Monthly Archives: February 2011

Meat by Joseph D’Lacey

Meat

By Joseph D’Lacey

Published by Bloody Books, 2008.

Meat was Joseph D’Lacey’s first novel initially released in 2008. Followed up by the excellent second novel, Garbage Man and the stunning novella, The Kill Crew in 2009. Both novels are shortly about to get a release in the USA and are now available as ebooks so I thought I would take a look at Meat.

Set in a dystopian future, the town of Abyrne is cut off from the rest of the world (if there is a rest of the world that is) by the Wasteland. Forced into self sufficiency the town relies on the Magnus Meat Processing plant to create a food source, “meat went to those who could afford it, life went to those who could afford it”.

Richard Shanti works at the plant where he deals the fatal blow to the cattle. Known as Ice Pick Rick for his speed and efficiency he appears to be the ultimate cold killing machine. He is, however, torn apart by guilt, but keeps doing his job, partly to protect his family, but also because he knows he can administer the cleanest, quickest death.

Within the derelict quarter of the town a lone voice is rebelling against the system. John Collins begins an almost Christ like crusade against the meat baron, Rory Magnus. The welfare are the towns religious power and work to ensure the religious code is followed by all parties with a secret police-like zeal.

And so the stage is set for an escalating power struggle which is well handled through a pacy plot that keeps ramping up the tension around the main characters. The bulk of the horror in the story revolves around the meat production process itself. “The Chosen” are processed through a gruesome series of steps. Horrendous enough when things go right but as the power struggle ensues things rarely do go right and the process descends into horrific abuse.

What makes the book even stronger is the fact that the processes described are all real and used in factory farming throughout the world so the torture we are reading about may well have played a part in the creation of your evening meal. Couple this with a twist (which I won’t reveal) that ramps up the power of the suffering to an even higher degree and we have a powerful social commentary wrapped up in a pacy thriller.

Having read and enjoyed Joseph D’Lacey’s other work the power of this novel doesn’t surprise me, what is surprising is it’s power as a first novel. D’Lacey really hit the ground running with this book, there really is very little to find fault with. Possibly the character of John Collin’s is not quite as well developed as some of the other major players, Magnus could be regarded as a bit of a stereotypical Boss Hogg character and I would have liked to see more of the everyday town people and how they viewed the power struggle (currently they are all treated as if one character). But these are all minor issues in what is an excellent, intelligent and extremely thought provoking horror novel.

Rating 4 out of 5

PS – Meat is currently available as an ebook here for the, frankly ridiculously low price of £1.59.

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News From The Abyss – Special Alphabet Edition

 

I have recently updated the index of complete reviews for the site which you can peruse at your leisure here. The list now contains 76 titles from the many diverse, obscure and popular corners of the horror-verse, but there does seem to be an issue with some of the letters of the alphabet. Most are well served by authors (especially C and L thanks to my John Connolly, Tim Lebbon obsessions) but others are completely devoid of authors. Now this might not be too surprising if you are looking at X or Y or even Z but what’s wrong with A or E or T, that’s right T, one of the most popular letters in the alphabet and not a single author name against it. Not only that but looking through my TBR pile I can’t see much hope for the future for these poor lonely, unloved letters.

So if you are an author who’s second name begins with A,E,I,O,U (that’s right none of the vowels have authors against them, ain’t that spooky) or Q,T,V,X,Y or even Z (especially Z) then please get in touch so I can read your work and ensure my OCD doesn’t get out of hand.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen, normal service will now be resumed.

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The Guardians by Andrew Pyper

The Guardians

by Andrew Pyper

Published by Orion Books, 2011.

With an impressive CV of thrillers to his credit including The Killing Circle (2009),  New York Times Best Crime Novel of the Year and Lost Girls (2000), which won the Arthur Ellis Award, Andrew Pyper now turns his pen to more supernatural matters with The Guardians.

Four hockey playing teenagers, Ben, Randy, Carl and Trevor are growing up in the Canadian town of Grimshaw. It’s a world of girls, hockey and school, but increasingly the boys lives become afflicted by the worries and complex relationships of adult life. “Ben had been the first of us to take a punch from the grown up world”, says Trevor following the death of Ben’s father. Casting a constant shadow over the boys lives is the old Thurman Place, a deserted building opposite Ben’s house with a troubled past. Following the disappearance of their favourite teacher the boy’s are forced to follow a trail deep into the dark shadows of the old house with consequences that will haunt them into their adult life.

Told in a dual narrative style, The Guardians successfully builds an atmosphere of foreboding around the haunted house elevating it beyond the traditional ghost house into a much darker focal point. Part of the narrative is told by Trevor who is afflicted by Parkinson’s disease and part of his treatment is the writing of a memory diary. The tragedy of Trevor’s illness is neatly contrasted against the innocence of youth at the start of the book. The gradual loss of that youthful innocence is a key driver in the narrative and this part of the tale is reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Body as we watch youthful exuberance gradually turn to grown-up tragedy.

The characters are all brilliantly realised and the complex relationships tightly woven into a fast moving plot. Above all though the house is an excellent creation and whilst it exhibits all the usual cliches (creaky doors, dark cellar etc) it ramps up the supernatural threat, as more of it’s backstory is revealed, to make it a genuinely chilling place. Everywhere the boys go, everything the men do, is overshadowed by the Thurman Place, ultimately it holds their dark secrets and they are compelled to return.

It really is hard to fault this book, as a  character study it’s full of emotion, as a thriller it’s full of tension but most importantly as a supernatural horror its a dark and deeply chilling tale, The Guardians is a welcome addition to the horror bookshelf.

rating 4 out of 5

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News from The Abyss – 21/2/11

New from Chomu Press is Revenants by Daniel Mills

“His sublime debut novel comes now as naturally as the leaves to the trees, and as hauntingly as the secret ghosts of your past. It takes us back to the New England of the 17th Century, and to the Puritan settlement of Cold Marsh. Fourteen years have passed since the outbreak of King Philip’s War. During that summer, the men of Cold Marsh surrounded and destroyed a nearby Native American encampment, massacring the inhabitants. Now the people of Cold Marsh are besieged by the returning darkness of their deeds. Two of the town’s young women have vanished under mysterious circumstances, and the country seethes with rumours of witchcraft and devilry. When a third young woman disappears, the men of the village determine to leave the safety of their homes and enter the other world of the woods in search of her, each man haunted by the Jack o’ lanthorn of his own unspeakable secrets.

As the past catches up with them, so it catches up with us; written in the present tense, this is a novel that makes us feel history alive and continuing with our life in the present moment.

More than a historical novel and more than a supernatural tale, Revenants brings Puritan New England to life for the 21st century reader. The ghosts between these pages are real enough for you to feel them breathing. Complete with stunning original cover artwork from Hanna Tuulikki, Revenants offers a different vista again to Chômu readers. ”

More info from Chomu Press here

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Great new for lovers of Hammer Films (that’s everyone isn’t it). The company is now moving into publishing with it’s own imprint –

“Hammer will launch its new publishing imprint on March 10th with the release of two novels.

Francis Cottam has penned the novelisation of The Resident, the new Hammer thriller starring Hilary Swank, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Christopher Lee. The cover features distinctive photographic artwork based on the UK advertising.

Hammer’s classic catalogue is also represented, with a brand new edition of the source novel by Peter Curtis (aka Norah Lofts) for The Witches, the 1966 folk horror starring Joan Fontaine and scripted by Hammer regular Nigel Kneale. Curtis’ novel was first published in 1960 as The Devil’s Own. The Hammer edition is prefaced with a new foreword by The Witches director Cyril Frankel.”

Don’t know about you but that gives me a warm glow 🙂 More info here

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Weirdtongue by D.F. Lewis

Weirdtongue

By D. F. Lewis

Published by Inkermen Press, 2010.

D. F. Lewis is perhaps most famous for his Nemonymous collections, a remarkable series of books featuring many major horror writers. A recipient of a British Fantasy Society award, he has had over 1500 short stories published, Weirdtongue is his first novella. As he states on his website his main aim is “writing fiction creatively beyond his own experience”.

This is the part of the review where I would normally summarise the plot. Breaking it down to its major components without any spoilers, I wont be doing that here. Not that there isn’t a plot, there is, it’s just that attempting to describe it would be like attempting to juggle jelly. Maybe I should concentrate on the cast of characters. Folk like Padgett Weggs, Feemy Fitzworth, Modal Morales or the main player Gregory Mummerset, a remarkable cast who in some equally remarkable locations tease the reader into the story but again remain virtually indescribable.

But lets not worry too much about plot or character here, this book is all about words and more specifically the creative power of words, “vexed texture of text” as the author puts it. “A circus of wild wordplay” ensues and what a circus it is. It’s akin to walking in a foggy landscape, every now and then a familiar shape appears which one can recognise, then other shapes appear which may or may not be what they seem and then there are others which remain completely unrecognisable. Here is a typical example, “even single neologisms from his mouth became separate believable dictionaries of semantic force”. Now I think I know what that means but don’t ask me to explain it. Have you ever laid back and watched the clouds with a friend, every know and then you see a shape but you find your friend sees something different. The words in this novella are like those clouds, forming indistinct patterns which occasionally create powerful resonances with the reader but often just drift away.

Still, this is no mere exercise in language or confusing the reader. If you want that read Bob Dylan’s Tarantula, a stream of consciousness, an impenetrable wall of prose which left me baffled. Weirdtongue is not like that, it tests the reader (and I was often found wanting) but rewards with some remarkable imagery, worthy of a Terry Gilliam film. Often I found myself riding a wave of words, never quite in control but just enjoying the ride. Above all though Lewis has created something original, social commentary, jokes, pathos, fantastical worlds, all through the power of words and it stands out like a beacon in the sea of post apocalyptic, zombie repetitiveness. It’s a book that will repay further exploration of its hidden depths, just be prepared to put a little effort into that journey….oh, and take a dictionary.

Rating 4 out of 5

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Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Dark Matter

By Michelle Paver

Published by Orion, 2010.

Award winning children’s author Michelle Paver has turned her attention away from the prehistory of The Chronicles Of Ancient Darkness series to something much darker, a ghost story. “I didn’t tell anyone except my agent that I was writing a ghost story” she says in a fascinating article on her website (here). The opportunity to write without a deadline meant she could refine the text over time and at the right time. “I felt it was important to get back into the rewrite at the time when the nights were lengthening and winter was coming on, because this is the proper time for ghost stories”,  it’s clear that technique has had a major effect on the atmosphere of the story.

It’s 1937 and against a background of impending war, a group of Oxbridge graduates are planning a scientific expedition to Spitsbergen in the high arctic, “halfway between Norway and the pole”. They are joined by the distinctly lower class Jack Miller, who despite his difficult background is determined to prove himself as a worthy scientist. Eventually after months of planning the group make their way to the deserted mining village of Gruhuken (despite advice that this area is unsuitable as a camp, have these folk never seen Scooby Doo). The vastness and wildness of the area is awe inspiring, “it made humanity irrelevant”.

Things are proceeding well and Jack has even managed to bond with at least one of his team mates, Gus until a series of incidents conspire to leave Jack alone in the camp. Alone, that is if you don’t include the sleddogs and a ghostly figure which seems to appear with increasing frequency. Not only that but Jack has been left alone just as the everlasting darkness of an arctic winter (the “dark time”) sets in. “Only you in this cabin and beyond it the dark” Jack tells himself.

The book is as much about psychological terror as supernatural terror. Indeed the supernatural threat appears to be real (as it’s observed by multiple witnesses) but as it’s only ever glimpsed through the veil of darkness, both physical and psychological, it is never truly revealed or made real. This gives the tale an M. R. James feel as the implied threat begins to dominate the characters actions without losing any of it’s power or intensity which may have followed its revelation.

The book is also very much about relationships. Gus and Jack in particular resolve their very different backgrounds to form a close bond which in Jack’s case takes the form of unrequited love. Jack also forms a close bond with one of the sled dogs who helps maintains Jack’s grip on reality when it seems he may be losing it. It’s also a book about the landscape itself. This is a place which dominates man till he becomes insignificant. The  darkness erodes the senses and the vastness is incomprehensible. When Jack gets lost in the dark at one point the scene becomes both claustrophobic and agoraphobic at the same time.

Michelle Paver has created a great ghost story without really stretching the boundaries of the genre to any great extent. The intricate and well researched historical detail, a solid plot and an excellent cast of characters  satisfy but more importantly the book works as a chilling exploration of the landscape not only of the Arctic wilderness but also of the human mind.

Rating 4 out of 5

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In The Rain With The Dead by Mark West

In The Rain With The Dead

By Mark West

Published by Pendragon Press, 2005

Not the most prolific of authors Mark West has, to date, only published two novels, Conjure in 2009 and In The Rain With the Dead in 2005. I reviewed Conjure here and enjoyed its blend of supernatural horror and British atmosphere so I thought I would take a look into Mark’s back catalogue to see how this previous book compared.

The story is based around the relationship between teenage sweethearts Jim Crenshaw and Nadia Jones. Geeky Jim and gorgeous Nadia have only just started going out when they are invited by friends Jen and Danny to spend the weekend at Jen’s house. After a few drinks a Ouija board is produced with terrible consequences. Twenty years later and the effects of the seance gone wrong are still being felt but Jim and Nadia are reunited at a funeral only to find a much more deadly threat is out there.

The first fifty or so pages start off pretty slowly and without much sign of the supernatural raising its ugly head but then things begin to take off and it’s not long before we are up to our necks in sex and gore. The horror is ramped up by a possessed and perverted monster by the name of Magellan. His twisted perversions are fueled by his demonic possession to pretty extreme levels and several scenes of graphic sexual torture make for uncomfortable reading.

The book is reasonably fast paced after the slow start and despite a couple of strange plot inconsistencies the story manages to take an old theme (teenage seance) and lift it to new levels. That’s not to say it’s perfect however, the dialogue was forced at times and the continual “lovey, dovey” interaction between Jim and Nadia was, at times, almost as vomit inducing as some of the more gory scenes. Despite these issues, there are a couple of scenes which were outstanding in their visceral qualities. A scene where a character sees women hanging from street lamps produced a very powerful image and another incident involving a nailgun exploded into violence with shocking force.

Whilst some scenes were reminiscent of early Clive Barker the tone of the book is much closer to the, ordinary lives turned horrific, style employed by James Herbert. Overall it’s a decent horror novel but it doesn’t quite have the atmosphere and strength of Conjure. It does however show that Mark West’s writing is moving on an upward trajectory which surely means his next novel will be something very special indeed.

Rating 3 out of 5

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