Monday, 26 September 2016

Some Will Not Sleep.

The release of a new book by Adam Nevill is always cause for celebration. For over ten years now, he has consistently produced novels and short fiction which has terrified and disturbed readers – myself, very much, included. Not many authors have written books which I’ve had to stop reading because they were creeping me out too much but Adam is one of them.
It’s a rare skill. To produce such an extreme emotional response in a person simply through words on a page is amazing. Dark arts may be involved but a more likely explanation is a remarkable dedication to the craft of writing, something Adam talks about in his book Cries from the Crypt and which is apparent in everything he writes.
Breaking a run of novel releases, this year’s book is a collection of short stories called Some Will Not Sleep – a title which, on reflection, could refer either to the characters within or the readers once they’ve finished it. It’s published by Adam’s own Ritual Ltd.
There are eleven stories in the book, eight of which are written in first person narrative, and each and every one is a cracker – here you’ll find monsters (including those of the human variety), ghosts, arcane rituals and some of the most disturbing imagery ever put on paper… Those familiar with Adam’s novels will also find here the seeds from which some of those epics grew.
Children, and childhood fears, feature prominently in the collection – indeed, the book opens with one such story, Where Angels Come In. It takes the Spooky Old House On The Hill That No-one Dare Enter trope and runs with it, describing the break-in by the story’s narrator and his friend Pickering into such an establishment. It’s a familiar set-up and readers will have a warm glow of anticipation as they begin the story, relishing the thought of spooky goings-on, perhaps a half-glimpsed shadowy figure scaring the boys so much that they run home, tails between their legs… Except, of course, this is an Adam Nevill story. The horrors are not so much hinted at here as pushed centre stage. Beginning with the bizarre statues the boys discover in the grounds of the house, the terrifying images come one after the other as the house’s residents reveal themselves to the boys. And then attack…
It’s an incredibly strong opening tom the book, utterly terrifying – that terror intensified by a wonderful closing paragraph which acts as a book-end – and dredging up all those childhood nightmares, tapping into the images that scared us as kids and proving, most effectively, that they’re just as terrifying to adults.
Children also feature in two other stories, both set outside the UK. Pig Thing takes place in New Zealand and is in essence a siege story, with children in a remote house terrorised by the titular monster. One of the many strengths of the story – along with the description of the Pig Thing itself – is the acceptance, from the outset, that the monster is real. No time is wasted here attempting to suspend the reader’s disbelief, no effort made to rationalise – the Pig Thing exists, and it’s bloody terrifying.
Japan is the setting for The Ancestors. Told in first person from a child’s perspective, it’s a potent mix of imaginary friends (or not…) and haunted toys. Anyone who has read Adam’s House of Small Shadows will know just how scary the latter can be and that’s put to very effective use here in a story which gradually builds up the tension to a truly disturbing climax.
The imagery and imagination employed throughout this collection are typical - if not quintessential – Nevill but the most direct references to his longer works are to be found in two stories in particular: To Forget and be Forgotten has, as its central character a night-watchman in an apartment block (here in Antwerp), a job Adam himself endured and which also features in his novel Apartment 16. Our first-person narrator takes the job in order to fulfil his wish to be anonymous, to hide from society but finds himself embroiled in very strange goings-on indeed. There’s a hint of Rosemary’s Baby here I guess but this story is very much its ow beast – and proof that old people can be just as scary as children.
Readers of Adam’s novel The Ritual will recognise many of the references in The Original Occupant with much of the story taking place in sub—arctic Scandinavia. It’s a semi-epistolary account of a friend of the narrator’s disappearance in that region. It’s an odd little story, in that for much of it I was unsure of which time period it was set in. The language, the gentlemen’s clubs which feature and the fact that much communication is done by letter had the story placed somewhere in the twenties or thirties in my mind but then, late in the tale, a helicopter appears. It’s a minor criticism of a story that relies less on disturbing imagery and overt terror than on implied, suggestive horror. It’s an entertaining companion piece to The Ritual but is set in a different enough world that its enjoyment won’t be diminished if the novel hasn’t already been read.
As mentioned previously, all the Nevill trademarks are to be found within the covers of Some Will Not Sleep but it also contains one of the least Nevillesque stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading too. The Age of Entitlement is a subtle, psychological slow-burner of a tale with two pretty much unlikable protagonists. There are hints at some possible supernatural elements but these are simply there to add to the slowly growing sense of unease which builds as tensions between the protagonists increases. No clacking trotters here, no withered hands or yellow fangs - but this is definitely a story about a monster.
A human monster also takes centre stage in Yellow Teeth, telling, as it does, of the lodger from Hell – uninvited and unwilling to move on. Add in that this also happens to be the most unhygienic person in the world and the scene is set for much glorious description of disgust which, come its conclusion, verges on body horror. It’s a potent (but definitely not fragrant) blend of psychological and physical horror which then becomes something else again when the reason for the lodger’s bizarre behaviour becomes clear, turning into a story of a descent – or possibly ascent – into Hell.
Florrie is the last story in the collection and is Adam’s take on a haunted house story. What sets this apart from other such tales is the idea that the house itself may be doing the haunting rather than its previous occupants. Haunting shifts almost imperceptibly into possession as the protagonist’s world alters around him and the story – and therefore the book – ends on one of the most chilling lines I’ve ever read.
The spirit of Cormac McCarthy haunts What God Hath Wrought? – in particular his masterpiece Blood Meridian. It’s a superb weird western, and – like McCarthy’s novel – has, as one of its characters, a malevolent preacher making his way through the wilderness of the American West. I do love a good weird western and this is up there with the best of them (I loved the story when I first read it in the Gutshot anthology and enjoyed it just as much second time around). The story’s main set-piece is a battle with the preacher’s followers, the vampiric Nephites, and this is handled with great aplomb, written as skilfully as the earlier passages of dialogue which drip with authenticity. It’s one of the longer stories in the book but deserving of its length and I was gripped from start to finish. And what a finish… the story ends with a revelation of epic proportions, leaving the reader with an image upon which to ponder. It’s a stunning end to a stunning story.
The remaining two stories in the book are Doll Hands and Mother’s Milk. Often, when structuring reviews, the last few paragraphs are a quick round-up of the stories which didn’t work so well, a kind of “also included were…” Not so here. These two stories, in my opinion, were the stand-outs of the collection. I’ve (somewhat unfairly perhaps) lumped them together because I regard them as coming from the same stock; I believe both are incredibly stylishly written, almost surreal, celebrations of the grotesque.
Of the two, Doll Hands provides more context for the bizarre happenings described, set as it is in a post-apocalyptic landscape where the majority of survivors are horribly disfigured and the processing of human flesh for consumption is the norm. The story is narrated in a naïve, almost child-like style which only serves to intensify the horror being described.
Mother’s Milk is a vignette, a brief – and nightmarish - glimpse into the life of a family of grotesque creatures. Possibly human, or at least once human – the story does not reveal. In fact, very little is revealed about why or how these creatures have come about; the narrator of the tale holds down a job but the family home is isolated and secluded, allowing their bizarre life to continue. This lack of information may be troublesome to some readers but I loved the fact that I was simply dropped into the middle of this surreal existence with no context or reason.
The imagery, so much a feature of Adam’s work, is incredible. It’s not an easy read – at least with a film you can look away from the screen when the worst bits come on but that’s not so easy with a book… I’m still not sure exactly what Mother’s Milk is about but I loved it. This is pretty much how I feel about Eraserhead and the emotions evoked by that film are the same ones I had when I finished reading this story. This isn’t just a case of style over substance either, this is an amazing reading experience, truly the stuff of nightmares.
I feel I can’t recommend Some Will Not Sleep highly enough. All of the stories within of are of the highest quality and those already familiar with Adam’s novels will have the added pleasure of seeing where some of the ideas for those great works came from.

Here is evidence of great talent, of a writer embracing and expanding a genre. The imagination on display is second to none and is matched by a prose style many would kill for. Adam Nevill is a great ambassador for horror and the genre is lucky to have him.

Monday, 19 September 2016

King Carrion.

King Carrion is the new novella from Rich Hawkins and is published by The Sinister HorrorCompany. Both author and publisher are on a bit of a roll at the moment with a veritable flood of literary delights washing over the horror landscape. It’s often the case that quantity is inversely proportional to quality but that certainly isn’t the case for Sinister Horror – who are producing some top-notch books – or Rich himself who continues a run of consistently entertaining horror stories with this novella, his take on vampire lore.
The novella opens with a deeply atmospheric prologue set in 49 AD Northern England. It’s a stunning opening to the book which I loved every moment of. There’s much dramatic imagery on display here, and some lovely prose. I loved the line “The wind mourned the loss of another day.” The opening sets the scene brilliantly, and introduces the titular character, a creature of darkness – its face hidden behind swaddled rags, tainted with the smell of death and corruption…
All jolly stuff then, and topped up with a multiple sacrifice. The Romans are coming however, and amongst the many things they did for us was to attempt to wipe out pagan beliefs in their occupied territories and so it is that King Carrion makes his escape, hiding away from the world until the time is right to emerge once again and claim dominion.
It’s a great prologue, and I wish it could have gone on longer but, no sooner is the page turned than we’re transported to the modern day. Enter Mason, an archetypal Hawkins protagonist, a man of sorrows, just released from prison after serving time for causing a fatal road accident. Mason is haunted by the accident, those terrors manifesting themselves in the form of the Dead Girl, the innocent victim of his crime.
Mason’s journey back to see his wife lead him to a town in southern England – at precisely the same time that King Carrion has returned from his self-imposed exile. Cue much gory action and suspense as KC (and his moonshine band) run riot through the streets, converting the populace to vampires.
Nothing sparkles here except the prose; these vampires are vicious, feral beasts who revel in the death and destruction they bring about. These are definitely at the 30 Days of Night end of the vampire spectrum.
There are few who can write an action set-piece better than Rich and he has a field day here, describing the numerous battles with the vampire horde. What makes him an even better writer is that he can handle the quitter stuff with aplomb too. There’s proper emotion going on here amidst the gore.
All things of course lead to a climactic encounter with King Carrion himself at the vampire’s vividly described lair…
I loved King Carrion, a great example of old-school horror delivered with style and gusto. My one criticism of the book is that – as with the prologue – it’s too short. This criticism is two-fold; firstly for selfish reasons – I wanted to spend more time enjoying the book, but secondly because I think the material required a longer form, there’s enough going on here to fill a novel easily.
There’s a scene where Mason glimpses a vision of King Carrion’s past life and experiences which cried out for more detail and, as mentioned earlier, the prologue could easily have been extended. Cramming so much into a novella-length book certainly moves the story along at a cracking pace but the world Rich has created here is one I think would definitely benefit from a higher word count.
This minor quibble aside, I really do recommend that you check this novella out. You’ll have a blast and at the same time enjoy the writing of one of the future stars of the horror writing world. Rich already has an impressive back catalogue and I’m certain this is indicative of great things ahead.

You can buy King Carrion here.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Hersham Horror Novellas.

A new line of novellas from Hersham Horror Books will be launched at FCon at the end of the month, featuring the talents of Stephen Bacon, James Everington, Mark West and Phil Sloman. I do like me a good novella, and still contend it’s the perfect medium for horror so it was with much pleasure I accepted a kind offer from Peter Mark May to review the books prior to publication.

I began my novellathon with Stephen Bacon’s Laudanum Nights, a Victorian-era mystery revolving around missing children and homunculi. It’s a pastiche, but a lovingly created one – with Stephen’s enthusiasm for the time period shining through in the attention to detail and the verisimilitude which results. Atmosphere drips from every page and you can almost smell as well as picture the fictional city of Blackfold and its inhabitants. (Mind you, I can’t remember Dickens or Collins dropping the C-bomb but there’s a couple in here).
It would have been easy to fall into the trap of stringing a series of clichés together – a case of style over substance – but that’s not the case here as there’s plenty of plot to be getting on with and a skilfully drawn protagonist struggling with his own personal issues. The setting is really just context for the narrative, but such a good job has been done in creating it that it enhances the plot rather than distracting from it.
The story itself is a procedural, an investigation into the disappearances of children from Blackfold, a story which reaches its conclusion in a suitably gothic house located in the marshes outside of the city. The denoument is satisfyingly horrific, the explanation for why the children have been taken nasty and creepy. This explanation is provided in an extended expositional dump by the villain of the piece, something I often have problems with but in this case handled very well; the speech is couched in regret almost, rather than braggadocio and as a result works extremely well.
Stephen has hinted that he may return to Blackfold for future stories. Having enjoyed Laudanum Nights as much as I did, I sincerely hope that he does.

Next up was Paupers’ Graves from James Everington. Unlike Stephen’s story, this one’s set in a real place in the present day. The place is Nottingham although James is at pains to point out in a brief introduction to the piece that it’s the Nottingham he sees when he closes his eyes, not the one he sees looking out of his window.
Specifically, the story is set in a cemetery where a restoration is being undertaken of the area containing the titular graves, a place where those too poor to afford a decent burial were interred.
As part of the project, ream members are given the names of one of the deceased and asked to discover their history in order that they can be put on display – an act of remembrance for those forgotten by society.
The problem, of course, with digging up the past – especially in a cemetery – is that sometimes the metaphorical can become literal. Sometimes the past really can come back to haunt you…
As might be expected from the author of the amazing Quarantined City, this is a story which operates on multiple levels. It’s a story about stories; it’s about society. It’s about truth and the power of words and memories. It’s also about ghosts and hauntings and is very effective in dealing out the thrills and chills. It’s a corker – scary and profound.

Past the hallway point now, and onto Mark West’s The Factory. This is the longest of the books, right at the top end of the novella word count and tells the story of a group of urban explorers, reunited by the funeral of a former member.
Their friend has died whilst exploring the abandoned factory of the title – described in a lovely, spooky set-piece which acts as a kind of prologue for the book – and, by way of paying respect to him, the group decide to make their own exploration of the premises.
It is a long novella, and many of those words are taken up introducing the characters to us. I felt that maybe this took too much of the book’s running time – there is an excellent scene in a restaurant in which the pasts of all the characters are revealed, and tensions surface which really could have sufficed but before we get there we’ve been through the individual phone-calls to one another and a meeting in a train station. I’m perhaps being overly-critical here, the writing is splendid throughout – Mark has a real ear for dialogue and the characters are all expertly drawn – I just felt the scene-setting took a wee bit too long.
That said, once the group – and the reader alongside them – finally get into the factory, so begins a cracking, thrilling journey through the darkness. Abandoned buildings are creepy – hence their appeal, all shifting shadows, uncovered memories and strange unexplained noises. Mark pulls out all the stops here, and has the added bonus of ghostly children whispering in the group’s ears.
Fate creeps up on the group, biting them firmly in the arse and any problems I had with the first half of the book are well and truly forgotten in the thrills and horror which conclude it.

And so, finally, to Becoming David by Phil Sloman. By way of confession, I have to say this is my first encounter with Phil’s writing but – on the basis of this novella – it certainly won’t be my last.
It’s an everyday tale of serial killers and cannibalism – well-worn tropes but given a fresh spin by clever structuring and wonderful prose. The story shifts viewpoints a few times which, as the story unfolds, is shown to be a very clever technique indeed. It’s central character however, is Richard, who picks up men in pubs so as to bring them home to…
Well, what he gets up to is pretty unpleasant but these scenes are described in a matter of fact way, without any real fuss thereby making them all the more effective. There’s gore here of course, but this isn’t the main source of the horror in the novella – the book is much more subtle than that, psychological rather than visceral in its terrors.
It’s a haunting tale – quite literally – and one of possession. The David is the title is one of Richard’s victims, unfortunately he won’t simply lay down and die.
I felt Becoming David was a book of two halves, there’s a distinct change in tone in the second part of the book as Richard goes on the run, a lighter feel with a lot more humour. This wasn’t a problem though, as I enjoyed both sections. The writing, just like Richard’s planning, is precise –and a joy to read. From (restrained) slasher horror to a psychological descent into Hell, I loved every word of it and its conclusion is very satisfying indeed.

Peter mark may has picked a fine set of books to launch his novella line and I highly recommend that you buy every one of them. I wish him well with his new project and look forward to future publications.