Posts filed under 'Book Reviews'

Book review:Apartment 16, by Adam Nevill

apartment-16With the exception of a handful of short stories consistently high in quality and spookiness, Adam Nevill‘s singular voice has been quiet in the six years since the publication of his debut novel Banquet for the Damned, which was released as a collectable slipcased hardback by PS Publishing, and more recently in paperback format through the lamentably short-lived Virgin Books horror line which Nevill helmed.

Those years of whispering silence have been fruitful as his second novel, Apartment 16 (plus a third, in-progress), have been picked up by publishing giant Pan MacMillan – an occurrence that (hopefully) has all sorts of positive implications for the genre in this country. A BIG UK publisher buying titles by a UK author? Not something that’s happened since, well, since the days of Clive Barker, and before him, Ramsey Campbell and James Herbert (synchronistically Nevill’s stablemate in horror at Pan MacMillan). From that ‘golden age’ and all that’s gone between (most of it not so nice if you’re a UK-based horror fan or writer) to now is a big gap in time, so whether you like it or not, these facts make Apartment 16 an important novel, and Adam Nevill an important writer who, I’m happy to say, establishes his status amongst today’s outstanding creators of speculative horror with Apartment 16.

Banquet for the Damned is a tale of drop-outs, demonology, shamanism and anthropology, and Nevill parades his influences proudly with every dark paragraph: Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James and Arthur Machen amongst others; and the book’s setting in the grounds of St. Andrews University in Edinburgh allows Nevill to indulge in the arcane atmosphere that academia lends to stories of this nature. In Apartment 16, Nevill again arms himself with these unsettling influences but this time embeds them brick by brick within the (on the surface) classic setting of an apartment block in central London, Barrington House, and then allows them to infiltrate the local environs.

Barrington House brings together two young people from completely different worlds. Seth is a frustrated artist who has taken the job of night porter; a role that naturally appeals to those with a creative bent: not much responsibility beyond sitting at a desk and patrolling the corridors at regular intervals and trying one’s best to ignore the irritating residents – the intervening time spent ‘creating’. (And on reading, it will come as no surprise that Nevill spent a good few years doing just this when he was writing Banquet for the Damned). Seth and the residents of Barrington house are haunted by the noises echoing down the corridors from the depths of apartment 16.

Apryl is an American staying for a couple of weeks to tidy up the affairs of her Great Aunt Lillian who recently passed away, leaving Apryl and her mother the substantial inheritance of an apartment in Barrington House. Apryl soon becomes obsessed with Lillian’s story, beautifully depicted in the mementos and memories she finds in Lillian’s flat, the clothes left behind, and a series of notebooks that painfully and mysteriously describe her last days, and of her heartbreak at her husband’s death:

Highgate and the Heath are entirely lost to me now. I have accepted this. I went there to remember so many of the walks we took together. But they will have to live on in memory alone. And I haven’t seen St. Paul’s in at least six months. I cannot get near the city. It is too difficult. After my episode on the underground, I have sworn off travelling below ground. The breathlessness and anxiety may be acute outdoors in the street, but they are doubly so below ground in those tight tunnels. Even my afternoons at the Library and British Museum in Bloomsbury are in jeopardy.

Nevill fluently depicts the supernatural atmosphere and how it has manifested across the years in the psychological and physical breakdowns of Barrington House’s stubborn and scared elderly residents (lending them and the House a colourful history that captures the antiquity of the genre we love so much within the very souls of the residents), and how it does so in the rather desperate lives of those younger characters who serve the House’s ageing population, the porters.

His writing shows an almost perfect melding of the old and the new: the raw atmospherics of Blackwood, the subtle and oh so terrifying nearly-glimpsed horrors on the periphery of M.R. James’ and H.P. Lovecraft’s imaginations; the masterly development of buildings and environments as characters and vessels, (much in the same way as Stephen King’s infamous Overlook Hotel’s room 217 channels Jack Torrance’s psychological deterioration in The Shining); and a cutting contemporary miserablism describing everyday urban hopelessness that is as grim and inevitable as the spiral into which Seth and Apryl find themselves descending. Put simply, he writes damn unsettling prose:

And after he gathered his breath, his balance, his shaky sense of place and self, he noticed the background in which the figure was suspended. This peformance of violence and fragmentation was nothing without the depths behind it. Baboon-snouted and eyeless, but horribly twisted in the vestment of a floral housecoat, bloddied and still moist, the figure hung upon complete darkness. A total absence that still managed to transmit the cold of deep space and the ungraspable length and breadth of forever.

Apartment 16 is a deeply disturbing hypnotic experience exploring obsessions taken to extremes and beyond, and Adam Nevill has an imagination that rends itself into pure darkness for our reading pleasure.

Reviewed by Mathew F. Riley

  • Read Joseph D’Lacey’s in-depth interview with Adam Nevill here at Horror Reanimated which also provides more information on Banquet for the Damned.

1 comment May 6th, 2010

Let’s go play at the Adams’ by Mendal Johnson: Book report by JD’L (only 35 years late…)

lgpataThose of you with your fingers on the Horror Reanimated pulse – er, I mean flatline – will know I rarely review books. However, every now and again something truly unique comes along. Mendal Johnson’s Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ is one of those books.

It’s difficult to attract attention to a novel without ruining its mystique but that’s my aim with this post. This is an unmissable read.

1974 was a good year for horror. Carrie was published and so was this little frightener. One of the authors went on to greater works, greater wealth and greater fame. The other was dead within two years. Interestingly, both men had trouble with alcohol. In Johnson’s case it was the death of him; he succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver. And, whereas King is wonderfully prolific, Johnson died leaving only three unfinished manuscripts. He was 48.mendaljohnson2

The plot: Bobby and Cindy’s parents go on holiday for a week, leaving a pretty babysitter named Barbara in charge. Along with their friends John, Dianne and Paul, the kids call themselves Freedom Five. They’ve been playing games together for years. The day after the parents leave, Freedom Five ‘capture’ Barbara and a new game begins.

I don’t want to say too much about the story. If you have a genuine interest in dark fiction, you should read the book. Here, in glorious black on white, is torture porn from thirty-five years ago. I expected it to be badly handled and poorly written. Neither was the case. Mendal Johnson wrote in tight, measured prose which is, on occasion, beautiful to read. This wasn’t just a book of vicarious thrills either – though, believe me, they are there if you want them – it was an examination of the psychology of children, and therefore, of our own. Each character is fully and tragically realised; their logic and the logic of the novel itself, though twisted, is always rightly fulfilled. The pace and plotting is near to flawless, tension rising all the time. The moment you put the book down, you want to pick it up again and, if you have the time, it’s one of those you could read in a sitting – if you can handle it.

I’m not saying LGPATA is an accurate appraisal of your average child’s mind. Freedom Five are a little isolated. They are a little odd. A situation arises in which their earlier games together can be explored further. One thing leads to another and group ‘morality’ overcomes the morality of the individual. But what I’m also not saying is that these things never happen. They do and it’s well documented. Cases occurred before the book was written and many more have occurred since. And that, perhaps, is what makes the book so utterly chilling. Whether victim or perpetrator, it could be your child. It could have been you. Maybe it was. Who is really prepared to speak of the questionable things we did in our ‘innocent’ youth?

mendaljohnsonThis author, for one, is.

For a truly in depth look at the life of Mendal Johnson and more background about the novel – read it first, if you don’t want it spoiled – there’s a brilliant 3-part blog covering it all right here.

7 comments November 12th, 2009

Book review: Tide of Souls, by Simon Bestwick

tideofsoulsSeeing this on the shelves was a joy to behold, not only because it’s the latest in Abaddon’s Tomes of the Dead imprint, (the previous tome I read, Al Ewing’s I, Zombie was a successful if somewhat quirky amalgam of sf (alien invasion), noir crime (private investigator), horror (bucket loads of the gory stuff) and the undead (the private investigator)), but also because Simon Bestwick‘s name adorned the rather day-glo cover that rather cheapens this powerful and decidedly different take on the zombie-trope.

To this reader, Bestwick is amongst the frontrunners of the niche world of the macabre ghost story; his A Hazy Shade of Winter was the first Ash Tree Press title I bought. Not only did his tales of contemporary hauntings, both in the mind and of the land, take a frim hold on me, they also alerted me to that publisher’s high quality catalogue. His latest collection, All the Pictures of the Dark is available from Grayfriar Press – I’m three stories in and have no hesitation recommending it on the strength of those alone. Plus Bestwick’s up for a British Fantasy Award for Best Novella with The Narrows in September at the Fantasycon in Nottingham. Now he’s been given the chance to write a mass-market paperback and the tantalising possibility of him lending his powers of atmospheric suggestion to a full-blown zombie apocalypse was one I could not deny mself, and I applaud Abbadon for adding him to their roster.

Tide of Souls is first and foremost an environmental apocalypse, of which zombies are an integral element. The seas rise and engulf the United Kingdom, (and most likely the rest of the world), but the action is set in Northern England where Bestwick lives. The book is cleverly divided into three parts, each told by a different narrator, each narrator linked to each other by circumstance. Katja Wencewska is a Polish immigrant who has been tricked into a hideous world of sex slavery, her passport taken and all her money gone.

We first encounter her locked in a top-floor room in the brothel where she ‘works’ as the waters devour Manchester. Making it to the roof Katja watches as groups of survivors huddle on other rooftops as the rain continues to fall, and group-by-group they’re picked off as drowned and now mysteriously reanimated corpses with green-glowing eyes emerge from the depths to feed. Fighting desperately, Katja is encouraged by the memories and words of her deceased father, a member of the Special Forces, who taught her to look after herself – weapons, martial arts, that sort of looking after yourself.

The middle section of the book follows Robert McTarn, a former Sergeant, who’s been forced to re-enlist due to the rapidly deteriorating situation. At Fullwood Army Base in Lancashire his team are briefed as they watch footage of an SAS squad being ripped apart by green-eyed monsters. McTarn’s been recruited to find maverick scientist, Dr. Benjamin Stiles a specialist in marine biology who’s retired due to ill-health, and the insistent voices in his head, the voices of the dead. On his last diving trip he’d suffered the bends in a rapid and panicked ascent. Stiles’ last know location is a small village in North East lancashire: Barley. As Katja’s fight for survival and McTarn’s mission puts them on a course towards each other, Bestwick forces them to traverse a submerged and deadly landscape: Katja in an old narrowboat more used to sedate canal journeys than the storms battering the waters that swirl with the swimming dead; and McTarn and his squad as they fly across the county, unable to stop and help the survivors on high-ground – survivors who will have much more to deal with than rising waters…

The last section revolves around Stiles, explaining the circumstances behind his accident and why he might just be the reason for, and have the solution, to the chaos. It’s here that Bestwick excels, giving Tide of Souls a unique place in the zombie sub-genre. Bestwick has clearly thought long and hard about the genesis of his zombies and their raison d’etre is explained in satisfying detail – something of a rarity in this sub-genre. Unique biological, behavioural and entirely logical traits are exhibited by the ‘nightmares’ (as they’re referred to, and truth be told they’re not strictly zombies in the Romero tradition) but Bestwick manages to keep that degree of separation at exactly the right distance from us; when a zombie evolves it usually turns towards the human once again. Not so in Tide of Souls, as Bestwick’s grounding in the classic supernatural and weird tale ensures the nightmares recall the eery dripping ghosts of John Carpenter’s The Fog, and the relentless, gnarled Nazi zombies from Shockwaves, rather than the running athletes of the Dawn of the Deadremake.

We were about ten yards up from the farmhouse when Akinbode pointed down the slope and shouted.
They stood in the shallows below the farmhouse. It lapped around the knees of the two adults and the waists of the the two older children. The toddler clung to its mother. They stared at us with their slack, empty faces and glowing eyes, but they didn’t move.

SPOILER ALERT: As mentioned, this tale is primarily a global environmental apocalypse. The rising waters are a result of climate change, but the undead are urged on by an elemental force, (similar in its collective consciousness to the yrr in Frank Schätzing’s sf-eco classic, The Swarm), evolved from the emotional and physical pollution of human activity across the world’s oceans. This force gradually develops a degree of awareness as it seeks to regain something it has lost. Bestwick’s nightmares are its eyes and ears, its collective learning, and its ravenous undead aquatic army. END OF SPOILER ALERT.

As this awareness grows Tide of Souls flows into something else, something entirely unexpected and relatively unexplored within zombie literature: a hauntingly atmospheric love story set amongst scenes of breathless battle, heroism, self-sacrifice and Lovelockian speculation.

Tide of Souls is recommended without reservation.

Mathew F. Riley

2 comments August 13th, 2009

Book review: The Lovers, by John Connolly

lovers_uk_150My world stops for a John Connolly book.

Everything else is put aside as the latest developments in the dark world of Charlie  Parker unfold in beautifully plotted suspense. The Lovers is the seventh Charlie Parker book in what can be called a series to date, and the ninth to feature him; so that’s about sixteen waking days of my life given over to this man, and he’s worth every damned minute of my time.

Charlie Parker is a Maine-based private investigator who seems to attract evil. That evil may be a curse that Parker is destined to combat throughout his life, possibly in retribution for things he has done in the past – for Parker is a man who thrives on his own guilt. His veiled background influences everything that occurs in this tight, sad story, and it’s almost impossible to review The Lovers without paying courtesy to preceeding events.

Parker’s a man haunted. Haunted by his wife and child who were brutally murdered by a serial killer known as The Travelling Man. (I am in awe of the serial killers Connolly consistently creates). Haunted by those he’s crossed and those he’s killed, deserving and undeserving. In The Lovers, he’s haunted by his father’s apparent suicide after killing two seemingly innocent teenagers, and the absence of his girlfriend, Rachel and her young daughter, Sam, who have relocated to Vermont, unable to put up with his unsavoury lifestyle and the characters it brings with it.

Recovering from the events of the previous novel, The Unquiet, Parker is working in a bar, deprived of his badge and unable to take on any cases. Intrigued by the teasing words of the mysterious Collector (again from The Unquiet) he decides to look into his father’s last days, and in the process discovers facts about himself and his parentage that most people would be unable to handle, so fantastic are the implications. But, this is Charlie Parker, and he knows how to handle destructive self-revelation more than most. If there’s one thing that can be said of Parker, it’s that he has an open mind.

Parker’s investigations lead him to cross paths with a girl, Emily Kindler, who is seemingly on the run from her own past, rather than racing to confront it head on Parker-style; and a hack-biographer, Mickey Wallace, who has had his eye on Parker for a while, unable to understand how he ends up in so much trouble, so regularly, and getting away with it. As Parker traces his father’s now retired work colleagues, Mickey dogs him every step of the way, opening up other paths of inquiry and letting other darker and deadlier memories leech through into the daylight… the eponymous lovers.

In the latest Black Static, Peter Tennant speculates on the current state of the Horror fiction market, some pundits declaring that ‘it has gone underground, insinuated itself into other genres…’ Since the first Parker title, Every Dead Thing, was published back in 1999, Connolly has been delivering what this reviewer considers to be the absolute pinnacle in atmospheric detective fiction with a difference – the very difference, or esssence, that Tennant has spotted slyly manifesting on the bookshelves: ‘…there are times when I stand in the Crime/Thriller section of a big bookshop and scan all these portentous titles with their minatory cover art, read back cover blurbs that tell of serial killers and their atrocities, it seems to me as if, while eschewing the H word, this younger, hipper genre has reinvented and repackaged itself with all the trappings of its older more illustrious predecessor’.

Tennant is actually writing the introduction to a review of Bad Things by Michael Marshall, quite justifiably referring to the author as a ‘master of ‘stealth fiction’, of mixing and matching genres, constantly blurring the boundaries, presenting the reader with one thing that eventually turns out to be another…’ And it’s to this currently small band of stealth fiction writers that Connolly belongs, if not leads, as over the last ten years or so he has fearlessly and increasingly introduced hints and suggestions of another world that surrounds this one, and that of Parker. Whilst previous titles may have left such phenomena and cirumstance open to intepretation (although certainly not in my eyes), in The Lovers, Connolly removes the ambiguity once and for all, and the book is stronger, kindlier and more poignant as a result.

The Charlie Parker stories have laid down their shadow-strata over each other across the years since Every Dead Thing, marking each tale that’s gone before with ghosts, memories and emotions, with all that it is to be a father, husband, lover and killer. Connolly’s prose seeps with Maine’s atmosphere, with threat and with empathy. Parker knows the dead do not forget, and so he does not forget.

Never have I read a series of books that so depend on the past of one man to determine his future and that of those around him, both friend and foe. Parker has a fascinating and terrible history that I am confident will continue to unravel seamlessly, just as his unsettled present and unpredictable future will play out in one way or another. (The next Parker novel, The Whisperers is due next year).

Readers new to John Connolly beware: before sitting down with The Lovers, you must go back into Parker’s past yourself, starting with Every Dead Thing.

As Rachel and Sam have discovered, living with Charlie Parker is not easy. For the reader, however, living with him, killing with him, loving with him is a monstrously dark, horrific (with a capital ‘H’), sad and wonderful experience.

Mathew F. Riley

2 comments July 11th, 2009

Book review: Red, by Paul Kane

red-front-cover21Paul Kane’s an author I’ve kept my eye on ever since his short fiction began appearing regularly in the genre small press in the late 1990s. Over the last few years his output has been unnaturally prolific and of a very high standard. This is evidenced by a strong showing on the Long List of the British Fantasy Society’s latest Awards: Kane’s first novel The Afterblight Chronicles: Arrowhead is up for Best Novel; two titles, Reunion, and Red are up for Best Novella, and no less than four of his short stories are up for that particular Award: A Chaos Demon is for Life, Lifelike, The Suicide Room, and Wind Chimes, (which I thought was the outstanding story in the third Bloody Books’ Read by Dawn anthology from last year).

Red is a contemporary take on the classic fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood. Far removed from the quaint childhood we imagine for the little girl in the original tale Rachael Daniels, an aspiring actress, lives in a grey urban environment, just about making a living as a careworker whilst enduring the frustrations she understands will come her way at the onset of her chosen career. Already a little jaded, she’s recently broken up with her boyfriend, and dreads walking the streets after dark as the city is a threatening place wit its hoodies and vast concrete estates, such as the Greenham Estate which is where her favourite client lives, the 80 year old Miss Tilly Brindle.Rachael’s right to be cautious there’s a serial killer stalking the streets of the city. Not your average stalk’n'slash weirdo, this character has a long, long history and a grudge to match. Kane subtly provides insights into his thinking, his geneaology, whilst evoking the years of killings as he sits and observes the hussle and bustle of the city, choosing his next victim:

Sitting on a bench, he surveyed the shoppers on this busy Friday afternoon. In the old country, he could have just picked one off as they walked by, but populations had dwindled where he used to operate so very long ago, mainly due to his antics – it had to be said. And trackers wishing to make a name for themselves had come looking for him back in those days. For their insolence (there was no greater hunter than him, he was the king), he’d sent them away with their tales between their legs – if indeed he’d left them with any tail at all. But all good things came to an end, and when he was forced to move on, he found it was actually a blessing in disguise. It was a big, wide world out there. And who was going to notice what he was up to when mankind took such a great joy in doing the very same thing to itself, time and time again? The perfect playground. The perfect hunting ground.

It’s during this scene that the beast notices Rachael as she walks past. Lost in the sea of shoppers, it uses its one instinct that still remains effective in today’s ambiently-deafening society: it smells her, and her blood reveals itself to have a particularly personal and shared history…

Kane cleverly uses the various characters and victims as visceral pathways and bridges for the beast. He plays with both the reader and Rachael, lulling us as it engineers its course towards her, circling her literally through the flesh and blood of those she encounters in her daily life. As it shapeshifts it takes on their personas as best it can, convincingly over short time spans (which is normally all the time it needs) it charms and confuses, until ultimately it is unable to hide its true nature as its century-spanning hunger and lust for revenge explodes from behind the thin facades it creates in scenes of bone-crunching ferocity.

As with the beast, so with the book: over 70 impactful pages, and without wasting a word, Paul Kane has enriched the werewolf mythos with a seamless re-imagining of a hypnotically suggestive fairy tale, embellishing it with the harsh, alluring scent of an ages-old psychosexual predator who easily rivals that other undead villain from Eastern European folklore, the vampire.

A relentless and grisly fairy tale for dark times, Red is filled with the blackest blood from the deepest parts of our bodies, and is thoroughly recommended.

Red is published by America’s Skullvines Press so might be a little difficult to obtain over here, but go directly to their website or get in touch with the author, and I guarantee your efforts will be rewarded.

Reviewed by Mathew F. Riley

2 comments June 28th, 2009

Book Review: Filth Kiss, by C.J. Lines

filth_kisscover_front_copyC.J. Lines returns us to those gloriously gory days of the 1980s in tone and in setting with his debut novel, Filth Kiss, via the independent Hadesgate Publications.

A brutal 190 page-turner readable in a couple of hours, Lines wastes no time immersing the reader in the lives of  his main characters, the Davies brothers. Jeff is coming to terms with the news that his father, Guy, has died. Taking time off from his job in London he mulls over the realisation that he never had much to do with his father whilst he was growing up, and neither did his brother Peter, always the younger, quieter of the two.

Peter is a convicted paedophile, (for a relativly minor offence, he insists), and his relationship with Jeff and his sister Jennifer has deteriorated completely. Out of prison on parole with a job in a fish and chip shop, Peter is trying to rebuild his life and resist urges which have never truly gone away. The scene is set for the brothers’ return for their father’s funeral, and an uneasy reunion with Jennifer who still lives in the Gloucestershire village of Broadoak where they grew up.Not all is as it seems with the Davies family, and the villagers of Broadoak. The brothers learn that Guy Davies drowned in the River Severn and was with a young girl from the village who has not been seen since that night. A disenchanted schoolgirl, Sarah Hobson, finds a severed hand on the banks of the Severn, and in a morose moment, removes a strange ring, detailed with two intertwined serpents, from one of the frozen fingers.

Filth Kiss could stand upon uneasy ground with elements and characters of its plot as Peter and Sarah move closer together, much of it at the youngster’s insistence. But Lines shows us a convincing portrayal of a paedophile as a weak-willed and somewhat desperate individual, and crucially, one that makes no excuses for himself or his actions. He knows what he feels is wrong. This must be one of the most difficult tasks a writer could set themselves, but I think Lines succeeds as the reader is left feeling sympathetic towards both parties in different ways, and with a full appreciation of the motivations involved.

The loss of their father is relatively simple to handle compared with the  struggle to manage their relationships with each other and the attitude of the locals towards Peter, an attitude which Jennifer is only too happy to encourage. The 1980s Broadoak is brilliantly evoked through the eyes of its bored, disenfranchised youth, naturally railing against the mundanity of everyday village life, the pottering of the elderly, the lack of diversity of its shops, and the apparent refusal to adopt change that the Davies brothers witness on their return, justifying their distate for the place. But behind this rather stereotypical front of closeted rural calm is a system of heirarchy designed to feed the darkness that lurks within all of us for a higher and utterly Devilish end.

In Broadoak the villagers keep one eye on their post, for when a black envelope containing a tulip pops through your letterbox the time is near for the next sacrifice. In the hills above the village, on Symonds Yat there is a sacred place where something is growing… Think Hot Fuzz without the humour, swirling in a bowl of virgin’s blood, mixed with Dennis Wheatley’s black magic rituals, the disquiet of youth and several scenes of graphic, very imaginative demonic sex, and you have Filth Kiss.

First released in 2007, Filth Kiss has seen a reprinting since that date, proving that there is an appetite for a solid and thrilling story with horrific content from readers. Possibly a crucial factor in the book’s endurance has been its availability throughout Waterstones stores, and a round of applause should go to them for taking the chance on the title and supporting an independent publisher’s endeavours. More of this open-minded approach from booksellers when stocking the shelves would be welcome.

Highly recommended for fans of Shaun Hutson, Guy N. Smith, Richard Kelly, Rex Miller (remember him anyone?) and Clive Barker’s hypnotically and viscerally sexy Books of Blood volumes, C.J. LinesFilth Kiss is a little gift of dark perverse power.

And keep a careful eye on your post…

Mathew F. Riley

4 comments April 30th, 2009

Shroud Magazine Reviews The Absence & TAGD

Update – these reviews have now been posted at Amazon UK, here and here. In other news: following a swift re-printing Through A Glass, Darkly has now been re-stocked at all online stores!

Kevin Lucia has just reviewed both The Absence and Through A Glass, Darkly for the really rather brilliant Shroud Magazine. The full reviews will be published in a future issue of Shroud and should be on the blog shortly, but here are a few snippets:

Through A Glass, Darkly -

‘Bill Hussey’s debut is a work of startling imagination… he writes with a literary sensibility that elevates horror to an art form.’

The Absence -

‘Bill Hussey crafts another winner… [his] prose is lyrical and flowing.’

Add comment April 14th, 2009

‘The Absence’ Reviews Flooding in!

Reviews have started to flood in for ‘The Absence’, and I’m pleased to report the_absence_hr1that the word is very, very positive! Check out the links below for the full reviews.

First up we have Fatally Yours -   ‘…no amount of words could ever adequately describe the masterpiece of horror that Hussey has created with ‘The Absence”.

Next, Dark Fiction Review - ‘… a master craftsman of horror.’

Bookgeeks - already quoted on the back cover!

Highlander’s Book reviews -  ‘Reminiscent of “The Shining”… there have been previous claims for Britain’s answer to Stephen King but on the strength of his work so far Bill Hussey richly deserves the comparison.’

Jason ‘the Bonebreaker’, at Mad Ravings of an Entertainment Junkie - ‘So far, the best book of 09!’

Novelist Peter Mark May at Novelblog – ‘a fine teller of English ghost stories.’

And Simon Kurt Unsworth - ‘This is a smart, literate piece of horror fiction.’

These great reviews come on top of previously published pieces by Geoff Nelder (‘Bill Hussey is the new MR James’) and Garry Charles.

I’d like to thank all these reviewers for taking the time to consider the book and posting up their thoughts.

In other news: there are now signed copies of ‘The Absence ‘ in the following London stores: Waterstones Picadilly, Foyles on Tottenham Court Road and Waterstones Holborn.

4 comments April 1st, 2009

Book Review: My Work is Not Yet Done, by Thomas Ligotti

41iz19oh4gl_ss500_3Thomas Ligotti knows something we don’t, something so dark and indescribable that we might go insane should we encounter it first-hand. We should be thankful to him, then, that he merely hints at whatever he sees in his writing, but even toned down you’ll find it difficult to ignore or deny the profound black emotions he portrays.

My Work is Not Yet Done brings together ‘three tales of corporate horror’ (as was the original Mythos Books sub-title) – the eponymous novella, a novelette I Have a Special Plan for This World, and a short story The Nightmare Network, and marks an evolution in Ligotti’s endeavours. Earlier collections immersed the reader in oddly bleak small town landscapes, the terrors of emerging memories and latent fears, coulrophobia, masks, puppets, loneliness, insecurity and anxiety. Indeed Ligotti has suffered from the latter condition all his life and this manifests strongly in many of his stories, especially in the seemingly personal and very accessible horror that is My Work Is Not Yet Done, but, and this is the evolution, so does a healthy vein of black, black humour.

Frank Dominio, or ‘Domino’ to his ignorant colleagues, works for a nameless corporation that produces unidentified products. As a middle-manager he attends bland and unnerving meetings with his management colleagues. He is afraid. The Seven Dwarfs, as he calls them, are a bunch of revolting individuals, all of whom he despises. But it soon becomes obvious that Frank is more than just your usual disgruntled, or nervous, employee. This man hates: “I wanted to do things to Richard that would make the sun grow cold with horror.” And he hates because he sees no point in his own existence or that of those around him, and of the company he works for and the products they produce.

The first third of the novella revolves around Frank’s increasing paranoia, exasperation and strange sense of acceptance of the banality of his place in the scheme of things, an order he’s not convinced of anyway, as evidenced when he feels his Proposal has been stolen by The Seven Dwarfs and a colleague attempts to console him:

‘In the grand scheme of things,’ the voice continued before I grabbed it with both hands and wrung its neck, spitting out my words of contempt through gritted teeth -
A: There is no grand scheme of things.
B: If there were a grand scheme of things, the fact –
the fact – that we are not equipped to perceive it, either by natural or supernatural means, is a nightmarish obscenity.
C: The very notion of a grand scheme of things is a nightmarish obscenity.

Unceremoniously sacked, Frank hatches a plan to get even with The Seven Dwarfs, a special plan that involves a lot of guns and a massive Buck Skinner Hunting knife… but Ligotti does not take the easy way out – there’s no extreme version of Falling Down here. The story twists into unpredictable shadowy realms as Frank is abruptly overcome by a supernatural force, something he terms ‘The Great Black Swine’ which enhances his senses, empowers his actions and provides him with an understanding that only serves to justify his bleak world view and quest for revenge.

I Have a Special Plan for This World, the novelette, is set within the Blaine Company that has recently relocated to Golden City, (aka Murder Town), a city enveloped in a yellowish haze and renamed to attract corporate entities like the Blaine Company. And entity is exactly what it is, as ‘the atmosphere of tension had become so severe and pervasive that one could barely see more than a few feet in any direction’. Written from the perspective of an employee, who although keeping his head down, closely observes strange phenomena that restructures the Blaine Company, almost organically, and certainly supernaturally: as senior personnel are murdered near the company HQ, and office drones are gradually replaced by the city’s homeless, a Presence forms within the Blaine Company offices… a presence that still wants to ensure a profit. Summoned to meet this incorporeal management entity, our protagonist reveals some career aspirations of his own.

Much of Ligotti’s fiction is in the first person and both My Work is Not Yet Done and I Have a Special Plan for This World hold true to this viewpoint. Having read several interviews with him (and conducted one a long, long time ago) I find it difficult to separate the author from his characters – and this is what makes Ligotti’s fiction so impactful: you can feel him seething as he writes these words; and while obviously monstrously cynical about the corporate drudge, he infuses each tale with a dry and deadly humour that those of us who work in such noxious environments will be able to appreciate only too well.

Differing considerably in approach, the vignettes of The Nightmare Network present us with a series of initially persuasive classified adverts, propaganda and job vacancies that might have been written by any one of a million young advertising executives at the inflexible behest of a massive corporation’s publicity department: ‘Okay, here’s our Brief. Now go deliver. Oh and here’s what we want it to look, sound and feel like. We don’t NEED you, but do we want to USE you.’ Excerpts from a Supervisor’s notebook expose the extremes management are prepared to go to in order to maintain their position at the expense of their subordinates as the Company goes down. The adverts become increasingly desperate in tone, revealing the great uncaring vacuum behind the cosmic corporate bullshit – a bit like the current trend for those reassuringly pathetic ‘we’re GREEN and we CARE’  ads that assault us relentlessly. Considerably more experimental in tone that the previous two stories, The Nightmare Network left this reader nodding his head in agreement, as if he’d read a little bit of the truth.

I’ve been reading Ligotti for most of the twenty years he’s seen publication and the utterly convincing intensity and obscurity of his visions may be why he’s found it difficult to break out of the horror genre’s niche reading circles during this time. Admittedly his dark star has risen in the US over the last couple of years with 2 graphic novel adaptations of his work and a DVD release of the film adaptation of his short story, The Frolic. With the UK release of My Work is Not Yet Done (and his previous collection Teatro Grottesco also available as part of the Virgin Books horror line up) hopefully this situation will change.

Consider your weird fiction education incomplete until you’ve sunk into Ligotti’s disorientating literary darkness. His words will engulf you.

Mathew F. Riley

[Mathew's book reviews can also be found at Bookgeeks]

2 comments February 15th, 2009

New Reviews of Through A Glass, Darkly…

sillamaeforestTwo new reviews of TAGD have appeared in recent days.

The first comes from the really rather excellent GUD (Greatest Uncommon Denominator) Magazine. For their stunning artwork alone, GUD deserves a wide readership. In a positive review, GUD’s Debbie Moorhouse concludes that TAGD is ‘Definitely one for the Horror fan who prefers to get more in their favourite genre than just blood and gore.’

The second review can be found at the rather fun Haunted House.Com – a website which, among other things, provides a directory of haunted houses in the US! Reviewer Joe Gray was quite impressed with TAGD’s bogeyman, stating that - ’Mendicate is a one of the most frightening villains I have encountered in any movie or book in a long time.’

I’d like to thank these reviewers for taking the time to read and consider TAGD.

Add comment February 13th, 2009

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