Review: “The Jonah” By James Herbert (Novel)

Well, out of the 116 books I’ve reviewed since I got back into reading regularly, I was shocked to realise that I hadn’t reviewed a single James Herbert novel. In fact, I didn’t even notice this shocking omission until, whilst searching one of my book piles for old horror novels, I stumbled across a copy of Herbert’s 1981 novel “The Jonah”.

Although I initially assumed that it was one of the second-hand horror novels that I had bought during the ’00s, but never got round to reading, I was surprised to find that I had read it before. Even though I had no memory of reading it, there was a pencil mark on one of the pages (I used to leave these, lest the bookmark fell out) which showed me I’d been there before. So, I was curious.

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

This is the 1985 New English Library (UK) paperback edition of “The Jonah” that I read.

The novel begins in 1950s London, where a lavatory attendant called Vera discovers an abandoned baby with something lying beside it. Then, we flash forward to 1980s London. Undercover detective Jim Kelso is in a police car following another car belonging to a group of bank robbers.

According to his intelligence, they’re heading for the docks. However, whilst passing through a road tunnel, it turns out that the criminals were actually planning to rob a nearby armoured van.

In the gunfight that follows, one of Kelso’s colleagues is killed after Kelso’s gun jams at a crucial moment. Although his superiors check the gun and agree that it was an accident, they feel that – thanks to his accident-filled service record – he is a “Jonah”, a bad luck magnet.

But, since Kelso is too competent to be sacked, he ends up being reassigned to the drug squad and sent to a small coastal village in Suffolk called Adleton where a local family suffered a mysterious case of LSD poisoning. Yet, after spending several weeks there, he can see no signs of smuggling along the coast. Still, he’s sure that something is going on….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that reading it felt like returning home again 🙂 Seriously, I’d almot forgotten how awesome James Herbert novels are. This novel is a lot more fast-paced and readable than I’d expected, whilst still being just as atmospheric as you’d expect a 1980s horror novel to be 🙂 Not to mention that, like Shaun Hutson’s 2006 novel “Dying Words“, this novel is also an intriguing hybrid of a gritty crime thriller and a horror novel.

Interestingly, the novel almost tends to focus more on its crime thriller elements, with the horror elements sometimes being more of an ominous background detail.

Still, although this novel mostly lacks the gory splatterpunk horror that Herbert pioneered with his 1974 classic “The Rats” (which I really need to re-read sometime), this isn’t to say that the story is devoid of horror. In addition to a wonderfully grotesque conclusion (and a creepy, but subtle, twist in the final moments), this novel also contains quite a few moments of implied horror, atmospheric horror, tragic horror, menacing suspense, paranormal horror and psychological horror. Plus, there’s also a brief scene involving rats too 🙂

In short, the horror elements of this novel are probably slightly closer to a traditional ghost story and/or an ominous Lovecraftian horror story than a typical splatterpunk novel. Even so, the horror elements work well and help to add mystery and atmosphere to the story 🙂 But, if you’re expecting a grisly 1980s gore-fest, then you’re probably better off reading Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” instead.

The novel’s crime thriller elements are quite compelling though. In addition to a dramatic and gritty car chase/gunfight at the beginning of the story, there’s a lot of gradually building suspense whilst Kelso and a customs agent called Ellie investigate the small village of Adleton, not to mention that there are a few dramatic fights and/or perilous predicaments too (which even include a segment that wouldn’t look out of place in a disaster movie). So, the thriller elements of this novel are certainly compelling enough 🙂

Even so, some details do feel a little bit under-researched. With, for example, some of the segments involving drugs containing what seem to be a few basic errors. Even so, other parts of the story contain all sorts of complex scientific jargon. Then again, given that this novel was written in the early 1980s, I guess that research materials about science were probably easier to find than reliable information about drugs was.

In terms of the characters, they’re surprisingly good. Although Kelso is a typical gruff and rugged 1980s horror novel protagonist, he gets a lot of backstory which really helps to add a lot of tragic depth to his character. Likewise, his colleague/love interest Ellie is also a reasonably well-developed and realistic character too. Plus, like in all good 1980s horror novels, there’s a large and quickly-sketched, but believable, cast of background characters who almost all die in various horrible ways.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good 🙂 This novel’s third-person narration is, in a word, readable. It is formal and descriptive enough to lend the story the kind of atmosphere you’d expect from a 1980s horror novel, but it is also “matter of fact”, informal and gritty enough to keep the story moving at a fairly decent pace. The writing in this novel really shines during the historical flashback scenes, which really capture the grim, understated and drab atmosphere of 1950s/60s Britain.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good 🙂 At a gloriously efficient 253 pages in length, there’s no bloat or padding in this novel 🙂 This novel also contains a really good mixture of moderately-paced atmospheric scenes and faster-paced moments which really helps to keep the novel compelling.

As for how this thirty-eight year old novel has aged, it has aged surprisingly well. Yes, there are a few dated and mildly-moderately “politically incorrect” descriptions, but the story itself is still really compelling, the writing is still very readable today and the story also has a wonderfully retro, gloomy and rural 1980s atmosphere to it too 🙂

All in all, if you want a compelling vintage crime thriller and/or a relatively non-gory example of 1980s horror fiction, then this novel is worth reading 🙂 Seriously, I’d forgotten how much fun James Herbert novels are to read 🙂

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

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Review: “The Hunger” By Whitley Strieber (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for another 1980s horror novel. So, I thought that it was finally time to read the copy of Whitley Strieber’s 1980 novel “The Hunger” that I found by accident whilst searching through one of my book piles for another novel several weeks earlier. If I remember rightly, this was a novel that I originally found in a charity shop in Aberystwyth sometime during late 2009/early 2010.

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

This is the 1985 Corgi (UK) paperback edition of “The Hunger” that I read.

The novel begins at 3am in Long Island, with a man called John Blaylock breaking into a house in order to murder a teenager called Kaye. He has planned the crime meticulously and he carries it out with ruthless efficiency. But, after the dastardly deed is done, he bites his victim’s neck and we learn that John is a vampire.

Not only that, he lives in a nice suburban house with a much older vampire called Miriam and her young human protege Alice. Although they have to keep their vampiric nature secret from both Alice and the world, Miriam and John live a relatively happy life together – filled with classical music, beautiful gardens and passionate romance.

However, after John returns from his latest killing, Miriam senses that something is wrong with him. Like all of the previous people she has turned into vampires, John has finally started to age at an accelerated rate. Soon, his vampiric hunger will overwhelm him and turn him into little more than a beast. Still, she has read about a scientist called Sarah Roberts who has been conducting promising research into treatments that could prevent ageing. So, Miriam decides to seek her out…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a lot creepier than I expected. Yes, it has some flaws, but if you want a vampire story that will actually frighten you, then this one is worth reading.

Seriously, I cannot praise this novel’s horror elements highly enough 🙂 It contains a wonderfully disturbing mixture of psychological horror, character-based horror, medical/scientific horror, gory horror, body horror, tragic horror, sexual horror, paranormal horror, claustrophobic horror, suspenseful horror, cruel horror, slasher movie-style horror and criminal horror too.

This is the kind of novel that won’t shock you that often, but will instead leave you in a decidedly unsettled mood after you’ve read it (kind of a bit like playing “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines).

The main source of the novel’s horror is probably the exquisitely disturbing main character, Miriam. She’s an extremely evil character, but the novel shows us enough of her tragic backstory (through some really atmospheric historical flashback scenes) and profound feelings of loneliness to actually make the reader feel sorry for her – only to then recoil with disgust when they realise what a monster they have been sympathising with.

The novel’s portrayal of vampirism is fairly inventive too. In essence, vampires are initially presented as serial killers and, later, as some kind of “Mimic“-like predatory species. They quite literally suck the life out of people, leaving their victims little more than shrivelled husks. They can also sire new vampires, who end up turning into frenzied, decaying monsters after 200-1000 years. They can walk in daylight and aren’t affected by garlic or crosses. Their only weaknesses are that they involuntarily fall asleep for six hours a day (with vivid nightmares) and need to bite someone once a week.

As the title suggests, this is a novel about hunger. In addition to the vampires’ hunger for blood, this novel is also about hunger for companionship, for food, for pleasure etc.. In essence, it is a novel about how hedonism is an integral part of humanity. And, in the tradition of 1980s horror novels, this isn’t really a novel for the prudish either.

In terms of the characters, there’s a lot of characterisation in this novel. Good horror relies on characterisation and this novel doesn’t disappoint. Although some of the characters may seem a little bit stylised, stereotypical and/or cheesy, there’s often enough characterisation here to make you care about them. Likewise, as mentioned earlier, Miriam is one of the creepiest vampire characters I’ve seen in a while.

In terms of the writing, it is both brilliant and terrible at the same time. The novel’s third-person narration uses a rather descriptive, formal and/or melodramatic style which can seem incredibly corny at times but, when you get used to it, really helps to add a lot of atmosphere and depth to the story. Yes, this makes the story a bit slow-paced but, once you get used to the writing style, then it really helps to breathe life into the story.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit strange. At 249 pages in length, it initially seemed like the kind of gloriously short novel that used to be standard in the good old days. However, thanks to the writing style, this novel is a lot more slow-paced than you might expect. Still, the fact that it uses a thriller-style structure and the fact that the level of suspense increases throughout the story means that the later parts of the novel were compelling enough to binge-read 🙂

In terms of how this thirty-nine year old novel has aged, it’s a bit complicated. The story itself is still compelling and the horror is, if anything, even more creepy than it probably was in the early 1980s. However, the writing style is a bit old-fashioned, there are some dated and/or stereotypical depictions of LGBT characters and the science/technology elements of the book will also seem fairly dated too.

All in all, even though this isn’t always a perfect novel, it is still an incredibly compelling, atmospheric and creepy vampire novel. Seriously, I’m genuinely shocked that a vampire novel can be this scary. If you want an inventive version of a familiar genre, then this book is well worth reading.

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

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.

Review: “Plague Nation” By Dana Fredsti (Novel)

Well, after reading Dana Fredsti’s awesome “Plague Town” a while ago, I eventually found a reasonably-priced second-hand copy of the 2013 sequel “Plague Nation” online. And, since the weather had cooled down a bit, I thought that it was finally time to actually read it 🙂

Although this novel is a sequel, it contains enough recaps for you to theoretically read it without reading “Plague Town” (but you’ll get more out of it if you read that novel first). However, I should point out that “Plague Nation” is also the middle novel in a trilogy too. In other words, don’t expect it to be a fully self-contained story.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Plague Nation”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS for both this novel and “Plague Town”.

This is the 2013 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Plague Nation” that I read.

“Plague Nation” begins shortly after the events of “Plague Town”. The team of “wild card” immune survivors are clearing out the remaining zombies from the isolated California town of Redwood Grove. However, thanks to the contaminated flu vaccine, there are small-scale zombie outbreaks in other parts of America.

Not only that, things start going wrong in Redwood Grove. The team’s leader – Gabriel – seems to be even more of a self-righteous ass than usual, an attempt to rescue a survivor goes horribly wrong and it also seems like someone is out to sabotage the secret research lab in the town’s university…….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a story of two halves. One of the things I’ve noticed about modern zombie sequels (Jonathan Maberry’s “Fall Of Night” springs to mind too) is that they often tend to start with the slower-paced physical and emotional aftermath of the previous novel. In other words, the first half or so of this novel is more of a drama (with occasional moments of action, suspense and horror) than the kind of thrilling zombie-fighting adventure that you’d expect. Of course, things pick up again as the story progresses.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re reasonably good. Although the first half of the novel is a little bit more understated and slow-paced, this is where the bulk of the story’s horror can be found. Although the whole story contains the kind of splatterpunk-style ultra-gruesome zombie horror you would expect, the first half of the novel contains many of the story’s truly disturbing moments of horror. In addition to a shocking character death, there’s the disturbing return of a character from the first novel and several other exquisitely tragic, gross and/or horrific scenes too.

Plus, in true splatterpunk fashion, the novel is peppered with short chapters about other random characters in other locations being faced with the zombie outbreak too. These chapters help to add a sense of scale to the story, whilst also helping to add moments of horror to more slow-paced segments of the story too.

As mentioned earlier, the novel turns into more of an action-thriller story as it progresses. The slower first half of the story helps to build up the suspense and set the scene for a gripping “edge of your seat” mission to the zombie-infested streets of San Francisco. And, this part of the story is where the novel really hits it’s stride and becomes the kind of epic, badass zombie apocalypse thriller that the first novel will have led you to expect.

In terms of the characters, they’re as good as ever. The zombie-fighting team are a slightly stylised band of misfits, who receive a reasonable amount of characterisation as the story progresses. Plus, although the story starts off with lots of arguments and other such things, the characterisation remains consistently good throughout most of the novel.

In terms of the writing, this novel uses both first and third-person narration. Although this might sound confusing or annoying, it actually works well since the third-person segments are clearly signposted via italic text. And, like in “Plague Town”, the first-person perspective parts of the novel are narrated by Ashley Parker – a wonderfully cynical, irreverent and badass zombie fighter who is never short of a pop culture reference or two. These parts of the story are written in a fairly informal way and they really help to add personality and humour to the story, whilst also keeping things moving at a decent pace too.

In terms of length and pacing, this story is reasonably good. At 318 pages in length, it is both long enough and short enough. Likewise, the novel begins in a relatively slow-paced way, although this is mostly to set the stage for the more fast-paced later parts of the novel. Even so, the informal narration and several well-placed moments of horror and drama help to keep the beginning of the story compelling enough.

Still, this novel is the middle part of a trilogy. So, like with watching a “to be continued” episode of a TV show, the pacing and drama builds to such a point near the end of the novel that you’ll just know that everything won’t be resolved in the remaining few pages. Yes, there is a little bit of resolution at the end of the novel but there are quite a lot of mysterious unresolved background details and a bit of a cliffhanger ending.

All in all, this is a really good zombie novel. Although it is a little bit slow to really get started, it is still a decent follow-up to “Plague Town” and, if you liked that novel, you’ll probably enjoy this one too. Yes, I preferred the second half of the novel to the first, but both are really good. Still, just be aware that this novel is the middle part of a trilogy.

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

Review: “Fall Of Night” By Jonathan Maberry (Novel)

Well, after I finished reading Jonathan Maberry’s “Dead Of Night” about a month or two ago, I’d thought about reading the sequel. But, at the time, second-hand copies were a little on the expensive side of things. Still, a while later, the price came down and I ended up getting a copy of Maberry’s 2014 novel “Fall Of Night”.

However, I should probably point out that you need to read “Dead Of Night” before you read this book. It is a direct sequel to that novel and, despite a lot of recaps, the story picks up pretty much where “Dead Of Night” left off. So, this story will make more sense and have more of a dramatic impact if you’ve read “Dead Of Night” first.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Fall Of Night”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS for both this novel and “Dead Of Night”.

This is the 2014 St. Martin’s Press (US) paperback edition of “Fall Of Night” that I read.

The novel begins in the town of Stebbins, Pennsylvania. Following the events of the previous book, the survivors of the zombie virus outbreak are holed up in the town’s school and the troops outside the school have agreed to let them live. However, the leader of the survivors – tough local cop Dez Fox – is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and her on-off boyfriend Billy Trout can’t get any more news reports out of the school because the military are jamming all communications.

In Washington DC, there is chaos. The US president’s hawkish national security advisor, Scott Blair, is furiously urging him to take extreme measures to contain the outbreak. Naturally, the president is hesitant about authorising such things. Some of his staff are also trying to make him think about how this crisis will affect him politically. Of course, when they hear that Billy Trout may have some of Dr. Volker’s research notes about the zombie virus, the situation becomes even more complicated.

Meanwhile, in a town near Stebbins called Bordentown, a resurrected serial killer called Homer Gibbon has just broken into the local Starbucks. Billy’s cameraman, Goat, is there and is trying to upload more information about the infection to the press when this happens. To Goat’s surprise, Homer spares his life on the condition that he follows him and gets his side of the story out to the media….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although the story is very slow to really get started and it is probably the bleakest horror novel I’ve read since I read James Herbert’s “Domain” back when I was a teenager, it is still a surprisingly good book. Yes, it would have been even better if it was shorter, but it’s one hell of a horror novel and a fairly decent thriller novel too. Just don’t judge it by the first hundred pages or so.

And, yes, this novel is even more of a horror novel than “Dead Of Night” was. In addition to the usual splatterpunk-style ultra-gruesome zombie horror that you would expect, this novel contains numerous other types of horror too. The most prominent of these is probably bleak horror. This is a grim, bleak novel about traumatised survivors trying to stay alive, people facing certain death, people making grim decisions and a slowly-unfolding zombie apocalypse that keeps getting worse. It’s a compelling story, but it isn’t exactly easy reading.

Even so, there are plenty of other types of horror too. In addition to post-apocalyptic horror, moral horror, psychological horror, character-based horror and scientific/medical horror, this is also one of those novels that will even occasionally make you feel sorry for a few of the zombies too! Seriously, this novel may not be outright scary, but it is a surprisingly disturbing (and depressing) horror novel.

The novel is also a fairly compelling thriller novel too. Yes, the novel begins fairly slowly with lots of grim scenes showing the psychological and political aftermath of the events of the first novel. But, as the story progresses, it becomes more suspenseful, more fast-paced and more dramatic. In addition to some dramatic zombie battles and a sub-plot about a team of mercenaries sent into the town (and, yes, there are a couple of references to Maberry’s “Patient Zero” too), the novel does something really clever with it’s more spectacular set pieces.

During a couple of the novel’s really dramatic moments (which I won’t spoil), the novel will add a lot of extra impact to these scenes by using multiple chapters that show how the same events are experienced by different characters. Although this might sound repetitive, it actually works really well and it helps to hammer home the magnitude of these scenes.

In terms of the characters, this novel is really good. Good horror relies on good characterisation and this novel excels at this. Even background characters who only appear for a single chapter will get a fair amount of characterisation. Likewise, the novel’s main characters have all been affected by the events of the previous novel and this allows for a lot of character-based drama, psychological drama, moral ambiguity etc.. too.

The novel also takes a more realistic approach to characterisation than Hollywood movies do, which helps to add some extra horror to many scenes. For example, when one of the more traumatised survivors freaks out about everything that is happening, Dez does the classic Hollywood thing of trying to slap some sense into him. Needless to say, this just makes things worse and also realistically makes Dez feel fairly guilty afterwards too.

The novel’s characterisation also helps to add a little bit of happiness, warmth and dark comedy to this grim tale too. Most of these parts of the story involve background characters who die in ironic, but merciful, ways. The most heartwarming examples are probably the scene involving some medieval re-enactors at a local renaissance fair and the scene involving a pyromaniac who is working his dream job as a military explosives expert.

In terms of the writing, this novel is fairly good. The novel’s third-person narration is written in a fairly “matter of fact” style that both helps to keep the story moving at a decent pace, whilst also emphasising the stark bleakness of the story too. This is also complemented by lots of harsh dialogue that, far from making the story seem laughably immature, actually helps to add to the story’s bleak sense of hopelessness, trauma and grimness.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel falls down a bit. At 402 pages, this novel felt about fifty to a hundred pages longer than it should be. Likewise, the sheer number of recaps during the earlier parts of the story and the slow-paced focus on the aftermath of the first novel mean that this novel really doesn’t get off to the kind of gripping start that it should do. Even so, the novel’s pacing becomes a lot faster and more suspenseful as the story progresses and I guess that the slow beginning is meant to make these parts of the book seem faster-paced by contrast.

All in all, whilst I preferred “Dead Of Night” to “Fall Of Night”, this novel is a fairly impressive horror novel. Yes, the story is slow to start and it is probably one of the most bleak horror novels I’ve ever read (seriously, it’s second only to James Herbert’s “Domain”), but it is still a very compelling, suspenseful and gripping horror novel.

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

Review: “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” By Natasha Rhodes (Novel)

First of all, sorry that it’s taken me so long to review this novel (mostly due to hot weather at the time of writing). Anyway, I thought that I’d re-read at Natasha Rhodes’ 2005 horror novel “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” today.

This novel is an original spin-off novel based on the brilliantly creepy “Final Destination” horror movie series. I first read this novel in 2005/6, during my mid-late teens, after a friend at sixth form recommended the series to me. And, after finding my old copy of this novel a few days before writing this review (and feeling a bit nostalgic), I decided to look online for books in the series. To my surprise, they were (at the time of writing) almost all expensive out-of-print collector’s items. So, I decided to re-read this one.

So, let’s take a look at “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 2005 Black Flame (UK) paperback edition of “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” that I read.

The novel begins in Los Angeles. Nineteen year old rock musician Jess Golden has just stolen someone’s wallet and is on her way to an underground nightclub called Club Kitty. After fooling her way past the doorman with a fake ID, she joins her band – The Vipers- one minute before they are due to play. Needless to say, they aren’t exactly happy about this.

Even so, the concert starts off well… until Jess notices a crack in the ceiling. Within minutes, she sees the dilapidated nightclub collapse, killing all of those inside. However, a second later, Jess finds herself back in the middle of the concert. It doesn’t take her long to realise that she’s had a premonition of an impending disaster. So, she stops the show and urges everyone to flee.

Needless to say, this doesn’t go over well and she gets thrown out of the club, shortly before a few other people leave. Seconds later, the club collapses. Not only does Jess quickly find herself under suspicion for the accident and on the run from the police, but the other survivors suddenly find themselves in danger from a mysterious unseen force that tries to cause bizarre, deadly accidents…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it is a good spin-off novel, it is also a novel that is “so bad that it’s good”. Although the novel is fairly true to the spirit of the “Final Destination” films and contains some really good suspense, horror, fake-outs and other cool stuff, it is let down somewhat by the characters.

As a horror novel, this story works reasonably well 🙂 The premise of the “Final Destination” films (eg: people who have cheated death being chased by death itself) is inherently creepy and the novel is very true to the spirit of the films. In other words, the characters find themselves in lots of suspenseful dangerous situations, with so many near-misses and fake-outs that you’ll never quite know which character will die next or when. This suspenseful horror is also complemented by some moments of gory horror which, whilst not quite as gruesome as a classic splatterpunk novel, are about on par with the splatter effects in the films the story is inspired by.

The horror highlight of this novel is probably a wonderfully macabre nightmare scene (featuring the grim reaper and a grotesque ladder made from the souls of the dead) during one of the later parts of the story. Unfortunately, it’s a relatively short scene and I really wish that more scenes like this had appeared in the story. Seriously, the brilliant mixture of imaginative horror and dark comedy in this one scene reminded me a bit of a classic Clive Barker novel or something like that 🙂

Likewise, the story’s suspenseful elements also help to turn the novel into a bit of a thriller novel too – especially since Jess also spends several parts of the story on the run from the police for various reasons. Even so, the novel wasn’t really as gripping as I had hoped for – thanks to some of the story’s “so bad that it’s good” elements.

The most noticeable of these is probably the characters. Basically, many of the main characters are the kind of cheesy stylised characters you’d expect to see in a teen horror movie. Although Jess is a reasonably well-written main character, some of the other characters include two idiotic frat boys, a vapid “valley girl” character, a handsome “popular” guy (who owns a vintage car) and an “alternative” nice guy character. And the characterisation is, well, cinematic. But, whilst this would work well in a cheesy Hollywood horror movie, I’d expect more from a novel. Likewise, the main characters also spend a lot of time arguing with each other too, which gets really annoying after a while.

Even so, there are some wonderfully unusual background characters who really help to add a bit of extra personality to the story. Such as an ex-stunt driver who works as a taxi driver and conveniently shows up to help Jess during two scenes where she is being chased by the police. Likewise, although the series’ famous mortician doesn’t show up, he’s replaced by an eccentric homeless man that the main characters meet a couple of times.

But, if there’s one thing to be said for this novel, it is a fairly cool piece of mid-2000s nostalgia. Everything from the focus on rock music (including several classic rock/ heavy metal references), the lack of smartphones, the tonal similarities to Hollywood horror movies/teen comedies from the time, the slightly “edgy” tone etc.. is wonderfully reminiscent of the time the story was written. Even so, this is also one of those novels that could have easily come from the 1990s too – which isn’t a bad thing.

As for the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is reasonably good. This novel is written in a fairly informal and readable style, which helps the story to move at a reasonably decent pace. Even so, some of the dialogue and character-based scenes are quite literally “so bad that they’re good”.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag. At about 385 pages in length, it’s a little bit on the long side for a cheesy horror thriller novel. Likewise, although the story has quite a few suspenseful and fast-paced moments, it is occasionally bogged down by things like annoying arguments between the characters and stuff like that. Even so, the novel gets slightly more gripping as it progresses.

All in all, this novel is “so bad that it’s good”. It’s a cheesy late-night horror movie in novel form. Yes, it has some rather cool moments and some excellent suspense, but it also contains some cringe-worthily annoying arguments, characters etc… too. Still, if you’re a fan of the “Final Destination” films, then you’ll probably enjoy this book, since it’s fairly true to the spirit of the films. But, given how expensive second-hand copies of books in this series have become, I really can’t recommend getting a copy of this novel these days.

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

Review: “Dying Words” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Shortly after I’d finished reading Shaun Hutson’s “Last Rites“, I wanted to read some more of Hutson’s novels from the 2000s. And, after looking online, I found a cheap second-hand copy of Hutson’s 2006 novel “Dying Words”.

I wasn’t sure if I’d already read this novel back in the day (I probably did), but it intrigued me enough to buy a copy…. which then promptly languished on my “to read” pile for about three months. But, after reading Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up The Bodies“, I wanted to read something a bit more fast-paced. So, yes, this review is long overdue.

So, let’s take a look at “Dying Words”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2007 Orbit (UK) paperback edition of “Dying Words” that I read.

The novel begins in London with a high-speed car chase. Detective Inspector David Birch is in pursuit of a serial killer and he’s damned if he’s going to let him go. After leaving a trail of destruction, the killer gets out of his car, draws a knife and flees – cutting down anyone who gets in his way. Birch gives chase. Finally, there is a tense stand-off in an underground station – which ends with Birch gleefully throwing the disarmed killer onto the electrified rails.

Meanwhile, a biographer called Megan Hunter is discussing her latest historical book about a little-known Renaissance thinker called Giacomo Cassano with her editor Frank. Compared to Dante and Caravaggio, no-one has heard of Cassano, and Megan hopes that her book will change this.

Back at the police station, Birch is called to the Commissioner’s office to account for his actions. After giving Birch a scare, the Commissioner eventually decides to turn a blind eye to the serial killer’s suspicious death.

A while later, Birch is called out to investigate a new case. Frank has been brutally murdered, yet there is no evidence of anyone else leaving or entering the locked room that he died in…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really brilliant, but intriguingly different, Shaun Hutson novel. Although it still contains the horror and thriller elements you’d expect from a Shaun Hutson novel, this novel is actually more of a detective novel most of the time. And this works surprisingly well. Likewise, this novel is also an intriguing piece of metafiction, an awesome heavy metal novel and a wonderfully evocative piece of mid-2000s nostalgia too 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s detective elements. Apart from the beginning and the ending, this novel mostly takes a fairly “realistic” attitude towards detection, with large parts of the story involving Birch interviewing people, examining crime scenes, talking to other detectives and following up on leads. In a lot of ways, this novel is kind of like a cross between a drama and a gritty police procedural. And, surprisingly, this works really well – with the “locked room mystery” elements also helping to add some intrigue to the story too.

Likewise, this novel is also a really good horror novel too. Although it isn’t really that scary, there’s a really brilliant mixture of ultra-gruesome splatterpunk horror, creepy implied horror, suspenseful horror, atmospheric horror, criminal horror, medical horror and some paranormal horror … all of which gradually engulf what initially appears to be a fairly “ordinary” detective story 🙂 Seriously, this is one of the best blendings of the detective and horror genres that I’ve seen in a while.

As mentioned earlier, “Dying Words” is also a work of metafiction too – and it works really brilliantly. Although it initially appears to be a rather cynical satire about the publishing business and about critics (of which I now seem to be one), the novel also covers topics like the power of books, the power of authors and the nature of creativity itself too.

In addition to this, one fun element of the story is that one of the characters is a horror author called Paxton. Although I initially thought that this was an author insert, it’s probably more of a self-parody and/or a parody of the popular image of horror authors. Plus, there’s an absolutely brilliant description of one of Paxton’s books being launched, which is wonderfully evocative of the genre’s heyday in the 1970s-90s (which, sadly, I only discovered belatedly via second-hand books during the ’00s).

This novel is also a brilliant piece of mid-2000s nostalgia too 🙂 Everything from the cynical description of a “misery memoir”, to some of the fashions (eg: Megan’s boho chic outfit in one scene), to the general atmosphere of the story, to the vaguely “Silent Hill 3“-style settings in one part of the novel, to the mentions of CDs/DVDs, to the blissful absence of smartphones etc… is gloriously reminiscent of an era of history that popular nostalgia hasn’t quite reached yet.

So, if you miss the mid-2000s (and, back then, I never thought that I’d say those words… Wow, the present day sucks!), then this novel is well worth reading for nostalgia alone.

This novel is also a heavy metal novel too 🙂 In addition to some utterly brilliant Iron Maiden references (especially to this song) that are integrated into the story in a really cool way, there are also possible references to Judas Priest’s “Electric Eye” and Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” too 🙂 Seriously, it’s always brilliant to read a novel by an author with such good taste in music \m/ 🙂 \m/

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably good and they all come across as fairly realistic – if somewhat stylised – people. Although, like in Hutson’s “Last Rites”, many of the characters have tragic backstories – this element isn’t emphasised quite as much in this novel, which helps to stop the story’s emotional tone from becoming too bleak or depressing (still, don’t expect a cheerful tale. This is a Shaun Hutson novel, after all).

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is a really interesting mixture of the more descriptive (and slightly formal) style that Hutson used in his classic 1980s horror novels and the faster, grittier and more “matter of fact” style that he used in his 1990s/2000s thriller novels. Still, this novel mostly tends be more like a classic-style Hutson novel in terms of the writing.

Interestingly, this novel only partially includes some of Hutson’s trademark phrases though (eg: the word “cleft” appears, but I didn’t notice the word “liquescent” anywhere). Still, it includes the brilliant description “mucoid snorting” at one point.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 357 pages in length, this novel doesn’t feel that much longer than Hutson’s classic 1980s fiction. The novel’s pacing is handled in a really interesting way too. Both the beginning and ending are as fast-paced as a good thriller novel, whereas the pacing of the rest of the novel is much closer to that of a horror or detective novel. This contrast works really well, since it helps to build suspense and make the thrilling segments of the novel even more fast-paced by comparison 🙂

All in all, this is a brilliantly enjoyable novel 🙂 Yes, it’s a bit different to pretty much every other Shaun Hutson novel, but at the same time it is also very much a Hutson novel. If you want a really interesting mixture of the detective, thriller and horror genres, if you want some intriguing metafiction or if you’re just feeling nostalgic for the mid-2000s, then this novel is definitely worth reading 🙂

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