Bad Vision is the latest in the Hersham Horror Primal range of novellas. The series is into its third year now and has produced some high quality books thus far. The first in this year’s additions to the series comes from one of the good guys of the horror community Dave Jeffery.
The story begins intriguingly with an interview in a police station, pitching the reader straight into the narrative and introducing the novella’s protagonist Ray Tonks who is admitting to the murder of his wife…
A dramatic opening then, and one which leads into the events prior to Ray’s arrest via a series of extended flashbacks. These introduce the story’s other protagonists, Ray’s wife Denise and his work colleagues Eloise and Mike. Also introduced is the central conceit of the book, that Ray has an ability to predict future events, a “gift” he obtained following a schoolyard injury to his head.
Similarities then with The Dead Zone and, as becomes more apparent as the story progresses, The Medusa Touch. The author acknowledges the influence of the latter in his notes at the end of the book but it’s credit to Dave that he’s taken a familiar, and well-used, trope and created something new with it, something uniquely his own.
It’s the descriptions of Ray’s visions which provide some of the most effective sequences in the book as he experiences ordeals such as earthquakes and plane crashes as if he were there himself. If the horrors of vicariously witnessing these scenes of death and destruction were not horrific enough, things do get worse for Ray as the frequency and intensity of the visions increase – occurring randomly and often inconveniently – and change from what turn out to be real events to something more intangible, presenting images of torture and horror in some unknown, hellish landscape.
Ray’s day job, as a Clinical Risk Manager in an NHS Trust bears much resemblance to Dave’s own and his knowledge and expertise in the field of mental health allows him to create a thoroughly authentic work environment for his characters as well as fully realised back stories and histories for them. His knowledge of mental health issues allows for a sensitive exploration of them not just in the case of Ray – whose condition can surely classified as such – but for the other characters too. The multifactorial nature of these issues is presented here, nature and nurture both playing their part.
Not content with one storyline for the novella, Dave manages to cram a couple of others in too. Ray’s wife is having an affair (the description of a marriage in slow decline is very good indeed) and there’s also the small matter of a serial killer – nicknamed the Frankenstein killer because of their propensity to remove body parts from their victims – on the loose to contend with too.
This storyline takes up much of the running time and, if I have one criticism of the book, it’s that it possibly takes up too much. It is very cleverly done, with plenty of twists and turns along the way but – even though there are links to the main narrative – it perhaps distracts a little too much from what for me was the stronger of the storylines. This sub-plot is cleverly handled though, playing with the reader’s expectations and assumptions and has a resolution that (ironically, given the theme of the book) you won’t see coming.
The conclusion to Bad Vision is excellent, the Ray Tonks who sits in the police interview room is a man changed massively by his experiences. It’s a sequence which is extremely powerful, presenting a whole raft of ideas and philosophical musings and it’s something I wanted more of, and which I think could actually have benefitted from being longer in order to give those ideas room to breathe.
Which all sounds a little critical. Which I guess it is – but in a good way. I really enjoyed Bad Vision, felt it brought something new and interesting to a well-worn trope. These distractions aside, the writing here is assured and confident, with convincingly drawn characters behaving realistically in a fast-paced plot. The fragmented nature of the narrative is handled excellently by Dave and adds to the reading experience, the twists and turns along the way playing with notions of what’s real and what isn’t.
Bad Vision is a fine addition to what is proving to be a fine series. A potent mix of psychological and visceral horror, it’s a book I recommend highly.