Ginger Nuts of Horror
There are certain books out there that are so immersive that they transcend the printed medium. Their narrative if so tight that the act of reading them makes you forget that this is a book you are reading. Drawn into it's plots and protagonists the book transform from a written story into a full blown assault on the senses. You begin to see the action unfolding in your minds eye, the sounds and smells of the story's landscape fill your head and add extra depth to the brilliant narrative. Gary McMahon's Reaping The Dark is one such novella. Combining gritty crime, tense siege, and chilling supernatural narratives into one lean mean beast McMahon shapes this novella into something special.
The ominous prologue introduces us to the dark and dangerous world of black magic, hinting at what to come,a Revenant has been called into to world. Tasked with a job this dark beast will not stop until it has completed its task.
Cut to the story's hero, Clarke, a getaway driver for hire, a man who likes to think he is in complete control. Brought up as an orphan Clarke is a man with very few ties.
"Never buy anything you can't afford to leave behind"
That's his motto, and that goes for everything, friends and family included. Those that work with him only know him as Driver Z. Only his partner Martha, and his confident / gobetween Oakes really know who he is. So when a drug deal on which he has been hired goes South, Clarke only has these two people to turn to. Pursued by gun toting crime boss and a creature from the abyss Clarke must fight for his very existence.
Remember those golden years of cinema when cool ruled? When Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen ruled the silver screen. Well Reaping The Dark captures that essence of cool beautifully. Clarke has the same ice cold coolness about him that made Dirty Harry and Bullitt so great. The narrative is so lean and perfectly honed it races along like a classic Dodge Charger. No word or phrase is wasted as McMahon steers the narrative to its ice cold finale.
In many ways the books reminds of Kill List. Both of them have lean, tense and shocking plots, and both of them succeed in that nigh impossible task of merging reality and the unreal. A lot of the time when books like this try to mix reality with the supernatural it feels forced, almost tacked on. Reaping The Dark, feels real, the two worlds combining effortlessly to create a narrative that just feels natural. Clarke's plight at rescuing Martha from the calm yet psychotic McKenzie, plays out perfectly alongside the Revenant and his shadowy masters the Order of The Dark Veil. And as for the ending, WOW!.
Reaping the Dark is one of the best novellas I have read in a long time. McMahon has always been one of my favourite authors, but with this book he cemented his reputation as a master of the genre.
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Short stories, I just can't seem to escape from them these days. Hot on the heels of yesterdays review comes this one for Nicholas Vince's Other Peoples Darkness. Which is kind of fitting as I read both books at the same time, that's the curse of getting two books that are so good at the same time. You give each book a quick five minutes to get a feel for it then suddenly find yourself hooked on each one.
Other People's Darkness is one of those books that surreptitiously gets its hooks into your brain and refuse to let go until you turn the final page......
Short stories are the bane of my life. I love them as an art form, but from the point of view of writing reviews they are a real pain. More so with single author collections, the main reason for this is that most authors have a particular style and voice and when faced with writing a review of thirteen stories all from the same author, I generally shiver at the thought of finding ways to convey my thoughts on the individual stories. So it's a pleasant surprise to find an author who sounds as though he has a number of different voices in head, all screaming to have their words put down in story form...
When describing anything as "BEST" you had better be pretty sure of your conviction. One man's best is another man's mediocre. So if you are going to start a new anthology entitled Best British Horror, you had better be sure your editor knows what he is doing.
Salt Publishing has put their faith in Johnny Mains, who is regarded by many, including myself, as one of the curators of horror. An accomplished writer himself, Johnny has an encyclopedic knowledge of horror and a vast wealth experience within the genre.
So has Johnny and Salt created an anthology worthy of this title?
In this age of multi part epic fiction series, it is so refreshing to have an epic, apocalyptic series that manages to be expansive, satisfying, thrilling and filled with exemplary thoughts on the environment wrap up a story in only two parts. Initially intended as a single volume, it quickly became clear that Joseph D'lacey's magnum opus was to large for a single volume, so he took the brave step and released it as a duology.
D'lacey's writing has always been intelligent, daring to use the medium of horror and fantasy as sounding board for his thoughts and beliefs on such topics as vegetarianism, and the environment.
To so of you this might sound as though his books are dry preachy novels that sacrifice entertainment for education. This couldn't be further from the truth, D'lacey is one of the finest genre writers working today, a master craftsman of storytelling, D'lacey's novels are like this novel a duality of entertainment and thought provoking narratives.
Just when you thought that a certain genre should be dead and buried, along comes an a writer who brings a unique, clever and downright interesting twist to one of the most overused of horror sub genres.
Richard Wright is one of these writers. His latest horror novel The Flesh Market was a revelation, a game changing novel that if stripped of its horror themes would still be a fascinating read. That's not to say that the horror themes feel tagged on, no they are an integral part of the narrative. Serving to add a growing sense on uneasiness, mounting tension, and a dark, dark, sense of foreboding terror.
Richard Wright, has created a masterful slow burner of a horror novel. As the story unfolds there is an almost tangible propagation of terror. Wright keeps a tight reign on this to a point where the reader is kept on tenterhooks for the whole length of this story.
Based around the almost mythical actions of Scotland's greatest pair of anti heroes Burke and Hare, The Flesh Market does the unthinkable and breathes new life into their mythology and the zombie genre in one masterpiece of writing.
One of the main strengths of this novel is Wright's brilliant characters, from Burke and Hare who are painted as real gritty, nasty pieces of work, devoid of any redeeming factors. These aren't the lovable rouges that popular culture has sadly turned them into. These are sort of men who would slit your throat for the loose change in your pocket. To the wonderfully arrogant, Robert Knox, whose quest to understand the source of the Cadaver Riots, makes him feel as though he is not only above the law of the land, but above judgement from God himself. Wright's portrayal of Knox is pitch perfect, an intense driven man, blind and impervious to anything except his own desires, imagine Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein, and you would be on the right tracks.
As mentioned this is a zombie novel, however unlike the majority of zombie novels, the zombies really don't feature heavily in the narrative, Rather than having them as an undead army laying waste to Auld Reekie, Wright uses them sparingly, but effectively to ramp up the tension, they are always in background, threatening to break out and shamble rampant through the story. with you the reader kept wondering right up to the finale as to whether or not the apocalypse will come.
Another strength of this novel is it's setting and Wrights treatment of the Scott's. There are far too many books out there that get the whole Scottish thing just totally wrong. We as a nation don't all speak like we have just walked out of Brigadoon. Wright has imbued his characters with just the right amount of dialect quirks and phrases to make the book feel as though it is set in Edinburgh without ever straying over into comic effect.
The Flesh Market is a fantastic novel, even if like me you are tired of zombies, you need to read this book. It is probably the best non zombie, zombie novel out there.
"Doon the wynds an' up the streets, Where revenants sought souls tae eat,
The Butcher called for twitching meat
An' Burke an' Hare did answer." -anon.
1827. A year after the Cadaver Riots tore the heart from Edinburgh. Fear still chokes the Old Town, for though the revenants were driven back with shot and steel, they still lurk in the city's shadowed closes. When night falls, they strike.
In dissecting rooms anatomists slice twitching flesh as they dream of cures and glory. For the greatest among them, Robert Knox, there is no price that cannot be met in the quest for knowledge. Behind closed doors he trades in walking death, dealing with devils to keep the flesh market supplied...
Set between the slums of 19th Century Edinburgh and the ivory towers of its academia, The Flesh Market is an almost true story of murder, mad science, obsession, and the restless dead.
RICHARD WRIGHT has been writing strange, dark fictions for over a decade. Currently living with his wife and daughter in New Delhi, India, his stories have been widely published in the United Kingdom and USA. Most recently, his tales have been found in magazines and anthologies including Storyteller - A Found Book, Dark Faith: Invocations, and More Tales Of The City. He is the author of the novels Cuckoo, Thy Fearful Symmetry, and Craven Place, and of the novella Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow. His new novel The Flesh Market was released in February 2014.
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I seem to spend most of my time repeating myself, whether at work or at home with the kids my life feels a lot like ground hog day. "Put your washing away, take your shoes off". At times it feels life my life is on repeat.
And yet there are some things that make this Ground Hog Day life seem worthwhile. Black Static Magazine is one of these things. Every time this fantastic journal drops through the letterbox I do a little dance of joy. In the few years of collecting this journal I have never once been disappointed in the quality of its production and or more importantly the quality of the fiction, commentary columns and reviews all held within its fine pages. During this period far lesser, but more well now publications have all succumbed to mediocrity, and dumbing down all in the vain attempt to gain readers via the lowest common denominator. Not Black Static, they have consistently maintained the high ground. Not afraid to stick to their guns and produced an intelligent and thought provoking product.
Horror has a history, one that we the writers, and fans should be aware of. To ignore it would not only be a disservice to those who have gone before us, it would also be a disservice to us. To fully understand the genre today, we have to know from whence it came. Some of these points in horror history are low points, and some of them are cultural high points, points that should be fixed in time and in our minds. The Christmas Ghost Stories of Lawrence Gordon Clark is one of these high points.
There was a time when horror and in particular supernatural drama had a place on prime time television. Those of us of a certain age will remember with great fondness when the Hammer Horror films were shown regularly on the BBC, and those of you who are slightly older will remember that golden time when Christmas meant that the chills came not just from the winter weather but from the television screen as well. Between 1971-1978, the BBC presented a yearly program of short horror films entitled A Ghost Story for Christmas a mix of original dramas and ones based on classic ghost stories these films quickly became a firm favourite with the viewers. Out of all of these adaptations it was perhaps those based on the stories of M.R. James were perhaps the best loved, and it is these stories that are the basis for this magnificent book.
One of the worst things about running a horror website, is the fact that you tend to get caught up in it far too much. To the point where you forget to write reviews for books that haven't been sent in for review. So when i realised that I hadn't posted a review for Gary McMahon's Beyond Here Lies Nothing is was both shocked and a little bit embarrassed. The two previous instalments of this loose linked trilogy were some the best horror novels I had read in a long time, dark, gritty tales of pure urban terror. The Concrete Grove trilogy was shaping up to be one of horror's must read trilogies.
When it comes to horror fiction, there is an argument that in recent years it has lost its heat, and its sense of fun. To some extent this is probably true, many authors are turning their back on what made horror great, determined to write the next great literary masterpiece. Which is fair enough, but it makes people like Willie Meikle that more special. You see Willie remembers the good old days, and understands what makes for a good fun story, the sort of cracking boys own adventure story that can mix rip roaring excitement with a cheeky smile. Samurai and Other Stories collects some of Willie's short stories from throughout the years. In this anthology we high drama, mysterious all consuming blobs, handsome rugged Scotsman, some of which are named Jim McLeod, (surely the most handsome of all Scottish men, Lovecraftan monsters, and some viscous Witch Queens.
One of the things that I love the most about Willie's writing is the fact that he is not afraid to wear his influences with pride. Many of these wonderful stories have a heritage that is pure Pulp. They are born in a time when Pulp wasn't felt to be a four letter word. And for that Mr Meikle I thank you.
Kicking of the collection is a cracking story of shipwrecked sailors, hidden treasure and an unstoppable guardian. Samurai sets the tone perfectly for this collection, a high octane adventure story that sees the uncouth world of British sailors clash violently with the duty and honour bound world of the Samurai. I particularly enjoyed how Meikle counterpointed the clashing of swords upon swords with the silent almost robotic nature of the temples guardian
Other favourites of mine include the thrilling The Toughest Mile. Where Meikle riffs on Gemmell and Leiber to provide a heart pounding chase story, with a world weary protagonist who just wants to go for a pint. A fantasy version of The Running Man, the Toughest Mile, has as much heart as it does momentum.
Inquisitor is a chilling tale hat sees the worlds of The Old Ones clash with The Spanish Inquisition. Lets just say nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition to end that way. (please note no comfy cushions were harmed in the making of this story)
The Haunting of Esther Cox, is classic tale of poltergeists, possession and things that go bump in the night. Meikle does a sterling job in giving a believable voice to the story via the diary entries of Esther.
Which brings us to what is my favourite story of the collection, Home is The Sailor. Lets be clear it's not because one of the characters in this story is named after me, I've lost count of the number of times I've been killed off by Willie in a story. No what makes this story special is the long awaited return of Scotland's greatest PI Derek Adams. Adam's is a genuinely brilliant creation, imagine Columbo with an added twist Galswegean sass and a dash of whiskey soaked world weariness. Home is The Sailor sees our intrepid investigator head down to Largs to an hotel where mysterious things are happing to the guests thanks to an ancient African totem. What follows is a gripping story full of charm,and sly line in humour.
Samurai and other stories is a perfect introduction to the worlds and imagination of William Meikle. These are the sort of stories that show just how important a sense of fun and adventure is to storytelling. There is a great heritage in this collection, one that deserves to be kept alive. Meikle is pulptastic.
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