Ginger Nuts of Horror
The dead rule the world
One of the first things that I did after reading The Black Room Manuscripts was to go out and buy “Class Three” by Duncan Bradshaw. I just found his writing in “Time for Tea” to have this gleeful kind of undertow to the carnage he wrought on his tea drinkers and wanted to see what his writing was like in a longer format. And it didn’t disappoint. “Class Three” was a refreshing take on the almost done to death zombie apocalypse. Equal parts offbeat humour and splatter, it chronicled two brothers attempts to escape the dawn of the dead using their in depth knowledge of zombie films, almost slapstick humour and plenty of the old ultra violence. Throw in a religious cult, their henchmen, numerous other characters including an ex-girlfriend and a security guard called Francis and it made for an exuberant riot of a book that had me grinning like an idiot and reading in a couple of days.
As plots go, it's a deceptively basic one. In the summer of 1995, at a church 'revival' meeting in North Devon (though I was picturing Glasgow for some reason), an un-named young man separates himself from the congregation to approach the minister. It quickly becomes apparent - in fact, this is the purpose of the opening chapter - that this young man is very, very angry, and the source of his anger is that he wants God to appear before him, in order to prove himself. As an incentive, the young man has rigged himself a vest of explosives and states that if God does not prove himself, he'll detonate and kill everyone in the building. What follows is seen from the perspective of a diverse group of characters who have their own varying approaches to faith.
So far, so intense.
First off, a very brief recap; I very much enjoyed reading The Last Plague. It was a compelling piece of post-apocalyptic fiction, with a nice smattering of cosmic horror. It was bleak, gross and disturbing - though never gratuitously so - and had a nice line of fatal inevitability running through it. I did have a few minor issues with it, namely that the characters all felt interchangeable, and there was the odd awkward sentence here and there. But it was a solid debut and made me curious about what Rich would do next. The question is, does The Last Outpost improve upon its predecessor?
"Something is Lurking Under the Lake…
Before I begin this review, let me say that I’m not usually a fan of ghost stories. I’ve found myself in the mindset that if you’ve read one, you’ve pretty much read them all. That said, having read other stories by Duncan Ralston, and enjoying them immensely, I couldn’t wait to dig into Salvage.
Salvage is Ralston’s first full-length novel. It opens with Owen and Lori, a brother and sister going to the lake with their parents. They share the same mother, but Gerald is Owen’s stepfather, and they have a rocky relationship since Owen never recovered from his father abandoning him when Owen was only 5 years old. Owen’s mother never forced religion on her children – in fact, she shied away from any kind of religious discussion and her kids never understood why. The family never even celebrated Christmas because it was a religious holiday.
Sometimes the blade of a knife or the point of a nail is the only way you know you're real.
Everyone reads for different reasons. At least, I gather that's the case from various articles, blog posts and comments online. And, you know, there's no real right way or wrong way to approach these things. Some want to get lost in rich and detailed worlds, some want to meet 'likeable' characters (I have my own opinions on this one, but that's a different conversation), some are looking for 'beautiful' prose and some approach their reading from an intellectual direction. And there are many other things people look for in their fiction, and almost infinite varieties and combinations of all of these. Personally, I tend to read for an emotional response and I find I'm looking for that more and more as I get older. That's not to say I can't appreciate those other ways I've mentioned, or others I haven't, but they're not necessary for me to enjoy something. I do tend to find, though, that a story which hits me in a way that actually makes me feel something is one I will rate far above others. Like I say, it's a personal thing. Doesn't really matter what emotion I get and it can range from the thrill of excitement to feeling crushing dread, and the entire spectrum in-between and around. But more and more, I'm drawn to those stories that push my buttons and make me feel sad. And not just in a 'oh, that's a little sad'; I'm talking deep, heartbreaking gut-punch emotion. The kind of thing that makes you tear up and stays with you for days, if not longer.
with thoughts dark and twisted... and flesh like smoke.
Just over a year and a go I came across the initial publication from a fledgling small press publisher, April Moon Books, called “The Dark Rites of Cthulhu”. This was a really quite delicious themed anthology centred on the use of dark grimoires, incantations and sorcery throughout H.P. Lovecraft’s work. This book was then swiftly followed by a series of short story collections called Short Sharp Shocks and a novella, Black Star Black Sun by writer Rich Hawkins. To say that I was bowled over by the quality and variety of work being published would be an understatement. Here was a publisher producing consistently entertaining and varied books that covered all the styles that I love in speculative fiction: Science Fiction, Weird Fiction, Lovecraftian and Horror. So, when April Moon Books announced it was re-uniting with editor Brian M. Sammons to do another anthology called “Flesh Like Smoke” you can probably imagine that my expectations were pretty high. Would it be case of lighting striking twice?
Some doors are better left closed . . .
So, okay...yes, this novel came out in 2010. I appreciate I'm woefully behind on Adam Nevill's work, but in my defence, I have bought every single release thus far. I made a promise to myself at the end of last year that I would get myself up to speed with Adam's books this year. At the moment, I'm not doing terribly great, but two out of six (so far) ain't too bad. I'm also reading it as part of a personal project, whereby I bought about thirty-odd books relating to the haunted house theme. The reason being, that I plan on writing one myself at some point and it occurred to me that I hadn't read any of the generally held classics of the genre. So, I rectified that, and also bought a few that were relative unknowns (along with one or two that will probably be a bit lacking). Again, I'm falling behind on this but I plan to push on and some of these will appear as reviews on this here site (assuming people actually follow a particular reviewer's reviews and articles).
It starts with a strange glowing fog that arrives
at the height of a snowstorm.
A terror from the past has returned, bringing with it death and destruction
If there's one thing I love in fiction, it's a sense of cosmic horror. If there's another, it's the folly of humankind's scientific endeavours and the chaos and monsters they create; think Frankenstein, think H. G. Wells, think Quatermass and all the other wonderful films of the 50s and 60s. And Willie Meikle's recent novel The Dunfield Terror has these elements in spades.
Don’t Read is the story of Chris, a lorry driver who is working on a horror novel. He’s completely unimpressed with the horror books he’s read in the past and decides to set out on his own to make a horror book that is more terrifying and disgusting than any that’s come before it. Here’s the thing though. He’s writing the book for himself, not for anyone else. Hence the name “Don’t Read” written on the book’s cover.
The book opens with Chris visiting a diner for a late night snack. The on-duty manager working that night is a man named Stephen (With a PH, not a V) and Stephen is a prick. He sends one of his employees, a girl named Haley, to take out the trash while the other employee, Sara, takes care of her one and only customer.
A work that is so much of its genre, it is like a crystallisation of its most salient characteristics, Manana could almost be read as a template for how one constructs gritty, violent crime drama. Simultaneously its greatest strength and weakness; for those who enjoy such fare, there will likely be little better; the book is vibrant, fast paced, explicitly bleak, violent; deliciously nihilistic and amoral. There is no finger wagging judgement here; no divine or poetic justice for characters that behave in less than savoury ways (which is to say, all of them). This is an almost documentary examination of one man's descent into criminal culture's depths, beginning with a well drawn and compelling take on a classic situation: