The Sinister Horror Company gets it right. In the presence of greatness from Kayleigh Marie Edwards.
It’s not often that I will buy a book of single author short stories; however I bought this one mainly because it contained a short story which I’d seen a lot of people talking about. That story is the lead one in this collection ‘Bitey Bachman’, which takes the run-of-the-mill zombie/rage virus sort of story and moulds it into very often hilarious situations surrounding a feckless security guard working in an Asylum when things go decidedly pear-shaped. When ‘Bitey Bachman’ was first released solo there was a general buzz, the usual ‘well done you’ back patting and so on, but unfortunately these days relatively unknown writers can pump out any old dross and get a pat on the back from their buddies across social media, most of whom won’t have read the book, so it certainly means very little to me as it’s in somewhat the same category as ‘my Mum thought it was excellent’. I was indecisive over ‘Bitey’ but figured if it came my way at some point I’d give it a shot, read it with no intention of reviewing it, which means no disrespect to Kayleigh whatsoever, I’m just careful about the potential for abusing systems and the appearance of favouritism.
I have said that for a reason, although we don’t particularly socialise Kayleigh is no stranger to me as we both do reviews and articles for the Ginger Nuts of Horror. This could automatically result in a lot of booing from the peanut gallery as it may come across as a form of nepotism that I have chosen to review a colleague’s book, which would be a total shame as not only is ‘Corpsing’ technically very well written, it is also highly entertaining with a rich seam of comedy gold running through it which Kayleigh mines with apparently effortless expertise. My two favourite genres in any form of entertainment are horror and comedy, so a decent blend of both pushes my buttons, but unfortunately the majority of what’s available out there just doesn’t work because the humour is too often forced and self-conscious. Right from the beginning Kayleigh introduces fun characters who are individuals with genuine personalities and makes you care what happens to them in such an effortless fashion that one can’t help but be charmed.
‘Bits and Bobs’
The short story of hospital worker Steven Plunkett’s experiences at a ‘body farm’ used for training CSI teams is problematic. The facts in the story are all well researched, the general basis is sound enough and it is of course well written, so why do I find it problematic? Simply because I feel cheated, there’s not enough of it. It’s not that it comes to an abrupt end as the story is complete in itself, but that there is such a lot which is of interest here in the situation and characters that it could have been better served being much longer. To me it comes across as if Kayleigh had an excellent idea fully formed and so rushed to get it written down without considering the much greater potential this story has. It’s unfortunate because that’s the only way in which this tale is disappointing, which if you think about it isn’t particularly negative.
‘Siren’ Did you hear a very loud boom? If you did it was probably the sound of the third story in this book hitting me completely out of the blue. Whereas the first two stories have a cheeky comic undercurrent there is no such thing happening in ‘Siren’ with stark horror as experienced by eleven-year-old Lucy interspersed with an altogether bleak story which is as striking as it is gripping. ‘Bitey Bachman’ has horror offset with humour and does a great job with those elements, whereas ‘Bits and Bobs’ is more like a ‘Police Procedural’ drama with a humorous yet nasty slant, both stories set me to thinking this whole collection would be in a similar vein. I was wrong. ‘Siren’ reminded me of the better end of the ghost story spectrum with the classic almost Victorian setup of a ghost child in a misty lake, albeit in a contemporary setting with a suitably chilling ending. The characterisation is spot on and I think this would make an excellent screenplay.
‘Now You See Them’
So far we have had fun with the horror and been given a chill up the spine with the spooky story, now it’s the turn of absolute unrelenting horror with the story of the nasty things little Bobby sees in his bedroom at night. This is a very short story, for once I will say that it isn’t too short because although the writing is of consistent quality the concept here hits much harder with brevity. It is the stuff of nightmares and to have crafted something like ‘Now You See Them’ with such tight prose shows a skill few can match.
What begins with a venomous spider bite becomes something deeply personal with this one seeming as if written from a standpoint of self-hatred, with the central character, pregnant and socially isolated 15-year-old Amy, taking self-harm to horrific extremes. The horror unfolds gradually, deepening in intensity in what is quite possibly the most introspectively unsettling tale in this collection.
We take a step away from horror as Kayleigh presents the story of Bobby Taylor, an eight-year-old brat whose desire for chicken soup doesn’t bode well for mankind. With yet another perfectly handled change of style the comedic fantasy angle comes as a palate cleanser after the previous couple of stories and although not weak by any means this is much lighter than I would have expected. A fun read.
‘Barry’s Last Day’
Barry Pufton is disillusioned, overlooked for promotion 40 years into his job he decides upon revenge aimed at the young snot who got the promotion. This story appears, to me at least, to be something of an ill fit in this collection as although there is a mild comedic element I found it more dramatically sad. Although a revenge tale that is not necessarily horrific in content it does address a particular looming horror, that of the impending monotony of life after retirement and the accompanying feeling of uselessness. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great story well told, just not what I was expecting and seemed more like something I’d have read in a 1970s pulp collection. ‘‘twas the Night before Christmas’
The final story in this collection is both fun and gruesome in a manner Kayleigh appears to excel at. Christmas horror stories are often chilling affairs and this is no exception with the tale of two naughty boys and a rather unusual Christmas tree with a life of its own which their parents believe they are lying about. It’s an easy read with an outlandish situation presented in such a casual manner that it’s almost flippant with a rather fun and gruesomely fitting ending.
As a true story side note, when I was a kid we once had a Christmas tree with the usual tinsel and baubles as well as the addition of various chocolate liqueurs, the latter of which had a habit of disappearing. My parents didn’t eat them and so the finger of suspicion pointed firmly at me and my siblings, of course we all denied eating the chocolates. My dad waited a while and set a trap, loading the tree with more liqueurs, leaving a gap in the curtains and going outside where he waited patiently while watching the tree through the gap. It didn’t take long before the thief was unmasked. The villain in question being Fritz, the family cat, who went from floor to sofa to mantelpiece with the final leap at the tree grabbing chocolate on the way down which he then dragged behind the sofa, bit into and lapped up the liqueurs. Moving the sofa revealed lots of hollow chocolate corpses and shredded tinfoil left behind by an inebriated cat. An alcoholic cat stealing liqueurs from a Christmas tree sounds unlikely doesn’t it? But I swear it’s true.
Kayleigh’s story reminded me so much of that as it doesn’t really matter what kids say as they won’t be believed. No matter how bizarre the truth is the parents always desire the most obvious solution and refuse to accept anything outlandish.
Like so many of you I have read vast amounts of novels, anthologies and individual collections the majority of which are from established names in horror and indeed comedy. The saying in theatrical circles ‘dying is easy, comedy is hard’ is one of the truest things ever said in that dying is simple enough, we’re all destined to do it at some point. If truth be told even unintentionally making someone laugh isn’t massively difficult, but deliberately making someone laugh in a story takes incredible skill to get right and Kayleigh certainly has the skill required to not only provide intentional comedy but intertwine it with visceral horror. When setting those elements aside from one another and focusing purely on horror or supernatural storylines the stories are as good as anything else out there today and indeed far better than the majority I’ve read lately. The same can be said for her more tongue-in-cheek stories. As an established writer’s collection it would be excellent enough, but as a debut collection it is exceptional, it maintains a superb standard which one can only hope will be repeated in future offerings. I’m torn over Kayleigh’s direction because it is usually advisable to find your unique voice, your own style and focus on being as good at one type of thing as you can possibly be. Kayleigh nails comedy; she also nails horror and is adept at combining the two, so no matter what she decides to write in the future I can be confident that I will be in for a good time reading it.
“Bury Them Deep” was one of several works premiered by Hersham Horror Books at the recent FCon held at Peterborough written by Marie O’Regan, an author who has had many short stories published over the decade or so. I recently reviewed, and loved “Perfect Darkness, Perfect Silence” by Richard Farren Barber, which was also published by Hersham, so I was keen to take a look at another of their new releases.
Unfortunately “Bury Them Deep” falls way short of the superb heights reached by “Perfect Darkness, Perfect Silence” principally because the headline act is around sixty odd pages, relatively short as novellas go. The paperback is padded out to 110 pages with two further short stories “Ssshh…” (nineteen pages) and “Suicide Bridge” (eighteen pages). I would seriously question whether this is worth the £8.00 paperback price tag. At first glance it looks like you’re buying a novella, but actually a fairer description would be three short stories.
“Bury Them Deep” was obviously the centrepiece of the trilogy and deservedly so, but it was not strong enough to carry this as a standalone release. Although it opens with a slightly disjointed and confusing start it soon finds its feet. Maddie is a troubled young woman who is being tracked by a serial killer, the same murderer who may well have slaughtered her mother. Much of the story is told from Maddie’s point of view, who can hear the voice of her dead mother, seeing her as some sort of guardian angel. Some of the story is also told from the point of view of the serial killer Frank, irritatingly told in italics. There is also a supernatural angel to this part of the story which links to Maddie. It was an entertaining enough story which the author tells us in the end notes initially began with an idea of writing a story featuring a killer obsessed with bones.
“Ssshh…” tells the story of a Halloween dinner in which Ciara hosts a séance with a medium and a group of would-be friends. She promises to contact the dead and answer questions from her guests, some of which it all as some sort of a joke. Of course, the supernatural is real, but who is playing whom?
The third and final offering “Suicide Bridge” opens with John Smith feeling sorry for himself and about to throw himself from a bridge, a popular suicide spot. A ghostly young woman appears and tries to talk him out of it. Sarah Ryan, of course, has her own tale to tell and John quickly realises that death might not be any kind of picnic, especially if eternity on the bridge awaits…
If these stories appeared in most anthologies they would be perfectly serviceable and are decent enough reads, however, I doubt they are strong enough to merit standalone in a product such as this. “Bury Them Deep” is also available on the Kindle for £3.50 and free for Kindle Unlimited, which is fair enough, but if you’re going to publish as paperback then the content needs to have much more whack than this, especially in the overcrowded horror field we currently live in where fantastic horror novellas appear with great frequency. I’ve recently been spoilt by reading new ones by Adam Nevil, Ronald Malfi and “New Fears” edited by Mark Morris and this falls way short of those.
There are places in this world which are also places in other worlds. Think of them as doorways, or as bridges connecting our reality to an infinitude of possibilities. These are not bridges anyone can cross; you have to pay a toll. Still, for some of us, it’s not really a choice. Some of us need to cross them, some of us are inescapably drawn there, some of us can’t find answers anywhere else.
Police officers John Green and Janis Lodge are like that, even if they don’t realize it. They think they’ve come to the old, fog-shrouded house in Canada to investigate a drug-fueled hippie massacre, but they’ll soon find themselves separated and lost in a labyrinth of alternate universes where their own deep-seated traumas find form and substance.
That’s the story of Songs of Dreaming Gods, the 26th novel to date (at last count, at least) from prolific weird fiction scribe and noted Carnacki acolyte William Meikle. Part of a loose ongoing series exploring Meikle’s “Sigil and Totems” mythos, Songs of Dreaming Gods is a pulpy, fast-paced read rooted not only in concepts taken from fringe occultism and quantum mechanics, but also in the emotional and psychological underpinnings of its own character’s identities.
Meikle’s characters drive the plot. They also dictate its structure. Chapters alternate between John and Janis’ individual points of views, each chapter focusing on the unique experiences of one or the other. An upside to this structure is that it gives the book a kind of dramatic, even cinematic, serialized feel; Meikle builds up the tension in every chapter, then ends each one with a little stinger that make you want to know what happens next, only to keep you waiting as the subsequent chapter transports you to a different character entirely, wherein the suspenseful cycle starts anew. The end result is a driving rhythm that plays out almost like, well, a song.
A downside to this structure, however, is that it can lead to things getting repetitive at times, especially early on when Meikle’s officers first enter the house. Though their introductions to the building’s paranormal nature occur separately and are thus told in separate chapters, their initial experiences (self-closing doors, strange noises, unexplainable changes to the environment) are similar enough that it soon feels redundant. At first, Meikle shows us the same rooms, features, and peculiarities in more or less the same way; it’s not just that he’s reiterating information, it’s that he’s doing it so soon after he already told it the first time.
Thankfully, once the baseline of his characters’ mutual experiences is established, Meikle allows John and Janis to go off in very different directions. The former plunges himself deeper and deeper down into the bowels of a bottomless tower, all the while pursued by hideous rat-like creatures eerily reminiscent of doodles he once scrawled as a child. The latter finds herself trapped in darkened maze where every turn seems to lead back to the same bedroom, one filled with glassy-eyed dolls who watch her every move, as if waiting for her to turn her back so they can sneak off to terrorize her from the shadows.
Meanwhile, back in the “real” world, novice officer Todd Wiggins is following up on clues as to just what happened to turn the house into a blood-drenched crime scene in the first place. Though they lack the supernatural surrealism which makes John and Janis’ chapters so enjoyable, Todd’s investigations are valuable in providing crucial backstory, as well as in sustaining that “hardboiled pulp detective story” charisma which Meikle cultivated so successfully in the opening chapters. Hell, sometimes Todd’s more grounded experiences (and relatable motivations) actually prove more engaging than the uncanny goings-on in the house, even with as weird and wild as they become.
As previously mentioned, though, Meikle does get repetitive at times, even independent of the aforementioned issues inherent in novel’s structure (the titular song’s lyrics, for example, are quoted so frequently that they’re basically beaten into the dirt). Likewise, some of his imagery simply doesn’t resonate the way it seems to want to (sorry, but self-flushing toilets don’t rank high on the ol’ creep-o-meter), and it can be difficult to tell how many of the intermittent flashes of seemingly sly humor are intentional. Finally, while both Meikle’s stripped-down prose and his well-developed but decidedly streamlined characterizations are key to making Songs of Dreaming Gods such a speedy, no-nonsense, story-first read, for some the style may be too spare.
If that doesn’t sound like an unacceptable toll to pay, then Songs of Dreaming Gods is certainly a bridge worth crossing. The world that waits on the other side is interesting, imaginative, and, above all, entertaining. Something tells me that, even with over 20 novels under his belt, Meikle’s not even close to finished.
A mysterious house sits on a corner block on a hill in St. John's, Newfoundland, in one of the oldest cities in North America, a non-descript, three-story wooden cube, going slowly to seed. When local cops, John Green, Janis Lodge and Todd Wiggins are sent to investigate a multiple murder on the top floor of the property, they start opening doors and uncovering secrets. But like peeling the layers off an onion, each door opened only leads them deeper into the mystery. There are houses like this all over the world, and those who suffer are drawn to them, as John, Janis and Todd have been drawn. They have found their way in. Can they find their way out again? And at what cost?
“Adam Nevil opens his door for a second helping of darkness
Hot on the heels of his debut short story anthology “Some will not Sleep: Selected Horrors” (2016) Adam Nevill returns with its nasty little sibling “Hasty for the Dark”. The former recently, and deservedly so, scooped the prestigious ‘Best Collection’ award at the British Fantasy Awards in Peterborough. One wonders when our friends across the pond at the Horror Writers Association are ever going to award his talents with a long overdue Bram Stoker nomination? Having two major collections released within the same twelve month period is a rare treat for Nevill enthusiasts, however, all good things must come to an end. As this second collection features stories from the period 2009 to 2015 we cannot expect a third helping of horrors for a few more years, instead we wait for the next novel.
“Hasty for the Dark” undoubtedly has a broader range of stories that its predecessor. The nine tales are cleverly varied, exhibiting varied pace, chills which deal with the supernatural in both every day and altogether freakier situations, and other curve-balls which drop feet into other genres. It is lovingly complimented with really excellent end notes which reveal the inspiration behind many of the tales, of course you will not be surprised to find lots of autobiographical nuggets lurking within the pages. Likewise the tributes are equally revealing, featuring the likes of Ramsey Campbell and others whom Nevill is both hugely influenced by and a fan of.
The sneakiest treat of the collection are the various references and wider connections to his novels and other stories, an element of cross-referencing which is relatively new to his writing, at least to this extent. Anorak fans such as I love this sort of stuff… Amongst others our old friend Mr Hazzard from “Under a Watchful Eye” continues to exert his influence, and the novella length story “Call the Name” is set in a very similar environmentally destroyed world as his novel “The Lost Girl” featuring a geriatric unreliable narrator who believes the world may soon end. Filled with some shocking imagery, the vision of mass drownings and deaths of granny and grandad is a hard one to shake off in this engrossing Lovecraft inspired story. And don’t forget to cross-reference the mysterious ‘Movement’ which pops up here and there with Adam Nevill in fine playful mood.
“The Angels of London” was a true corker featuring the land-lord from hell. When luckless and down at heel Frank moves into a grotty room above a closed dilapidated pub called ‘The Angel of London’ he quickly regrets it. The place is worse than a dump, and after a bad day poor Frank soon gets into an argument when his horrible landlord Granby taps him for a rent increase (Granby would have been right at home in the house from Hell, in the novel “No One Gets Out Alive”). Things then go from bad to worse for Frank and soon he’s even too scared to use the toilet on the landing after a fellow tenant hints about what lies in store if he defies the slimy Granby. As there is no negotiating with Granby.You can cut the tension with a blunt knife, and it really did time-warp me back to a previous pub residence of my own in the mid-1990s, peeling wall-paper, a toilet with a peephole, worn-down carpet and all. A time and place I would rather avoid, brought to life by full and bloody descriptions of the squalor with the supernatural.
“Always in our Hearts” was equally terrific. Taxi-driver Ray causes a hit and run death and after lying low for a while thinks he’s in the clear and starts going about his business, picking up taxi fares across run down council estates. The story kicks off when he picks up John from a really horribly rundown house, the rather unsettling jolly passenger takes a package with him which appears to have something moving in it. A sick pet perhaps? Ray is then instructed to take a series of different passengers here and there, most of which have shifty looking packages. Easy money soon oozes into something else…It really was a great story, full of dark humour and tension, filthy breadcrumbs dropped here and there, with the reader certain John will get his comeuppance, but how? Horribly unpleasant stuff which has a terrific flow to it, as the author effectively drops the reader into the taxi with Ray, but thankfully we don’t have to pick up the bill. Something about it vaguely reminded me of the UK horror film, “The Kill List” but I’m not sure what.
“Hippocampus” changes style entirely and is a darkly descriptive story set on an abandoned ship with no visible living beings. This is one of several stories where Nevill changes his style considerable creating an imposing atmosphere and a story which is a jolt in style from the previous one in the book.So where are the crew? Why is their abandoned uneaten food? Who has murdered whom? Death is most certainly in the air. One can almost imagine walking through the after effects of some horrible crime or event with the reader feeling like he is intruding on something painful and that should be avoided.
I also really enjoyed my trip into a long since abandoned Victorian zoo.However, this is not exactly first choice for Jason in his surprise first date with the gorgeous Electra (but hey, he’ll take what he can get…) However, in “Eumenides [The Benevolent Ladies]” Nevill does what he does best and takes the reader on a dark and unsettling journey through the crumbling and deeply unpleasant zoo. Soaked with decay, unpleasant imagery and gnashing of teeth, you just know things are going to end badly for poor Jason who never really had a chance of getting his leg over with the saucy Electra.
As a downtrodden Scottish exile living in London I correctly guessed the background behind “On All London Underground Lines” as Nevill lived there for a number of years and like the rest of us suffered the delays and pain of rush hour on the London Underground. This story takes an unnamed narrator on a cycle of despair around a series of tube delays which seem never ending and something otherworldly lurks behind the veneer of the luckless traveller.
The final three which completed the collection were also very enjoyable and the Kafkaesque “White Light, White Heat” finds an editor struggling to survive in a huge company where the threat of dismissal and starvation is only a breath away in a dystopian society where it seems impossible to make any cash. But this guy will not be beaten! I found this story to be pretty funny and an entertaining detour away from straight horror and perhaps for Nevill reliving the memories of being a poor struggling author himself. “The Days of Our Lives” a warped tale of a bizarre marriage, with cross references to other stories was also laced with sly humour and both funny and unsettling scenes. Finally, “Little Black Lamb” was another twister, set in a domestic environment, about a couple who receive memories which are not their own. These final three stories move Nevill away from his traditional horror settings into a wider bracket of the supernatural but more than hold their own in this superb collection. There is not much more to say except that Nevill fans will eat this new offering up and fully enjoy the range of the collection. On another note I hope the film version of “The Ritual” brings many new fans to this highly accomplished writer of supernatural fiction. Where would a newbie start? Any novel. They are all well worth reading. Tony Jones
These selected terrors range from the speculative to supernatural horror, encompass the infernal and the occult, and include stories inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Aickman and Ramsey Campbell. Hasty for the Dark is the second short story collection from the award-winning and widely appreciated British writer of horror fiction, Adam L. G. Nevill. The author's best horror stories from 2009 to 2015 are collected here for the first time.
Many authors to have a distinctive voice and explore recurrent themes in their fiction, or have a prose style recognisable and reassuring for the reader. William Meikle is not one of those authors. I have read and enjoyed much of his fiction before, but his scope seems as wide as the horror genre can be, from subtle ghost stories to apocalyptic science fiction, vampire stories to trashy big bug novels in the style of a 1970s Guy N. Smith. He effortlessly adjusts his prose to suit the style and period of whatever he's working on.
The original Carnacki appeared in a series of short stories by Edwardian writer William Hope Hodgson. Carnacki is presented as a well-to-do gentleman living in lodgings in London, very much an heir to Sherlock Holmes but with the supernatural edge that Conan Doyle avoided. The original collection was a childhood favourite of mine and is still on a bookcase somewhere in my house.
Meikle's collection fits in nicely and complements the original tales, using the same framing technique and convincingly mimicking Hodgson's style and characters. The result is a very mixed bunch of tales, but all great fun to read.
The opening story is The Photographer's Friend, in which a photographer's work is ruined by a strange creature appearing in every photograph he takes, looking more corporeal each time. It sets the tone nicely and establishes the unsettling fact that Carnacki's success rate is less than 100% and his clients do not always survive.
Fins in the Fog is a creepy and atmospheric piece in which a sailor is haunted by the ghosts of a family of sharks he killed. They are not even confined to water but can swim through the London fog.
The Cheyne Walk Infestation is one to avoid if you don't like creepy-crawlies as one ofCarnacki's supper parties is interrupted by ghostly many-legged beasties.
In An Unexpected Delivery an ancient amulet contains a curse that spells death for whoever opens it, a fact that Carnacki discovers soon after opening it himself.
A little more light hearted is A Sticky Wicket, featuring a cricket pitch which seems always to favour the opposing team. It's less intense and creepy than some of the others and pokes fun at cricket enthusiasts and gentlemen of a certain age. As if to overcompensate, he follows it with The King's Treasure, a rip-roaring adventure set in the North Sea and probably the scariest in the collection. It's followed by another creepy nautical tale Mr. Churchill's Surprise¸ set on a haunted German U-boat and featuring a little musing on how we shift our morality during wartime.
The title story, The Edinburgh Townhouse, is by contrast rather sweet, and stars a dashing young hero who succeeds in his romantic quest. Love, it seems, is as effective a defence against the outer dark as any of Carnacki's tools.
A Night in the Storeroom begins with a gruesome death and is set in the basement of The British Museum, and is as creepy as you would expect. And in the cracking final story Into the Light, Carnacki has to protect Winston Churchill from a demon in a pub basement.
Every story contains numerous references to food, alcohol and tobacco, usually along the lines of "a wholesome mutton stew" or "a fine Scotch", and you can sense Carnacki's disappointment when he has to suffer "a quick supper of cold ham, meat and cheese" before collecting his electric pentacle and battling with creatures from the outer darkness. All the characters are male, and if anyone has a wife it's not considered interesting enough to talk about, yet it doesn't come across as misogynistic so much as a comment on the superficiality of male friendships.
All in all, bally good fun, one to enjoy with sitting round the fireplace with the chaps, a glass good aged port in hand.
CARNACKI operates in shadowy occult realms, on the fringes of science, in places out of sight and out of mind of normal everyday people. But sometimes the darkness touches the lives of others in ways they cannot understand, and they find they need help - the kind of help that only Carnacki can provide.
In MR. CHURCHILL'S SURPRISE and INTO THE LIGHT Carnacki is called on to help a young Winston Churchill investigate a strangely empty German U-Boat captured in the North Sea, and in dispelling something that is lingering in a London inn that was home to a club of gentlemen seeking illicit pleasures and a path to power.
Occasionally these books come charging out of nowhere and just floor you, leaving you winded and wondering just how in the hell you’re going to describe what you’ve just experienced. “A Tear in the Veil” by Patrick Loveland is one such book. Whether it is the Gordian head knots that Loveland ties you up in, the heady brew of influences and ideas he blends together or just the sheer kinetic pulse and energy of his writing, I can’t quite determine. All I know is that this, his debut novel from April Moon Books, knocked it out the park and left me somewhat speechless.
“A Tear in the Veil” is a riotously good, genre bending journey into the world of one Felix Brewer as he starts to experience reality from an altogether different perspective. One that increasingly distorts his viewpoint until the very fabric of his life is torn asunder and reveals sights better left unseen. I love that feeling when you read something that just fires off thoughts and images all over the place and “A Tear in the Veil” does that in buckets. I think the best way I can possibly describe this book is that it feels somewhat like a Philip K. Dick and William S Burroughs scripted film directed by David Cronenberg, John Carpenter and David Lynch. Themes of paranoia, alienation and the horror of losing your sense of identity and self vie for attention alongside eye popping imagery reminiscent of films like From Beyond, Altered States, Jacob’s Ladder, Videodrome and They Live. In a “Tear in the Veil,” what constitutes reality is very subjective and open to question.
The novel starts off at a relatively sedate and deceptive pace as we are introduced to Felix and his life in San Francisco. Loveland initially creates an intimate and disarming feel to the novel as we follow Felix in his life and relationships until the fateful day that he is given a video camera with a rather unique filming perspective. From this point onwards, you are left clinging on for dear life as Felix’s world starts to fracture and fragment and he’s thrust into an increasingly desperate fight for survival against dark and sinister forces.
To call this novel exuberant would be an understatement. The writing has this gleeful cinematic pulse to it that infuses the increasingly warped and plastic reality of Felix with a life all its own, full of unexpected twists and turns. Just as you think you are getting a handle on the situation, Loveland whips the carpet out from under you and much like Felix; you are left feeling very disorientated and bewildered as to what is going on. Yet despite the overwhelming assault on your senses, A Tear in the Veil never loses its focus on Felix or his innate humanity. This is a novel that for all its monstrous creations, amorphous flesh and sense of dislocation and alienation feels like it has a lot of heart and soul to it.
I appreciate that what I’ve written probably doesn’t give you a whole lot to go on but for me “A Tear in the Veil” is probably the most enjoyable book that I’ve read this year, bar none. An epic surrealistic nightmare where the dividing line between truth and fiction is blurred and monsters hide in plain sight, this novel is pure class all the way. Buy it!!
When Felix Brewer finally gets the video camera he has been coveting, he discovers a button on the lens housing that isn’t in the manual. Once that button is pressed, the viewfinder shows him glimpses of a nightmarish world living in symbiosis with ours, and reveals his girlfriend, Audrey, to be a frightening creature; her face a burning mass of melting light and distortion. Seemingly alone in his visions, Felix relies on the support of strangers both dubious and intriguing to make sense of it all… and hopefully protect him from the dark creatures that want to brutally silence him. Has Felix discovered a disturbing world no one else can see or is he barreling toward a tragic end through a haze of inherited insanity? A TEAR in the VEIL – the stunning debut novel from Patrick Loveland.
In his debut novel Ghost Hunters, Neil Spring introduced us to the fabulous Harry Price and his intrepid assistant Sarah Grey, and their investigations into the spooky going events at Borley Rectory. Ghost Hunters was an intense debut novel and a great addition to the classic British ghost story. Harry and Sarah return to investigate further spooky going ons in The Lost Village, despite the events that occurred in Ghost Hunters, the once mighty duo have now gone their separate ways, can they overcome their differences and get to the root of the problem in The Lost Village?
The Lost Village as with Ghost Hunters uses a real-life haunting legend as the framework to hang another gripping story from. This time Spring uses the village of Imber situated in the middle of the Salisbury Plain, which has, as in real life, been taken over by the army to be used as a military training base, with the locals being thrown out, only allowed to return once a year to tend the graves of their loved ones.
But something is stirring in Imber. Something which has the army spooked, lights have been seen above the village, things are moving in the mist, and something so terrible that it causes one soldier to set fire to themselves to escape the horror, something so awful that only Price and Grey can unlock the secret of the lost village.
As with the first appearance of Price and Grey, one the main strengths of The Lost Village is the Spring's gift for grounding the novel. The meticulous amount of research combined with Spring's deft narrative voice allows the reader to become fully immersed in not only the novel's story but also the era in which the book exists. There is nothing worse in a period story than the inability to believe that the story you are reading is set in the period of the story. Spring uses some techniques to ensure that integrity of the era is preserved, such as the use of period-specific language, and the subtle use of "pop culture references". These might seem like simple things, but Spring has repeatedly shown, throughout his three novels, a masterful gift for scene setting a period integrity.
While The Lost Village is a stand-alone novel and can be in its own right, you would be doing yourself a slight disservice if you don't read Ghost Hunters beforehand. The reason for this is excellent interplay and relationship dynamics between Price and Grey. Imagine Holmes and Watson with a slice of sexual frisson, and you would be pretty much on track as to how this pair reacts with each other. However, their relationship is now somewhat strained due to the events in their previous outing, and while their relationship here is still a joy to read and at times electrifying, it does help to have a more rounded and expanded account of how they came to be from the first book.
Spring keeps the majority of the plot under tight wraps for the majority of the novel, keeping the reader second guessing and hopping from one wrong foot to the other. Dropping breadcrumbs of hints and clues like a teasing Hansel and Gretal, Spring keeps the reader hooked through the length of the narrative. Stylistically, The Lost Village can be classified alongside such greats as The Woman in Black and Awakening; this is a classic British ghost, filled with subtle atmospheric dread, peppered with moments of shocking terror to keep the reader on their toes. Spring's ingenious mix of fact and fiction makes for a fascinating read, the blurring of lines between the real village of Imber and the fictional one of this novel turns this book into a somewhat unique reading experience.
The Lost Village is a modern Gothic masterpiece, ghostly going on, mingling with secrets and lies, in a bleak British landscape all combine to make one thrilling and fulfilling read.
A haunting and spooky thriller, with an unforgettable twist! The remote village of Imber - remote, lost and abandoned. The outside world hasn't been let in since soldiers forced the inhabitants out, much to their contempt.
But now, a dark secret threatens all who venture near. Everyone is in danger, and only Harry Price can help. Reluctantly reunited with his former assistant Sarah Grey, he must unlock the mystery of Imber, and unsurface the secrets someone thought were long buried. But will Sarah's involvement be the undoing of them both?
When I opened up Florida Gothic, I wanted to love it. The style is thick and full of vivid, realistic detail; the character we initially start on is pretty interesting; the setup is all right: an old man with nothing much to live for gets killed in a Florida hit-and-run accident involving a crocodile; he then comes back as a zombie.
So far so good.
Then the other characters come in. They aren't just the lowest of the low. They are the lowest of the low at great length and in vivid detail. Again, the writing is really good here. But the author keeps reminding us that we're not supposed to like these other characters, because they aren't characters but caricatures. We're not supposed to empathize with them or really even put their tawdry skins on over our own. They're unlikable characters, fair enough, but the author can't stop reminding us of that--and doing so booted me out of the story. Repeatedly. The characters don't just do what they do, they spend pages trying to justify themselves while the author winks at the reader about how terrible the characters are. I get it already...
If it hadn't been done with such depth and vividness, I wouldn't have minded; your mileage may vary. If you enjoy watching people you constantly are reminded to hate putting themselves in a train headed for a brick wall, then this may be the book for you. But I wanted the author to go big or go home - either fully invest in their mundane evil and stop winking at the readers, or make them so over the top that it felt like a story about the little guys finding a loophole to screw over the truly big bads of the world.
A near miss for me, but one that made me want to put the book down every time it wasn't the zombie's POV.
Stuck in a twilight world between life and death… A hit-and-run driver leaves Ernesto Martinez to die by a Miami canal. Then an alligator comes along to finish the job. Being dead gives Ernesto plenty of time to think. He thinks about his wife, taken from him too soon by illness. He thinks about his daughter, the victim of a drunk driver. He thinks about his death as he watches his body slowly decompose. Most of all, he thinks about injustice. The meth head ex-con living in the Everglades. The judge enjoying retirement on the Gulf Coast. The son of a Colombian drug kingpin partying in South Beach. These men care nothing for the pain they’ve caused. But they’ll soon know what it is to feel pain
Kristi DeMeester has an extensive and impressive horror pedigree. Her short fiction has appeared in Black Static, Apex Magazine, The Dark and Strange Aeons, to name but a few; she is also no stranger to Year's Best anthologies. It's safe to say that this collection has been highly anticipated. DeMeester's style errs definitively towards the 'weird' end of the horror spectrum. Her imagined worlds carry a distinctive Southern Gothic vibe; they are populated by strange, unnerving characters who belong on the fringes, in the shadows. Consequently, there is a vein of stark realism which compliments the dreamy unreality of DeMeester's storytelling.
Titular tale "Everything That's Underneath" and "The Wicked Shall Come Upon Him" both shine a light on the inner mechanisms of human relationships, and the outside forces which exert themselves upon our lives, from the mundane evil of illness to the coming apocalypse. DeMeester handles both tales with a blunt and honest humanity; the horror of slow, inevitable decline complements the more visceral, immediate horror of uncanny things lurking in the shadows, and the pain of infidelity is a backdrop to something almost biblical in its strangeness.
"To Sleep Long, To Sleep Deep" is pure horror from start to finish. A tale of obsession infused from the very beginning with a palpable sense of wrongness, the ending is somehow both inevitable and shocking. "The Fleshtival" is far more unpleasant, and not always in a good way. The characters are all utterly unlikeable, and it's difficult to care about anything that might happen to them. The eventual payoff is satisfying, but it's a labourious journey, made somewhat easier by the perfusion of rich, dark imagery - something DeMeester excels at. Her prose reads more like poetry in places, which may not appeal to some, but her ability to weave complex and vivid imagery is undeniable. "The Beautiful Nature Of Venom" treads perilously close to cliché; short, sharp and punchy, a conspiratorial tale addressed to 'you' in which the reader is aware of what is going to happen but, of course, utterly powerless to stop it. "Like Feather, Like Bone" is an early highlight - a tale picked by Laird Barron for inclusion in The Year's Best Weird Fiction, and it's not difficult to understand why. This is pure Southern Gothic and is as beautiful as it is terrible. Opening with a strange, nameless young girl eating birds beneath the narrator's porch, this is a very effective tale of loss and ultimately, of healing.
"Worship Only What She Bleeds" is another strong story, showcasing DeMeester's unique ability to write female-driven narratives which are both incredibly strange and highly relatable; the relationship between Mary and her mother is the star of the show here, played out against a nightmarish backdrop of bleeding houses and raw meat, and an ending which horrifies in how right it feels.
"The Tying Of Tongues" has a distinctly different feel to the stories that precede it; almost folkloric, a Grimm's fairy tale as seen through Angela Carter's lens. "The Marking" is a piece of deeply discomfiting body horror, and another example of DeMeester's excellent mother-daughter dynamic, and the interplay between familial nurture and destruction.
"The Long Road" takes us back to the realms of Southern Gothic with a story that is light on plot but rich in unsettling imagery. "The Lightning Bird" is another female-driven tale which touches upon African mythology and provides an interesting new lens through which we might view the mother-daughter dynamic so familiar to this collection. "The Dream Eater" is a superb piece of weird fiction, an almost Lynchian apocalyptic nightmare which verges on the nonsensical in the best possible way. Probably the best story in the collection, in my humble opinion.
"The Dream Eater" is a very difficult act to follow, but "Daughters of Hecate" is well chosen to succeed it. One of the more plot-heavy stories in the collection, it's a complex examination of motherhood both from a daughter's perspective, and from that of a prospective parent. DeMeester's stories tend towards the abstract rather than the emotional, but this proves that she has the ability to get to the heart of matters, and to find painful truth in them as well as the artistic and the disturbing. "Birthright", original to this collection, is a clever and creepy novelette reminiscent in ways of Paul Tremblay's 'A Head Full of Ghosts'. "All That Is Refracted, Broken" takes a similar path, but ends up somewhere very different indeed - a brother-sister relationship this time, jagged stream-of-consciousness prose and an unexpected but excellent ending. I had read "December Skin" in its original publication in Black Static and it holds up just as well on re-reading. "Split Tongues" exhibits a wholly unfamiliar religious terror which, to this British reader, is alien and unsettling in a quintisentially American kind of way. The final story, "To Sleep in the Dust of the Earth", is almost a coming-of-age tale, a story in which the strangeness takes a back seat to the relationship between Willa and Lea; perhaps the most 'earthly' of DeMeester's stories in many ways, but no less eerily beautiful for it. There are 18 stories in this collection, and the sheer density of it invites frequent pause, not least because these stories are best read with time to digest before diving into the next one. Consequently it is not an easy read. It is, however, very rewarding; it’s likely to be a favourite for lovers of weird fiction and beautiful prose alike.
Everything That’s Underneath, Kristi DeMeester’s debut powerful horror collection, is full of weird, unsettling tales that recall the styles of such accomplished storytellers as Laird Barron and Tom Piccirilli. Crawl across the earth and dig in the dirt. Feel it. Tearing at your nails, gritty between your teeth, filling your nostrils. Consume it until it has consumed you. For there you will find the voices that have called from the shadows, the ones that promise to cherish you only to rip your body to shreds. In Everything That’s Underneath, Kristi DeMeester explores the dark places most people avoid. A hole in an abandoned lot, an illness twisting your loved one into someone you don’t recognize, lust that pushes you farther and farther until no one can hear yours cry for help. In these 18 stories the characters cannot escape the evil that is haunting them. They must make a choice: accept it and become part of what terrifies them the most or allow it to consume them and live in fear forever.
A gay-themed vampire novel written by a porn star may not sound appealing, but despite its many flaws, I rather enjoyed it.
Daniel and David were childhood neighbours, drawn together by familial neglect. They become friends, then step brothers, then lovers, and form a black metal band together. In their mid-teens they live a fabulously hedonistic life until the night Daniel disappears.
Four years later David has just about got his life back together when Daniel reappears and attacks him, and in the struggle David kills him. It's hardly a spoiler to say that Daniel is a vampire (and not any deader than before), and now so is David.
The first half of the book is completely engaging as we spend time with the boys and find out their history - I especially enjoyed the band scenes, but once the main plot kicks in it loses its way a little. An older vampire gives us a quasi-religious origin story for vampires and hatches a plan to raise an army of vampires to storm heaven and reclaim it in Lucifer's name. It's a grand and sweeping idea but never as interesting as the love story at the book's heart.
Homoeroticism in vampire fiction is hardly new, and Mr. Zeischegg doesn't really do anything new: it's no more sensual than Anne Rice and no more graphic than Poppy Brite. I get the feeling he wanted to shock us, but got too tied up with the romance, and the book is stronger for it. These days, extreme violence, drug use, heresy and gay sex no longer have the power. The underage pseudo-incest is a potential outrage trigger but those scenes are lightly drawn and rather sweet really, not pornographic at all.
If you like vampires, heavy metal, pornography and gay sex I guarantee you'll enjoy this book.