Review: “Monolith” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Well, it’s been a while since I last read a Shaun Hutson novel. And, although I’d thought about reading another one of his classic 1980s novels, I thought that I’d check out a second-hand copy of one of his more modern novels (one from 2015 called “Monolith”) that I’ve been meaning to read for a while.

So, let’s take a look at “Monolith”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Caffeine Nights Publishing (UK) paperback edition of “Monolith” that I read.

The novel begins in London in 1933. An elderly shopkeeper is woken by the sound of shattering glass and, when he walks downstairs, he sees that nothing has been stolen. The vandalism is, as he suspects, another act of hatred towards him. And, as he begins to sweep up the broken glass, he suddenly thinks of a way to get revenge.

Then we flash forwards to London in 2015. A giant high-rise luxury flat/office complex called the Crystal Tower is being built near the Thames. Funded by a mysterious Russian billionaire, the hulking glass and steel tower has caused no end of controversy, with many wondering how the hell it got planning permission. On the building site, two workers are trying to find out what is wrong with one of the lifts. There seems to be no obvious fault with it, but it won’t budge. But, when they investigate further, the lift suddenly falls, killing both of them.

Local journalist Jessica Anderson gets a tip and heads to the scene of the accident to investigate. After all, this freak accident is merely one of a suspiciously large number that have happened since construction began on the tower….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a reasonably compelling suspense thriller/ horror novel that, whilst it isn’t Hutson’s best novel, was still quite a bit of fun to read. It’s also very much a modern Shaun Hutson novel and, if you’ve read novels like Hutson’s “Last Rites“, then the general style and tone of this novel will probably be familiar to you.

Still, I should start by talking about this novel’s horror elements – which are a mixture of suspenseful horror, psychological horror, bleak horror, monster horror, paranormal horror and gory horror. Unlike Hutson’s older novels, this novel focuses a lot more heavily on suspense rather than gory horror. Whilst there are certainly some gruesome moments, they are a bit more infrequent/short/less detailed and they often tend to focus more on the suspenseful build-up and the characters’ reactions than anything else. Surprisingly, this actually works quite well and helps these scenes to retain a lot of dramatic impact despite their slightly toned-down gory descriptions.

The story’s monster-based scenes are a bit hit and miss though. Although the novel does the classic horror movie thing of keeping the monster mysterious for most of the story, you will probably be able to guess what it is fairly quickly. Even so, this mystery helps to drive the plot and build suspense. Not to mention that – as monsters go – it’s a suitably fearsome (and cool-looking) one.

However, the story’s best monster-based element is just kind of introduced and then forgotten about. I’m wary of spoiling too much, but the novel also gives you a lot of very strong hints that it’s going to include a much larger-scale and more innovative version of this monster (possibly even setting the reader up for the type of memorably dramatic ending that appeared in Hutson’s “Relics) and then…. nothing much.

Don’t get me wrong, the scenes with the “ordinary” monster are certainly dramatic and the ending has a bit of a cool twist to it, but this story could have been so much more if this particular background element had actually been expanded upon a bit more (rather than just being an excuse for a few suspenseful accident scenes and some mysteriously disappearing blood).

In terms of this novel’s thriller elements, they’re fairly good. Not only does this novel use the classic thriller technique of ultra-short chapters (most are about 2-5 pages long), but it also makes heavy use of suspense and mystery too. And, like in several of Hutson’s novels, there are even a few police procedural style scenes involving detectives investigating the events of the story too. Still, if you’re expecting the kind of ultra-fast paced ultra-violent action thriller story found in novels like Hutson’s “Exit Wounds”, “Body Count” etc… then you’re probably going to be disappointed. There are a couple of these type of scenes, but this novel is much more of a traditional suspense thriller than an action-thriller novel. Still, it is a fairly compelling one and is probably slightly more of a gritty and cynical thriller novel than a horror novel.

In terms of the writing, it’s a modern Shaun Hutson novel. In other words, the novel’s third-person narration is written in a fairly informal, fast-paced and “matter of fact” way, but with a few formal and/or descriptive flourishes to add atmosphere and suspense (less so than in his older novels, although some moments do have a certain Victorian gothic atmosphere to them).

Plus, the writing also has a bit of personality to it too 🙂 Not only is there are least one Iron Maiden reference (and another possible one with a character called “Adrian Murray”), but there’s also a classic Hutsonism (the “coppery” smell of blood) and, of course, there are a couple of really good cynical moments (eg: a description of social media and a scene involving carrier bags in shops) that made me laugh out loud 🙂

Even so, a lot of the novel’s cynicism is of the serious, bleak variety that was so common in Hutson’s “Last Rites”. Which, of course, brings me on to the characters. As you would expect, many of the main characters have a tragic backstory of one kind or another and are world-weary, cynical people. Still, they are well-written enough for you to care about what happens to them. The novel’s main villain – Voronov – is suitably menacing, but is a little bit of a stylised/two-dimensional villain though.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At a reasonably efficient 306 pages in length, it never really feels like a page is wasted. Likewise, thanks to the short chapters and expert use of suspenseful moments, this novel is a reasonably-paced and compelling one that can be enjoyed in a few hours.

All in all, whilst this certainly isn’t Hutson’s best novel (read “Deathday” or “Erebus” if you want to see him at his best), it is still a rather compelling suspense/horror thriller novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four.

Review: “British Bulldog” By Sara Sheridan (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a novel that I’ve been meaning to read for years. I am, of course, talking about Sara Sheridan’s 2015 novel “British Bulldog”. I originally ended up buying a second-hand copy of this book shortly after getting a box set of the first three novels in Sheridan’s “Mirabelle Bevan” series for Christmas in 2016. At the time, I’d planned to read all three of them and wanted to have a copy of the fourth ready for when I finished.

But, although I read the first two books (but only reviewed the first one), I wasn’t reading much at the time and it was only after I later read the third and fifth books in the series that I remembered the fourth one. And, yes, this is one of those series where each novel is fairly self-contained (although it’s worth reading the previous three books first in order to get to know the characters a bit better).

So, let’s take a look at “British Bulldog”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS, but I’ll avoid revealing too much.

This is the 2016 Constable (UK) paperback edition of “British Bulldog” that I read.

The novel begins in Brighton in February 1954. Ex-SOE agent turned debt collector Mirabelle Bevan is walking back to the office one evening when she notices a man following her. When he approaches her, he points out that he’s a solicitor who has been trying to find her because she has been mentioned in a will.

An acquaintance from the war, Major Matthew “Bulldog” Bradley, has died and bequeathed Mirabelle one thousand guineas on the condition that she finds information about a man called Philip Caine who Bradley escaped from a POW camp with but became separated from during the escape. Although Mirabelle is initially wary about the case, especially when Bradley’s widow doesn’t want her to investigate it, she soon finds herself tangled in a web of secrecy, intrigue and drama that will take her all the way to Paris….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is really compelling. Not only is the Paris setting a really refreshing change but, in addition to the detective elements that you’d expect, this novel also includes some faster-paced elements from the spy thriller, adventure thriller and suspense thriller genres that really help to add focus and momentum to the story too. Seriously, if you want a good historical thriller novel, then this one is worth reading.

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, they’re reasonably good – with the novel’s central mystery being intriguing enough to keep the story compelling. Given the pre-internet setting and the “cold case” that Mirabelle finds herself investigating, this also means that the novel can include a few scenes involving trawling through libraries and archives for information. Although this might sound boring, it not only allows for the novel to seamlessly add atmospheric background details/information, but the “needle in a haystack” nature of these scenes also helps to add a bit more more suspense to the story too.

But, surprisingly, this is actually slightly more of a thriller novel than a detective novel 🙂 Although the thriller elements only really become prominent during the middle to later parts of the novel, there’s a really great mixture of chases/evasions, spy stuff, suspenseful sneaking around and even a few fast-paced set pieces. In a lot of ways, this novel is a bit like an old-school spy/adventure thriller and, as such, it is probably the most gripping novel I’ve read so far in this series 🙂 Plus, unlike many other novels in the series, there isn’t really a second case for Mirabelle to solve (and the sub-plot is a character-based one instead) – so the story also feels a bit more focused and streamlined too.

All of these thriller elements are also helped by an absolutely wonderful atmosphere too. Not only is this story set during a cold, gloomy time of year but the fact that a good portion of it is set in Paris is a very welcome change too 🙂 Not only does 1950s Paris add a lot of extra atmosphere to the story, but it also allows for a lot of extra characterisation, character-based drama and WW2-related backstory stuff too. This includes stuff about the French Resistance, how everyone wants to forget the war, the fate of wartime collaborators etc… Not only does this stuff add a realistic historical background to the story, but it also helps to add a lot of extra weight and complexity to the novel’s drama elements too.

This novel is also something of a character-based drama too. Not only are Mirabelle’s conflicted feelings about her wartime affair with a since-deceased SOE agent (and friend of Major Bradley) called Jack Duggan a major part of the story, but one of the novel’s other characters is also heavily affected by the events of the war too. Needless to say, this novel’s characterisation is really good too – although it mostly focuses on Mirabelle, all of the novel’s other main characters have fairly realistic motivations, flaws, emotions etc… too.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good. The novel’s third-person narration is written in a fairly “matter of fact”, but slightly formal and descriptive/atmospheric, way that really fits in well with the novel’s 1950s settings whilst also being more readable than an actual 1950s novel would be. If you’ve read other books in the series, then the writing is up to the same standard that you’d expect but – to my delight – this novel also contains more fast-paced moments that, surprisingly, work really well with this writing style 🙂

As for length and pacing, this novel absolutely excels 🙂 At an efficient 274 pages in length, there are very few wasted pages here. Plus, the novel’s pacing is really superb too. Not only does this novel slowly increase the scale, pace and intensity of the drama (gradually going from being a detective novel to a thriller novel), but even the slightly more moderately-paced earlier parts of the story are still mysterious and suspenseful enough to keep you gripped. Although this certainly isn’t the first “Mirabelle Bevan” novel to include elements from the thriller genre, they are used in the best possible way here and this whole novel was even more compelling than I’d expected 🙂

All in all, this is probably my favourite “Mirabelle Bevan” novel so far 🙂 It’s a really brilliant and atmospheric historical detective novel that, thanks to some well-handled additions from the thriller genre, is also a really gripping and streamlined story too 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Review: “Dex: Enhanced Version” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’m still reading the next book I plan to review (“Tower Hill” by Sarah Pinborough), I thought that I’d review a computer game that I’ve wanted to play for at least a couple of years. I am, of course, talking about an indie cyberpunk 2D platformer/role-playing game from 2015 called “Dex”.

I first heard about “Dex” in either 2016 or 2017 and I really wanted to play this cool “Ghost In The Shell”, “Deus Ex“, “Blade Runner” etc… inspired game back then. But, then I saw the system requirements. Although I had an old computer that could play modern 2D “point and click” cyberpunk games like “Technobabylon” and “Gemini Rue“, this 2D platformer required a dual-core processor. So, it got added to the long list of “games I wish I could play, but can’t thanks to bloated modern system requirements“.

But, shortly after getting a vaguely modern refurbished computer a few weeks before preparing this review, I decided to download the free demo of “Dex” (yes, unlike many modern games, it actually has a demo 🙂 Albeit one that was released two years after the game) to test it out.

And, when the game went on sale on GOG last winter (I prepare these reviews very far in advance), the decision whether to buy a copy was an absolute no-brainer. Interestingly, the version available on GOG at the time of writing is the “Enhanced Version” which apparently includes some content (eg: various cybernetic suits etc..) that was previously released as DLC, in addition to the usual GOG extras like the game’s soundtrack, wallpapers etc….

So, let’s take a look at “Dex: Enhanced Version”. Needless to say, this review may contain some PLOT SPOILERS.

Set in a neon-drenched cyberpunk mega-city called Harbor Prime, you play as a mysterious blue-haired woman called Dex who wakes up after having a strange dream. Seconds later, you get a call from a mysterious internet person called Raycast telling you that people are coming to get you and you need to run. After dashing across the rooftops and making your way through a gang hideout in the sewers, you emerge in a part of the city called Fixer’s Hope.

Raycast tells Dex to head to a local bar that is popular with hackers. But, after talking to the owner for a while, it is raided by corporate henchmen and Dex barely manages to escape to the hideout of a local hacker called Tony. To Tony’s surprise, it quickly becomes obvious that Dex can access cyberspace without having to jack into a computer. Not only that, Raycast delivers a message saying that Dex is humanity’s only hope of destroying a malicious A.I. called GSV-2 controlled by an ominous group called The Complex who want to take over the world….

Powerful artificial intelligences? A character with “Deck” in his name? A hacker cave? Yes, this is cyberpunk 🙂

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is basically a modern low-budget 2D version of the kind of cool immersive sim/action RPG games like “Deus Ex” and “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” that were popular in the early-mid 2000s. In other words, this game has atmosphere and depth 🙂 Plus, although this game wears it’s many influences on it’s sleeve, it still manages to be something refreshingly new and interesting at the same time too 🙂 Although it probably isn’t a perfect game, it is certainly a really cool one 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the gameplay. Although the game does feature some limited 2D platforming and a combat system, these aren’t the most compelling parts of the game. No, this is a game where you’ll probably be more interested in talking to people, building your stats, looking for side-quests, drinking in the atmosphere, choosing augmentations, making decisions, solving puzzles, hacking computers, managing your inventory and exploring the city for loot.

So, yes, this is more of a RPG than a traditonal 2D platformer, but what a RPG it is. It has the same immersive, detailed worldbuilding that you’d expect to find in games like “Shadowrun: Dragonfall“, “Deus Ex”, “VTM: Bloodlines” etc… and it is an absolute joy to experience. There are lots of interesting side-characters, multiple ways to solve problems, optional side-quests, hidden items, amusing item descriptions and of course the kind of neon-drenched, run-down atmosphere that you’d expect from a cyberpunk game 🙂

Yes, not every location looks like this (and there’s lots of post-apocalyptic rubble and/or utilitarian concrete in other areas), but this game certainly looks very cyberpunk 🙂

Seriously, I love the general style and atmosphere of this game 🙂 Imagine everything cool in the cyberpunk genre, and you’ll find some hint of it here 🙂 It has “Deus Ex”-inspired gameplay, a lot of thematic and visual inspiration from both “Ghost In The Shell” and “Blade Runner”, it sometimes has the kind of vaguely anarchist atmosphere of something like “Shadowrun: Dragonfall”, there is at least one reference to the ICE from “Neuromancer” etc… I could go on for a while but, if you are a fan of cyberpunk, then this game is for you 🙂 Yet. as mentioned earlier, it still manages to be it’s own unique thing in addition to all of these cool influences.

The game’s roleplaying elements are really cool too 🙂 This is the kind of game where you’ll probably want to do as many of the optional side-quests (which involve things like taking down gangs, dealing with a stalker, rescuing a man from a brothel, finding antiques, investigating a closed restaurant etc..) as possible, and not just because you’ll get cash or experience from them. They’re interesting. Although the game’s RPG elements (eg: character stats, dialogue trees, damage scores appearing in combat etc..) are nothing new, they really help to give the game the kind of immersive depth that you’d expect to see in something like a “point and click” game 🙂

Seriously, it’s almost like a point-and-click game, but with faster-paced and more varied gameplay 🙂

Seriously, I love the writing and art style in this game. The dialogue and voice-acting feels like a reasonably “natural” part of the game’s world, and all of the in-game text has the kind of personality and subtle humour that you’d expect from a game of this type 🙂 Whilst the game’s main story isn’t anything too surprising, it is still delivered in a very compelling way and there’s enough background details, optional stuff etc.. to make the game’s world feel real.

Likewise, this game looks really cool too 🙂 Not only does it use a timeless 2D art style, but there are some cool-looking locations (albeit with some fairly drab concrete ones too) and the player character animations are really cool too (seriously, it’s difficult not to feel a little bit like a Blade Runner whilst drawing your weapon or running around the city etc..). The animation for the background characters tends to be a little bit more limited but, overall, this game looks really cool 🙂

Not to mention that some of the backgrounds look really cool too.

Even so, expect a lot of understated, utilitarian and/or concrete locations too.

The game’s puzzles are reasonably decent too. I’m terrible at puzzle games and I only had to use a walkthrough twice whilst playing and, on one of those occasions, I’d almost solved the puzzle in question but made one stupid mistake (eg: forgetting that the alphabet only has 26 letters). In other words, the puzzles are reasonably forgiving, logical and relatively infrequent too 🙂 They add an extra layer of variety to the game without really getting in the way of the gameplay too much.

Plus, the game will actually reward exploration too since you can usually find puzzle hints if you look for them. However, you might need to increase the screen resolution in order to read them if you’re playing on a lower resolution.

Likewise, I love how this game encourages you to explore. Although the city isn’t that large (there are maybe 10-15 different parts of the city to explore), there are hidden items/areas to find and everywhere looks really cool too. Not only that, there is also a fast-travel system that helps to remove a lot of the “back and forth” drudgery that comes from some parts of the game. And, yes, this game can sometimes involve a bit of this, so the fast-travel (and the fact that this game has a fairly traditional “save almost anywhere” saving system) really helps a lot 🙂

Seriously, this is so useful 🙂 Without it, the game would get a bit tedious at times.

Still, I should probably talk about the game’s action and platforming elements. They are…functional, I guess.

As you would expect from a RPG, you’ll be fairly weak in both ranged and melee combat until you upgrade your stats and/or find enough in-game money (no micro-transactions here 🙂 ) to buy decent weapons and, more importantly, enough ammo for them. Although the combat is made a bit more forgiving via the inclusion of things like stealth takedowns, the fact that you can run away from most enemies and, if you complete one side quest, get a thermo-optic camouflage stealth suit (in the “Enhanced Version” of the game) too, it still feels like one of the weaker parts of the game.

If you want an action game, then play something else. The combat here does it’s job, but it isn’t the best or most interesting part of the game.

Then again, given the inclusion of a basic stealth system and the ways that combat can be avoided (eg: hacking cameras, running etc..), this isn’t too much of an issue. Even so, it’s more like a 2D version of the combat in the original “Deus Ex” (eg: ranged and melee combat feel a little weak and/or inaccurate) and/or the combat in the original “Resident Evil” (eg: you have to draw your gun before firing. However, unlike “Resident Evil” you can move with a drawn weapon) than the thrillingly streamlined combat in something like a traditional FPS game.

Interestingly, the best action-based parts of the game are probably the computer hacking mini-games. They are these surprisingly challenging bullet hell style mini-games that are played from a top-down perspective and they are reasonably fun. Unlike the more abstract-feeling weapon combat segments, the hacking sections actually feel a little bit more like a thrilling, streamlined action game.

Yes, the combat is actually more fun in these mini-games than in the actual main game.

Likewise, the platforming works reasonably well – with Dex having the ability to grab onto ledges and to buy an augmentation that allows her to jump higher. Even so, it isn’t really a major part of the gameplay in the way that it would be in a traditional 2D platformer. In other words, the platforming is a bit more “realistic” and, although there are a couple of places where you have to dodge environmental hazards or leap over bottomless pits, these are very much the exception rather than the rule.

Yes, this moment of traditional old-school toxic-waste dodging is very much the exception rather than the rule with this game’s platforming elements.

As for the game’s length, this depends a lot on you. If you do all of the side-quests etc… then you can get a few decent 2-4 hour gaming sessions out of this game. But, if you ignore as much of the interesting optional stuff as possible, then I’d imagine that the game could theoretically be completed in a few hours at most. Still, given that the optional quests allow you to gain more experience, skills, resources etc… that you’ll need later in the game, maybe not.

Another interesting thing about this game’s length is that it is actually longer than it initially appears to be – in short, there is a point where it seems like the game has finished (eg: a “boss battle”-like segment, followed by a dramatic cutscene) only for there to be at least a couple of hours of gameplay after this. Given how compelling I found this game to be and how dramatic these extra couple of hours of gameplay are, this felt a lot like an encore at a concert and it was really cool to have more of it than I’d expected.

In terms of sound design and music, ths game is fairly decent. Although the music isn’t that memorable, it still fits in well with the game and the sound effects also do their job well enough too.

All in all, whilst this isn’t a perfect game, it is a really cool one 🙂 If you love the immersive depth of games like “Deus Ex” and “VTM: Bloodlines” and/or you’re a fan of the cyberpunk genre, then you’ll have a lot of fun with this game. Yes, the combat and platforming aren’t the game’s strongest points, but this is still a really compelling, atmospheric and just generally interesting game 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “The Deep” by Nick Cutter (Novel)

Several weeks before I wrote this review, I happened to see something online mentioning a sci-fi horror novel from 2015 called “The Deep” by Nick Cutter. If I remember rightly, “The Deep” was likened to a modern version of H.P.Lovecraft. So, naturally, I was curious enough to look for a second-hand copy of it. To my delight, the author quote on the cover was from none of than Clive Barker too 🙂

Then, I got distracted by other books. But, since I was in the mood for horror fiction, I thought that I’d finally read “The Deep”.

So, let’s take a look at “The Deep”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Headline (UK) paperback edition of “The Deep” that I read.

The novel is set in the near future, where the world has been reduced to a semi-apocalyptic state by a mysterious epidemic called “the ‘gets”. This disease makes people forget things, turning them into listless zombies before they eventually forget how to breathe or eat or drink.

A veterinarian called Luke arrives on the island of Guam. The night before, he got a phone call from the US military asking him to hurry over there. His genius brother, Clay, has been working in a deep-sea research station at the base of the Mariana Trench. The military has lost contact with the base. Clay’s last message to the surface was a strange phone call asking for his brother.

When Luke arrives at the surface station, one of the scientists shows him a mysterious substance dredged from the deepest point of the ocean called ambrosia. It has the potential to both cure diseases and heal horrific injuries. So, it seems like the most promising avenue for a cure for the ‘gets. However, before Luke descends below the surface, he sees what happened to the last scientist to surface from the research base.

Despite the grisly terror of what he has seen, Luke is eager to check on his brother. So, along with an experienced naval officer called Alice (or “Al” for short), they begin their descent into the deep….

One of the first things that I will say about this book is that it is probably one of the most unnerving, disturbing and terrifying books I’ve ever read. Imagine a cross between horror movies like “The Thing”, “Event Horizon“, “Hellraiser” and “Triangle” and survival horror games like “Silent Hill 3“, but about twice as disturbing. Usually, I tend to take author quotes on book covers with a pinch of salt, but the Clive Barker quote on the cover is as much a genuine warning as it is praise for the novel.

So, I suppose that I should probably start talking about this novel’s horror elements. This novel is what would happen if H.P.Lovecraft, Clive Barker and David Cronenburg decided to write a book together.

There is an insidious, unnerving and downright petrifying mixture of psychological horror (lots and lots of it!), body horror, paranormal horror, character-based horror, phobia-based horror (insects, clowns, darkness etc..), realistic horror, cruel horror, monster horror, claustrophobic horror, ominous horror, suspenseful horror, scientific horror, gory horror, bleak post-apocalyptic horror and types of horror that probably don’t even have names.

Although the earlier parts of this book, when you don’t know the characters and don’t know what to expect, are slightly scarier than the later parts – the novel’s horror is fairly evenly-distributed throughout the story. Just when you think that you’ve got a handle on this book and think that it can’t do anything more shocking or disturbing than it already has, it will come up with something.

This is also one of those incredibly rare horror stories where reality itself cannot be trusted. Although this incredibly disturbing type of horror is more common in film and television, this is one of the relatively few written examples of it that I’ve seen. And, yes, whilst you’ll eventually be able to guess what is and isn’t a nightmarish hallucination, don’t be too certain about this. As I said, this novel can surprise you. It can lull you into a false sense of security and then get you.

As for the novel’s characters, they are brilliantly chilling. We are shown more than enough of Luke’s disturbing past to really care for him and to dread what other traumatic memories will be dredged from his psyche by the malevolent forces lurking in the underwater station. This is the kind of novel where the most terrifying character, Luke’s mother, never directly appears in the story outside of flashbacks, thoughts and hallucinations. Yet, she is in many ways a more terrifying evil than the malevolent forces at work in the depths of the ocean…

The other characters are fairly well-written and some of them have a real Lovecraftian flavour. Whether it is Luke’s brother, a brilliant but coldly emotionless scientist, or a segment of the novel showing the final journal of one of the doomed scientists, this novel can be very Lovecraftian at times. In addition to these Lovecraftian characters, there is also an interesting variety of other characters such as a courageous navy officer called Al and an adorable dog called LB too.

And, yes, I should talk about this novel’s sci-fi elements too, since it is a sci-fi horror novel. Although this novel explores the traditional Lovecraftian theme of scientists meddling with things they shouldn’t, the sci-fi horror elements are made even more chilling due to their realism.

Whether it is a mysterious pandemic or the fact that the scientists don’t know what the mysterious substance at the bottom of the trench is or the fact that the technology isn’t that much more advanced than current technology, this isn’t some distant fantasy set in outer space. It is chilling “it could happen” near future sci-fi horror!

In terms of the writing, this novel is brilliant. The novel’s third-person narration contains just the right mixture of fast-paced “matter of fact” narration and slow, creeping descriptive narration. Seriously, a lot of the horror in this novel comes from the way that scenes of the story are written. In the hands of a lesser writer, this story would be a hilarious dark comedy rather than fear in book form.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. Although, at 394 pages, it is a little on the longer side of things, it is partially structured like a modern thriller novel. In other words, there are lots of shorter chapters that lend the story a slightly staccato and fast-paced rhythm. But, unlike a modern thriller, there is only one plot thread and the novel isn’t afraid to slow down slightly at times to drench the reader in slow, creeping dread.

All in all, this is an extremely scary horror novel 🙂 For all of the people who worry that the horror genre has declined in recent years, this novel will prove you wrong. The horror genre may not be as prominent as it was in the 1980s, but it has been festering in the darkness of obscurity and slowly gathering its strength. Seriously, this novel is scary. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “Day Four” By Sarah Lotz (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for another horror novel. So, I thought that I’d check out one that I’ve been meaning to read for weeks. I am, of course, talking about Sarah Lotz’s 2015 novel “Day Four”.

I can’t remember how I first heard about this novel, but the concept behind it intrigued me enough to look for a second-hand copy of it online. Interestingly, whilst “Day Four” works well as a stand-alone novel, it is also apparently the sequel to another novel called “The Three”.

So, let’s take a look at “Day Four”. This review may contain mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2016 (?) Hodder & Stoughton (UK) paperback edition of “Day Four” that I read.

The cruise ship Beautiful Dreamer is on the fourth day of its voyage around the Gulf Of Mexico. In the ship’s theatre, a phony medium called Celine is performing a seance for her cult-like inner circle of fans whilst her assistant Maddie watches from the back of the crowd. The seance is briefly interrupted by an online journalist who tries to question Celine about a fraud lawsuit in America, before fleeing when one of Celine’s henchmen approaches him.

After the seance, Celine returns to her room and falls into a catatonic state. The lights start to flicker and then go out. To Maddie’s bewilderment, Celine suddenly starts talking in the voice of one of her “spirit guides”.

Meanwhile, a passenger called Gary is taking a long shower. He’s trying to scrub his body clean of DNA evidence. After his creepy plan to spike the drink of a lonely woman resulted in deadly complications, he knows that it is only a matter of time before the crew find the body.

With the power failure leaving the ship stranded at sea, crew member Althea is checking up on her assigned passengers when she happens to see a mysterious child wandering the corridors. She follows him and he disappears, but not before pointing the way to a grisly discovery in one of the cabins. Although chief security officer Ram is keen to write it off as an accidental death, his second-in-command Devi thinks that foul play was involved and decides to investigate…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really atmospheric, well-written and creepy ghost story that is both compelling and creative 🙂 Imagine J.G.Ballard’s “High-Rise” mixed with an episode of “The X-Files” mixed with a Japanese-style horror movie and this might give you a vague idea of what to expect.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re surprisingly creepy. Seriously, this novel actually scared me at times. There’s a really unsettling mixture of psychological horror, paranormal horror, macabre/death-based horror, medical horror, suspenseful horror, disaster-based/post-apocalyptic horror, bleak horror and character-based horror.

The novel’s horror elements are handled in a really interesting way, with the first third or so of the novel including a chillingly suspenseful and menacing mixture of character-based horror and creepy paranormal horror. The paranormal elements become less threatening during the middle parts of the story, with more focus placed on the bleak, squalid and dystopian horror of being stranded at sea instead. Then, the later parts of the novel venture into unsettlingly bizarre and brain-twistingly weird territory – with a brilliantly chilling stinger on the final page too. Seriously, this is a horror novel 🙂

All of this horror is also balanced out with a few carefully-placed moments of humour, such as some of the PA announcements from the cruise director, the character nicknames in the chapter titles, some of the dialogue and a few cynical mentions of the older and less PC parts of Celine’s psychic act. These moments of comedy help to prevent the bleak setting of the novel from becoming too depressing, whilst also contrasting well with the novel’s more serious and/or disturbing moments.

The novel is also an extremely cynical satire about cruises in general. Whether it is the fact that we rarely actually see the captain or cruise director, scenes involving the chaotic and boorish hordes of passengers that the crew have to deal with, the cruise company caring more about publicity than anything else etc.. this novel really pulls no punches.

The novel also works surprisingly well as a thriller too. Although you shouldn’t expect an ultra fast-paced story, this novel remains compelling throughout. In addition to the suspenseful scenes near the beginning showing a killer trying to cover up his crime (and the security guard trying to catch him), there’s also a lot of intriguing mystery about why the ship has stopped, a lot of drama and some mysterious paranormal stuff too.

In terms of the characters, they’re really well-written and come across as fairly realistic. Even though the story contains a large number of main characters, you learn enough about them to be able to picture them easily and to care about what happens to them. Not only that, many of the characters have fled to the cruise liner due to problems elsewhere, which helps to add tension and ambiguity to the story. In addition to lots of character-based sub-plots, the novel’s characters also satirise things like cults of personality, the greedier elements of new age stuff, authority, conspiracy theories etc… too.

Plus, as mentioned earlier, the characters are sometimes used as a source of horror too (eg: Gary, Celine etc..). Likewise, the decision not to give much characterisation to the captain or cruise director also helps to create a chilling feeling that they don’t care about the passengers or crew.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good 🙂 The novel’s third-person narration is “matter of fact” enough to keep the story moving, but also descriptive enough to add lots of atmosphere. The story also occasionally includes things like blog entries, news articles and interview transcripts – which allow it all of the advantages of first-person narration, but with none of the confusion that comes from directly including first-person narration in a third-person story 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 340 pages in length, the story feels neither too long nor too short. The novel’s pacing is fairly interesting too, since the novel starts out fairly moderately-paced and then very gradually gets faster and faster, culminating in lots of one-page chapters. But, after this, the novel’s pacing suddenly slows down for the final forty pages. Although this change in pace may be a little annoying at first, it gives the reader time to think about the brain-twisting denouement.

All in all, this is a brilliantly creepy horror novel 🙂 If you want an unsettling, atmospheric and well-written modern ghost story that also includes hints of dystopian post-apocalyptic fiction too, then this one is worth taking a look at.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “Linesman” By S. K. Dunstall (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a short break from horror fiction and read a sci-fi novel. And, after seeing an intriguing description of another S.K. Dunstall novel online (which made me nostalgic for the days when sci-fi TV shows were almost always set in space 🙂 ), I eventually ended up finding a second-hand copy of Dunstall’s earlier 2015 novel “Linesman” instead.

Although this novel is the first novel in a trilogy, it tells a story that feels reasonably satisfying on it’s own, but also obviously leaves a lot of room for further stories.

So, let’s take a look at “Linesman”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Ace (US) paperback edition of “Linesman” that I read.

The novel is set in a galaxy where spacecraft are controlled by ten “lines” (energy fields that are responsible for different aspects of how the spacecraft functions). These lines are maintained by people called linesmen who, through a combination of innate talent and formal training, can use their minds to manipulate these fields. However, almost all of the galaxy’s most talented linesmen have gathered around a mysterious interstellar phenomenon called “The Confluence” and refuse to leave.

Except for one. The scheming owner of the House Of Rigel has realised that, by keeping one of his high-level linesmen (an eccentric called Ean who doesn’t follow formal methods and likes to sing to the lines) away from the confluence, he can make an absolute fortune hiring him out to desperate starship captains. After all, with all of the other high-level linesmen at the confluence, where else can captains go for help?

But, after Ean returns from a long stint in space, he barely has time to rest before he is nearly killed by a visitor to the House Of Rigel who “tests” his abilities by pointing a line-based weapon at him and forcing him to disarm it within seconds. The visitor turns out to be Lady Lyan, a princess from the planet’s powerful royal family who wants to spite Rigel by taking the contract for his highest-earning linesman.

Still, Ean is glad to get away from Rigel. However, when he arrives on Lady Lyan’s ship, Ean soon learns that he has been hired to investigate a mysterious alien ship that has been found floating in space….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it takes a while to really get started, it is well worth the wait 🙂

Imagine the complex feudal politics of Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, the sci-fi mysticism of “Star Wars”, the military-style sci-fi of “Babylon 5″/”Star Trek” and the spaceship-based drama of the modern remake of “Battlestar Galactica” and you’ll have a vague idea of what this novel is like 🙂

Seriously, whilst this novel is very much it’s own thing, there are so many parts of it that will also make you think of “Dune” or “Star Wars” or “Battlestar Galactica”, and this is really cool 🙂 Even so, don’t go into this novel expecting a fast-paced action-packed thriller.

Whilst there are some thrillingly fast-paced moments, most of this novel is more of a complex slow-burn of a story about political machinations and intrigue in outer space. Although this does become really compelling once you understand who all of the different factions, houses etc.. are, expect the earlier parts of the novel to be a bit slow-going whilst everyone and everything is introduced.

In other words, this is more of a character-based drama, a sci-fi mystery and a dialogue-heavy political thriller than a more conventional sci-fi thriller. But, once you get used to this, then the story becomes a lot more compelling. Seriously, this is one of those novels that I started reading a little bit reluctantly but almost held off from reading the last thirty pages because I didn’t want it to end.

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, they’re pretty interesting. Like “Star Wars”, this novel is slightly more on the science fantasy side of things – but this is handled in a way that adds a sense of depth and mystery to the story. Plus, like with a good fantasy novel, all of the novel’s more “magical” elements (eg: Ean’s singing, his limited omniscience etc..) follow a clear set of rules that really helps them to feel like a solid part of the story. Likewise, this is a story that explains enough to let you understand what is happening, but keeps enough mysterious to evoke a feeling of awe and/or curiosity.

The main focus of the novel is more on the political ramifications of alien technology than the technology itself. And, the novel’s politics are really well-handled, with lots of dramatic arguments, devious machinations, clever stratagems, military posturing, awkward formal dinners, sneaky press manipulation etc… Basically, imagine something like “Game Of Thrones”, but without as much bloodshed, and this will give you an idea of what to expect.

As for the novel’s characters, they’re really brilliant. Although Ean receives the bulk of the novel’s characterisation, all of the many other characters feel like distinctive and realistic individuals with personalities and motivations. This is one of those novels that handles a large cast of characters (a couple of whom go by several names) well enough that you probably won’t feel too confused. Seriously, I cannot praise the characters in this novel highly enough 🙂

Ean is an absolutely fascinating protagonist too. Although he is a bit of a “chosen one” character, he’s portrayed in a much more realistic, human, socially awkward, naive and vulnerable way than these types of characters usually are. Likewise, the fact that he’s had to figure a lot of stuff out on his own means that when he finally meets some of his fellow high-level linesmen, they all do things differently and consider him to be a bit of a freak. Seriously, this is a brilliant piece of characterisation.

In terms of the writing, this novel is fairly well-written. The novel’s third-person narration sits somewhere between descriptive formal narration and more informal “matter of fact” narration, and it includes the best elements of both. In short, this is one of those novels where the writing will often fade into the background because you’re more interested in the story and the characters.

Likewise, one interesting feature is that – like in G.R.R Martin’s “Song Of Ice And Fire” novels, each chapter is labelled with the character that it focuses on. However, the novel keeps this a lot more streamlined by only really focusing on two characters – Ean and a rival linesman called Jordan Rossi. This works really well and it gives the third-person narration all of the advantages of multiple first-person narrators, but with absolutely none of the many downsides 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, appearances can be deceptive. Although this novel is a relatively lean 372 pages in length and has the words “fast-paced” printed on the cover, don’t expect it to be a quick read.

This is an epic saga of a novel that consists of lots of atmospheric, intrigue-filled slow-paced parts, punctuated by a small number of well-placed fast-paced segments. Even so, this novel is still really compelling once you have got used to the slower pacing. And, as mentioned earlier, it is one of those books that you’ll go into slightly reluctantly, but find that you miss it when the story is over.

All in all, this is a much better novel than I initially expected 🙂 Yes, it is slow to get started and it will often focus more on intergalactic politics than on swashbuckling spacefarers but, once you get used to this, you’re in for a real treat 🙂 Seriously, if you miss the days when space-based sci-fi shows (eg: “Star Trek”, “Babylon 5”, “Farscape” etc..) used to be on TV and also you want something a little bit more cerebral, then read this book.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and three-quarters.

Review: “The Unnoticeables” By Robert Brockway (Novel)

Well, I was still in the mood for horror fiction, so I thought that I’d check out a second-hand copy of Robert Brockway’s 2015 novel “The Unnoticeables” that I ended up getting after I saw an intriguing description of the novel’s sequel (“The Empty Ones”, which is also on my to-read pile) on a list of recommended horror novels online.

So, let’s take a look at “The Unnoticeables”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “The Unnoticeables” that I read.

The novel begins with a bizarre description of an unknown man being shot by an angel. However, instead of dying from the bullet wound, he suddenly finds that strange things start happening to his mind.

The story then focuses on New York City in the summer of 1977. A punk dude called Carey is hanging out outside a nightclub with some of his friends, when he decides to meet up with a woman called Debbie who might have some drugs for him in a nearby alleyway. However, when he reaches her, she is being melted by a mysterious monster made out of tar and cog-wheels. Angered by this new development, Carey sets the monster on fire.

In Los Angeles in 2013, waitress and part-time stuntwoman Kaitlyn is having a bad day. Not only has she not had any stunt work for weeks, but she’s also just noticed a peeping tom outside her window. However, soon after she storms out of the house with a knife to confront the voyeur, an angel appears beside him and kills him….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a unique, bizarre and transgressive punk-themed horror thriller 🙂 Although it isn’t a perfect novel and it certainly isn’t for everyone, it has some really cool moments, an awesome atmosphere during some parts of the story and a brain-twistingly surreal plot that only really starts to make sense near the end of the book.

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements. This novel contains a rather unsettling mixture of well-crafted paranormal horror, philosophical horror, gruesome horror, surreal horror/body horror, sexual horror, Lovecraftian cosmic horror, suspenseful horror and character-based horror. Whilst this novel isn’t outright scary, it contains quite a few uncomfortably disturbing scenes, ominous moments and creepy moments of intellectual dread.

The main source of this novel’s horror is the concept of inhuman, mechanical utilitarianism – and this brings me on to the novel’s satirical elements. The story’s scenes of people being reduced to “efficient” algorithms are an absolutely brilliant criticism of modern social media/ tech companies. Likewise, the fact that the novel’s “empty” villains can create hordes of soulless, unnoticeable followers is also a brilliantly scathing comment about social media, fame etc… too.

Not only that, one of the novel’s creepiest villains (a washed-up celebrity called Marco) is also used as an eerily prescient comment about all of the scandals in the US film industry during 2017/18. In fact, this novel is basically a giant middle finger to Hollywood and popular culture in general. All of this irreverent satire also fits in really well with the novel’s punk atmosphere and really helps to add depth to the novel too.

The novel’s thriller elements are interesting too. Whilst this novel isn’t an ultra-fast paced thriller novel, there are enough interesting mysteries and moments of suspenseful horror and drama to keep the story compelling. In classic thriller fashion, almost every chapter alternates between two story threads (set in 1977 and 2013). But, although these two storylines connect with each other in interesting ways, they can sometimes parallel each other a little bit too closely – which can make a few scenes feel a bit repetitive.

Still, one of the things I really loved about this novel was it’s atmosphere. The scenes set in 1977 really make you feel like you’re hanging out with an anarchic group of punks and I really wish that the whole novel had focused on these awesome story segments. By contrast, the more modern scenes set in 2013 feel a bit dull and “ordinary” by comparison.

In terms of the characters, they’re really interesting. One of the major themes of this novel is that it is our flaws, imperfections and “inefficiencies” that really make us human. So, the main characters are a really intriguing bunch of misfits 🙂 By contrast, the novel’s villains are a disturbing collection of soulless beings, creepy stalkers, hollow celebrities, fanatical cultists and/or bizarre monsters.

In terms of the writing, this novel is interesting. Although this novel uses the dreaded multiple first-person narrators, it thankfully clearly signposts which character is narrating each chapter – so this doesn’t get too confusing. Likewise, all of the narration in this novel uses a wonderfully informal and distinctive narrative voice which not only adds personality and humour to the story, but also helps to keep the story moving at a reasonable pace too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag though. At a wonderfully efficient 283 pages in length, this novel doesn’t feel too long. However, whilst the beginning and ending of this story are really compelling, the middle parts didn’t really seem to be quite as gripping. Likewise, the occasional appearance of similar events in both of the novel’s storylines can feel a little bit repetitive at times.

All in all, this is an intriguingly weird punk-themed horror novel. Yes, it isn’t perfect and it probably isn’t for everyone, but this novel has an interestingly bizarre premise, a wonderful atmosphere (in the 1970s punk segments, at least) and some great narration.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.