No One Gets Out Alive is the latest novel from Adam Nevill and is published by Pan. His previous novels have all been tours de force of intense, frightening and highly imaginative writing and evidence that he has completely mastered the skill of creating and maintaining an intense and scary atmosphere for the whole of the longer form. The Ritual is the most intense novel I’ve ever read whilst Last Days is one of the few novels scary enough to actually make me put it down in an attempt to regain some composure. No One Gets Out Alive weighs in at over 600 pages so the big question in my mind before beginning it was whether Adam could pull off the same trick and maintain the tension for such a long time.
The answer of course is yes. No One Gets Out Alive is an exercise in mounting – and then sustained – terror that will leave you wrung out when you finish it. It’s a tough read – not because of the prose and structure, both of which are, as ever, immaculate – but because of the subject matter. It’s another seamless mix of horror arising from the darkest facets of human behaviour and the supernatural but the former means there are some brutal scenes in here which are not for the faint-hearted. (Mind you, if you’re faint-hearted, it’s highly unlikely you’d be considering this as a book to read, or reading a review on a horror blog for that matter). The violence is shocking - because it should be, and is written in such a way that the horror of what is happening impacts on the reader without ever feeling exploitative.
NOGOA has a female protagonist, repeating the pattern of Adam’s last book House of Small Shadows and his earlier novel Apartment 16 the lead character in this instance being Stephanie Booth, on her own in Birmingham, moving from one temping job to another, desperate to find somewhere cheap to live. That opportunity is provided by 82 Edgehill Road and its landlord, the wonderfully named Knacker McGuire.
There are echoes here of Adam’s short story The Angels of London in Gray Friar Press’s Terror Tales of London which featured a similar opening scenario with that story’s protagonist, Frank, renting a flat from landlord Granby – undoubtedly a prototype upon which the more fully-fledged character of Knacker was based. Knacker is a wonderful creation, the personification of sleaziness, shuffling and slimy with just enough accent inserted into his dialogue to make it ring true and add to the characterisation. At no point does he proclaim to be “ever so ‘umble” but the obsequiousness is all too apparent nonetheless. Knacker and the accommodation at 82 Edgehill Rd are so horrible that you can’t help but scream at Stephanie to get the hell out but the author has obviously given the scenario a lot of thought and has come up with entirely plausible and, it has to be said, heart-breaking reasons why Stephanie is unable so to do.
The scares start as soon as Stephanie moves in, subtly at first with some brilliantly drawn scenes of disembodied voices, cold atmospheres and glimpses of apparitions but the horror really kicks in with a vengeance with the arrival of Knacker’s cousin Fergal, bringing with him an air of violence which all too soon becomes reality and a realisation of the true nature of what is actually going on inside the house.
Alongside the physical horror of the reality of Stephanie’s situation, the supernatural elements are also ramped up – and no one is better than Nevill at describing the decaying, scratchy, scuttling things that dwell in darkness – culminating in a powerhouse of a denoument in the house that will leave you breathless.
And then you realise there are still over two hundred pages to go…
It’s a clever move. The last section of the book allows all the exposition about the history of 82 Edgehill Rd (and its inhabitants) that would have felt bolted on and incongruous in the opening section (and which would certainly have made the task of keeping Stephanie in the house that much harder) to be presented, providing context – and creating an entirely plausible mythology along the way – for the events within the house.
A gentle coast towards the end of the book then?
Yeah, right. Remember that scene in the movie Poltergeist after the spiritualist pronounces the “house is clean”? And then what happens..? No one, reader included, gets away that easily…
No One Gets Out Alive is a fine addition to Adam Nevill’s oeuvre, another classic piece of horror fiction and evidence that here is a writer at the very top of his game. Read it if you dare. I highly recommend that you should though.