Where by Kit Reed


by Kit Reed

Published by Tor, 2015.

By the time I had finished Kit Reed’s novel Where, I was convinced they had the title wrong. Where was the least of my concerns reading this book, How was a more pressing issue, Why kept crossing my mind but the overriding question that arose while reading this book wasn’t Where, it was What, specifically WTF just happened?

We start on Kraven Island on the South Carolina Coast. Immediately the island has a strange, ominous feel and the presence of a military base nearby doesn’t help. We meet David Ribault and his girlfriend Merrill, characters who are in a relationship but a somewhat rocky one. The relationship is further tested when smooth talking property developer, Rawson Steele appears on the scene. David suspects Rawson is making a move on Merrill and so is intrigued when Rawson invites him to a meeting. Only problem is Rawson doesn’t turn up and when David tries to return home he finds the island is in lockdown, the reason? Everyone has disappeared.

The story is told from a number of character’s viewpoints, so we see David’s confusion at what’s just happened but then and this is when the WTF thing kicks in, we also see events from the standpoint of Merrill and her brother Ned. So we actually find out what has happened to them after the disappearance. In a lesser writers hands that could make things a bit boring but Kit Reed has simply ramped up the strangeness by creating a mysterious white-walled desert based location to dump them in, with no clues as to where, why or how.

The characters are brilliantly flawed. The action throws in a number of inter personal conflicts not least that of Ned and Merrill and their abusive father. This all happens in that strange otherwold though and here people’s characters have also been changed as they are tested and challenged by an unseen force.

There is a conclusion to the story which satisfies but doesn’t explain, I think this works wonderfully. For me the book had a similar feel to King’s Under The Dome but benefitted from brevity. Also where King ended his story with a bizarre and to my mind completely failed attempt to explain what had happened, Kit Reed takes the much braver and more successful option of simply showing us what happens and letting us decide what the explanation is.

This is a novel about obsession and loss, as the author states in the short story Military Secrets (included here as it is closely related to the novel) “missing is still out there”. She references everything from ancient mysterious disappearances such as The Mary Celeste or the Roanoke colony to modern mysteries such as Flight 370 to highlight that missing is not dead, so what exactly happened to those people, where are they?

I raced through this book, the combination of character driven plot, mystery, weirdness and pathos were hugely compelling and it was all underpinned by a feeling of otherness. That strange emotion that nothing is quite as it seems, that all our lives are underpinned with mystery that every now and then rises to the surface in the form of some inexplicable tragedy or event. Highly recommended.

Rating 4 out of 5


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The Hunt by Tim Lebbon

51W9TFVew-L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_The Hunt

By Tim Lebbon

Published by Avon, 2015.

I’ve been a huge fan of Tim Lebbon’s ever since a fellow blogger recommended his brilliant novella White (published in 1999). His ability to create believable, flawed characters and set them in dark and often unexplained scenarios was clear from that novella. Since then he has created magnificent horror (e.g. The Nature of Balance, The Reach of Children, Coldbrook etc.) incredible fantasy (The Island, Fallen, Echo City) but this is the first time he has turned thriller writer and it’s a great success.

Chris Sheen returns home from his daily run to find his family have disappeared. He soon finds out they have been kidnapped and it’s his job to save them. All he has to do is participate in a hunt by the mysterious Trail organisation. The target of The Hunt is Chris, if he dies, his family survives. Assisted by the mysterious Rose, who has her own reasons for trying to beat the Trail, Chris sets out on a deadly journey through the Welsh mountains, fighting not only those hunting him but the wild landscape around him.

The book alternates viewpoints between Chris, his family and Rose, all face their own struggles as we thunder towards a deadly conclusion. It’s a fast paced and deeply thrilling ride made even more resonant by the authors knowledge of the landscapes he is writing about. We feel every jagged rock and every slippery cliff-face as we follow the characters trials. But while the landscape is a magnificently drawn character the real power of the book lies in the unseen faces and motivations of those doing the hunting. The reader is left aghast at the sheer brutality of people who could hunt humans for sport, couldn’t possibly exist right? But the way Lebbon plays out the scenario it doesn’t seem that far-fetched. It’s only a narrow step beyond those grinning idiots standing over the corpse of some magnificent animal to imagine the ultra rich paying to hunt humans.

It’s the humanity that makes the book, Chris’s desperate fight for survival to save his family. Rose’s own motivation, often at odds with Chris’s. His families own struggles and even the hunters themselves, all motivated to survive and all faced with much bigger opposition in the face of the wild landscape.

Although this is nominally a thriller, it doesn’t lose any of the horror that Tim Lebbon has excelled at in the past. There may be less supernatural scares but when the horror is man’s inhumanity to man, it is even more powerful. There are plenty of scenes in this book that are not for the squeamish.

There’s a good chance that the book will see a wider audience for Tim Lebbon’s work and it justly deserves it. Hopefully new readers will go on to sample the delights of his back catalogue and give him the further success he thoroughly deserves. A word of warning though, don’t start this book if you have any important appointments coming up, you will end up missing them to find out what happens next.

Rating 4 out of 5

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Best British Horror 2015 edited by Johnny Mains

Best British Horror 2015Best British Horror 2015

Series editor Johnny Mains

Published by Salt, 2015

The modern horror anthology has seen a bit of a revival in recent years. The likes of The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, Best Horror of the Year, Best New Horror etc, etc have all vied for our attention but anything with Johnny Mains in the editors chair is a guarantee of quality. The first volume of Best British Horror was published in 2014 and it instantly became a favourite. Now it’s time to dig into this years collection and see whats on offer.

This years anthology consists of twenty-two short stories covering, just about, every spectrum of the genre, from subtle ghosts to less than subtle dog murderers. Stylistically it’s a perfect example of how the horror genre can deal with the mundane, the exciting, the politically relevant and the totally bizarre and turn them all into entertaining reads.

With 22 stories on offer I’m not going to summarise them all but rest assured there isn’t a bad one in the bunch. Of course, like any anthology, your preferences will vary dependant on author and style, your top choices may differ from mine but I defy anyone to read this collection and not come away with a list of winners.

For me the outstanding tales, as opposed to the mere great tales, included Learning The Language by John Llewellyn Probert with its references to Welsh paganism. The Third Time by Helen Grant which is a clear descendant of M.R. James’s subtle horror style. Alsitair by Mark Samuels manages to expand the qualities of the simple ghost story by inferring a much darker evil. On Ilkley Moor by Alison Littlewood brings to life the ancient Yorkshire landscape while Gary McMahon’s Only Bleeding is firmly rooted in the all too real tragedies of modern austerity.

For me though, The Rising Tide by Priya Sharma, was the outstanding story in this collection. It had everything, tragedy, suspense, intrigue and shocks. I should also point out the editors excellent tribute to Graham Joyce who sadly passed away in 2014. The inclusion of one of Joyce’s excellent short stories, Under The Pylon is a fitting tribute.

It’s the job of an anthology like this to showcase the value of the modern horror short story. The importance of the short as a format is as relevant today as ever. It’s often the perfect format for getting a message across but it requires a skillful author to create a plot and characters that can hold the reader’s attention in such a short piece of writing, luckily this collection showcases those talents to the maximum. It’s always a delight to find new authors among the more established ones and again this collection fulfills that requirement and even manages to squeeze in a couple of comedians to the mix (Sara Pascoe and Reece Shearsmith), both of whom produce excellent work.

With the name of Johnny Mains on the cover being a guarantee of quality, I didn’t expect to be disappointed but once again he has managed to produce an anthology which surprises, satisfies and scares, what more do you want.

Rating 4 out of 5

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The Curse of the Fleers by Basil Copper


The Curse of the Fleers by Basil Copper
PS Publishing 2012

I recently picked up Basil Copper’s The Curse of the Fleers from PS Publishing for £5 in hardback, a bargain for a hardback book but especially a PS Publishing quality hardback.

This is a new version of the novel first published in 1976. The old edition was disowned by the author after the publisher ruined the story with extensive cuts and edits. This version has been painstakingly pieced together from the authors original notes and manuscripts. This version also includes a copy of the original story ideas and authors notes giving a fascinating insight into the writing process.

In The Curse of the Fleers, we are transported back to Victorian times to meet Captain Guy Harwood, who’s at a loose end having just got back from fighting in Afghanistan. A letter from his old friend, Cedric Fleer tells of mysterious happenings at the Fleer’s Dorset mansion.

What follows is an intriguing and thrilling adventure as our hero chases unknown intruders (including the marvellous Creeping Man) and the local ladies whilst trying to solve the mystery.

The atmosphere is spot on, the author himself referenced an aim to recreate a Hound of the Baskervilles feeling and that certainly comes through. The book also clearly reference’s classic hammer films.

It’s a well written and hugely enjoyable example of the gothic novel which lovers of Sherlock Holmes and Hammer will thoroughly enjoy, and for £5 it’s a steal.

Rating 4 out of 5

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Finders Keepers by Stephen King


Finders Keepers

by Stephen King

Published by Hodder & Stoughton, 2015.

What’s the point of reviewing a Stephen King novel? C’mon you’ve heard of the guy right and you’ve probably already decided that you either like or dislike his writing. You’ve probably already read something by him, or know someone who has. I mean 350 million of his books have been read by someone, that’s nearly as many as have read Dean Koontz!

But that’s the point, it’s easy to become complacent. I’m sure it would be easy for King to put his slippers on and produce a book every few years and it would be easy for us, as readers, to not really care. Those who like his books will carry on buying everything and those who don’t will keep on assuming that they know him as a writer and miss out on all the fun.

The good news is that Stephen King, does not appear to be a pipe and slippers kind of guy, so he keeps producing. The even better news is he keeps producing fantastic fiction. This book is a case in point and within these pages is the secret to King’s drive and, I suspect, that of many of his readers, the love of books.

Finders Keepers is the second part of a trilogy that King started last year with Mr Mercedes. It’s almost a standalone but some of the characters in this novel were also characters in that first book and the events from there have shaped them. I suspect some of them will also be turning up in book three (End of Watch) when it’s published.

In Finders Keepers we meet renowned author John Rothstein and his number one fan Morris Bellamy. Morris feels betrayed by Rothstein over the treatment of his main character Jimmy Gold and is desperate to get his hands on Rothsteins collection of notebooks which may reveal further tales of Jimmy. Sounds a bit like Misery? It’s not, it may have a similar theme but it’s a very different book.

So begins a rip-roaring plot with twists and turns aplenty. What could have been a fairly standard heist novel becomes a novel about obsession and the power of literature, “his work changed my heart” explains one of the characters. It also explores the dark places that lurk in all of us or as King describes the mind, “deep below that rational part is an underground ocean…where strange creatures swim.”

There are tiny hints of supernatural happenings but really the book is rooted in crime. Horror comes from the characters and their actions, there are no ghosts or even scary clowns but the book is still horrific in places. The last fifty or so pages shreds the reader’s nerves with cliffhangers and twists that have us shouting at the characters, “no don’t do that, can’t you see what will happen?”

So you may have already made your mind up about King. If you love his work you will love Finders Keepers, if you don’t then lay down your preconceptions, set aside your genre prejudices, read this and enjoy a good story because that’s why we are all here, author and readers, the love of a good story.

Rating 5 out of 5

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Last Days by Adam Nevill

Last Days

By Adam Nevill

Published by Macmillan, 2012.

I have a special section in my bookshelf for Adam Nevill and it’s not just because of the quality of his writing. The publication of Banquet For The Damned in 2008 marked a transitional point in the evolution of the current crop of British horror writers, the start of the current golden age in my opinion. Adam Nevill was, of course, the editor of the short-lived, but much admired, Virgin Books horror line which saw the horror section in bookshelves expand overnight. My copies of those books are treasured possessions but times move on and Nevill’s follow ups have been just as influential in re-introducing supernatural horror to the masses. From the ghosts of Barrington House in Apartment 16 to the pagan Scandinavian wilderness of The Ritual, Nevill has consistently delivered quality horror fiction.

Last Days tells the story of Kyle Freeman, an independent film maker, struggling to make end meet, who is made an offer he can’t refuse. Wealthy media tycoon Max Solomon wants Kyle and cameraman Dan to investigate the mysterious cult, The Temple Of Last Days which ended in bloody tragedy in the Arizona Desert in 1975. Initially the offer seems too good to be true but given his precarious financial position it’s not long before Dan and Kyle are off to interview the few people left who were involved in the tragedy.

Of course, it turns out things were too good to be true and our unlikely heroes soon find themselves embroiled in a much deeper, much more dangerous tale of supernatural happenings which stretches back for centuries and is still very real.

Last Days for me was a book of three parts. The initial sections were perhaps the most engaging as Dan and Kyle begin to feel the influence of the supernatural in more and more lurid encounters. The drama escalates quite quickly as the boys’ film-making becomes a fight for survival. The pace changes somewhat as the depths of the threat are explained through some protracted exposition in the middle section which is all fascinating and well constructed but just appears a bit slow after that thunderous start. The final few chapters bring us back to full speed though and the ending is suitably tense and fulfilling.

As always, it is the threat that engages most in Adam Nevill’s work. Drawing on the ghost story traditions of the likes of M.R. James and Arthur Machen, Nevill creates a realistic occult storyline on which he hangs his grotesque monsters. And what monsters they are, working beautifully as they slowly emerge from vague threat to full-blown horror and our protagonists realise the full extent of the crisis they find themselves in.

I don’t think this is Adam Nevill’s best book but then he has set such high standards for himself. The main characters are interesting but some of the lesser characters seemed a bit weak and stereotypical (I’m looking at you Jed) this coupled with that tendency to exposition in the middle section knocked half a point off the total score but don’t be mistaken, this is still a very good horror novel and one which fans of the supernatural should purchase without hesitation.

Rating 4 out of 5

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The Inquisition – Sandy DeLuca

Before I took a short break from blogging at the turn of the year I subjected Sandy DeLuca to the Inquisition. I need to apologise to Sandy for not posting it before now, so sorry.

Sandy DeLuca is a poet, artist and a wonderful horror author. Her first novel Settling In Nazareth was published in 2003, you can read more about Sandy at her website here.

1 – Which book has been most influential in your career?

Actually there are many books, but two come to mind at present: MIDNIGHT COWBOY and DELIVERANCE. Although not horror, both are dark and brim over with visceral aspects and the darker side of humanity.

2 – Which writer has most influenced your style?

Again, there are many, but for now I’ll mention James Dickey. That’s because he’s also a poet and capable of lush verse and prose.

3 – What’s the future for the horror genre?

I believe it could have a bright future if more publishers began to produce good dark literary horror. Publishers such as Delirium Books, Damnation Books and several others are producing some interesting work. The publishers care about the genre and strive to both entertain and enlighten readers. Women have a lot to say. Some of the best female authors have unique voices and different approaches to characters and subject matter. I’m glad the above publishers are giving women a shot.

 At present the genre is spilling over with inferior fiction. This tends to give horror a bad name and readers do not take it seriously. Publishers, such as Uninvited Books, have the courage to publish work that is above the rest. It’s sad that more publishers do not have this courage and conviction. At one time horror was thought to be a noble genre, but with things such as talking intestines running amuck, I’m afraid the masses will continue to view horror as a joke.

I want to be clear. I love zombies, vampires and things that go bump in the night. Bram Stoker wrote a masterpiece about vampires. So, when the subject matter, and the author’s vision, is executed properly these traditional monsters can come alive with depth and powerful voices.

4 – Which book do you wish you had written?

SKIN, by Kathie Koja; SUICIDE BLONDE by Darcey Steinke; IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote.

5 – What writing equipment could you not live without?

My Kindle because I currently store research material on the device and my PC.  I also have shelves filled with traditional research books.

This is offbeat, but I tend to “paint” my work in between chapters. Paint and canvas give me a chance to create characters and settings visually.  It’s my own unconventional way of clearing my mind and “seeing” my fiction.

6 – Do you plan in detail before starting a new piece of writing?

Yes, I do. Notes, outlines and sketches are important to me. Research is also important.

7 – Ebooks or Paper Books?

Two years ago I scoffed at Ebooks, but now I think they rock. However, I continue to love my collection of paper books.

8 – Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?

Dark fiction mostly.

9 – Who should I read next?

Masterful authors such as Greg F. Gifune, Robert Dunbar, Christopher Conlon and Lisa Mannetti.

10 – What was your last book and what is your next book?

My last book was DARKNESS CONJURED. The limited edition hardcover has sold out, but it’s available as an Ebook here.

Uninvited Books has just released my novel DESCENT in paperback, which can be found here.

My next release will be INTO THE RED, published by Damnation Books, available here.

I am close to completing a novel called PRAYERS FOR SOLSTICE. It’s a piece I began to write in the 90s, believe it not. In addition, I’ve just completed a novella called MESSAGES FROM THE DEAD. Thanks for the interview. I appreciate it.

Thanks Sandy and apologies again for the delay.

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The Beauty Of Books

Look at that will you? Beautiful isn’t it, a pristine brand new copy of John Connolly’s The Reflecting Eye. For those who don’t know, John Connolly has recently completed a book tour of America where he decided to make this book available in an effort to support independent booksellers. You can read more info on John’s blog here but here is a snippet of why he did it –

“…when this tour was announced I decided to arrange a special limited edition of “The Reflecting Eye,” the Charlie Parker novella that had previously appeared in the NOCTURNES collection but had never been published in hardback. I commissioned artwork, rewrote portions, and arranged for it to be bound by a lovely bookbindery in Maine. The bookstores we visit are just paying me the cost of making it, and they’re keeping all of the profits. It’s a vote of confidence not just in bookstores, but in the beauty and value of the physical object of the book, something that we’ve been coming back to again and again on this tour. “

I have nothing against ebooks, I read plenty for review here but let’s face it the ebook is a soulless object, the writing may be the most soulful work on the planet but wrapped in that dull grey kindle glow it becomes disconnected from the reader, you can get joy from the writing but not from the book. This book however is a thing of beauty, immaculately produced, quality paper, wonderful artwork and it smells like a book should.  John goes on to say –

The question that those of us who care about books in any form have to ask is: will the world be a poorer place without bookstores and, indeed, without easy access to printed books? If the answer is yes – and if it isn’t, well, you’re wrong – then we all have to try to support them as best we can.”

That’s a statement I thoroughly agree with. Ebooks are all about convenience, ease of use, possibly even economy, all worthwhile values in their own right but I have yet to find an ebook that can be described as beautiful, something you can hold and cherish and know that in many years time you will still have be able to hold and cherish it and that’s the beauty of books.

Starting soon, I will be revisiting all John Connolly’s works, it’s something I have wanted to do for ages, to go back to the start and see how his writing, characters and mythos have all evolved both in his Charlie Parker series and elsewhere but rather than simply review the books I am hoping to go into more depth and look at his work in general. Consider it a John Connolly book club, so if you want to join me on the journey get yourself a copy of his first novel Every Dead Thing and join in the discussion when I post my first article in a couple of weeks time. It’ll be great to hear what others have to say about the books and hopefully we can build up the discussions as we go, either way if you haven’t read any Connolly this might be the ideal time to start.

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Lord Huw And The Romance Of Stone by Dave Hutchinson

Lord Huw And The Romance Of Stone

by Dave Hutchinson

Published by Dave Hutchinson, 2012

Despite this site’s focus on all things dark and horrific, that’s not all I read. I am and always have been a fan of SF, Fantasy, Crime and Historical fiction but to date I have limited my reviews here to horror and dark Fiction books. That will remain the main focus of this blog but I thought it might be interesting to add some variety to spice things up so I intend to post reviews of things I have read outwith the horror genre.

One of my favourite SF books of recent years was Dave Hutchinson’s Push, it was intelligent, literate and a bloody fine read (I reviewed it for the BFS but can’t find a link to the review at the moment, trust me it was great, the book that is not the review, although that was probably pretty good as well!). So I was intrigued to see this short ebook from Dave on Amazon, intrigued because it seems to mark a new direction in his writing and it’s one that I thoroughly approve of.

This is a short book by anyone’s standard, Amazon lists it as equivalent to 16 pages so it’s more of a chapbook than a novella but those 16 pages held me spellbound so don’t let the diminished size put you off. Lord Huw is  a Knight Defender of the Western Marches in this fantasy story as recounted by Lineas the Scribe. We learn how Lord Huw lived a harsh existence, issuing harsh justice on the people of the Western marches, described as an “awful howling wildernesses of crags, fells, lochs and creeks” far from the King’s home in the South where “orchards and citrus groves scent the warm air”. Lord Huw resides in Castle Aran, a structure “entirely without architectural merit” a place in keeping with the rough landscape and life he leads. Soon, however his neighbour Lord Compaigne builds a castle for himself, Castle Carbury, “the most wondrous castle in the whole kingdom”.

And so we hear of Lord Huw’s increasing obsession with Carbury and the desperate lengths he goes to make it his own. This wonderful and magical story is narrated by the marvellously  sardonic Lineas who has borne “haemorrhoids, a persistent cough and a near unbearable cramp in my writing hand” whilst compiling the folk tales of the people of the land. But this tale is more than a simple fairy tale, the final section of the book reveals that this is a much more important tale and a metaphor for unrequited love.

With an intriguing medieval fantasy settings, spiced with magic, wonderful characters, even some horror, this story really hit the mark. The tone of the narrator was just right and the revelatory ending raises the whole thing to another level. Is it too short? Yes, but not in relation to value for money (it’s only a £1!), only because I want to spend more time in this land. Here’s hoping Dave Hutchinson revisits this world soon but in the meantime spend your pocket money on a fine story by an excellent storyteller.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

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Silent Voices by Gary McMahon

Silent Voices

by Gary McMahon

Published by Solaris, 2012.

The Concrete Grove, the first book in the Concrete Grove trilogy, delivered and promised so much. It delivered a fantastic piece of urban horror, laced with dark fantasy that led me to describe Gary McMahon as “the outstanding British horror writer of our times” (review here). It promised so much as it gave us, what I thought were ” tantalising glimpses of a much deeper mythology” and left the way clear for the author to fully dive into his dark mythos in the subsequent books. Now we have Silent Voices, the second book in the trilogy and at last we can see if the author has kept his promise.

While the first book largely crept around the edges of the mythology of the Concrete Grove, a deprived urban area in Northumberland, this book gets to the heart of the matter. Here we meet Brendan, Simon and Marty who as young boys ventured in to The Needle, a derelict tower block at the physical and metaphysical centre of the Concrete Grove, where something happened that still reverberates through their lives today. That something haunts the boys, now men and has shaped their lives in different but always difficult ways. Brendan is the only one with a “normal” family life but is stricken by terrible, debilitating acne, Simon is a millionaire businessman but one who has troubled relationships and Marty has turned to violence competing in bare knuckle boxing after the tragic loss of his girlfriend. Simon decides to buy The Needle and get the boys back together to finally face their demons.

The first part of the book explores these troubled characters and the lives of those around them, giving real depth to both them and the area. We meet the boys as youngsters and join them as they first enter The Needle and the horrific events that subsequently haunted them are gradually revealed. But it’s the desperate state of their current lives which leads them to return to the Grove and McMahon’s powerful dark prose is perfect at describing these tragic lives and the desperation to find out what happened.

As more revelations are gained so the darkness at the heart of the Concrete Grove becomes even blacker. The boys are haunted by Captain Clickety, “the damned and damning song of their childhood nightmares” a marvellous concoction of plague doctor (see here for some fine Plague Doctor creepiness) and child catcher who along with the even more terrifying Underthing awaits the boys at The Needle.

And so everything is set for a spectacular finale as the boys re-enter The Needle and face the dark mysteries of the Concrete Grove. Once again, as in the first book, McMahon saves the best for last as he ramps up the nightmare imagery and dark fantasy to new heights. Many of the mysteries of the first book and the revelations in this book are connected as things race to a dark conclusion, only there is no conclusion, instead McMahon introduces further twists to leave this reader desperate for the final book in the trilogy.

With less of a pitch black tone than much of his previous work this book majors instead on rich and engrossing characters. Although I doubt if Gary McMahon is ever going to write a knock about comedy the tone here seems less pervasively dark (although there are certainly some very dark moments) giving the book a wonderful balance. The protagonists are well constructed yet flawed characters but it’s the antagonists who really shine here, Captain Clickety is a character to rival Stephen King’s Pennywise and he isn’t even the worst of the bad guys. So we leave The Concrete Grove again, emotions and senses suitably pummelled, and apocalyptic imagery left seared onto our eyelids and we await the final book and still we know only a few of the dark secrets, only a few of the terrible realities and even more terrible unrealities hiding there.

In conclusion Gary McMahon has kept good on the promises he made the reader in the first book and has successfully delivered another marvellous slice of urban horror while at the same time he has promised us even more to come in the final book (Beyond Here Lies Nothing), bring it on.

Rating 5 out of 5

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The Watcher by Charles Maclean

The Watcher

by Charles Maclean

Published by Penguin Books, 2012.

Originally published in 1982 this is a book I have been meaning to read for a while. It certainly gets some good reviews and was listed among Charlie Higson’s top 10 horror books here so I was delighted to find a copy of the  reissue on the shelves of my local Waterstones.

Martin Gregory is a computer programmer who seemingly lives a happy, normal life with his wife and their two dogs. So far so mundane and to be honest for the first 20 pages I was wondering what all the fuss was about..then “it” happens. For no apparent reason Martin carries out a vicious and brutal act, which author Maclean insists on telling with quite uncomfortable detail and description. Perhaps what makes the act so shocking is the aftermath as Martin carries on quite normally. It’s this schizophrenia that becomes the focus of the book as Martin receives psychoanalytical treatment which reveals a whole slew of past lives each with their own story.

So the plot weaves in and out of past lives as we experience the world through Martin and his psychologist’s eyes and things get ever more complex, demanding that the reader pays attention. There is little more horror, the book becomes a tense psychological thriller as the reader is left to ponder the reality of Martin’s paranoia or if things are simply the result of some deep-seated psychosis. There are a couple of extremely tense scenes towards the end which are very enjoyable but the plot conclusion is somewhat disappointing.

This is a deeply strange book which offers the reader little solace and no solutions. Martin is not a particularly likeable protagonist indeed his initial actions also make him a formidable antagonist so viewing the story through his eyes is a difficult journey for the reader. It’s a sign of the authors skill then that, despite his previous brutality, Martin actually begins to be a character the reader  can relate to, maybe the reader is confronted with some uncomfortable truths about the latent violence in us all.

So this is not an easy book to like, difficult to relate to characters, complex plot, disappointing ending and a stilted prose style which seems much older than it’s 1982 vintage. It’s a measure of the authors skill then that this book does succeed. Perhaps it’s that initial shock that certainly resonates throughout the book, perhaps it’s the complex experimental plot which keeps the readers attention or perhaps it’s simply because this books is “different” but whatever the reason the end result is an enjoyable piece of dark fiction. It certainly wouldn’t make my top ten horror books but it might well make the top 100.

Rating 4 out of 5

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Snake Eyes by Joseph D’Lacey

Snake Eyes

by Joseph D’Lacey

Published by Crossroad Press, 2012.

While Joseph D’Lacey may not be the most productive writer around (only two novels since 2008) he has been a consistently enjoyable one. Both his eco-horror novels Meat and Garbage Man were very enjoyable books and his 2009 novella, The Kill Crew was a short, sharp joy but it’s now been a couple of years since When The Night Comes Down (Dark Arts Books) featured his last published stories so I was delighted to see this new publication. Snake Eyes consists of two novellas, the eponymous title story and a shorter story A Trespasser In Long Lofting.

First thing to point out is that whatever Joseph D’Lacey has been doing over the last couple of years certainly hasn’t involved laurels and resting. Snake Eyes delivers in all sorts of ways but most importantly sees D’Lacey embarking on a new and ambitious style mixing SF with Horror and Fantasy in a very satisfactory fashion as he builds on a style he started to explore in The Kill Crew. The world of Snake Eyes is a multi layered, complex place which cleverly manages to pull the reader along as it spirals into ever greater circles of confusion. Importantly, however, D’Lacey manages to keep things pacy and very readable and I was certainly hooked from the start to the finish. The story moves from its weird fiction beginnings to its Space Odyssey ending smoothly, yet this tale is stuffed full of pace change and style variations which in the hands of a lesser author would jolt the reader out of the story, not here though, here everything fits immaculately with beautiful prose and startling imagery throughout. Snake Eyes is different and clearly shows an author who has moved up a gear and who is prepared to experiment, thank goodness he succeeds.

A Trespasser In Long Lofting is quite a different thing. A bawdy comedy horror tale, it’s actually laugh out loud funny. There are hints of Pratchett and Douglas Adams on display as a demon falls from the sky onto the village of Long Lofting. Obviously, this causes intense theological debate amongst the villagers as well as more basic attractions for the village women. I’ve never been a huge fan of comedy in horror but this works for me. At one point D’Lacey starts to outcompete Roger’s Profanisaurus as he joyfully  describes the demons testicles ( adversarial gonads anyone) it shouldn’t work but it does, particularly if you have the sense of humour of a fourteen year old like me.

So extreme contrast as the first story delivers intense intelligent plot and thoughtful subtext, while the second delivers comedy by the bucket load. Joseph D’Lacey is back and he’s on stellar form with these two tales, clearly the intervening years have not been wasted, instead he has moved forward with his writing, exploring new style and genres and doing it with some panache.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

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This Is Horror Premium Chapbooks

I am proud to have been involved in a small way with This Is Horror and to have watched it grow from a small blog to a large and extensive horror resource, a site which actually caters for true fans. That’s why I am absolutely delighted to point you in the direction of the new This Is Horror Premium Chapbook series. You will get much more information by reading this post over at This Is Horror but if I just point out that stories have already been announced from Conrad Williams, Gary McMahon and Simon Bestwick, Joseph D’Lacey and David Moody, you will understand why this series has me drooling in anticipation already.

Congratulations to Michael and everyone else at This Is Horror and I hope this new venture is a huge success, it deserves to be. Once again you can read more here.

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Glory and Splendour by Alex Miles

Glory and Splendour

by Alex Miles

Published by Karoshi Books, 2012.

The story of how Robert Johnson, one night, took himself down to the crossroads at midnight and promptly sold his soul to the devil in return for a remarkable talent might seem like a fairly obscure start to a book review. All I would say is go and buy a copy of this collection and then consider how an author is able to arrive on the scene as fully formed, as dazzlingly talented as Alex Miles then tell me he hasn’t had been out for a walk one evening.

Simply reading the eponymous first story will give you some idea of the remarkable talent of this writer. It’s a mind-blowing tale of a biblical scale plague (boils anyone?) which reduces the land to a wasteland worthy of Hieronymus Bosch but the inhabitants of a stately home are protected from the viciousness outside by a special paint which makes everything appear beautiful (rose-tinted spectacles anyone?). A couple of lines can’t really tell you nearly enough about the quality of this story. Layer after layer of fantastic imagery is drawn over a plot which, whilst apparently simple, reeks of metaphorical intrigue. In short it’s fantastic.

Follow that with a dystopian/steampunk/cyberpunk riff on the value of machinery over human judgement  in The Judge or the morally probing Deep Stitches with its imaginative look at the possible future of cosmetic surgery and you have three stories of real quality but Alex Miles doesn’t stop there, just when you are getting used to his blend of dystopian SF/horror we get a comedy story. Hitting Targets is a highly humorous tale involving estate agents and MMORPG gamers which is rich in satire but most of all sheer good fun.

The Life Beggar is perhaps the most complex of the stories on display here but it remains accessible and readable even if it might leave the reader scratching their head. Finally The Lotus Device is pure Twilight Zone material. Richly inventive, simple, yet complex at the same time it’s a mind-blowing story of a man who receives a device which allows him to selectively erase his memories, beautifully constructed and the end does not let you down.

Only six stories but six stories brimming with excellent writing, but it’s the maturity of the writing which impresses here. Sure some of the stories could be slightly shorter, sure some of the metaphors might be a tad clunky but this is a first collection and yet reads like something from an established author. Weird fiction has been dominated recently by the likes of Thomas Ligotti, Mark Samuels and Simon Strantzas but this collection contains stories worthy of all three and with the opener, Glory and Splendour automatically gives Alex Miles a place alongside them. So buy this book and watch out for Alex Miles in the future, I predict big things from both him and Karoshi Books. Now I’m off out for a walk…to the crossroads.

Rating 5 out of 5 *

* So how can I give 5/5 and yet raise criticisms, surely that should lead to losing a point? Well possibly, but the quality of both Glory and Splendour and The Lotus Device redeem any possible failings. Those stories alone earn the book a 5.

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The Satyr’s Head by David A. Sutton

The Satyr’s Head : Tales Of Terror

Selected by David A. Sutton

Published by Shadow Publishing, 2012.

There’s a bit of a 70’s revival going on at that moment so look out your glam gear, platform shoes and Abba LP’s and let’s head back to the early 1970’s when David A. Sutton was busy putting together the Third volume of New Writings in Horror and the Supernatural, unfortunately the original publishers dropped the series but it was eventually published in 1975 by Corgi books and then promptly went out of print. This will be the first chance many of us have had to read some of these stories and indeed some of these authors so let’s dive in.

James Wade is one of the more interesting authors on display here, settling in Korea after the war his writing ranged from articles on music and war stories to Cthulhu Mythos tales. The Nightingale Floors is a strong start to the collection exploring the “delusions of sound and sight” on a museum night-watchman. It’s a quiet, ambiguous and very enjoyable read.

Ramsey Campbell has gone on to be revered for his atmospheric horror tales and while some of that talent is on display in The Previous Tenant, there are also signs of an author learning his craft. The dense, at times almost poetic prose, often feels overwritten, with maybe one too many metaphors thrown into the mix, but it’s still a memorable tale of obsession.

Martin I. Ricketts gives us The Night Fisherman. I’ve not come across this author before but this is an enjoyable, short and pointed story. Sugar And Spice And All Things Nice by David A. Sutton is an excellent and moving tale of a man who, faced with a monotonous job, enjoys watching the world go by his window right up until a mysterious girl shows up.

Provisioning by David Campton is a tongue in cheek tale about two god fearing hillbilly brothers, Keziah and Adam and their quest for food, its all gory good fun. Another gory tale is Perfect Lady by Robin Smyth which although interesting was one of the books weaker stories.

The Business About Fred by Joseph Payne Brennan, in contrast to the previous two stories, was rich and moving, full of pathos and sadness, as a lonely figure in a bar considers his effect on the world. Brian Lumley’s Aunt Hester takes a long time to reach its conclusion but the ending redeems any faults in the earlier pacing.

Finally we have two occult horrors starting with A Pentagram For Cenaide by Eddy C. Bertin. A prolific SF, horror and children’s author Bertin’s tale is one of the best in this collection. Another slow starter but one which certainly repays the readers persistence with a rich and involved tale of a painters obsession with the wife of a friend. Finally we have The Satyr’s Head by David A. Riley which reads like a lovechild of M. R. James and Dennis Wheatly as the occult powers of an ancient artifact are unwittingly found by Henry Lamson.  It’s an enjoyable tale but as, perhaps, the most “seventies” tale here it hasn’t dated as well as some of the others.

So turns out that as well as being great for spacehoppers and polyester the 1970’s was also producing some excellent horror fiction and this anthology give you the opportunity to revisit some of it.

Rating 4 out of 5


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Hell Train by Christopher Fowler

Hell Train

by Christopher Fowler

Published by Solaris, 2012.

The recent revival of Hammer Films (The Woman In Black, The Resident, Wake Wood) has been very welcome but for most folk it’s still the output from its heyday in the 1960’s that fascinates. So Christopher Fowler’s novel Hell Train, set in that world of swinging sixties Hammer, should be a delight for fans but does it live up to expectations?

Ostensibly a novel about a Hammer film script that was never made, the book is actually made up of two interwoven narratives. The story of the scripts creation, set in the Hammer studios at Bray, introduces us to many of the key Hammer figures both on-screen and behind the scenes and although clearly fictional there is some lovingly accurate portrayals of the people and places that brought those fantastic films to our screens.

But it’s the Hell Train script itself which takes up the bulk of the book. Set in wartime (First World War) eastern Europe the plot introduces a cast of characters thrown together by circumstance to seek refuge on the Arkangel, the last train out of town before the invading forces arrive. Only problem is none of them know the train’s final destination although the title may give the reader a clue. It’s an action packed trip as the passengers face various trials, often with very unpleasant consequences. The portrayal of  the threat of devastating war is nicely balanced against the even greater, supernatural threats faced by the passengers giving the whole book an ominous air.

The main characters are interesting, most with their own flaws which form the basis of the tests as they are pitted against the supernatural forces guiding the train. The Eastern European background is a clever nod to the anonymous villages which crop up in many Hammer films, complete with ageing inn owner, his innocent daughter and a cast of suspicious locals. It’s an example of the clever nods to the original films that work very well in the book. It’s easy to imagine Michael Ripper as a villager in the opening scenes or one of the many Hammer beauties (mmm….Caroline Munro) as his “innocent” daughter.

A couple of things didn’t work so well for me. One, the gore is often turned up to eleven and while Hammer films had a reputation for (Kensington) gore it looks pretty tame these days, the scenes in this book would not be out-of-place in one of the Saw films. That might be explained by the script supposedly being written to give the censors something to cut but for me it slightly contradicts the feeling of authenticity. The second issue is length, not the length of the book but the length of the scenes from the film. Hammer films benefited greatly from brevity but the scenes in this book do feel like they go on too long, again breaking that spell of Hammer authenticity.

Plus points are definitely the clever nods to the workings of Hammer and the resurrection of some of the key figures involved at the time but a couple of minus points for the film script itself which appeared to be written with a modern audience in mind rather than the recreation of the lost Hammer classic it purports to be. Never the less an enjoyable trip back to a classic period for horror and a very enjoyable book in its own right, one that Hammer fans will thoroughly enjoy.

Rating 4 out of 5

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The Loneliness Of A Long Distance Blogger

I thought I should explain what is and has been going on at The Black Abyss and more importantly what will be going on in the future. Reading is a lonely business, blogging is a lonely business and blogging about reading can often leave one feeling like Charlton Heston in The Omega Man. So why do I do it? Well it’s not for the money, it’s not even for the ego trip (although I suspect a few of my fellow bloggers might disagree), I do it because I want to spread the word about the books I am reading. I am not a professional reviewer or a literary critic (you may have noticed) in fact I love this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke, “works of art are of an infinite solitariness, and nothing is less likely to bring us near to them than criticism. Only love can apprehend and hold them, and can be just towards them.” That’s the thing you see, I love reading and for some obscure, probably deeply disturbing psychological reason, I love reading horror and dark fiction books. My only objective when I started blogging about books was to let people know what is out there and how damn good some of it is.

Trouble is, it’s often hard to know if anyone else is interested. Responses from publishers can often be rarer that unicorn hair, Facebook can feel like a civil war about to start (or more often one that is about to finish) and among all the politics and checking of page hits (woohoo 25 today!) its easy to lose sight of the reason for all this and with that comes self-doubt leading to apathy and the near death of the Black Abyss. Then, just when you think it’s all pointless and you are about to let the Black Abyss leave it’s clothes on a beach and walk off to some paradise, you hear something that makes it all worthwhile. Recently among all the Facebook fuckery, someone posted an image of the acknowledgement page in Gary McMahon’s new novel, Silent Voices and there was my name and suddenly it all seems worthwhile. Not because my name was going to be seen by the book’s readers but because Gary McMahon has acknowledged the support bloggers have given in getting the word out there. Suddenly it all seems worthwhile again, if through The Black Abyss I have turned one person on to Gary McMahon or Robert Dunbar or Conrad Williams…etc, etc then all the politics, doubts and apathy are blown clean out of the water and the excitement comes surging back.

That one simple act is why you are reading this (if indeed anyone is reading this). The big publishers might not care, the vast majority of the general public might not care but you, me, the occasional writer and small press publisher care and that’s what matters. So The Black Abyss is back, over the next few weeks I will be tidying up the site and looking for ways to move it forward but chiefly I will be getting back to reviews and keeping things simple. Finally, I want to publicly thank Michael at This Is Horror (the single best horror resource on the web) who threw out a life-raft when the Abyss was sinking. I hope to still be involved in This Is Horror but I have come to realise that my true home is back in The Black Abyss. Of course regular readers will know that I have had more comebacks than Rocky, what can I say, next time I say I am giving up drop me line and remind me that sometimes I do talk bollocks. In fact drop me a line anyway, after all it’s lonely being a horror blogger……..


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Shadow Publishing News

David Sutton’s Shadow Publishing is delighted to announce the publication of The Female of the Species & Other Terror Tales by Richard Davis (1935-2005).

The Female of the Species & Other Terror Tales (“Writers from the Shadows #1”)

Shadow Publishing 2012

Paperback 240 pages, £7.99

ISBN: 978-0-9539032-4-5

Cover Artwork by Caroline O’Neal

Richard never saw a collection of his stories published in his lifetime and this book includes all of the author’s short stories, culled from as far back as 1963 and ‘The Fourth Pan Book of Horror Stories’ up to the 1980s. The collection contains an introduction about his life, the fiction and anthologies, including his work as story editor for the BBC’s Late Night Horror series. The book will also feature two rare articles and an interview with the author, from the late 1960s.

“At the time I interviewed Richard for my small press magazine in 1969, he was already an established short story writer, had compiled two anthologies for Tandem Books and the BBC series Out of the Unknown, for which he worked as assistant story editor, had been on air since 1965… Yet, some forty plus years later, Richard’s fiction has largely been forgotten. Although not prolific, he was widely published in anthologies in England. Yet he never saw a collection of his tales published during his lifetime. Hence this book and its integration into a projected series under the collective tag, Writers from the Shadows.” (From the Introduction).


Introduction by David A. Sutton

The Female of the Species

Elsie and Agnes

A Day Out

The Lady by the Stream

The Inmate

A Nice Cut off the Joint

Guy Fawkes Night

The Time of Waiting

The Sick Room

The Clump

The Nondescript

What We Were Looking for in Horror

An Interview with Richard Davis

Horror in Fiction


The cover artist is the painter and illustrator Caroline O’Neal. Caroline has done dark fantasy illustration for Bad Moon Books, Premonitions and Midnight Street magazines, among others.

More information at : Shadow Publishing

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Wood by Robert Dunbar


By Robert Dunbar

Published by Uninvited Books, 2012

Robert Dunbar is easily one of the best dark fiction writers around and he just keeps getting better and better. From his fairly straight horror novels The Pines and The Shore, he moved up a gear with the fabulous Martyrs and Monsters. His last novel Willy was a tour de force of characterisation whose portrayal of disaffected youth was up there with the classics like Catcher In The Rye. Praise indeed and this presents something of a problem for Mr Dunbar, how on earth do you follow that…here is the answer.

Wood tells the tale of two characters out of place in society. Rosaria is institutionalised in a juvenile facility but manages to escape one evening on a desperate quest to find her Grandmother. Her search brings her into contact with the suicidal Dick Wood, a man who’s only friend is his apparently deranged elderly neighbour Queenie who often regales him with tales of monsters. But when Rosaria is chased by something and seeks refuge in Dick’s house he realises that maybe there is something nasty out there after all.

And what a something it is, a creature born of the night and the wild country “the terrain of all the darkest fairytales, the landscape of nightmares” a thing of pure evil has evolved to counter the selfishness of humanity. All of which makes it somewhat ironic that its first encounters are with Rosaria and Dick two people very much on the outskirts of humanity.

This short novella certainly packs a lot into 70 odd pages. The characters (as always from Robert Dunbar) are beautifully realised, strong and individual, there are no stereotypes here. The monster reeks of environmental concerns, the Gaia hypotheses written in blood and is reminiscent of Joseph D’lacey’s Garbage Man. There is also enough action, pathos and beautiful writing to fill most full sized novels. It’s not perfect, I have issues with anthropomorphic characters unless they happen to be Wile E. Coyote so the sequence where we see the world through the eyes of a cat didn’t quite work for me. The story is also unfinished and to be honest having built up an affinity with the characters I want to carry on that journey, so get writing Mr Dunbar!

Quibbles aside though this is another excellent work from Robert Dunbar, he is an extremely powerful writer who manages to extract fantastic depth from his characters giving his work an originality and freshness that is very welcome in the gore filled horror world.

Rating 4 out of 5

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Rough Music by Simon Kurt Unsworth

Rough Music

by Simon Kurt Unsworth

Published by Spectral Press, 2012.

The short format is often the most appropriate length for horror stories, it allows the author to condense our fears into nightmarish snapshots of text without over staying their welcome. The Spectral Press chapbook range continues to publish some of the best short horror fiction around, all in nicely produced, signed, limited editions.

Simon Kurt Unsworth’s Rough Music is a near perfect example of how it should be done. Take a not very likeable main character (Cornish), throw in some self-inflicted personal issues and then add some weird happenings to spice the whole thing up and sit back and watch as the character endures the consequences.

In only a few pages we get depth of character, intrigue and pathos and its all beautifully written to keep the pages turning. Bridging the gap between short stories and novellas these chapbooks continue to demonstrate that in horror fiction the short, sharp, shocks are often the most memorable ones.

Rating  4 out of 5

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11.22.63 by Stephen King


By Stephen King

Published by Hoddor & Stoughton, 2011, 740 pages.

Stephen King’s recent output has been rather variable, from the patchy, yet in places brilliant short story collection, Full Dark No Stars to the journey he took us on in his last novel Under The Dome, an enjoyable trip but with a disappointing end to the ride.

The premise for his latest behemoth (although at only 740 pages it’s relatively short by King’s standards) sounds fairly simple and on the face of it rather uninspiring. A time travel story, this tale explores what would happen if you had the chance to, as Cher once said “turn back time” and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy on 11/22/63.

Jake Epping gets that opportunity when Al the owner of a local diner reveals a secret, a tragedy and an opportunity all in one strange meeting. Al reveals the presence of a “portal” (the mechanics of the time travel are left vague and why not?) which can transport you back to 1958 and his plans to prevent the assassination.  It’s now up to Jake to take on Al’s mantle and finish the task.

That’s the books main premise and although a nice idea it’s actually only a very small part of what makes this book special. This is a story about personal sacrifice, heroism, duty, politics, patriotism but most of all it’s a book about love.

King builds a world in which real life historical figures intermingle with some of the strongest fictional characters he has ever created and considering character creation is one of his great strengths that’s a fantastic achievement. The bulk of the action takes place in late 50’s early 60’s America, a place technologically and culturally a million years from today’s society.

King avoids wallowing in the golden glow of nostalgia. This is a period when racism, bigotry, sexism and poverty meant a less than cosy existence for many. It’s a beautifully illuminated era though and it’s the small details which really breathe life into this world and consequently the book.

The main quest is a relatively simple one but in King’s hands the characters are tested both emotionally and physically, indeed most of the “horror” (this isn’t so much a horror story as a book with horrific incidents) is based on this emotional turmoil and it’s often devastating physical consequences.

The book starts off quite slowly but the pacing is excellently controlled. The world building and character creation work beautifully to gradually draw the reader into the time period and when the action then escalates the reader is pulled along as the juggernaut races to its terrifying (and unpredictable) conclusion.

Unlike Under The Dome the ending does not disappoint, indeed the poignancy of the ending may be the book’s strongest point and really does demonstrate how that simple premise could lead to much more complex consequences.

In short 11.22.63 is a magnificent novel which will appeal to King fans but also to those outwith his normal readership. The politics and historical truth may be open to debate (he largely dismisses the conspiracy theories) but the strength of King’s writing is not. This book is his best since The Green Mile in 1996 and may well be among his top five up there with the likes of It, Salem’s Lot and The Stand. With 11.22.63 King demonstrates that he is a master at the top of his game.

Rating 5 out of 5

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Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist

John Ajvide Lindqvist hit the ground running with the excellent Let The Right One In, which resurrected the tired vampire trope into a new, darker being, showing the paranormal romancers how it should be done. He somehow managed to maintain the pace with the “difficult” second and third novels, Handling The Undead and Harbour and now along comes Little Star and what do you know, he’s only gone and done it again.

The plot of Little Star is at once both beautifully simple and incredibly complex. The story is a simple tale of an abandoned child and the family who finds her but beneath that surface is an incredibly weird tale which I can’t outline here without spoiling, so I won’t. Suffice to say that singing babies, serial killing children and Abba feature heavily in what may well be the most bizarre, yet compelling tale I have read in a long time.

Perhaps it’s the Scandinavian darkness that pervades Lindqvist’s writing or maybe he is channelling the legacy of the Grimms but this tale, with it’s overtones of raw nature and evil adults has the qualities of a dark fairytale before spiralling into gory murder, American Psycho meets Snow White. Remember also, this is a translation and clearly I have no idea how closely it matches the original but whether by design or chance the book has an otherworldly feel, the phrasing, the timing everything is

imbued with an oddness which matches and compliments the mood of the book perfectly.

The complex themes explored here, nature versus nurture, the loss of childhood innocence, selfishness in the pursuit of fame, animal instincts are all beautifully woven into the plot without stifling the story. The book is also full of memorable scenes from the fairytale beginning to the Carrie like ending but all written in Lindqvist’s engaging prose so they retain that feeling of originality.

There are some who might criticise the book for what it doesn’t tell us. There are several huge conceits that the reader has to go along with, the true nature of the central character being the most significant, but for this reader that adds to the mystery. Life would be boring if every magician explained his tricks and I for one am glad that Lindqvist has retained the mystery and intrigue which is as important to this book as the revelations.

A wonderful storyteller and a wonderful story are a pretty powerful combination and as long as John Ajvide Lindqvist carries on telling stories this good and this well, I will be at the front of the queue to buy them.

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Isis by Douglas Clegg

Stepping into the pages of Isis is like stepping back in time as Douglas Clegg recreates the feeling of a good old fashioned ghost story. When Iris Villiers is involved in a tragic accident with her brother Harvey, she loses not only a close relation but her closest friend. So when she finds a way to bring her brother back what will she do? With references to Egyptian mythology she takes on the role of Isis.

This is a lovely little novella with a compelling writing style that fits a lot into a few pages, readers of Clegg’s work will also note that this is a prequel to Iris’ later adventures in Hudson Valley Academy. A tale of love, loss, innocence and the dangers of getting what you wish for. Of course critics will say that the themes are very close to those explored in “The Monkey’s Paw” W.W. Jacobs classic short story and they would be right, but there is enough originality on display here to bring a freshness to that idea.

Glenn Chadbourne’s marvellous line drawings illuminate the text and add an even greater level of gothic horror/fairytale detail to proceeding but it is Clegg’s beautifully crafted prose that wins the day. The mysterious atmosphere, well developed characters and dark, brooding style all contribute to an enjoyable modern classic.

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Ancient Images by Ramsey Campbell

The arrival of Don D’auria (ex leisure books) at Samhain Publishing has seen the beginning of an exciting new line of interesting horror including several books by Ramsey Campbell. The combination of new writing and the re-release of some older titles will give a new generation easy access to Campbell’s earlier work but how does it stand up in comparison to his more recent writing.

The plot of Ancient Images revolves around the discovery of a “lost” film starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. When Sandy Allan’s friend tracks down a copy and invites her to a private screening she jumps at the chance, but this film holds a darker secret and following a tragic accident (or was it?) at the screening, Sandy begins to explore it’s real history. What she discovers is a tangled connection to ancient pagan practices centred around the Redfield estate and the dangers still associated with it. The danger becomes ever more real as those around her and those involved in the film get caught up in a series of tragic events.

Ancient Images is a good horror novel but despite being a Stoker winner when first published, I found its mix of themes diluted rather than added to the threats. The strongest elements here relate to the ancient threat and its connection with the film but this is diluted somewhat by additional themes such as the new age travelers and romantic interludes which dominate proceedings at certain points.

The ending is also rather disappointing and the book doesn’t seem to address some of the plot points it raises at the beginning. The writing is enjoyable and pacy throughout and very few people can create a threatening atmosphere as well as Ramsey Campbell but ultimately, this book is merely good rather than great. As an introduction to Campbell’s writing it works but as an example of his best you should probably look elsewhere (The Grin of The Dark has a similar theme but is much more powerful). A fine slice of eighties style horror but there are much better examples of Ramsey Campbell’s greatness many of which I hope to review soon.

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Don’t Look Back

For those who follow this site I’m sure this post will come as a surprise especially as my last post was written in 2015 so let me explain.

For various reasons I pretty much stopped reviewing books in 2015. Now this had nothing to do with my love of books and especially horror books, that is still there. No, it had more to do with my confidence as a reviewer and my feelings about reviewing in general.

It’s a weird thing that anyone can set themselves up as a reviewer on the Internet and suddenly they have an authoritative voice and platform that could effect other peoples careers, dreams, Jesus, even their lives.

I like to think my reviews were fair and honest and I didn’t generally post bad reviews simply because I don’t generally finish bad books, but even so, I felt a pressure from reviewing that began to spoil the enjoyment of the reading, so I stopped.

I restarted in various new incarnations but the joy had gone. I was in a tremendously privileged position being able to talk to authors, publishers, being given access to early proof copies and free books, the best bit was the free books! I want to thank everyone who helped me, both fellow reviewers, publishers and authors. I hope I gave something back for all that you gave me.

All of which sounds like a valedictory speech but actually this isn’t goodbye, it’s a new hello.

Since I’ve been able to read I wanted to write and I did write some absolute rubbish, but I never told anyone and I never tried to get anything published. A few years ago I popped above the parapet and had a couple of short stories published but I still didn’t have the confidence to really make writing a public thing until now.

So what’s changed, I don’t know. I have stories burning a hole in both my mind and my PC that I want to get out there and so I’ve decided to do just that. I will be trying to get some other short stories published very shortly and am half way into a novel I’ve left simmering on a low heat for many years now. Recently I’ve brought it back to the boil and added some extra onions, I’m aiming for a completed first draft by May and despite it being many years in the making I know this time it will happen. I don’t know why I know, but I know.

So if you’ve ever found this site valuable. If you’ve ever wanted to see a writer struggle on the first shaky steps on the ladder to obscurity. If you love horror and dark fiction and fancy reading some stories by this new guy I know (I’ve heard he’s pretty good) then hold onto your hats.

In the meantime something is stirring in the Black Abyss, full steam ahead please and for god’s sake, don’t look back.



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Don’t Look Back

For those who follow this site I’m sure this post will come as a surprise especially as my last post was written in 2015 so let me explain.

For various reasons, that I might explain at some future telling, I pretty much stopped reviewing books in 2015. Now this had noting to do with my love of books and especially horror books, that is still there. No, it had more to do with my confidence as a reviewer and my feelings about reviewing in general.

It’s a weird thing that anyone can set themselves up as a reviewer on the Internet and suddenly they have an authoritative voice and platform that could effect other peoples careers, dreams, Jesus even their lives.

I like to think my reviews were fair and honest and I didn’t generally post bad reviews simply because I don’t generally finish bad books, but even so, I felt a pressure from reviewing that began to spoil the enjoyment of the reading, so I stopped.

I restarted in various new incarnations but the joy had gone. I was in a tremendously privileged position being able to talk to authors, publishers, being given access to early proof copies and free books, the best bit was the free books! I want to thank everyone who helped me, both fellow reviewers, publishers and authors. I hope I gave something back for all that you gave me.

All of which sounds like a valedictory speech but actually this isn’t goodbye, it’s a new hello.

Since I could read I wanted to write and I did write some absolute rubbish but I never told anyone and I never tried to get anything published. A few years ago I popped above the parapet and had a couple of short stories published but I still didn’t have the confidence to really make writing a public thing until now.

So what’s changed, I don’t know. I have stories burning a hole in both my mind and my PC that I want to get out there and so I’ve decided to do just that. I will be trying to get some other short stories published very shortly and am half way into a novel I’ve left simmering on a low heat for many years now. Recently I’ve brought it back to the boil and added some extra onions, I’m aiming for a completed first draft by May and despite it being many years in the making I know this time it will happen. I don’t know why I know but I know.

So if you’ve ever found this site valuable. If you’ve ever wanted to see a writer struggle on the first shaky steps on the ladder to obscurity. If you love horror and dark fiction and fancy reading some stories by this new guy I know (I’ve heard he’s pretty good) then hold onto your hats.

In the meantime something is stirring in the Black Abyss, full steam ahead please and for god’s sake, don’t look back.



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Drunken Fireworks by Stephen King

drunken-fireworks-9781442389656_lgDrunken Fireworks

by Stephen King

Published by Simon & Schuster Audio 2015

This is a strange review for me being a huge King fan and coming off the back of his most recent novel, the thoroughly enjoyable, Finders Keepers, I was excited to find yet more, new King product available. Only problem is, this is an audiobook. I don’t really get on with audiobooks, I’m too easily distracted by visual stimuli, but given this was a short story and therefore a short reading (1hr 19mins) I thought I would give it a go.

First the good news, this is a perfectly acceptable King short with some great characters, as always in this authors work. It’s not King at his best, the plot meanders, there is little “horror”, little tension. The plot is a simple idea and you will probably guess the conclusion long before you actually get there.

A far bigger problem was the narration. Apparently Tim Sample, the narrator, was handpicked by King for his authentic Maine accent and I’m not going to argue with that. Living in the middle of nowhere in the highlands of Scotland I’m not in a position to judge if this is authentic or not, but to me it came over as a cross between Gabby Johnson’s authentic frontier gibberish and a drunk Australian (that’s right, Australian?). It might be authentic but for me it was difficult to follow, exagerrated and downright confusing.

So an average story with a difficult narration, not really highly recommended. Couple all that with a price tag of £3.95 on itunes and the fact that this is, after all, just one story from a forthcoming collection (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams) and I smell a marketing scam.

Many great authors both in indie publishing and traditional publishing are rewarding fans with cheap or free downloads in many formats. Many are selling full length novels for £0.99 (I recently bought Tim Lebbon’s fantastic thriller, The Hunt, for that amount), I suspect Mr King doesn’t need the money quite as badly as some of those guys. Quite why he and his publishers have decided to fleece his fans by selling a short, average quality story at four times the price of many novels, in audiobook only, is beyond me.

Finally in a recent interview King was asked about audiobooks versus print and said. ‘Are audiobooks as good as books in print?’ … the answer to me is a no-brainer. Yes, they are, and they might even be better.” Well on the basis of this story I would have to disagree.

Rating 3 out of 5

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