Monday, 14 December 2015

2015 Review


Is it that time already? Apparently so. Who’d have thought that twelve months could have passed so quickly? Anyway, here it is again, my annual round-up of the horror fiction that has passed before my eyes during 2015 along with the announcement of the Dark Muses, the much-coveted (in at least one million of the parallel universes that Quantum Physics assures us truly exist) awards for excellence. The awards will go to the novel, novella, single author collection, anthology and single story which have impressed me the most. The design for the award is by 77studios, who did a great job on the cover for the first in the line of novellas that Dark Minds Press are publishing – Slaughter Beach by  Benedict J Jones.

 

It’s been quite a year for the small press Ross Warren and myself set up between us, after a hiatus of three years, we managed to publish three books in 2015, the aforementioned novella, our third anthology Darkest Minds and a collection from Frank Duffy – Hungry Celluloid. It’s been a great experience, working with the authors (and artists – much kudos to the incredibly talented Neil Williams and 77studios as well as Mark West) on the books and, hopefully, producing something they’re proud of too.

All three books would of course feature prominently in the nominations for the Dark Muses but some self-imposed conflict of interest type scenario must unfortunately come into play thereby disqualifying them from consideration. My own personal bias aside however, the quality of the craftsmanship of all the authors involved deserves to be recognised and the best way to do that is to click on the images at the side here and purchase a copy. Go on, do it. Seriously, you won’t regret it.

So, with the irritating ad-break over (at least it didn’t crash your whole system like the bloody ones on 4od do) it’s time to launch into the awards proper:

(All the awards are based purely on what “did it” for me this year and as such are purely subjective. Much as I would like to, I can’t possibly read everything that’s published (despite what my wife thinks) so, of course, there’s a high likelihood that the best piece of horror writing ever simply failed to pass in front of my eyes and as such has failed to get a mention. So (again) having thus removed any vestige of kudos associated with them, the Dark Muses for 2015 go to):
 


 

Best Novel.

Okay, let’s begin with the bad news. The Scarlet Gospels was awful. The feeling of disappointment I felt as I skim-read the last few chapters of this long-awaited new novel from Clive Barker is beyond description, by me and possibly by Barker himself given the evidence presented here. It all started so well – the prologue is classic Barker and, having finished it, I settled in for a thrilling journey to the dark side, anticipating the intense horror and vivid imagination that had played such a big part in my formative years – I, like so many others, list The Books of Blood as among the best horror fiction I’ve ever read. I think The Scarlet Gospels would have been a bad book no matter who had written it but the fact that it was Clive Barker who created it just makes it all the worse. Harry’s Harrowers are possibly the most annoying characters ever created. Doing little more than follow Pinhead on his rampage through Hell, they seem solely to exist to facilitate a tacked-on set-piece towards the end of the book with a hideously stereotypical fundamentalist preacher. So many times I wanted Pinhead to halt his mission so that he could turn on them instead… And, much as it may sound like it, this isn’t bigotry informing my views here. The issues Barker is addressing (I assume) deserve so much better than this.

A much more satisfying vision of Hell came courtesy of Simon Kurt Unsworth’s The Devil’s Detective. Here was a book full of the imagination and imagery so sadly lacking in The Scarlet Gospels. Even without the comparison, The Devil’s Detective is a marvellous book containing great characters, an intriguing plot and imagery which has stayed with me long after I finished the last page.

Mankind fared badly in a number of novels this year, facing threats both from the natural world and of its own making. Tim Lebbon provided a tense and thrilling monster apocalypse in The Silence whilst global warming provided the basis for Adam Nevill’s end of the world scenario in the simply stunning Lost Girl. A threat to civilisation provided a tangential backdrop to Sarah Pinborough's The Death House but the resulting narrative was small scale and deeply moving while Rich Hawkins built upon the impressive groundwork of his zombie/Lovecraftian apocalypse of The Last Plague with the second book in the planned trilogy, The Last Outpost. This was an outstanding book, smaller in scale than its predecessor but all the better for that, an elegiac, thoughtful book - contemplative and profound and yet still scary as hell. Another post-apocalyptic series of books was initiated by Simon Bestwick this year with the first of the Black Road series manifesting in Hell’s Ditch – this time nuclear war providing the starting point for the new civilisation.

Another mid-trilogy novel was provided by Mark Morris with The Society of Blood, the follow up to The Wolves of London and part of the Obsidian Heart trilogy. Much as I enjoyed it, I felt it suffered from trying a little too hard to be complicated with its jumps in time and constant uncertainty about whether characters were really who they were or actually a shape-shifter – these questions constantly reiterated in the first person narration. I’m sticking with the trilogy though as the concept and imagination on display are things I appreciate greatly – hopefully The Wraiths of War will provide some clarity and resolution to the saga.

David Mitchell provided another dose of literary horror with Slade House – a short read, set in the same world as last year’s The Bone Clocks, this was a series of interlinked ghost stories told, characteristically, from different narrative voices.

My choice for my favourite novel of the year was a difficult one but after much contemplation the short list was whittled down to two. Runner-up position goes to Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts. I loved this book for the way it was constructed – and the way it deconstructed. Ostensibly a story about demonic possession, it very cleverly plays with the conventions of that sub-genre to produce a thought-provoking, intelligent – and most importantly, really scary – piece of metafiction.

My favourite novel of this year however – and therefore the winner of the Dark Muse award for Best Novel 2015 – is Ghosters by Ralph Robert Moore. Taking the format of ten stories liked by shared characters and an overarching storyline, Ghosters is a work of genius. The author’s imagination shines out from every page and he’s created a wonderful set of characters to populate the alternate reality he’s built around them. Scary and profound, disturbing but at the same time darkly funny I enjoyed the experience of reading Ghosters immensely. I may never look at oregano in quite the same way again but I sincerely hope this isn’t the last we see of the titular protagonists.

 

Best Novella

The general consensus appears to be that the novella is the perfect length for a horror story. This view, of course, has no factual evidence to support it nor is it based on any extensive research. Also, it has nothing to do with the fact that I’ll be having one of my own published next year. Nothing at all. No Siree. Certainly, this year delivered a rich crop of novellas of such high quality that the decision as to which I regarded as the “best” was an extremely difficult one.

The first review I did in 2015 was for a novella – Leytonstone by Stephen Volk. This tale of the young Alfred Hitchcock proved equally as impressive as Stephen’s previous novella in the Dark Masters series Whitstable, showcasing the author’s innovation and craftsmanship to great effect.

Rich Hawkins provided a smaller scale end of the world scenario than his Last… novels with the stars becoming right over a small town in the west Country with his hugely entertaining Black Star, Black Sun whilst remote locations were used to equally potent effect in Willie Meikle’s Tormentor – the location in this instance the Isle of Skye, lending itself to some proper creepy goings-on.

I really liked Andrew David Barker’s debut novel The Electric so was looking forward to reading his follow-up novella Dead Leaves. Whilst I enjoyed it, I was left a little disappointed, feeling the story lacked originality (especially in the “love” story) and relied a little bit too much on name-dropping songs and films to create a sense of nostalgia.

Cate Gardner showcased her distinctive, quirky style of writing with The Bureau of Them, a high-concept story packing an emotional punch where ghosts mingle with the living in a moving story of loss, love and longing.

Pendragon Press provided a special treat for novella-lovers with The Lost Film – two for the price of one with a story each from Stephen Bacon and Mark West. I loved them both and think it’s one of the best things Mark in particular has written. His protagonists are often decent, honest and downright nice people so it was nice to see him have a “hero” who wasn’t quite as pure – and the concept underlying the story was brilliant.

And so to the winner… As with the novels I’ll announce the runner-up and then the champion. Second place goes to Albion Fay - a beautifully written story from Mark Morris which combines all-too-human horror with nicely ambiguous supernatural elements seamlessly to create a deeply moving, affecting piece of writing.

The actual winner of the Dark Muse for best novella is a different kettle of fish altogether. Which is not to imply that it’s not beautifully written – it is. And very clever too, providing some nice insights into the human condition at the same time as hurling an alien invasion at them and killing them in fiendishly outlandish ways. Just for the sheer bravura of it, and the feeling of being well and truly entertained by the whole thing when I finished it, The Last Bus by Paul Feeney gets my vote.

Best Multi-Author Collection

Aickman’s Heirs, published by Undertow Publications and edited by Simon Srantzas brought together fifteen brilliant stories inspired and influenced by the writing of Robert Aickman. An easy option would have been to have gone with pastiches and that probably would have been an entertaining enough book to read but that isn’t the case with Aickman’s Heirs – his ghost may not haunt the pages within but his spirit is certainly there.

Game Over was a collection of stories which used video gaming as its inspiration. Being as old as I am, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a high proportion of the stories used older generation games as their influence, providing a bit of a nostalgia-rush for me. All the stories were of a high standard but I have to say that Simon Bestwick’s take on Frogger – The Face of the Deep - was a highlight, and quite one of the strangest stories I’ve read for some time.

Joe Mynhardt’s Crystal Lake Publishing gave us The Outsiders this year, a five author collection of interlinked stories on a Lovecraftian theme. All the stories are centred around the fictional gated community of Priory but there were many more connections between the individual stories, with shared characters and events. I’m guessing quite a lot of work and planning was involved to achieve this but it was definitely worth it. It was good to see the racism angle examined too – a bold move but again, one which paid off handsomely.

The 2nd Spectral Book of Horror Stories effortlessly maintained the high standard of Volume 1 and Mark Morris has done a sterling job of whittling down the massive response to the open submission to the final line-up.

The anthology I enjoyed the most this year however is the first in what I hope will be a long series. It was a dark day when Michael Kelly announced that there would be no more Shadows & Tall Trees – a publication which had always guaranteed the highest quality, literary weird fiction and horror. Step in CM Muller, who – with the publication of Nightscript 1 – has filled the void left by the departure of S&TT, producing a lovingly crafted collection of “strange and darksome tales”. I loved all the stories in here, all were of the highest quality and all were, indeed, darksome – creating images that still lurk in the dark recesses of my imagination. The 2015 Dark Muse for a multi-author collection therefre goes to Nightscript 1.

 

Best Single Author Collection

A couple of the single author collections I read this year were actually published in 2014 so, purely because of my negligence, they fail to qualify for inclusion in the Dark Muse awards. I’m certain both authors will be utterly devastated by this news so by way of some recompense I offer up honourable mentions for Simon Kurt Unsworth’s Strange Gateways and Scott Nicolay’s Ana Kai Tangata. Both were packed with imagination and originality but the latter in particular was a revelation, here is an author genuinely doing something different and producing amazing work. I look forward with great anticipation to whatever he comes up with next.

I’ve long been a fan of Ray Cluley’s work so it was great to see his first collection, Probably Monsters, come out this year. Being a fan (though not in any creepy, stalking kind of way. Yet.) meant that I’d read many of the stories already but there was much joy to be had in revisiting them and the ones I hadn’t read confirmed that he’s one of the best, and cleverest writers out there at the moment.

Sing Me Your Scars was a collection of deeply emotional and moving stories from Damien Angelica Walters. A potent blend of original ideas and re-workings of established mythologies the writing here is of the highest order, poetic and elegiac and proof that the most effective horror is that which is hidden inside beauty.

The Swan River Press published The Anniversary of Never, a posthumous collection from Joel Lane. It’s a beautifully produced book and an excellent collection of stories which serve both as a fitting tribute to Joel and also a reminder of just how much he will be missed.

This year’s Dark Muse for a single author collection goes to one of my “discoveries” of the year. I’m frequently late to the game, stumbling upon authors who have been grafting away for years but often, and certainly in this case, it’s worth the wait. The collection of stories which had the biggest impact on me in 2015 is Ted Grau’s The Nameless Dark. There are fourteen stories in the book, with the majority using Lovecraftian tropes and themes as their inspiration but it’s the variety of styles and narrative voices that author uses to tell his tales that most impressed me. It’s an excellent collection.

 

Best Single Story

Black Static continued to provide some of the best horror writing of the year in the six editions published in 2015. Whilst some failed to hit my own personal mark (another stream of consciousness from some bloke down the pub? Really?) I always regard that as a plus, it would be a tedious and bland world where I liked everything. Highlights this year were Laura Mauro’s The Grey Men, Stephen Bacon’s Bandersnatch and Ralph Robert Moore’s Dirt Land – an incredibly dark piece of writing that leaves you feeling absolutely desolate when you finish it. (This is a good thing). Another of Rob’s Black Static stories, Men Wearing Makeup provide the best last line of a story I’ve read for quite some time with second prize in that category going to Andrew Hook’s Blood For Your Mother.

Ray Cluley’s Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow provided an excellent post-Christmas read. More trademark wordplay, metaphor and allusion conjuring up a winter’s tale with as much psychological drama as Shakespeare’s play but without the happy ending. It's a Siriusly good piece of writing.

The 2nd Spectral Book of Horror Stories contained a number of stories which could vie for the best of year slot, Paul Meloy's Joe is a Barber and Robert Shearman's Lump in Your Throat were stand-outs but my personal favourite was Stephen Volk’s Wrong which I read as a deeply touching love story.

Gary McMahon showed a lot of soul in his beautifully crafted (in all aspects) chapbook There's a Bluebird in my Heart whilst in Nightscript 1 David Surface showed us that The Sound that the World Makes is a deeply unsettling one.

However, the single story which had the biggest effect on me in 2015 – and thereby the winner of the Dark Muse – came by way of the This is Horror chapbook series. Nathan Ballingrud’s The Visible Filth is unsettling, disturbing and speaks to the darkness that is within us all. It’s an incredibly powerful piece of writing that fills your mind with images you’ll never really get rid of.

 
So that’s it. Another year, another review. Who knows what lies in store for 2016, but if it produces horror writing of the same quality as this year it won’t be half bad.

Merry Christmas – and a happy 2016.

 

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Hell's Ditch: Blog Hop - War Without End.

I was honoured to be asked to review Simon Bestwick's new novel, Hell's Ditch (you can read the review below this post) and equally as honoured to be asked to participate in his blog tour promoting the book.
So here is the latest instalment, a thoughtful essay on a different kind of fall-out, and a salutary reminder that the consequences of military intervention last far beyond the end of hostilities...




War Without End


When I was working on my new novel Hell’s Ditch, set in the aftermath of a nuclear attack, I watched Peter Watkins’ ‘after the bomb’ film The War Game. It touched on an aspect of post-apocalyptic fiction that often gets overlooked: the psychological.

Along with the physical casualties of nuclear attack in the film – victims of blast, heat-flash or firestorm, and those suffering lingering deaths from body burns, radiation poisoning, malnutrition and previously treatable disease, Watkins also depicts thousands of survivors suffering ‘complex states of shock’ following their experiences – PTSD, as we’d call it now.

For most of them, of course, the help they’d need would be sparse to non-existent. Similar figures – ‘Spacers’ – appear in Robert Swindells’ 1985 novel Brother In The Land. The country will be filled with the emotionally damaged and shattered, while the children growing up in the aftermath are potentially feral or psychopathic.

There are those who deride PTSD as a wholly modern phenomenon, the product of namby-pamby liberal minds: “Trauma?” one former WWII soldier once said to me? “We didn’t have any of that – we just came home and got on with things.” But coming home and getting on with things doesn’t mean those problems don’t exist; they may be better hidden, may resolve themselves differently, but they’re still there.

Throw that into the mix, and then you also have to take into account a whole new way of life, one that’s a desperate, non-stop struggle for survival. There aren’t any supermarkets any more: food is in short supply. If you want to eat, you grow it, forage it, catch and kill it, or you receive it as a reward for work. Those are the grim realities of a society whose infrastructure has been shattered.

Everyone is, in one way or another, mad; the lucky ones have simply found a brand of neurosis or psychosis that can make a world like this bearable.

In a country like America or Australia, with huge expanses of comparatively unspoilt wilderness, it would be possible to escape the war and its after-effects – not just the ruins, wreckage and corpses, but the awareness that they exist – and start over. Before you can even begin healing from a trauma, getting yourself out of that situation is essential. But in a small country like Britain, where could you go? Nowhere would be untouched: wherever you fled, the ruins would be there. Existing wildernesses would be contaminated; new wildernesses formed out of the rubble and ashes. Wherever you looked would be the ruins of homes like the ones you’d lived in, or dreamed of living in, of shops from which you’d once bought the means of survival or acquired consumer goods you didn’t need with money you didn’t have.

Everywhere you looked, you’d be reminded of the people and the way of life you’d lost. You’d be in a state of permanent trauma, and permanently surrounded by triggers. Small wonder, then, that in the world of Hell’s Ditch people see ghosts: in fact, almost everyone does. They take it for granted; they live with it, and call it ‘ghostlighting’. Wherever you look, it brings the past alive; memories awake, and come to prey on you.

Even with the best will in the world, many who’ve managed to survive horrendous experiences – the refugees fleeing Syria now, or survivors of the recent massacre in Paris – will have memories that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Hell’s Ditch takes that to its logical conclusion: everyone in this world is fighting a war without end.

You can buy Hell's Ditch here.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Hell's Ditch


Hell’s Ditch is the new novel from Simon Bestwick and is published by Snowbooks Ltd. It’s the first in a planned series of four books and is set in post-apocalyptic Britain. The apocalypse in this case has nothing to do with zombies but is instead a result of nuclear war (something that was certainly a concern during my youth and therefore strangely, if not disturbingly, nostalgic) which has eradicated most of the human population and laid waste to huge swathes of the country.

The dominant force in this new Britain is a military dictatorship which has naturally led to the formation of a resistance and although both factions have their share of the narrative, it’s the latter who take precedence, with the narrative focussing mainly on the wonderfully named Helen Damnation, returned to the rebel fold after a closer than normal brush with death. There’s a hint of a resurrection theme to Helen’s story – or rather, backstory – which I’m guessing will be expanded upon in the follow up novels and which confers a messianic vibe to her.

As the first in a series, Hell’s Ditch has a lot of groundwork to do, introducing the new world but also a host of characters. There are plenty of them, operating in three different narrative strands but Simon does a great job of marshalling everything so that at no point do you feel lost, wondering what’s going on or who’s who.

Helen Damnation may be the main focus of the book but another of the characters is possibly the most memorable. He has a great name too – Gevaudan Shoal – which, if my suspicions are correct, nicely combines the two central themes of the book – nuclear warfare and err… wolves. (He could have been called Perigord Niblick but I think Simon chose the right combination). Much fun is to be had with many of the names in this book actually – the secret research programme which makes up one of the narrative strands is called Tindalos which will ring bells with students of Frank Belknap Long (and even Lovecraft) whilst the Styr – mutated creatures found deep underground – have a name which also provides a tenuous link to the consequences of radioactive fall-out.

Gevaudan is the last of the Grendelwolves (yes, I’m guessing – a reference to that Grendel) who becomes a powerful, lycanthropic ally to the rebels but also provides some of the more contemplative moments in the book. Death abounds here – much of it violent – but it’s Gevaudan’s own personal situation that provides some meditation on its true nature.

This is a book bursting with ideas. I particularly liked the idea of ghostlighting – the ability of characters to see the spirits of dead family - but all of them are good and bursting with imagination. The world Simon has created is entirely believable as are the characters who inhabit it. There’s even a little bit of politics – the naming of the military squads as Reapers seems too close to Drone terminology to be a coincidence and one character utters the immortal phrase “we’re all in this together” – and even a bit of ancient Celtic mythology thrown into the mix for good measure.

I loved the time I spent on the world of Hell’s Ditch and I look forward with much anticipation to the follow ups. It’s a book I recommend highly.

Monday, 9 November 2015

The Lost Film.


The Lost Film is a two novella collection published by Pendragon Press. The writers involved are Stephen Bacon and Mark West – both of whom are authors whose work I’ve very much enjoyed in the past so it was with some degree of anticipation that I began reading the book. That anticipation had been building for some time, I’d first heard mention of the collaboration a good few years back on a now defunct forum where it had piqued my interest. The idea had been used to impressive effect in other books I’d read, most notably Ancient Images by Ramsey Campbell and Rough Cut by Gary McMahon so  I was keen to see if these novellas carried forward that high standard. Reassuringly, they do – they’re not perfect but they are bloody good and provide a couple of cracking reads.

First up is Stephen’s Lantern Rock, the title coming from the name of the small island off the Cornish coast which is the home of reclusive film director Lionel Rutherford. Journalist Paul Madigan travels to the island (which comes complete with its own lighthouse) to interview the director, along the way meeting, and ultimately travelling to the island with, Ellie who – it turns out – has her own agenda and reasons for meeting up with Rutherford.

The setting is suitably gothic, and this ambience is maintained with descriptions of the house in which Rutherford dwells, a residence he shares with his butler/housekeeper Jonas – who has his own mysterious past… A storm hits whilst Madigan is on the island, stranding him and Ellie and allowing him the time to uncover the deadly secrets hidden in Rutherford’s film Experiments in Darkness.

Exposure to the film unleashes forces which have lain dormant on the island, most notably in the form of Theodore Zafan, a dark magician and leader of a cult and the terrifying tall creatures which stalk the rooms and corridors of the house. The story is a slow burner, gradually building up layers of intrigue and menace and culminating in a bloody, frenzied finale. This change in tone is handled wonderfully by Stephen and the final scenes are suitably reminiscent of some classic horror films.

The Lost Film is Mark’s novella, the longer of the two and telling the story of Gabriel Bird, a private investigator hired to unearth the whereabouts of Roger Sinclair, an exploitation film maker form the 1970s who has seemingly disappeared.

His disappearance coincided with the making of what Sinclair regarded as his magnum opus, Terrafly – a film so terrifying it had the power to drive those who viewed it mad. As Bird begins his investigation, clips from this lost film begin to appear on the internet…

Mark’s extensive knowledge – and love of – films is apparent all throughout this novella and his references to characters and films (both real and imaginary) add layers of verisimilitude to the story. Bird’s investigations bring him into contact with a host of beautifully realised characters and the plot twists and turns. The whole “just Google it” hurdle to any investigation story is leapt with room to spare and Gabriel has to do some proper legwork to uncover exactly what is going on.

What is going on is one of the best ideas I’ve read in quite some time. No spoilers obviously but the concept of the Monochromatics – characters seen in black and white in colour film – is a brilliant one, as is their explanation. There’s many a nod to Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel (and, of course, its film adaptation Angel Heart) but also to Wim Wenders’ classic Wings of Desire, the novella providing a very dark twist on the latter.

My only issue with the story is the introduction of a lost diary. Exposition’s always tricky and the device of the hidden journal is a handy get out of jail card but I felt in this instance it wasn’t necessary. Gabriel’s journey takes him to the place where all this explanation occurs anyway and I think having the expository dialogue that’s in the journal in a scene with Gabriel himself would have made an even more powerful ending to the story. Mark says in his notes at the end of the book that the idea grew from a single line - and it’s a great line. It’s just a shame that it’s hidden in the diary extract.

This criticism aside, I think this novella is one of the best things Mark has written. The two stories work extremely well alongside each other too – and the authors have cleverly cross-referenced each other very effectively. Unfortunately there’s a typo count that just edges into the “this is annoying” category but The Lost Film is a great example of genre writing, both stories are gripping, high-concept and scary – which is pretty much a perfect combination. It’s a book I highly recommend and you can buy it direct from the publisher.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Lost Girl


Lost Girl is the new novel from Adam Nevill and is published by Pan Macmillan. Since his debut novel, Banquet for the Damned, published in 2008 Adam has steadily built up a reputation as a writer of some of the most terrifying stories ever committed to paper. The imagery he creates on the pages of his books is as affecting as anything seen in a horror film but he manages to create the effect without the benefit of cinematic techniques, crashing chords and jump cuts – rather painting those images in the reader’s mind with elegant prose, planting them in the subconscious, conjuring up scenes that will haunt for years to come. There’s a scene in Adam’s Last Days that still genuinely creeps me out three years after reading it for the first time.

It takes real skill as a writer to properly scare a reader but Adam has it in abundance, no one is better at conjuring up the shadowy entities that scuttle in the darkness, that are barely glimpsed from the corner of an eye. Having recovered from last year’s tour de force of terror which was No One Gets Out Alive, it was with much anticipation that I awaited the publication of Adam’s next book, curious as to what horrors he would be inflicting on us this time around.

So here it is, Lost Girl, a novel which, it has to be said, marks somewhat of a change in direction for the author. The novel displays a shift from the overt horror of Adam’s previous novel towards more of a thriller – albeit one with a Sci-Fi vibe to it, set as it is in the future, a time when the impact of Global Warming is manifesting itself in the form of massive environmental breakdown with attendant mass migrations as people flee those countries where temperatures are too high to sustain life. Throw in an outbreak of a deadly virus and what you have is a truly apocalyptic vision – one which is perfectly, and plausibly, realised.

A disappointment then? No dark terrors to haunt the psyche?

Absolutely not. This is an outstanding novel and one which confirms Adam Nevill as a great writer, not “just” a great writer of horror fiction. It’s been his writing style, as much as the horrors on display that have made his books such a joy to read. There’s a slight change noticeable in Lost Girl though, perhaps a more “literary” feel to the writing. It’s distinctive prose, evocative and poetic, take for example these descriptions:

Robert rose up from white bed sheets: a scrawny upper body in the bundling of pyjamas, the turkey neck thrusting, salt-whiskered chin jutting, his eyes slit mean.

And later:

… had been born partially stricken by so many solvents of the heart, which would readily burst into flame and char the imagined future times when all could be normal, or manageable.

There’s beauty in the words and their phrasing. Not so much in what they describe however…

The plot revolves around the abduction of a child and the father’s attempts to track down and rescue her – describing the lengths he goes to in order to achieve those aims, charting the breakdown of his character, mirroring as it does the breakdown of society all around him. Some very dark things happen in this book – and most of them are done by the father, the “hero” of the story. He is never named, is referred to throughout simply as “the father”. Whereas at first this may seem a distancing technique it actually works extremely well. By not giving his name, the character is defined by what he is rather than who and by dint the whole notion of what it means to be a father is put under the microscope. How far would a father go to save his child is the question posed here and it’s a though-provoking but at the same time disturbing  read that results – the reader wants the father to succeed but at the same time will be horrified by what he does to achieve that success.

The societal breakdown in which he finds himself means that there is little or no support from the police and so it’s under his own steam that the father journeys through the dark underbelly of human existence to find his daughter (albeit with some help from anonymous contacts who provide some guidance via telephone).

The horror element in Lost Girl is far less overt than in Adam’s previous novels but it is there in the shape of King Death, a gang with connections to The Church of Last Days, introduced slowly and subtly with graffitied images and paintings in cellars but growing to full fruition in a marvellous chapter describing the father’s journey through a chapel and in which an important character is introduced. It's a wonderful piece of writing, terrifying in its imagery and the narrative twists it provides.

Lost Girl is an outstanding novel, a gripping, terrifying read from an author who never fails to deliver. It’s a book that ably demonstrates that the horrors that arise from human nature itself are just as terrifying as those of a supernatural nature. It’s a novel I highly recommend.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Nightscript 1.

It was a blow, last year, to the world of weird fiction when Michael Kelly announced that Shadows & Tall Trees Volume 6 was to be the last in the series. The journal had, since its inception, been a source of fine writing - containing literary tales of strange, unsettling fiction of the highest quality. However, one of the authors featured in that final volume (and whose story Vrangr was one of its highlights) has come to the rescue of connoisseurs of literary horror by producing his own volume of weird fiction, Nightscript 1 - a book containing twenty - yes twenty - beautifully written stories which undoubtedly would have graced the pages of S&TT had it still been in existence.
The writing throughout is of the highest quality and C M has done a great job in selecting the stories to be included. A further link to S&TT comes with the inclusion of A Quiet Axe by Michael Kelly himself, the shortest story in the collection - more of a prose poem truth to tell - but which loses none of its impact as a result of the low word count. With so many stories included, it would be impossible to review all of them individually and do them justice, suffice to say that there isn't a poor one among them. The risk with having so many tales in one volume is that there will be "fillers" but that most assuredly is not the case with Nightscript 1, all of the stories contained within have earned their place, all are of (as previously alluded to) the highest quality.
The subject matter of the stories varies widely but none are anything less than truly weird. There's reincarnation and lycanthropy, restless spirits and things which creep in the shadows. My own personal highlights were Damien Angelica Walters' Tooth, Tongue and Claw which provides an alternative take on the Beauty and the Beast legend (and which serves as a companion piece to her marvellous collection Sing Me Your Scars) along with Ralph Robert Moore's Learning Not to Smile, a typically imaginative - and extremely strange - story which has much to say about medical (and dental) care in America and culminates in a truly jaw-dropping conclusion. Another favourite was David Surface's The Sound That the World Makes, a slow-burner of a tale that leads to an ending which still gives me shivers just thinking about it.
Nightscript 1 is a worthy heir to Shadows & Tall Trees - C M has taken the mantle and run with it, producing an excellent book containing some of the best writing you'll come across this year. It's a book I recommend highly that you should purchase - which you can do here.

Monday, 5 October 2015

The Last Outpost.


The Last Outpost is the new novel by Rich Hawkins and is the sequel to The Last Plague. Both books are published by Crowded Quarantine Publications.. I read The Last Plague having been introduced to Rich’s writing via his novella Black Star Black Sun and thoroughly enjoyed this particular take on the apocalypse, an end of the world scenario which merged Lovecraft and zombie tropes in spectacular fashion, producing a novel which has rightly been nominated for a British Fantasy award.

The first novel described the apocalypse itself, the moment when (possibly) the stars were right and the titular plague ravaged humanity, turning its victims into ravening hordes of monsters – the “infected” – human beings metamorphosed into horrifying shapes and forms with an insatiable blood-lust. Although focussing in on a small group of characters, the novel was epic in scale, full of marvellously executed set-pieces and horrifying imagery.

The Last Outpost takes up the story not long after the events of the first book are over and as such, is more concerned with the aftermath of the plague. Whilst the first book was an action-packed rollercoaster ride (© reviewer’s clich├ęs) this is a more sedate piece of writing, introspective even, almost a stream of consciousness from the character of Royce, a survivor of the plague, now wandering alone through the ravaged countryside.

There’s much existential angst going on here, with Royce having to come to terms with the new world he finds himself in as well as the death of his wife and daughter. This is bleak stuff but credit is due to Rich for taking this path and also for the quality of the writing on display here. In effect, it’s an extended soliloquy but one that’s full of real emotion, the writing spot-on, poetic in parts.

The bleakness conveyed in Royce’s inner monologue draws favourable comparison to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road conjuring up similar feelings of desolation and despair as that classic book and, like The Road, an encounter with other survivors provides a pivotal moment in the book. There’s a change in tone about halfway through The Last Outpost where a set-piece within a house provides one of the most intense passages of horror writing I’ve come across in a while.

The second half of the book provides more action and introduces more characters but the overarching feeling of despair is never lost, lurks constantly in the background. The title of the book comes from rumours of a settlement of survivors on the other side of the North Sea, the journey towards which provides the main narrative thrust of the story but it’s the characters who count here, Royce himself, George – an elderly man he meets on the way and Amy, pregnant and so fighting for the survival of her unborn child as well as her own.

It’s the journey that’s important though, not the destination and quite a journey it is too. Rich has created an entirely believable world here, one in which the horrors come from not only the infected, and the mighty Titans which swoop through the skies above but from the darkness that lies within all of us. The book does however end on a note of optimism, hope even – made even more profound by the events leading up to (and especially immediately before) it.

The second of a trilogy is always regarded as the darkest and that’s certainly the case here. Bleak and nihilistic but beautifully written The Last Outpost is a book I highly recommend and I look forward with great anticipation to whatever happens next…

Monday, 21 September 2015

A Head Full of Ghosts.


A Head Full of Ghosts is the new novel by Paul Tremblay. It’s the first time I’ve encountered his writing but on the basis of this novel it won’t be the last. Until Adam Nevill came along, the only book that really scared me was The Exorcist (to say nothing of the film which I’ve watched a grand total of one and a half times, giving up on my second attempt). I can hear the sniggering from younger readers at that statement who – if generalised impressions are to be believed – now regard the movie as a comedy with crap effects. They’re wrong. It’s a classic and anyone not terrified by it has something lacking in their psyche, or doesn’t have a soul.

Given my experience with this classic of demonic possession, (the lights actually flickered at one point when I was reading the book. True story) it was with a little trepidation that I approached this novel, especially after having seen online comments about it, and how scary it is given that it shares that subject matter with William Peter Blatty’s classic.

So, is it as scary as everyone says?

Oh yes.

The story concerns the Barretts, a New England family, whose eldest daughter Marjorie begins to display what are apparently signs of demonic possession. With the medical profession unable to provide any help, John – the girl’s increasingly desperate father, contacts the church, convincing them that an exorcism is required to save his daughter. The church agree but the story is further complicated by the family’s decision to have their story televised in a weekly “reality” TV show…

On the face of it then, nothing outstandingly original – just your average, run-of-the-mill young girl possessed by demon kind of thing.

Except no. This is an extremely cleverly constructed piece of writing which takes the central conceit and turns it into what I regard as one of the finest pieces of post-modern writing I’ve seen. Seriously, if anyone is teaching post-modernism as an art form then this book should be on the curriculum.

Fractured narrative? Check. Metafiction? Check. Deconstruction of tropes and themes? Check. Simulacra? Oh yes. The opening chapters of this book are deeply unsettling and scary, making full  use of the imagery and trademarks of every demonic possession book/film there have been. Familiar yes, but still scary. And it’s precisely this familiarity that the book plays on, cleverly lulling the reader into accepting them, enjoying them – getting scared by them – and then meticulously pulling them apart, casting doubts as to their veracity, persuading the reader that it’s all a hoax.

The book is written in first person, narrated by Merry, the younger daughter who is telling her story to a writer some fifteen years after the events. Cue unreliable narrator. The ambiguity about what actually happened is added to by the inclusion of blog extracts from “The Last Final Girl” who dissects every episode of the TV show (The Possession) pointing out where and how all the fakery was achieved… The identity of the blogger is revealed about halfway into the book and it’s a masterstroke by the author, forcing the reader to read the extracts in a whole new context.

This is a brilliant book, one of the best I’ve read for some time. It succeeds on very level, emotionally and intellectually. I could ramble on for hours about how clever it is but will restrain myself here for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say, I highly recommend that you should read A Head Full of Ghosts, which you can do by buying it here.

PS No lights flickered during the reading of this book.

A window did fly open by itself though.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Albion Fay


Albion Fay is the new novella by Mark Morris and is published by Spectral Press. It begins with a funeral, pretty much setting the tone for everything which follows and introduces us to Frank, the first-person narrator of the story. There’s a great deal of skilful character development here, painting a picture of a man hiding from the world, paranoid and over-analytical of everything – and everyone – around him. This, of course, sets up the narrative of the story wonderfully, planting the question in the readers’ minds of how Frank came to be this way.

What follows is a fractured narrative that jumps backwards and forwards in time – a technique that mirrors the broken nature of Frank’s family; sister Angie, loving mother Pat and father George whose first scene in the book presents him as a short tempered bully, characteristics that develop along with the story until he becomes the catalyst for the life changing events which follow.

George is a catalyst but so too are events at Albion Fay itself, the house which is to be the family’s holiday home for a week. The caves in the woods which surround the house allow the introduction of a supernatural element to the story but this is done in a subtle way, the first person perspective – which brings with it all the baggage of unreliability – means that just the right amount of ambiguity is brought to the narrative, these supernatural elements enhancing rather than overwhelming it.

As Adam Nevill’s thorough and detailed introduction to the book indicates, this is a story about loss and perhaps the greatest loss of all here is of the childhood innocence of Frank and Angie. The story goes to some very dark places but the writing is so assured and confident that the tragic events which unfold really do shock and aren’t gratuitous. Albion Fay is a Greek tragedy – although a very British one. (Yes, the name of the house – and book – is a clever one). It’s a brilliant example of quiet, understated writing that delivers its horrors efficiently and extremely effectively. There are similarities here – in terms of general themes – to Mark’s previous novella It Sustains, but both are prime examples of intelligent, literary horror and evidence of an author pretty much at the top of his game.

I thoroughly recommend Albion Fay and you can buy it here.

Monday, 3 August 2015

The Last Bus.


Ah, the joys of travelling on public transport – how shall I list them? In less time than it would take to list the horrors thereof, truth to tell. Aside from the regular unreliability, the noise and smell, the heaters that only seem to work during the hottest summer days plus many other assaults on the physical being, the practice brings with it its own peculiar array of psychological trauma, turning even the most mild-mannered individuals into judgemental, territorial and paranoid sociopaths. The tension of waiting in a queue, wondering if there’s going to be a seat available – preferably a double seat because the thought of having to sit next to someone else is unbearable. And then, when you’re securely in situ, the apprehension that sets in every time the bus stops and someone gets on that they’ll sit next to you, disrupt your personal space, the way you deliberately avoid eye contact with them, the familiar mantra running through your head as they make their way along the bus “don’t, don’t don’t don’t don’t…” invariably terminated by a heartfelt bastard! as they do. This immediately followed by the feelings of intense hatred towards those other passengers who have sat on the outside of the double seat, or put their bags there to prevent infiltration. Bastards.

Of course, that could just be me.

Horrors indeed, but nothing in comparison to those endured by the passengers on Paul M Feeney’s The Last Bus, a novella published by Crowded Quarantine Publications. Despite the title, the bus is actually one of the first of the day, transporting a motley bunch of commuters to an unnamed city. An explosion within the city initiates a series of events that turn what should have been an ordinary day into an extraordinary one.

The book is an homage to B-movies and it uses a well-worn trope of those films in bringing together a disparate group of individuals and watches how they cope with the extreme events happening around them.

The characters on the bus are, to some extent – although in keeping with the B-movie origins of the tale – stereotypes but the author takes great pleasure in subverting them allowing for some unexpected twists and turns. It’s a strength of the book that time is taken to develop these characters so that you will either be rooting for or wishing a terrible death on them.

There are terrible deaths, gleefully devised and described and most of these occur within “interludes” – breaks from the main narrative set on the bus, describing, and fleshing out, what is happening in the world outside. Gore abounds here – as do in-jokes, the names of the victims will be instantly recognisable to anyone who spends time in the world of horror fiction. My own personal jury is out on this device – it did make me smile but at the same time took me out of the narrative.

The story which unfolds in an epic one but the approach taken – focussing on a small group of individuals – makes it perfect for novella length. As mentioned earlier, it’s basically a B-movie and they always worked (and so, by dint, does the novella) because they were short and over long before rational thought had a chance to kick in and tricky questions about logic and realism had an opportunity to rear their heads. This could easily have been a novel but I’m glad it isn’t – it’s a quick read and the narrative cracks along at a fast pace and it’s all the more enjoyable for that.

My only encounter with Paul’s work prior to The Last Bus was The Weight of the Ocean. That was a deeply moving, personal piece of writing – sad and melancholic. It’s fair to say that his new novella is about as far removed from that as you can get which only goes to prove that he’s versatile, as well as gifted, as a writer.

I really enjoyed The Last Bus and recommend that you should buy it – which you can do directly from the publishers..

Monday, 27 July 2015

The Nameless Dark.


One of the many joys of reading is the experience of coming across an author for the first time and connecting immediately with the writing. There may be a brief moment of self-flagellation for not discovering the writer sooner but this is soon overwhelmed by the enjoyment of the reading itself and also by the realisation that a back catalogue is already there, waiting to be devoured.

Such was the case when I read The Nameless Dark, a collection of stories from T E Grau. This is his first collection and I have to say it’s an extremely impressive showcase for his undoubted talent.

There are fourteen stories in the book, employing a variety of locations and set in a range of time periods. Here you’ll find stories set in the Wild West, during the Beat Generation and Colonial era America amongst others. Three of the stories have children as their main character but the writing in each (and all of the other stories) is assured, authentic and of the highest quality with each story – and the characters therein – having their own distinctive voices.

It’s a collection of horror stories but there’s wit here too, a dark humour that threads its way through the stories, raising smiles amidst the shudders. It’s there in the dialogue, in the descriptions of the characters populating these tales – a description of someone being “the shape and consistency of a potato” made me laugh out loud.

The spirit of HP Lovecraft informs many of the stories here, his mythology looming above the narrative like a shadow over Innsmouth. Anyone who thinks the Cosmic Horrors conjured up in the Cthulhu mythos have been done to death need look no further than this collection to see that new life can be breathed into it with nine of the fourteen tales referencing it directly and placing it in new contexts and environments to brilliant effect. The stories here are set pre-, post- and during the moment at which the stars become “right” and the two most effective for me fall into the latter category – The Screamer, with its banshee-like eponymous creature heralding the apocalypse in a beautifully written slow-burner of a tale that builds to a truly horrifying climax and Twinkle, Twinkle – one of the shorter stories in the collection but which brilliantly frames the end of the world in a poignant and moving tale.

It’s testament to Ted’s skills as a writer that the tropes never become worn out or repetitive, filtered as they are through the variety of narrative styles he employs. The other five “non-Lovecraftian” stories provide entertaining interludes and here you’ll find riffs on Kafka, Fairy Tales and Werewolves, Jack the Ripper and a novel way of fishing…

I feel I can’t recommend The Nameless Dark highly enough. The stories and characters created here are worthy of the highest critical acclaim and the writing itself is a joy to read. You can (and should) buy it here.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Silence.

The world will end neither with a whimper or a bang but in total silence - at least according to Tim Lebbon's new novel The Silence. Well, not total silence as it happens but that's the concept at the heart of this new take on the end of the world.
The harbingers of the apocalypse in this instance are the vesps - prehistoric flying lizards that emerge from a cave in Moldova, unearthed by a scientific expedition. Life in the dark underground has rendered them blind meaning that they hunt their prey by sound alone - which is bad news for the human race whose noisy, modern existence provides food aplenty for the monsters.
In order to remain safe from the vesps, silence must be maintained and it's in this suppression of normal behaviour that comparisons can be drawn with Josh Malerman's brilliant Bird Box. In that novel, mankind had to blindfold itself, rendering itself blind - here the removal of noise to all intents and purposes results in a kind of deafness.
It's no surprise then that Ally, one of the main characters in the book, is actually deaf and it's her families 9enforced) ability to use signing that gives them an advantage over everyone else, living in a silent world is nothing new to them. The narrative focusses on the family's attempts to relocate to the wilds of Scotland, a place of (relative) quiet and hence safety and it's their journey - and their first hand encounters with the worst aspects of humanity - that takes up most of the book.
The opening chapters of the book were the most effective for me. The outbreak is at first reported on live TV but then picked up by social and other broadcast media, describing the inexorable spread of the killing hordes. The tension here is masterfully built with a palpable sense of dread created as the progress of the vesps towards the UK is monitored, and everyone realises that nothing will stop them. Each chapter begins with transcripts of TV and radio reports or blog/social media entries and it's a very effective device, building the tension to almost unbearable levels.
The vesps do reach mainland Britain of course and there the book makes a change in tone, becoming a survival thriller with some brilliantly executed set-pieces.
It's all high-concept stuff but it's a brilliant concept and what results is a tense, exciting and genuinely scary read. It cracks along at a blistering pace and really is a book you won't want to put down. (Though if you do, make sure you do it quietly).
I loved The Silence and heartily recommend it.

Monday, 18 May 2015

The Outsiders.

The Outsiders is the latest publication from Joe Mynhardt's Crystal Lake Publishing and is a collection of five Lovecraft inspired stories written by five different authors set in a fictional gated community called Priory. Priory - and the characters inhabiting it - provides a framing device for the stories but the tales are linked even more closely with the narratives cross-referencing each other, the events of one mentioned in another, characters providing the major narrative thrust in some having cameo roles in others. It's a clever device and one which works extremely well, pulling the five stories together, providing a cohesive whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.
Mind you, the individual parts are pretty good too - the stories work extremely well in isolation but the linking device is a definite enhancement.
The collection opens with The Subprime from Gary Fry (which seems only appropriate - he's doing as much as anyone currently to expand the mythos and create a body of work which provides his own, very distinctive take on it). The story provides an introduction to Priory and its residents, in particular Mr Phillips (Harvey - not Howard) and the enigmatic Charles Erich (whose name will raise a smile for all those students of Proto-Norse linguistics), the community's founder. Phillips is a financier, the respectable face of tyranny as it were and the plot revolves around a crisis of conscience for one of his employees - Lee - who has decided that sacrificing his soul on the altar of capitalism is not for him and decides to tender his resignation. In an attempt to change the young man's mind, Phillips invites him to a dinner party at Priory where it turns out that some sacrifices are actually easier to make than others.
James Everington provides the next story, Impossible Colours which takes the bold step of tackling the subject of Lovecraft's perceived racism. As might be expected from the author, it's done in a subtle, tangential way and very effectively so that the message in no way diminishes the impact, and enjoyment of the story.
Stolen From the Sea is by Stephen Bacon and uses the tragedy of the loss of a child to bring about an awakening in the father as to the true nature of the cult to which he and his wife belong. The cult that is the connecting force within Priory, binding all its residents together. There are few better writers than Stephen at approaching sensitive, sad issues like this (you should read Husks in the Murmurations anthology if further proof is needed) but this is just a starting point for a tense and dramatic escape story.
V H Leslie provides Precious Things, an examination of the deteriorating relationship between two elderly residents of Priory which showcases her trademark skills at story construction and clever wordplay.
The final story is Rosanne Rabinowitz's Meat, Motion and Light which - like James Everington's story - takes the racism issue as its starting point, the story's protagonist a black woman returning to Priory after having escaped its clutches. (Those clutches being undoubtedly tentacular). The old adage of "you can never go home" of course holds true here and things - as might be expected - go horribly wrong. I could be mistaken, but this could be the first story ever to feature a Great Old Ones sex scene. Spectacular love craft indeed.
The Outsiders is a very good book. Five strong stories which provide an excellent homage to Lovecraft and the mythology which is his legacy. Strong enough individually, the stories combine to create something truly special. It's a book I recommend highly and you can buy it here.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The Corpse Role.

There was a view, not so long ago, that sales of horror fiction were in decline because many of the tropes the genre employed were being nicked by crime writers - mainstream, best-selling writers at that. That may have been a simplistic explanation but there's certainly an element of truth buried within it. Violent, gory death and psychologically damaged serial killers have become a mainstay of the slightly more "respectable" genre. To be honest, I don't think it's that much of a problem, there's enough room for both genres to flourish and, in a way, it's a good thing for horror to move on, find new themes and tropes to unsettle readers. It's a fine line, I guess, between the two genres and there are many excellent examples of cross-over between the two. Most notable are the Charlie Parker novels from John Connolly but I'll also chuck in a couple of personal favourites, Reaping the Dark by Garry McMahon and Ben Jones' Pennies for Charon as further evidence.
All of which - possibly unnecessary - preamble is by way of introducing a review of a crime novel on a horror review site, namely The Corpse Role by Keith Nixon.
As the title may suggest, mortal remains have a large part to play in the narrative and, indeed, the story begins with the unearthing of a body from a shallow grave. The body turns out to be that of a security guard implicated in an armoured van heist two years previously. A business card from a former policeman, turned private investigator is found in his wallet and so begins a briskly paced, twisting tale of murder, corruption and shock revelations.
The story is told in two timelines - the present involving the ongoing investigation led by DI Charlotte Granger and another (with the chapters titled "the past") which turns out to be the events leading up to the heist. It's a clever technique and one which is executed perfectly. The "past" sections are written in first person, present tense - a device which has the reader constantly questioning who it is that's actually narrating and what, if any, connection they have to the present day investigation.
There's a lot going on in The Corpse Role, and a lot of characters to keep up with. This, along with the double timeframe device, could have easily gotten out of control but it's testament to the author's skill that he marshals everything effortlessly, keeping the plot banging along at a cracking pace and, most importantly, keeping the reader alongside him.
The characters are all well drawn (my favourite a crime boss with a novel way of fertilising his garden) with plenty of realistic dialogue (particularly of the awkward kind between people whose relationship isn't quite what it used to be) which enhance the narrative without distracting from it, or holding it back.
There are twists and turns all the way, and a lovely feeling of things falling into place as the narrative progresses but the biggest revelation is kept to the very end. It's a gamble, using such a dramatic device and the book as a whole hangs on whether it works or not.
It works.
I very much enjoyed The Corpse Role, imaginative, clever and with a no-nonsense writing style it's a book I recommend very much. You can buy it here.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Visible Filth

The Visible Filth is the latest chapbook produced by This is Horror and is written by Nathan Ballingrud. The author's collection North American Lake Monsters was one I was very impressed with so I had great expectations for this novella, expectations which I'm very pleased to report have have been met and, indeed, exceeded.
The story's protagonist is Will who works in Rosie's Bar in uptown New Orleans, a less than salubrious 24-hour establishment, a description of which begins the novella, complete with scuttling cockroaches, subtly setting the scene for what is to come.
The arrival of a group of students brings with it a violent brawl in which one of the bar's regulars, Eric, is wounded, glassed in the face with a broken bottle. Upon the group's departure, Will discovers that one of them has left behind a cell phone which he takes home with him. When he starts receiving text messages on the phone, the true horror begins...
The texts taunt Will but also guide him towards some images - and a video - that are stored on the phone. There are suggestions that the images, via the phone, exert some malign influence over Will, making him open the files but in reality, his decision to do so is probably down to the impulse within us all to look at that which we know will be horrible; the impulse that makes us slow down and crane our necks as we drive past a traffic accident; the impulse that makes us click on the play button of videos showing violent death, beheadings...
Of course, what's revealed in the files is utterly horrible and the author's prose here is perfect, brilliantly conveying the awfulness of what Will sees, transferring the sense of unease and disgust he feels straight into the reader's head. I was put very much in mind of the cursed video from Hideo Nakata's Ringu when reading these scenes, in particular the feeling of unease and dread that the "cursed" video in that film created in me.
There's plenty of disturbing imagery created in The Visible Filth - and the skill with which this is done is one of the story's strengths - much of it will linger in your memory long after reading. As well as this though, the novella presents another masterclass in the depiction of a relationship under strain - something that was also a feature of North American Lake Monsters. Will's relationship with girlfriend Carrie is going through a rough patch and the emotional nuances and dialogue between the two are pitched perfectly.
The Visible Filth is a grim read, one which will make demands of the reader. Bleak and nihilistic, it takes no prisoners and you'll be shaken and disturbed come the last page. Which is about as glowing a recommendation I can make for any horror story.