Duncan Bradshaw prefers cats to dogs and tea to coffee. He doesn’t like gravy. Despite these bizarre – some might say borderline psychotic – tendencies, I still like him, as a person and as a writer. With such a warped outlook on the important things in life, it’s unsurprising that his writing oeuvre lies well ensconced within the weird end of the literary spectrum. This is a man whose last novel featured a psychopathic vacuum cleaner on a killing spree.
His latest release, a joint publication via his own Eye Cue Productions and the Sinister Horror Company, is a summer blockbuster of a novel: Cannibal Nuns from Outer Space! (Or CNFOS for short – a name rejected by Lovecraft for one of his Great Old Ones because it was too easy to pronounce). It’s a book which the author claims is evidence he has finally found his voice. I wouldn’t disagree. I’m not entirely sure where he found it but wherever it was, I imagine there was a sign saying “enter at your own risk” on the door.
Cannibal Nuns from Outer Space! – what’s it about then? Those looking for a profound meditation on melancholia in post-modern society will be disappointed. Mind you, if that’s the type of book they’re looking for, I should imagine disappointment is a big part of their lives anyway. There’s little melancholy to be found here although, come to think of it, there is some post-modernism – most notably in the frequent references and homages to classic films which are dotted throughout the narrative. These are all handled deftly, enhancing rather than distracting from the story.
Scattered too, are name drops of indie authors, something I occasionally do find distracting but here presented in such outlandish situations that the jokes are magnified. It could be the case that real character traits have been exploited for comic effect. If that is so, then there’s one Welsh author I’d be reluctant ever to share a bus journey with. (There’s also an early mention for an “Anthony the Lesser Peeved”, a statue that weeps blood – it’ll make more sense when you read it. I’m currently in communication with my lawyers regarding a potential defamation proceeding).
(Over the word “lesser”).
But I digress.
As the title subtly hints at, the story concerns the threat posed by a group of extra-terrestrial sisters of little mercy arrived on earth to harvest human flesh. Their arrival doesn’t take place until quite a way into the book which instead begins by introducing the novel’s protagonist, the foul-mouthed and slightly deranged Father Flynn, member of the Order of the Crimson Rosary, in the midst of performing an exorcism.
Things go as badly as might be expected, ultimately requiring the calling-in of reinforcements, neatly introducing the book’s other main characters, Flynn’s rival Father O’Malley and the demon itself. The whole opening sequence is a joy to read, with some excellent one liners and highly inventive use of names. Possibly aware of how unrealistic these scenes are, and with an eye to keeping fans of literary horror happy, the author cleverly introduces a beard-dwelling axolotl to help ground the whole thing in reality.
Flynn’s performance - and his subsequent handling of the aforementioned bleeding statue - culminate in his becoming surplice to requirements for the Order of the Crimson Rosary. A last chance is offered to him: rehabilitation at the St Judas Centre for Reaffirmation of Faith & Training Convent. It’s here, amid a plethora of cultural references, that he ultimately encounters the titular nuns, who have landed their spaceship nearby.
High jinks ensue.
Twice now I’ve mentioned the cultural references which litter the narrative, a feature of much of Duncan’s writing. He’s a proper magpie in this respect, finding a pleasing line of dialogue or action set-piece and pilfering them to reinvent in his own, slightly warped, way. I picture him sat atop a huge pile of shiny snippets, leaving only to find a fellow magpie to bring joy, or two more for a girl, three for a boy. Failing that, he’ll probably just shit on your car’s windscreen.
The nuns themselves are a fine creation. (SPOILER: They’re not real nuns). The reasons for their arrival on Earth are explained along with their history and there’s much graphic blood and guts-letting to be enjoyed as battle commences. Entrails and jokes fly thick and fast as the forces of good and evil, and evil duke it out head to head.
It’s a rare gift to combine comedy and horror successfully, it’s often the case that one suffers as a result of the other but that’s not the case here. Even if you don’t get the references, there’s still plenty of the author’s own deranged humour to make you laugh out loud and, more importantly, a strong narrative upon which the jokes and entrails are hung.
A word too about the presentation of the book. Much work has gone into the formatting and layout, with a variety of versions available, each unique in its own way. The version I read as an ARC will ultimately be the kindle release and, in keeping with the cinematic theme, contains “trailers” for other movies ahead of the main feature. Both of which, I have to say, I would go and see.
CNFOS is yet another triumph for Mr Bradshaw. If you can’t find anything to entertain you within its pages then your either dead or – worse – Jacob Rees Mogg. Whilst marking a natural progression from Mr Sucky, nicely developing what is a very distinctive style of writing, it also increases anticipation for whatever lunacy spills forth next from one of the weirdest brains in the writing community.