Daily Archives: March 19, 2011

Through A Glass Darkly by Bill Hussey

Through A Glass, Darkly

by Bill Hussey

Format: Paperback, 440 pages

Publisher: Bloody Books

With the spate of excellent first novels I have recently reviewed here including names such as Joe Abercrombie, Adam Nevill and Scott Sigler (not to mention Joe Hill’s fantastic first short story collection) it would hardly be surprising if the latest debut novelist, to cross my path, failed to reach that same high standard. What is amazing then is that not only has Bill Hussey reached the quality of the other debut authors mentioned but if anything, he has surpassed them. In each of these previous novels I have picked out what I thought was the defining feature which made it a stand out, so with Abercrombie it was solid, interesting characters with Neville it was his sense of place and with Sigler it was his visceral horror. Bill Hussey somehow manages to include all these elements with an incredibly, thrilling, horrific, ingenious and intriguing plot, for an established writer it would be an achievement for a debut it is astonishing.

Jack Trent and Dawn Howard are CID officers and former lovers who are put back together to investigate a case of child disappearance. Jack, however is no ordinary police officer, following childhood traumas he is now subject to visions, dreams and other feelings which he doesn’t understand. The pair head off to Crow Haven (an “unquiet place”, “existing in a vacuum”) a marvellously described, off the map, village and are soon embroiled in a mystery that threatens not just their lives but the very foundations of good versus evil.

One of the stories strengths is the plotting and the different layers that are found within. There are plotlines involving relationships between partners, parents and children, within the police service and within the Church. Plotlines examining the nature of evil, child abuse, the occult, the meaning of faith. All tied up in a race against the clock to stop the evil which permeates Crow Haven.

The town of Crow Haven and the (for want of a better word) bad guy – the crowman are fantastically drawn. Who isn’t unnerved by scarecrows (second only to clowns) but this crowman is no scarecrow come to life he is much darker than that and the attendant crows representing that darkness create an embodiment of evil which you can almost smell. The Priest, Asher Brody, should be a hero but his past mistakes have led, at least in part, to the current tragedy so he is a flawed hero. Trent himself has a duality which is unnerving, there are certainly no clean cut hero’s here. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the library, but that’s a whole book in itself.

The entire story is drawn together by an ancient occult text “The Transmigration Of Souls” and Bill Hussey has put a lot of work into the backstory of this text as well as it’s influence on the various characters. Some of this backstory is told in a form that reads almost like an old gothic ghost story adding yet another layer to the levels of the book. The only flaw I can find, in fact, is the introduction of important parts of this backstory two thirds of the way into the book, this does cause the pace to slow from what was a roaring steam train up to that point, but the slowdown is only temporary. Its straight into the station to pick up some new information then shovel on the horror to get back to top speed.

So Bill Hussey has done a remarkable job. He has created a frenetic thriller, a dark occult mystery, a love story and a no-holds barred, teeth clenching horror story. Each on it’s own would have been an achievement put them all together and you have a standout. If there was any justice in the world this would be a bestseller mixing with the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz in the charts. I am really looking forward to seeing how Bill Hussey is going to improve on the quality of “Through A Glass, Darkly” but then he doesn’t really have to, just keep more of the same coming and I’ll be happy.

In short if you like horror buy this, if you like thrillers buy this, if you like gothic ghost stories buy this, in fact, tell you what, if you just like books, buy this!

Rating 4.5 out of 5

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Gunpowder by Joe Hill

Gunpowder

by Joe Hill

Format: Hardback, 81 pages.

Publisher: PS Publishing, 2008.

 

Having just completed a 1300+ page book, it is with some relief that the next book on my reading pile was only 80(ish) pages, what is remarkable is how much Joe Hill has crammed into these 81 pages. For those who aren’t aware “Gunpowder” is Joe Hill’s latest novella, only available (so far anyway) in a variety of limited editions from PS Publishing. It is some measure of Joe’s growing success that most of these editions sold out very quickly.

Unfortunately Joe Hill seems to be tarred with some kind of negative hype banner, it’s almost as if, because of his parentage, he can’t possibly be as good as the hype suggests. Well I disagree, on the evidence of this and most of his other published works he is a major talent so for once believe the hype. Gunpowder is an SF novella in the tradition of Bradbury. Set in a distant planet in an unnamed future this is a story full of questions. A group of genetically modified (artificially created) children live on this planet, part of their modification is the ability to psyform, create physical objects from thoughts, a talent that grows as they grow older. The caring, sharing powers that be have clearly dumped them on a distant planet to allow them to develop these abilities with the eventual aim of terraforming the planet. Of course, being children, they tend to use their imaginations for less beneficial means and it is the job of their “mother” to control them.

So part Lord of The Flies, part Martian Chronicles, this is a story of love, redemption, the cruelty of children, the love of a mother, the callousness of society and the politics of genetic modification. To create a full blown novel which engages with the characters, is thought provoking, emotionally involving and yet well paced would be an achievement for any writer. To achieve this in the space of 81 pages shows the full extent of Joe Hill’s talent. I hope this story eventually finds the wider audience it deserves but for the moment PS Publishing should be congratulated not just for the quality of the production but for releasing new gems of this standard and I for one will be waiting for Joe Hill’s next work with baited breath, hype or no hype.

 

Rating 4 out of 5

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The Black Veil by Mark Valentine

The Black Veil & Other Tales Of Supernatural Sleuths

Edited By Mark Valentine

Format :Paperback, 256 pages.

Publisher: Wordsworth Editions, 2008

Ah, the credit crunch, and in the words of Private Fraser “Were a’ doomed” (Dads Army reference there for all the youngsters reading). Wait though, even though you might not be able to afford the latest hardback blockbuster (or other less important items like food) do not despair, Wordsworth editions are here to supplement your reading pleasure with their unfeasibly cheap “Tales Of Mystery & The Supernatural” collection. So pull your wing-back armchair a little closer to the roaring fire, slip on your smoking jacket, light up your pipe and ignore the wind and rain rattling against the windows and instead enjoy some good old fashioned supernatural stories.

The Black Veil & Other Tales Of Supernatural Sleuths (to give it it’s full snappy title) is a collection of supernatural stories with a loose connection to crime and mystery. Now, since I am not a particular fan of Sherlock Holmes and others of that ilk I didn’t particularly relish the prospect of a set of tales in that tradition. Thankfully these tales are all firmly of the supernatural tradition with only a loose affiliation to sleuthdom. What we have are 16 stories ranging from old to modern covering the full gamut of ghostliness. Souls get disturbed, pentacles drawn and revenge taken in a variety of styles. Mostly, however, the stories are in the Victorian ghost story tradition, MR James doesn’t appear but his presence is felt throughout.

Standout stories for me included “The Gateway Of The Monster” by William Hope Hodgson, “The Story of Sevens Hall” by E&H Heron, “The Black Veil” by AF Kidd and “Like Clockwork” by RB Russell. A few of the stories particularly in the middle section were not to my taste but the good greatly outweigh the bad. It’s also worth noting that the last few stories are by modern authors including Mary-Anne Allen, Rosalie Parker and Mark Valentine (who as well as contributing and editing also provides an excellent introduction) so even those with a penchant for the modern are well catered for in this collection. All in all an excellent collection so see you through the current crisis, why invest in dodgy banks, hedge funds and stock markets, instead make an investment in some classic fiction which is guaranteed to pay dividends.

Rating 4 out of 5

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News From The Abyss – 19/3/11

Old Posts Unearthed

Bulk update coming – Some of you may remember when I used to review books under the pseudonym of Highlander’s Books. For various reasons that blog disappeared into the ether (or whatever the internet equivalent is) along with most of the reviews I had posted. I was recently clearing out files from an old hard drive when I found an archive of some of these blog posts, not all of them but some of them and I am going to post them here over the next few days. Bear in mind some of these reviews are now a couple of years old so may refer to details/links which are no longer relevant but I hope they will add to my attempts to cover all corners of the genre.

Johnny Main’s Auction Is getting bigger

Johnny Mains is holding a charity auction, with proceeds going to the Japanese people through the British Red Cross. Over the last few days there have been several new items added to the list including some extremely rare pieces. I also contributed a signed copy of The British Invasion (signed by the editors, not me) so please head on over to Johnny’s blog and bid as much as you can. You can find it here.

Coming Soon

I am delighted with the response to The Inquisition, everyone seems to be enjoying these short interviews and hopefully I’m not imposing on the participants too much. Coming soon will be inquisitions featuring Mark West and Gary McMahon and there are a few others in the pipeline. These, the old blog posts and a couple of new reviews should mean fairly regular updates so keep checking back.

 

Cheers

 

Colin

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