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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.

Colin

 

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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.

Colin

 

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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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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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Finders Keepers by Stephen King

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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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I’m still alive…

Yes, despite the lack of activity The Black Abyss remains very much alive. Hope you are all having a great 2012 and ploughing through some great horror literature. I’ve been diverted by various escapades and have even been reading some fiction which is not horror…..that’s right, not horror. You may have noticed some of my older reviews going up on www.thisishorror.co.uk and it’s been great to watch that site developing into something of a definitive horror resource, anyone who hasn’t visited yet should take a look.

In the meantime I still have an eye out for new horror books and have a copy of Simon Bestwick’s The Faceless, Christopher Fowler’s Hell Train and a few others which may just re-kindle the reviewing spark. Keep staring into the abyss folks you never know what you might see.

Cheers

Colin

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11.22.63 by Stephen King

11.22.63

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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