This is a full-length novel from the late seventies or early eighties, set in a contemporary English city (possibly London). The protagonist is a man in his thirties, who has some mild ESP abilities (specifically, the ability to "pick up an aura"), and is the subject of a parapsychological research project.

He's captured by a small group of similar psychics, who are the (involuntary) servants of an alien that lives in their basement. The alien is a shapeless pink mass - when he first sees it, the protagonist says to himself "I've walked into the stomach of the house!" I believe it calls itself 'The Soft One' or 'The Formless One' or something of the sort. It eats keratin - the protagonist finds a dead bird whose feathers have been eaten, and there's a fairly graphic description of a human who has suffered a similar fate. It has considerable psychic powers, and causes the protagonist to experience realistic hallucinations to persuade him to become its servant - he's (apparently) transported to a small town in America, and (on a different occasion) murders his girlfriend.

The alien is a fugitive from justice, and an alien bounty hunter arrives in the vicinity of Earth, intending to destroy it. The bounty hunter plans to drop a bomb on England, which will kill millions - it's aware of the presence of humans, but regards them as insignificant as they don't have telepathic powers. The protagonist becomes aware of the bounty hunter in some way - it's possible that his powers, enhanced by The Formless One, enable him to intercept its transmissions to its home planet.

After overcoming various perils which escape my memory for the moment, the protagonist kills The Formless One by burning down the house. The bounty hunter leaves without dropping the bomb, and the protagonist is reunited with his girlfriend (who he didn't murder) and loses his powers completely.

  • This rings a vague bell. When the protagonist is transported to the US does he find himself in a dark room and first realise he is in the US when he finds the light switches work the opposite way to the UK i.e. up is on and down is off? Commented Jun 4, 2018 at 11:16
  • @JohnRennie - Yes! I remember him saying something like "it's instinctive to move a switch down to turn it on". I think the name of the American town is "Gilpinston", or something like that - the first clue he gets is that the house numbers in the street he's transported to are in the 4-digit range.
    – Tevildo
    Commented Jun 4, 2018 at 12:28

1 Answer 1


The book is Dagger of the Mind by Bob Shaw.

Unfortunately my copy has gone missing some time in the last forty years so I can't provide supporting quotes. However the book is available on Google Books here so you can search for specific words. The protagonist is John Redpath, and the town in the US is indeed Gilpinston. The graphic description of the man whose skin was eaten by the alien is:

The face, the entire head, had been stripped of skin, creating what appeared to be a nightmarish sculpture in gelled blood.The eyes and eyelids, which were complete in every detail excpet for lashes, were complex spheres of blood; the naked flesh of the lips was parted to reveal blood-enamelled teeth; the nose, made pendulous by the distortions of the peephole lens, glittered as a mass of bloody droplets, and dark red bubbles welled and swelled beneath the nostrils, showing that the monster was alive ...

  • That's it, thanks very much!
    – Tevildo
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 9:03
  • @Tevildo it took me 24 hours searching what I laughingly refer to as my memory, but I got there in the end! :-) It's a good book. I think Bob Shaw is an under-rated author. Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 10:46
  • Bob Shaw is sadly under-rated. Dagger in the Mind isn't one of his best. The shock & horror moment quoted above is its best bit. Shaw could be ingenuous & entertaining. The earlier novels were his best, quality dipped in his middle period, and with a late return to form. I have a goodly collection of his books. A writer who I esteem for his good science-fiction.
    – a4android
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 6:16

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