisher.”

1 person found this helpful

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  • neal
  • 21-04-18

The Happy Man: A Tale of Terror - review N Smead

First things first..

[I have been given a free copy of this audio book in return for an unbiased review finished in a set time. I am in no way affiliated with the author/narrator/publisher]

Now that we are done with the legalese...

I requested this book solely on the fact that, the book's cover consists of nothing but a fork speared eyeball. Really, what more do you need to know?

So you can imagine my surprise when I hear the melodic tones of Matt Godfrey speaking through my headset. This book (like his others so far) does not disappoint in keeping the listener entertained both in the creative writing of Eric C. Higgs as well as through the narration of Matt Godfrey.

From the very beginning, you are brought into the macabre world of Ruskin Marsh via Charles Ripley. Ripley is an average mild mannered suburbanite. Good job, good home, good neighbor, good marriage. Then comes Ruskin Marsh.

Akin to other anti-heros such as Dexter (Dexter) and Patrick Bateman(American psycho). Marsh invades the normalcy and every day life of Charles Ripley very slowly, and deliberately. Right away you find that the aesthetics of the Marsh marriage are just that; for appearances only.

By the fourth chapter the true dark nature laying within Marsh is revealed. However, it is written in such a way that instead of casting shadows on these acts, Higgs gives us his amazing insight in his interpretation of: ambivalence, raw passion, disgust, and pure bliss all at once; Godfrey does his damndest to make all of these feelings come to life during his narration.

The Marquis de Sade even makes an appearance in the form of a rare leather bound tome offered to Ripley from Marsh as a form of "bait" to start luring this naive engineer down a dark rabbit hole. Cudoes to Mr. Higgs for that particular name drop.

All in all I will give this a 3/5

I enjoyed the story, but it just seems like this kind of story is everywhere right now, and it is just lost in the middle of the pack somewhere. Matt Godfrey does a rather good job in keeping the listener entertained, and as always brings a solid performance. I would recommend this to anyone who loves: gore, brutality, introspection of a psychotic psychi, dark horror/mental manipulation themes. It is worth the credit to listen, but for me there isn't much replay value.

1 person found this helpful

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Profile Image for JenniferLOVESThrillers
  • JenniferLOVESThrillers
  • 15-04-18

A NICE HAPPY TALE OF HORROR

This story has a great narrator, which really made the story enjoyable. It's an interesting tale and not at all what I expected. It had a couple of twists that really surprised me and that does not happen often for me. The book is relatively short yet I felt satisfied. I recommend this novel to anyone that enjoys horror, and a good story with great narration.

I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for TU
  • TU
  • 13-04-18

Great but not for the prudish

I was given this free review copy audio book at my request and have voluntarily
left this review.

I'm not sure how to quantify my feelings on this book. I love the 80's setting, as I'm a child of the 80's. I also love the old pre-2000's horror movies. That being said, this has a definite sexual overtones and content, which kind of surprised me. Mostly because I didn't expect the amount of sexual depravity in the book. It's just not my cup of tea. That being said, the book has a great building of tension as the book progresses. The narrator does a great job on the book.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Michael Hicks
  • Michael Hicks
  • 11-04-18

1980s Horror That Still Resonates Today

In the opening moments of Eric C. Higgs’s The Happy Man: A Tale of Horror, we learn of a murder – the Marsh family has been shot dead next door. We’re told this by Charles Ripley, whose first-person account gives us insight into the San Diego neighborhood he inhabits. The victims next door are not the only murders this neighborhood has seen recently, and Ripley recounts the events leading up to this penultimate act of violence. In fact, strange things have been brewing ever since the Marshes moved in…

Outside of his marriage, Ripley doesn’t have a lot of friends and few men he can connect with. He quickly bonds with the newly arrived Ruskin Marsh, and their wives form a fast friendship. As Ripley and Marsh become better acquainted with each other, Charles is introduced to a very rare work of writing from the sexual libertine Marquis de Sade. Entranced by Marsh’s own sexual exploits and lack of inhibitions, Ripley soon finds his own constraints diminishing and begins straying into extramarital affairs and, soon enough, darker exploits encouraged in de Sade’s writings.

Narrated by Matt Godfrey, The Happy Man is a slow-burn work of suburban horror that finely balances placidity with hair-raising, horrifying drama. This is a well-crafted work of psychosexual drama, and Godfrey’s reading of the material captures the feel of a neighborhood friend telling you a crazy story. At only a bit over 5 hours long, Godfrey keeps the narrative moving along nicely. Higgs, meanwhile, keeps the work grounded, and the moments of horror are never implausible or outlandish. Higgs earns each of his twists and turns by giving us believable characters and a pot-boiler narrative that slowly builds toward the inevitable.

Written in 1985, and recently reissued by Valancourt Books, The Happy Man taps into the anxiety of The Other with its themes of sexual promiscuity, casual drug use, fear of immigrants, and the rise of the Christian Right and their idea of what constitutes family values. While this latter is never overtly mentioned, given the period Higgs was writing in I can’t help but feel like much of this book is a response to the political climate surrounding it. Marsh is very much a hedonistic figure, the kind of guy Nancy Reagan would encourage you to Just Say No! to, and his arrival to this suburban neighborhood threatens to destroy everything his fellow yuppies hold dear, upsetting the balance of their perfectly coiffed all-American lifestyles. With its themes of racism and the sexual objectification of women, The Happy Man is very much a product of the 1980s, yet much of horrors its reacting to, and certainly expounding upon, still feel topical today. Higgs takes all the fears of 80s Evangelicalism and runs with them toward their worst-case finale – the destruction of families at the hands of an outsider. It’s telling, though, that while Mexican immigrants are often blamed for some of the seedier aspects of this white collar, upper-crust San Diego subdivision, the root cause of their problems lie much, much closer to home. Perhaps, in between the moments of eroticism and shocking violence, Higgs was trying to tell us something after all.

[Note: the review was originally published at audiobookreviewer dot com]

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Jason Begly
  • Jason Begly
  • 25-03-18

The Happy Man

For most of this book I expected a very specific outcome. I was totally sold in my mind how everything would play out. I love that I was wrong about the journey to the conclusion and I am very happy to have been wrong about the outcome. This was a really fun journey into madness. I cannot go into details because it would give the little nuances of the book away and that is no fun for anyone. I will say that the confession of the wife should NOT have been a surprise, and yet it was. I was so enthralled in "knowing" what was going to happen I missed my cues. To me, that is a really good thing. As always, Matt Godfrey killed it with his narrative. He has quickly become one of my favorite raconteurs... yeah, that sounds correct. If I used that wrong then I claim creative freedom.

This book was given to me for free at my request for my voluntary and unbiased review.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Jamie
  • Jamie
  • 21-03-18

Well written little horror story...

If you could sum up The Happy Man in three words, what would they be?

Interesting. Thoughtful. Shocking.

What did you like best about this story?

The detail that the main characters were fleshed out.

Which scene was your favorite?

The last. Wrapped it all up nicely.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

No, but it kept me interested which is often no small feat.

Any additional comments?

I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

1 person found this helpful