Ginger Nuts of Horror
Going Cold Turkey, I bet that's something a lot of you can relate to, hell I've gone Cold Turkey more times than I can care to remember. It's a horrible process, where your life is reduced to small individual packets of time, a constant struggle of will. Which is the total opposite of Carole Johnstone's Cold Turkey. If going Cold Turkey was this enjoyable I'd have done it years ago.
Centered around Raymond (Raym) Munroe and his desperate battle to quit his addiction to cigarettes, it marvelously accounts the slow and painful destruction of his life and all that he holds dear. Is the Tally Man real, or are we just witnessing the heartbreaking, scandalous and chilling descent into total madness?
Cold Turkey is a triumphant novella, it combines emotional depth, deep psychological chills, with some of the blackest humour and some of the most knowing characterisation you are likely to read this year. There is so much to love about this book, from the wonderful narrative that leads the reader through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole and drops them right back in Kansas. It always keeps the readers second guessing whether what we are witnessing is real or just a fantasy. Just when you think you have it figured out a curveball is thrown in such as the two kids who can see the Tally Man, or when Raym, carries over injuries sustained in a dream into the real world.
From the wonderful opening segment that introduces us to Raym and his addiction. A rather melancholic start to the book, particularly when it deals with his parents. However this approach works extremely well and sets the foundations that allows the reader to feel some pity for Raym and the things that he will do later on in the book. Without this opening it would be hard to feel any pity for him. Raym is character that is hard to like, even discounting what he does, he's one of those characters that is just so hard to like. You know the sort, never truly happy, only thinks of themselves, and is happy to settle into a life that is just convenient. Yet despite all of these flaws you do end up caring for him, and through the course of the novella, you will laugh, sigh, gasp with shock, and bang your head against the wall at the things he does,such is the strength of Carole's writing.
Tacking onto this central character and narrative is an astute set of supporting characters and narrative settings. The scenes set in the school in which Raym works are pure brilliance, the interplay between the staff is pitch perfect. These highly humorous set pieces are a pin sharp look into the minutiae of the the staffroom.
I particularly loved Johnstone's use of dark, dark Scottish humour in the book. This is something that the Scots do so well. These little pressure releases are inserted into the narrative with surgical precision. A perfect example of this is during the ill fated Easter Fayre when Raym's life goes to hell in an Easter basket. The breathtaking finale is another example of Johnstone's skill at using humour as tension builder.
For a story to really live and breath it has has to have a sense of being. There needs to be something in the writing that ties it to either a location or a time period. With it's grimey descriptions of Glengower and it's seedy and dirty back alleyways Johnstone succeeds in giving the book a sense of place' However it is her use of local dialect that really gives the story a sense of location. There is always a chance when you have the characters speak in a local dialect that the dialogue crosses that ever so fine line from authenticity to caricature. It's abundantly clear that Johnstone knows exactly where this fine line exists. Her use of dialogue is inspired, it gives her characters an extra dimension, rounding them off, and giving them a real sense of believability .
Cold Turkey is one of those books that every writer dreams off writing, the sort of book that will remain as a fixed point in time on their career. A book that in a perfect world will mark the dawning of a new era in their success. Bold, assured, utterly rewarding this is a book that everyone should read.
Carole Johnstone's short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. She has been published by PS Publishing, ChiZine Publications, Night Shade Books, TTA Press, Apex Book Company, and Morrigan Books among many others. Her work has been reprinted in Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year series and Salt Publishing's Best British Fantasy 2013 and 2014.
Her debut short story collection, The Bright Day is Done, is available from Gray Friar Press, and she has two novellas in print: Cold Turkey from TTA Press, and Frenzy from Eternal Press/ Damnation Books. She is presently editing her second novel, while seeking fame and fortune with the first.
“I saw him Mr Munroe.” A sly look lit up Jimmy’s blinking eyes. “He’s always chasing you.”
Raym’s hand froze in front of his chest, creeping back up towards his throat again. “What?”
“In a funny square van.” The kid blinked, blinked, blinked. He wooshed his hands either side of his body like he was starting a drag race, and Raym flinched again. “It’s got black tails – really, really looong ones, like party streamers!”
All Raym wants to do is give up smoking. So why is his entire life falling apart? Why are new mistakes and old terrors conspiring against him? Why is he being plagued by the very worst spectre from his childhood? And why does giving up suddenly -- horrifyingly -- feel much, much more like giving in?
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“Carole has written out of her skin for this novella. How can reading something so dark and insidiously uneasy offer the reader so much pleasure? Cold Turkey is a hammer and Carole Johnstone will cave your skull in with it. Brilliant”
“Carole Johnstone has the canny knack of making the real seem strange and the weird commonplace. In Cold Turkey, addiction and compulsion spirals downwards into imagined and real nightmares. Top Hat, a creation to rival King’s Pennywise, rides through the urban Scottish landscape that Johnstone has created with an absolute sense of place. Her laugh out loud humour balances her harshness and puts you off-guard before delivering the final blow; if you get in bed with the devil, he’s going to fuck you over at some point”
“Cold Turkey is rich with nightmarish invention. Johnstone has created a very distinctive villain with the sinister top-hatted tally-van man, yet knows when to hold him back to let other horrors take centre stage. There’s an addictive quality to the well-paced prose that makes reading Johnstone’s stories a habit you’ll never want to kick, and this one’s so good it’s probably bad for you”
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