Monday 25 July 2016

Disappearance at Devil's Rock

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock is the new novel from Paul Tremblay and is published by Titan Books. Having been thoroughly impressed with Paul’s previous novel A Headful of Ghosts, I was eagerly anticipating this new book, curious as to whether the incredibly high standard set in that tale of (possible) demonic possession would be maintained.
It has. Oh yes. Very much.
This time, the story focuses on the disappearance of Elizabeth Sanderson’s son, Tommy, at the titular landmark. Actually, the huge boulder is actually called Split Rock – because of a fracture running the length of it – its more sinister name arising from a local legend. This duality is one of the many themes running through this skilfully constructed narrative in which nothing is what it appears to be. The rock is appropriately located in a park called Borderland, a name which sums up in a nutshell the whole concept of the book. Featuring a group of young boys as protagonists, this can be read as a coming of age story – the borderland between childhood and adulthood – and within its pages the natural and supernatural worlds abut with each other.
The plot of Disappearance at Devil’s Rock unfolds gradually, with the author slowly revealing its twists and turns. A hefty dose of ambiguity is mixed in, constantly wrong-footing the reader. It’s evidence of great skill and technique (also a feature of A Headful of Ghosts), leading the reader towards an understanding and then pulling the rug from beneath their feet. It’s a technique deserving of its own name. I suggest a “Tremblay”. (Whoa! The author really pulled a Tremblay there!)
The story is told via the recollections of Tommy’s friends Josh and Luis who were with him on the night of his disappearance and also by pages torn from Tommy’s own diary which appear mysteriously in Elizabeth’s house. (Or do they?) Through these testimonies we are introduced to Arnold, an older boy who befriends the trio and who may – or may not be – directly connected to Tommy’s disappearance. The police are involved of course, investigating the incident, and the closing chapters of the book consist of transcripts of their interviews – a brilliant way of doing things as it allows the reader to make up their own mind as to what exactly has happened. Or, at least, attempting to. It’s a case of picking out the least unreliable narrator.
Disappearance at Devil’s Rock truly is a great piece of writing. It’s a journey into the darkness that lies around and within us all, creeping into the reader’s subconscious, primal fears much like the dark figure spotted by the eye-witnesses in the book creeps around the neighbourhood. I anticipate much discussion over the final scenes of the book, and in particular the final line but I loved it, gave a small cheer as I read it. (Not out loud of course…)

I honestly believe we’re entering a golden age of horror/dark/weird fiction and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock is a fine piece of evidence to support that hypothesis. I recommend it highly.

Monday 18 July 2016

The Quarantined City

The Quarantined City is the debut novel from James Everington and is published by Infinity Plus. With a novelette (Trying To Be So Quiet) already published and a novella – Paupers' Graves – lined up for September, this is a productive year for James, which is excellent news for anyone who enjoys well-crafted, intelligent dark fiction.
It’s great to see the book finally out there in its complete form given the turbulent the turbulent history it’s so far endured. Its original incarnation was as a serialised novel published by Spectral Press, the release of its monthly episodes unfortunately coinciding with the unseemly demise of said publisher. Given that one of the many threads running through the book is the power of words to change things, there’s a certain irony about the whole situation. Last I checked, Infinity Plus were still there but, you know, still early days…
The structure of the book lends itself to serialisation, being split into six parts but, having re-read the parts which were published, along with the concluding parts which weren’t I can say that reading the novel all at one go is absolutely the best way to appreciate it. It’s a complex work, with a lot of balls in the air at one time and makes demands of the reader simply to keep up with it and I have to say being able to read it all at one go made that process so much easier.
Which all sounds like a criticism. Which it surely isn’t. Yes, reading The Quarantined City requires some effort from the reader – but good writing should. The narrative is deliberately confusing and ambiguous but the author does this so skilfully that you’re never completely lost as to what’s happening. The questions you’re asking yourself are the ones James wants you to be asking.
The plot revolves around Fellows, an inhabitant of the titular city, on a quest to uncover the stories written by reclusive author Boursier. Discover the stories he does, and the novel is structured in such a way that each of the six parts contains a story within a story as Fellows reads the individual works of Boursier.
In so doing, changes apparently occur within the city itself, Fellows’ grasp of reality subtly altering. Reality, of course, is a relative term – no more so than in the Quarantined City. The book can be seen as Fellows’ quest to uncover the secrets of the city – not least among them why the quarantine was enforced in the first place.
I’d love to say more about the narrative but fear that to do so runs the risk of straying into spoiler territory. I must say though that this is one of the most cleverly constructed novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The reader can’t help but be drawn into Fellows’ quest – the clues and riddles presented along the way heightening anticipation of the final reveal.
And wow, what a reveal! Perfect. All that has gone before is masterfully tied up in a brilliantly constructed conclusion. There is great joy to be had as each revelation is made; as each of the perplexing riddles seeded throughout the narrative are answered; as sense is finally made of the skillfully created confusion.
Honestly, make time to read the final part of the book – The Quarantine – in one sitting. It’s a masterclass in technique. The story within a story device is no better employed than here, the frequency of the interludes increasing to mirror the headlong dash towards resolution, the lines between who is writing and who is being written about blurring until…

I was blown away by The Quarantined City, loved its structure and its intelligence. The ability to produce such a mature and complex piece of work so (relatively) early in his career suggests great things lie ahead for James. I sincerely hope they do.

Monday 11 July 2016

The Fisherman

The Fisherman is the new novel from John Langan and is published by Word Horde. I’d heard a lot of good things about this book, from people whose opinions I respect so was very much looking forward to reading it myself. Having now finished The Fisherman, I can honestly say that it was one of the most satisfying reading experiences I’ve ever had. I loved the time I spent immersed in its pages, swept along by the narrative and wallowing in its perfectly created atmosphere. The old cliché of enjoying a book so much that you don’t want it to end absolutely applies here, the world which the author has created was one I didn’t want to leave.
Opening with a lovely riff on the first line of Moby Dick (a passage from which provides an epigraph) The Fisherman begins as a first person narration from Abe, recently widowed, his wife Marie succumbing to cancer, telling of his re-introduction to fishing and his meeting with Dan, a fellow widower whose wife Sophie and their children have died in a traffic accident.
Together, the two men find a kind of solace, a way of coping, in their shared interest of fishing and these opening passages are a masterclass in the depiction of grief and loss. Things take a turn for the worse, however, when Dan suggests they try a new location to go fishing – Dutchman’s Creek – a river that can’t be found on any map, a place of mystery and intrigue which carries its own legends…
The author cleverly introduces the back story of Dutchman’s Creek, and the legend of the Fisherman by having it narrated by the owner of the diner in which the two men wait for a torrential downpour to end. This story makes up part two of the book – the bulk of it, in fact – and is entitled Der Fischer: A Tale of Terror. Which is about as apt a title as I can think of because the journey this tale takes the reader on truly is terrifying. Some of the imagery conjured up here will take your breath away – this is epic story-telling, encompassing huge themes. It’s in stark contrast to the intimacy and emotion of the opening section and – possibly – all the more powerful for that. Special mention here to whoever chose the painting (Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, 1870 by Albert Bierstadt) which has been used for the book’s cover as it perfectly reflects the narrative within, men portrayed as insignificant against the immensity of nature.
The writing here is perfect, deeply atmospheric and creating a world which is utterly believable, despite the strangeness and horror on display. It’s one of the best passages of horror fiction I’ve read in some time. The horrors which unfold herein are not so much foreshadowed and hinted at in the opening passages as directly referenced – teaser trailers if you will – and it’s a technique which works brilliantly, the pay-off more than fulfilling expectations. The writing throughout is of the highest quality.
Needless to say, Abe and Dan make the journey to the creek despite the story they’ve just heard and this results in an extremely satisfying conclusion which maintains the level of horror already established whilst at the same time revealing more about the characters of Abe and Dan.

I can’t recommend The Fisherman highly enough. It succeeds on every level – an intimate and personal character piece and an epic horror fantasy all at one go. I feel it is destined to become a classic of dark literature.