Well, I thought that I’d take a very extended break from Clive Cussler novels and read books by other authors. As such, I felt like re-visiting an old favourite that I’ve been meaning to re-read for ages. I am, of course, talking about a splatterpunk horror novel from 1984 called “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson.
I first read this novel at some point during the early-mid ’00s. Although I’d read at least two other Shaun Hutson novels before I read “Erebus”, this novel really knocked my socks off! It was quite simply the coolest book in the world. The only other books I read during my teenage years that even seemed to come close to the thrilling, fast-paced ultra-gory horror of “Erebus” were S.D.Perry’s excellent novelisations of the “Resident Evil” videogames (which, again, I really must re-read sometime).
But, about a decade and a half later (and after a failed attempt at re-reading it during a time when I’d gone off the horror genre), I wondered if I’d still enjoy “Erebus” as much as I’d done when I was younger. Needless to say, I did.
So, let’s take a look at “Erebus”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.
“Erebus” begins in a farm near the rural town of Wakely, where local aristocrats Terence and Laura Bristow are returning home to check on their new racehorse. However, when they enter their farm, the horse flies into a homicidal rage. Meanwhile, Nick Daley is starting work at the local abbatoir. New to the job, he’s somewhat nervous. Something not helped by the fact that the bull that is due to be slaughtered suddenly becomes very, very angry…
Some time afterwards, we join a character called Vic Tyler. Following a bereavement, he returned to Wakely to run the family farm. Things are going surprisingly well since his farmhands tell him that the farm is producing more than usual thanks to some new multi-purpose feed from a local chemical company….
Meanwhile, in the neighbouring town of Arkham, journalist Jo Ward gets a frantic phone call from a nervous scientist at Vanderburg Chemicals who urgently wants to meet her to share information…..
One of the first things that I will say about “Erebus” is that there’s nothing else quite like it. It is an absolutely brilliant fusion of the vampire, zombie and thriller genres that manages to become more than the sum of it’s parts. Yes, other stories (“Double Dead” by Chuck Wendig, “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson etc…) have blended the vampire and zombie genres, but none have done it in quite the same way as “Erebus”.
In short, this novel is “Resident Evil” from before “Resident Evil” was even a thing. But, instead of mindless shambling zombies, the “infected” are semi-intelligent vampires…. who happen to look and act a lot like zombies. Likewise, the main characters aren’t highly-trained soldiers, but a farmer and a journalist. And the story takes place in a rural part of 1980s Britain. And it is amazing!
In terms of horror, this novel isn’t outright scary – but it still uses different types of horror very effectively.
The most prominent form of horror in “Erebus” is the gory horror that the splatterpunk genre is famous for. Seriously, the average horror movie looks like a Disney movie in comparison to this novel. By bombarding the reader with frequent scenes of ultra-grisly horror, Hutson achieves something more than mere shock value. After a while, the grisly parts of the story become an atmospheric background element. So, even when the shock value wears off, these scenes still allow the story to maintain a menacing, macabre tone that really helps to set the mood.
This isn’t to say that even more experienced splatterpunk readers won’t be shocked occasionally though. Seriously, Shaun Hutson is an artist when it comes to writing about death, decay and other disgusting things. I won’t spoil any of the novel’s more shocking moments, but let’s just say that – if this was a film – it’d probably get banned. Or, at the very least, provoke a few amusing Daily Mail headlines.
The novel’s gallons of gore are also complemented by several other types of horror too. The most prominent of these is good old-fashioned suspense. At first, this includes some wonderful gothic horror tropes such as mysterious figures moving in the shadows, the townspeople slowly taking on a deathly pallor and the town centre gradually becoming more and more deserted. But, as the novel progresses, this is replaced with the kind of fast-paced pulse-pounding action-packed suspense that you’d normally expect to see in a particularly gripping thriller novel. Seriously, it is an absolute delight to see something that is able to blend both types of suspense so expertly 🙂
In terms of characters, this novel is surprisingly good. Good horror relies on good characterisation, and “Erebus” certainly doesn’t disappoint here. Both Vic Tyler and Jo Ward come across as reasonably realistic characters, both of whom have interesting backstories that have shaped the course of their lives. Likewise, literally every other character in the story receives at least a small amount of highly-concentrated characterisation.
Hutson’s narration is also really interesting too. In short, he sometimes uses the type of descriptive and eloquent narration that, these days, would be considered more fitting for a literary novel than a “low budget” horror novel. This works astonishingly well, since the rather flowery and sophisticated narration is contrasted perfectly with the grim events and drearily mundane settings of the story. It’s a perfect parody of the type of idealised, bucolic, “literary” storytelling that you’d expect to read in a more aristocratic novel.
Thematically, this novel is really interesting too. One of the major themes in “Erebus” is the contrast between Britain and America – with both being presented in a gleefully cynical manner.
Rural Britain (England in particular) is shown to be reassuringly cosy, but also the type of dreary, mundane, dilapidated, old-fashioned place that you would expect. On the other hand, America is depicted like something from a dramatic Hollywood movie… albeit a gangster movie. This is shown in Jo’s character arc – she flees New York in order to escape the Mafia, but ends up in a dreary English village that soon becomes just as dangerous…. thanks to an American corporation and an ex-Mafia hit-man, who are in hock with the British government.
This is also reflected in the novel’s politics too. Whilst the novel contains some brilliantly anti-establishment moments that put the “punk” in splatterpunk (such as the ominous government conspiracy later in the story, or Wakely’s comically incompetent police force etc..), it also realistically reflects the conservatism of rural England too. For example, during Jo and Vic’s first date, their conversation briefly includes a conservative rant that could almost have come straight from the pages of the Daily Mail or Daily Express.
For the most part, this 34 year old novel has aged fairly well. Not only are the suspenseful parts of this story timelessly thrilling, but the gory moments are also timelessly grotesque too. Likewise, the total lack of modern mobile phones just adds to the suspense too. Even the more obviously 1980s elements of the story (like Hutson referring to a computer monitor as a “V.D.U.”) just add to the cosy retro charm of this story.
Even so, there are a couple of brief moments that have aged badly. For example, the fact that one of the novel’s villains is something of a racist is relayed to the reader in a third-person narrative segment that would probably be written slightly differently today. Likewise, the conservative rant mentioned earlier also uses some descriptions/terms that haven’t aged well at all.
In terms of length, this novel is absolutely perfect. At 309 pages, this story never really outstays it’s welcome or contains much in the way of padding. Seriously, I miss the days when novels actually had editors who cared about length. This is the kind of book that can easily be binge-read in a couple of satisfying two-hour sessions. Seriously, it’s refreshing to see a novel that isn’t a 400+ page tome 🙂
All in all, if you love gruesome horror fiction, if you’re a fan of the classic “Resident Evil” games and/or if you aren’t easily shocked, then you owe it to yourself to read this novel 🙂 It’s thrilling, ominous, grotesque and unlike anything you’ve read before. It’s both gloriously retro and (mostly) timeless. It’s both really good and “so bad that it’s good”. It’s a novel that amazed me when I was a teenager and it still kept me absolutely gripped when I re-read it at the age of… well, older than that. So, wait until after midnight, put some heavy metal music on in the background and start reading “Erebus”.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.