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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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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This Is Horror Premium Chapbooks

 I have been privileged to contribute to This Is Horror in a small way over the last few months and have watched as it has grown into an excellent, and much needed, resource for horror fans of all types of media. But the boundless enthusiasm of the TIH crowd cointinues apace with their latest venture, publishing and a range of premium chapbooks. Starting with David Moody’s Joe and Me (see above) and continuing with some of the best writers in the genre Gary McMahon, Joseph D’Lacey, Simon Bestwick and Conrad Williams (see below) this promises to be a range not to be missed.

You can buy the individual chapbooks starting with Joe and Me from this link but a far more sensible idea would be to take out an annual subscription which is not only cheaper but has the following benefits :

 PREMIUM SUBSCRIBER BENEFITS

  • Exclusive e-chapbook at no extra cost
  • Exclusive members only premium newsletter
  • Win a second year’s annual subscription
  • Guarantee a copy of chapbooks before they sell out
  • Save money

I have already subscribed so expect to see reviews here in the future but given the quality of the authors involved and the fact that these are limited editions I wouldn’t hang around if I was you. You can subscribe by following this link.

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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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