Monday 17 November 2014

The Hammer of Dr Valentine.

The Hammer of Dr Valentine is the much-anticipated sequel to John Llewellyn Probert's novella The Nine Deaths of Dr Valentine and, like its predecessor, is published by Spectral Press. In the first book, the titular medic carried out a series of elaborately gruesome murders on fellow members of his profession, the modus operandi of which were based on the films of Vincent Price. In this follow up, and employing the principle of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", another set of gloriously over the top murders are presented, dripping in Kensington Gore and modelled on the films produced by Hammer.
As with the first book, the author's enthusiasm for the subject matter leaps off the pages and the end result is yet another thoroughly entertaining - and yes, Proberty romp that will bring a smile to the face of anyone familiar with the classic British films that are referenced within. Actually, it will bring a smile to the face of anyone who reads it whether they're familiar with the source material or not as the author brings his trademark tongue-in-cheek style of writing to the proceedings, managing the tricky skill of presenting truly awful things happening to people in such a way that it's entertaining and yes, even enjoyable.
The people the terrible things happen to in this instance are journalists, specifically the journalists who collaborated on a book detailing the crimes perpetrated in Nine Deaths and John takes great delight in showing them up to be shallow and devious - so much so that you'll end up rooting for Dr Valentine. Who here has not whiled away the time thinking up gruesome ways of murdering a Daily Mail journalist? Yes you have. Admit it.
Some of the joy to be had from reading the book is working out which films are being referenced but John has done a grand job here "re-interpreting" the original death scenes and putting a new spin on them. There's enough of the original to make the nostalgic among us go "aaah..." but plenty originality to appreciate too. I didn't spot them all but have to admit to cheering when, in the book's climax, that scene from that Dracula film got a nod.
The good news is that this won't be the last we see of Dr Valentine. The final scenes drop a hint - or perhaps that should be premonition - of what's to come in the next book. DCI Longdon, Valentine's world-weary pursuer from the first book makes a welcome reappearance here and will hopefully feature in the next book too. Might be best if he doesn't make any trips across water though...
The Hammer of Dr Valentine is another highly entertaining, and ingenious piece of writing from John Llewellyn Probert and one which I highly recommend that you purchase. Which you can do here.

Monday 10 November 2014

No One Gets Out Alive.

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.

Monday 3 November 2014

Back to Black.

All good things must come to an end and so it is with the Spectral Press serialisation of Simon Bestwick's Black Mountain. Fittingly, the end came on Hallowe'en with the release of the last installment, The Dancers in the Pines - and it's hard to believe that the saga began way back in December of 2013. I reviewed the "work in progress" here so it seems only fitting to complete that process now that the last words of the novel have been committed to... err...the virtual ether.
It's taken another six episodes to complete the story of the eponymous Welsh mountain since that last review which described the fate of Russell Ware, the journalist who'd coined the phrase "The Bala Triangle" to describe the area around Mynydd Du, a place where unexplained phenomena and mysterious deaths and disappearances are rife.
The subsequent installments follow the same pattern as the first five, presented as transcripts and testimonials, presenting the evidence accumulated by Ware and, as the progressing story reveals, earlier visitors to the region. The book as a whole is the literary equivalent of a Matroyshka doll, revealing layer upon layer of information, digging deeper and deeper into the history of the region (episode 9 - Ancient Voices - takes the story back to the Roman occupation of Britain and even then hints that the evil goes back even further than that).
I'll state again how complementary the episodic release of the story has been to this style of presentation. Each episode works as a story in its own right but also reveals enough new information to keep the reader hooked and desperate for the next installment.
The story began way back in 2013 with the introduction of the author himself as the narrator and as the book neared its conclusion I had concerns as to how this device would work. All I will say is that it does work - and in an extremely clever and entertaining way. Call it post-modern, meta-fiction even but however you look at it, it's bloody good and rounds off the ten month journey in style.
Mention needs to be made too of the stunning art work which adorns the covers of the individual episodes, provided by Neil Williams. It's great news that a print version of the complete book will be produced next year so that the art - as well as the words - can be fully appreciated. The cover image I've used for this review (episode 10, The Watcher) is my favourite of them all - and is possibly my favourite of the episodes too. I mentioned the "found footage" analogy in my previous review and this device is used within the story itself in this installment to great effect. I had to put the kindle down at one point, so effective - and downright scary - was the imagery being presented. That hasn't happened since I read Adam Nevill's Last Days - so kudos to Mr Bestwick for that.
If you haven't already, you can buy Black Mountain here (and visit the Spectral site for the first installment) - you really should.