Monthly Archives: July 2015

Where by Kit Reed

23168835Where

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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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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The Curse of the Fleers by Basil Copper

basilcoppercurseofthefleers

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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