Woo hoo! It’s October. And, with Halloween only a few weeks away, I felt like focusing on the horror genre for a while. So, with that in mind, I thought that I’d re-read Shaun Hutson’s 1986 novel “Relics”.
Although I first read this horror novel during a summer holiday when I was about fourteen or fifteen, I’d forgotten about most of it (except the ending) until I happened to browse an awesome second-hand bookshop in Petersfield last year and find some of the 1980s Star Books editions of various Shaun Hutson novels that I’d already read.
Since these editions have cooler cover art than the early 2000s Time Warner reprints I read when I was younger, I ended up buying about four of them – one of which was “Relics”.
So, let’s take a look at “Relics”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS (but I won’t spoil the ending..).
The novel begins with a description of an obscene occult ritual, before showing archaeologist Kim Nichols working on a Celtic-era site near the rural town of Longford. Although the dig has turned up a few torcs and other relics, progress is slow until a small earthquake suddenly causes the ground to split open. Although Kim barely manages to avoid falling into the chasm, one of her fellow archaeologists isn’t so lucky.
Following this accident, a detective called Wallace arrives at the site. When Wallace climbs into the chasm, he finds that the poor archaeologist has landed on a giant spike in the middle of a chamber littered with bones. A while later, Wallace and the archaeologists also discover a hidden passage branching off from this chamber, revealing a mass grave and several ominous inscriptions.
Shortly after this grim discovery, strange things start happening in Longford….
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is classic Shaun Hutson 🙂 In other words, not a novel for the easily-shocked.
In a lot of ways, this novel is almost like a grittier, creepier and more disturbing version of Hutson’s 1982 novel “The Skull“. Yes, there are some fairly significant story differences, but this novel is almost a spiritual successor to “The Skull”, and this works surprisingly well 🙂
I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements, which were scarier than I remembered.
Although this novel contains loads of the ultra-gruesome splatterpunk horror that you’d expect from a 1980s Shaun Hutson novel, the genuinely scary parts of the novel include things like paranormal/occult horror, mysterious monster horror, gritty crime, startling moments, disturbing animal cruelty, suspenseful slasher movie-like scenes, character-based horror and an ending that you won’t forget.
Even so, several of the novel’s moments of horror do feel a little bit contrived/random and this is also one of those novels where you often can’t go more than a few pages without something gruesome, cruel and/or disturbing happening. Although this constant avalanche of horror adds up over time to create a bleak and menacing atmosphere, it can feel a little bit random at times.
In addition to this, the novel is also structured like a thriller too – with lots of ultra-short chapters that really help to both keep up the suspense and keep the story moving at a fairly decent pace.
This novel is also an early example of Hutson blending the horror and detective/crime thriller genres too, with some parts of the story playing out more like a gritty crime drama and/or police procedural. Even so, the emphasis is firmly on horror here 🙂
In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably ok. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation here, there is just enough characterisation to make you care about what happens to the main characters. There is also a large cast of background characters, many of whom don’t exactly have long lifespans. Likewise, there’s also a fair amount of characterisation devoted to a rather disturbing criminal called Ferguson, who is as much of a monster as the actual monster of the story is.
In terms of the writing, this novel is classic Shaun Hutson. In other words, the novel’s third-person narration is a rather hard-hitting mixture of fast-paced “matter of fact” thriller novel-style narration and more elaborate/formal descriptions (eg: whenever anything grisly, lurid, sleazy and/or horrific happens).
This novel’s narration also contains an abundance of classic Hutsonisms too (eg: “orb”, “cleft”, “liquescent”, “putrescent”, “scapula” etc…), which are always fun to see.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At an efficient 269 pages, it never feels like there is a wasted moment. Likewise, this novel is also structured and written like a thriller, which helps to keep the story compelling. The novel also gradually builds in pace, with the final act being especially fast-paced.
In terms of how this thirty-three year old novel has aged, it is one of those books that probably wouldn’t be written today. Whether it is the ages of several characters during certain parts of the novel, the vaguely “Life On Mars“-like depiction of the police etc… this novel is very much a product of a different time. Even so, this novel is still fairly dramatic and gripping when read today.
All in all, this is a creepy, disturbing and compelling Shaun Hutson novel. If you want to see an example of extreme 1980s horror fiction, red in tooth and claw, then this one might be worth checking out. Likewise, if you enjoyed Hutson’s “The Skull”, then you’ll love this novel too. Just don’t read it if you’re easily shocked and/or have pets.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get about four and a half.