Ginger Nuts of Horror
I’ve been eagerly looking forward to this one ever since devouring the superlative ‘Chasing Shadows Everywhere’ earlier in the year. Since then, LT Vargus has become LT Vargus and Tim McBain (I guess technically they always were, but whatever), and after a naturalistic standalone novel, this time we’re given the first part of a projected five novel series (!!), ‘Fade To Black’, a dark tale of magical realism.
The authors have lost none of their touch with regards to voice: in the marvellously named Jeff Grobnagger we have a protagonist that is both richly layered and immediately familiar. The first person present narrative puts the reader right into the action from the get-go, and as the novel develops and we discover the many layers to Jeff’s personality our affection for him grows. He’s a relatable person to whom extraordinary things are happening, and the writers do an outstanding job in establishing and developing his character as the plot unfolds. His friend Glenn Floyd is similarly well drawn and enjoyable.
Disclaimer: I was asked and provided a cover quote for Rich's début published novel. I had not read the book itself, but I had read quite a bit of Rich's other fiction and was vocal online about how good I thought it was, which led to said asking. I am also good friends with Rich. I offer this as full disclosure in case there are any accusations of 'providing a good review for a friend' or some-such. I endeavour to review everything with as much objectivity as I can and this novel will be no exception. I see no profit or mileage in giving a glowing review if that isn't sincerely the case. Peace out.
There comes a time in a writer’s career, where everything they have written before gels and coalesces into the novel that they were meant to write. It can be a frightening time for a writer when this happens, what if this is the pinnacle of their career? What if everything else they write after this book doesn’t match up? It must be a troubling time for a writer.
Adam Nevill’s No One Gets Out Alive is one such book, but if I was him I wouldn’t be too concerned about reaching a pinnacle, as I have been saying this about his writing ever since Apartment 16. His novels just get better and better. He is a master craftsman of the horror genre. Fully aware of what has come before him, he plucks tropes and themes form the genre with perfect precision then proceeds to spin a captivating tale that really does stay with you long after you have finished it.
Sarah and her brother Johnny return to their childhood home, scene of bad experiences and memories. They hope to dispel these spectres and personal hauntings once and for all and move on. Little do they know there may be something else haunting the building...
In such a short amount of space and what at first appears to be just another 'return to the family house that was haunted' type of story, Lily Childs quickly makes it apparent that this is no mere pastiche or treading of old ground. Such is the assuredness of the writing, that we are immediately drawn into the world that these two characters inhabit.
Just when I felt I was able to predict the story, each turn takes it off in a subtly different direction. In fact, there is one paragraph in the story for which I was completely unprepared for. It sketches the fact that Sarah and Johnny were separated while young and only recently reunited due to Johnny's efforts. In just a couple of swift lines, Lily was able to pierce my heart with emotion and brought a pricking of tears to my eyes.
It's all handled in a deft manner and unfolds clearly and concisely, with the action in the present allowing the past to reassert itself, so we are given a deeper and clearer picture of just what happened to these two children even as they are in turn, given answers to long hidden mysteries.
It ends on a poignant and tragic note, but one which feels wholly necessary in light of what has gone before. This is a very well written short story, which manages to both chill and move, something all too rare inn the field of horror. Can't wait until the next story from this author.to edit.
PAUL M FEENEY
“I can tell you a dozen different stories. This is what we are: a collection of stories that we share, in common. This is what we are to each other.” - Graeme Joyce - The Silent Land
After reading Gary McMahon's The Night Just Got Darker, the above quote from Graeme Joyce immediately sprang to mind. As that is all we really are, we live and we die. If we are lucky enough to have made an impression, good or bad, on those who we have met, then our story will continue. But what if our story wasn't really our story to tell? What if our story was constantly being rewritten, edited and published by a mysterious writer, desperately trying to hold back the darkness, shaping our world so the very worst of human nature is held in check.
In essence that is what this latest offering from Gary McMahon is about. I say in essence as this is not a merely a simple tale, it is a multilayered story that deals the breakdown of relationships, blame, the futile quest for control of ones life from outside influences, and the fact that despite what we do we are doomed from birth.
Expertly, written with an emotional depth that stabs straight to the heart, The Night Just Got Darker is deeply moving story, almost as bleak and nihilistic as anything Gary has previously written, it is clear that this is a very personal tale to him. I cannot help but feel that Gary is the mysterious writer of the story. A writer who with every story he writes gets ever more scarred both emotionally and physically.
There are some weighty issues presented in this story, and Gary cleverly doesn't tie these all up in happy ending full of resolutions. The story like life is never has all the answers.
The Night Just Got Darker is one of those stories that reviewers both love and dread. We love it as it allows for a review that states the more we talk about what happens the more we will lessen the power of the story. It is also one that fills us with dread as we sit here wondering how to write a review that makes you go and buy it.
So take my word for it this is a book that you really should read, it is raw, emotional and deeply moving. A powerful fairy tale for an urban generation.
The Chapbook will be released from KnightWatch Press
PURCHASE A COPY HERE (Just scroll down for the book)
Published as a signed limited edition by Pendragon Press, here we have a very interesting piece of work. Mark West pens a short tale that's steeped in 70's and 80's chase films, yet retains a character all of its own.
One fateful night, David is at a party he'd much prefer to be absent from. Through a mutual friend, he offers Natalie a lift home. Elsewhere, a gang of drugged up 'hoodies' are cruising about in a souped up sports car. Their initial activities are obnoxious but relatively harmless, but it's clear that things are about to escalate. These two parties are on a violent collision course and it's anyone's guess who will survive the night...
It seems like a lifetime ago since I first heard about this book. I was lucky enough to be one of the first people in the know, and ever since then I have been intrigued, and excited. I loved the premise of the book, a load of comedians and stand up comics tackling my most beloved of genres. A brilliant concept, when you consider that in my opinion both horror and comedy come from the same dark pit in our minds and soul. A part that loves to be shocked, look at some of the best comedy out there. It's shocking, it makes you uncomfortable, and it also makes you ever so slightly embarrassed for liking it. You think to yourself "I shouldn't be laughing at it". It's a surprise that no one has come up with it before.
Comedy, probably more so than fiction, is something that is more susceptible to suffering from personal taste. There are authors that you don't like, but you can see the merit in their work. But when it comes to comedy you either like them or you hate them. Would this rub off on the comedians writing? Would my personal taste, and my personal dislike for one of the comics in this book sway my judgement of the overall quality and appeal of the book?
Anthologies are a funny beast, not all of the stories will appeal to everyone, we all have different tastes and different feelings as to what makes for a good story. With this in mind it is important that the editor of an anthology knows his stuff. Especially when, such as is the case with this book, not all of the writers are seasoned authors. I would imagine that writing a short story is a world away from writing a stand up routine. It is clear that Johnny Mains and Robin Ince know this as there is a good ratio of seasoned writers in there. People like Charlie Higson, Reece Shearsmith and Matthew Holness stand in the line up like a rallying call.
Those of you going into Dead Funny expecting a laugh a minute are going to be severly disappointed, this is not a funny book. What it is, is a rather sick and twisted affair, especially thanks to the tale from Shearsmith, (which I'll talk about more later on), mixed in with some rather fine tales of weird and mystifying encounters. Don't worry though there is some dark twisted humour here just not the sort of jokes you'll be telling your mates down at the pub. There are vampires, mutant spiders, mysterious twins, and dead dogs a plenty.
It has to be said that Dead Funny is roaring success there are some genuine classic stories here, two of which really deserve to be on any best of year list. There a lot of great stories,a couple of decent stories, and only two stories which for me really didn't work.
Here are my personal favourites.
Dog by Reece Shearsmith has to tie for my favourite story in the anthology. It distills and captures Reece's magical gift of merging the tragedy, and horror, while slipping in a little twist of the blackest of sly humour. The story is about revenge, revenge for a brother who has been blinded by the parasite found in dog excrement. The boy and his brother go on a sick and twisted killing spree in the local park. Where this story excels is in how Shearsmith manages to keep the reader on the side of the brothers, despite the disgusting and horrifying deeds that they do. This is not a story that dog lovers, or indeed people who like sweet old ladies should really read, it will chill you to the core. I also liked how Shearsmith incorporated a time honoured ending without ever signalling it.
A View From A Hill: A Christmas Ghost Story by Stewart Lee, is the other story that ties for my personal favourite in the book. It is at the other side of the horror spectrum to that of Dog, more akin to a weird tale or a Christmas ghost story from M.R. James. Starting of with an excerpt from a police charge street, A View from A Hill takes the reader on a fantastic Christmas story, which sees our protagonist, one Stewart Lee give us an account on his life and the lead up to the events which see him in police custody. This is an acerbic story, full of wonderful Stewart Lee type rants, where he takes on, among others, the creator of the
and Paddy Power. His accounts of having to create a top twelve most hated list and another magazine article are heartachingly poignant and laugh out loud. The story almost becomes a battle cry for everything that is shit about the commercialisation of this once great country. Flitting in and out of the story like a mysterious revenant is the dapper Julien, a sort of Wooster to Lee's working class Jeeves.
A View From A Hill, is like a militant ghost story, weird and mysterious but with a leftie hook that will leave you rolling around the floor with tears of laughter.
Sara Pascoe's A Spider Remember is a one of those stories that literally gets under your skin. Starting of as rather sad and heartfelt look into the break down of a relationship, it slowly turns into a tale of paranoia, before turning into one of pure terror. The strength of this story lies in how Pascoe manages to shift the tone and theme of the story so well in confines of its rather short length. This is a cold story there is no love felt for the narrator, in much the same as she no longer loves her boyfriend. And when the story takes a left turn into terror, the reader is left scratching their skin and searching for floaters in their eyes.
Possum by Matthew Holness is a strange story, it is one of those stories where I'm not 100% certain as to who or what just happened, which is either a fault on my end or the fault of Matthew I just don't know. Despite having an ending that I didn't fully get, Possum is a triumph of atmosphere. This is a creepy story, whose protagonist is clearly psychologically damaged, obsessed with his possum puppet created from a real dead possum and the Frankenstein remains of other creatures, this is one disturbing image. There is a real sense of foreboding dread and terror with in this story. The story itself sails very close to style over substance, but I think that the man behind the greatest horror writer ever just manages to pull it off to deliver what is the most atmospheric story in the anthology.
Robin Ince's Most Out Of Character is an altogether more whimsical affair despite it's themes of cannibalism, loss of identity and spiral of humanity into a world of sex and violence. I hear you asking how can this be whimsical, well it all stems from Ince's wonderful lightness of touch, and a wicked sense of humour.
"after all, he was a vegetarian,