Monday, 29 August 2016


Craze is the new novel from Steve Byrne and is published through his own imprint  PunkLit. Whereas his earlier novel Phoenix used the Vietnam was as its backdrop, Craze is set in post-apocalyptic Britain. Actually, peri-apocalyptic may be a better description as the events which unfold take place in the midst of the horrors which herald the end of civilisation.
Those horrors are two-fold, the main event being the outbreak of the “Red Death” a viral infection, spread by aerosol, which combines the worst features of the Ebola virus and Haemorrhagic Fever. The infected basically turn to mush from within, leaking bloodily with the added bonus of turning into aggressive… well, zombies… when the virus reaches the brain.
Although the Z-word is never mentioned in the book, the infected (and yes, there’s a word oft-used too) are clearly variations on the classic trope and the scenes in which they are encountered bear all the hallmarks – and trademarks – of much of what has gone before with regards battling the undead. Which sounds like a criticism, but isn’t really. The writing throughout is assured and stylish and, I have to say, Steve’s handling of action set-pieces is second to none and the battles with the infected are genuinely thrilling to read.
In reality, the Red Death and the infected simply provide a backdrop for the second of the threats to humanity, the outbreak of a wave of paranormal phenomena with an associated increase in the practice of dark arts and the formation of the Sons of Lucifer with its gangs of Satanarchists.
All high-concept stuff, and evidence of great imagination at play. I loved the idea, a new twist on the “end of the world” scenario but felt that more could actually have been made of it. As the plucky band of survivors struggle towards their date with destiny, the majority of their run-ins are with the infected or human adversaries – in only one encounter is a demonic presence mentioned, and then only fleetingly. Brief references are made to huge shapes in the sky (most notably above Newcastle, yay!) but, other than in the conclusion of the book, the supernatural elements are kept relatively low-key. Perhaps much was lost in the edit, the story has an epic feel to it – and a cast of characters to match – and maybe there is a huge pile of demonic out-takes on Steve’s cutting room floor. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that this was a much bigger book originally and that the editing down may have been too extreme. There are a lot of characters and not all of them fully realise their potential I feel, a longer word count may have allowed for some more characterisation.

Don’t get me wrong – I really liked Craze, I just feel that it could have been a great book rather than just a very good one. It’s a worthy addition to the PA canon and I highly recommend that you buy it and enjoy it yourself. Which you can do here.

Monday, 8 August 2016


Hexagram is the new novel from Duncan B Bradshaw and is published by The Sinister HorrorCompany. It’s a bit of an epic, with the story spanning almost 500 years and taking in a variety of locations, beginning in the Inca capital of Cuzco in 1538 and progressing, via separate sections, through the Florida of 1716, American Civil War Cobb County, Georgia 1864, Ripper-era London and the Bahamas of 1981 before culminating (almost) in present day Wiltshire.
The underlying concept of the book is the notion that we are all made of stardust but provides a very dark twist on it – namely that the use of said dust, harvested from the dead, could be used in a religious ceremony to summon Gods.
The harvesting, of course, requires much rummaging around in viscera – a process gleefully described by the author on many occasions and which provides the core of the horror on display within the novel. It takes skill to write scenes like this, it’s all too easy to go for shock and gross-out but the scenes of disembowelment and evisceration are actually reined in, presented in such a way as to not be over the top and gratuitous but as a natural progression of the narrative – and, as such, are all the more effective for it.
It’s a gory book for sure but there’s a lot more to it than that. There is great imagination on display here, along with some very good writing indeed. There are even moments of real emotion amidst the gloriously dark humour. Again, it’s a fine line between being humorous and, well… being stupid but it’s one Duncan stays absolutely on the right side of all the way through.
There may be some dialogue in the opening chapters which feels a little anachronistic, but other than that the period detail is spot on. Duncan has obviously done his research and it shows. Facts are never shoe-horned into the narrative (no doing a Dan Simmons here) but are placed carefully to enhance the reading experience. If I have a criticism it’s that the Ripper section felt a wee bit short to me but that’s maybe because it’s a period of history I’m (a little bit too) fascinated in myself.

The story’s a high-concept one and its narrative is cleverly kept going with subtle links between the different sections. I have to say I had a blast with Hexagram, devouring it in a couple of sittings. (Despite its epic themes, it’s not a long novel). Clever, witty and extremely well written, I highly recommend it to your reading pleasure.