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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

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.

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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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ Seriously, it’s always brilliant to read a novel by an author with such good taste in music \m/ πŸ™‚ \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 πŸ™‚

All in all, this is a brilliantly enjoyable novel πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

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

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

Well, although I had slightly mixed feelings about Jonathan Maberry’s “Patient Zero“, I took a look online after I’d finished reading it and I happened to notice that he’d written other zombie novels too.

So, since a second-hand copy of Maberry’s 2011 novel “Dead Of Night” was going cheap, I thought that it might be worth taking a look at.

So, let’s take a look at “Dead Of Night”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. In fact, the blurb on the back of the book also contains a major backstory SPOILER too.

This is the 2011 St.Martin’s Press (US) paperback edition of “Dead Of Night” that I read.

The novel begins in the rural American town of Stebbins, Pennsylvania with a mortician called Hartnup dying from a zombie-related injury. A body has risen from the slab and bitten him, and now he is also turning into a zombie too….

Some time later, a tough-as-nails police officer called Desdemona Fox gets a call from her partner JT telling her that there has been a call from the local new age funeral home. When they get there, they are greeted by a grisly scene of death and destruction. Of course, it isn’t long before one of the bodies turns out to be not quite as dead as Desdemona had thought…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really brilliant zombie novel πŸ™‚ Not only is this novel a fairly intense horror story, but it’s also very gripping and it has a lot of personality (which Maberry’s “Patient Zero” lacked slightly). Whilst some parts of this novel are fairly clichΓ©d, this is a gloriously compelling late-night grindhouse B-movie of a novel πŸ™‚

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements. Although this novel isn’t outright scary, it’s suspenseful, intense, disturbing, bleak/depressing and shocking at times.

In addition to lots of ultra-gruesome splatterpunk elements (including the classic technique of introducing… short-lived… background characters), the novel also includes many wonderfully creepy/disturbing moments of psychological horror, character-based horror, bleak horror, governmental horror, societal horror, claustrophobic horror, moral horror, death horror, body horror and cruel horror.

The novel’s stand-out moments of horror include things like chapters focusing on how one of the zombies sees the world, a chilling monologue delivered by a serial killer, some creepy descriptions of the US foster care system, scenes where characters recognise people who have been zombified etc.. Seriously, this is more than just a zombie novel. It’s a horror novel too.

The zombie elements of the story are kind of interesting. Whilst there’s a fairly inventive reason behind the zombie apocalypse (which the novel’s blurb spoils!), this novel is clearly aimed at people who are new to the zombie genre. For starters, it’s set in a fictional world where the only zombie movies any of the characters have heard of are old films from the 1930s-50s.

As such, fans of the zombie genre might find a few scenes to be somewhat patronising – such as how it takes the main characters a surprisingly long time to finally come to the obvious realisation that they have to aim for the head when fighting zombies.

Even so, all of this stuff lends the novel a slightly “traditional” kind of atmosphere and, given the novel’s dedication to George A. Romero, this seems to have been a deliberate creative decision. After all, when “Night Of The Living Dead” was first released, the zombie genre was still a fairly new thing and this modern novel tries to recapture this moment in the genre’s history.

This novel is also something of a suspenseful thriller novel too, and in a lot of ways, it’s almost a little bit like an American version of Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” – which is never a bad thing πŸ™‚ In addition to the claustrophobic small town setting, the main characters are also constantly in danger from multiple sources (eg: zombies, a hurricane, the government etc..) throughout the story. Plus, the novel also makes subtle use of other thriller novel techniques – such as shorter chapters, multiple plot threads, mini-cliffhangers etc… too.

In terms of the characters, they’re surprisingly good. Although most of the characters initially appear to be cheesy, two-dimensional stock characters (eg: the tough-as-nails heroine, the by-the-book cop, the intrepid reporter, the mad scientist, the evil serial killer etc…), they quickly gain a lot of extra detail and psychological depth as the story progresses. Seriously, this is the kind of novel that will even make you care about what happens to one of the zombies.

In terms of the writing, this novel is brilliant πŸ™‚ Unlike the generic thriller novel narration in Maberry’s “Patient Zero”, this novel actually has personality and a distinctive narrative voice πŸ™‚

The third-person narration in this novel is often a wonderfully playful mixture of formal, atmospheric descriptions and the kind of irreverent, informal narration that feels like the text equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez movie πŸ™‚ Seriously, the writing has a level of personality which I haven’t really seen since I read Jack O’Connell’s “Box Nine“, Jodi Taylor’s “A Trail Through Time” or Weston Ochse’s “Empire Of Salt“.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At 357 pages in length, it never quite feels bloated. Likewise, this story remains fairly gripping throughout – with the story constantly moving forward at a reasonable pace – which is slow enough to be suspenseful, but fast enough to make you want to read more. Plus, the pacing is slightly closer to that of a horror novel than an action-thriller novel too πŸ™‚

All in all, this novel is a really great zombie novel. Yes, it’s a little bit cheesy or clichΓ©d at times, but this is a gripping, well-written zombie novel that is also a good horror story too. It’s a late-night grindhouse movie of a novel, it’s a modern splatterpunk novel, it’s a perfect introduction for people who are new to the zombie genre, it’s a suspenseful thriller and it has personality.

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

Review: “The Laughing Corpse” By Laurell K. Hamilton (Novel)

Well, although I had mixed feelings about Laurell K. Hamilton’s 1993 novel “Guilty Pleasures“, I thought that I’d check out the next one in the series – “The Laughing Corpse” (1994).

This is mostly because not only did I realise that it was a zombie novel (and I haven’t read one of these in a while), but also because I bought three of Hamilton’s “Anita Blake” novels in a charity shop last year and I’ve been meaning to read more of them.

Although this is the second novel in a series, it is pretty much a stand-alone novel. Yes, there are some background details and sub-plots that will make very slightly more sense if you’ve read “Guilty Pleasures”, but the main story is a stand-alone story and the background details are explained via recaps.

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

This is the 2009 Headline (UK) paperback edition of “The Laughing Corpse” that I read.

Set in St.Louis, Missouri – the story follows professional necromancer, police consultant and part-time vampire hunter Anita Blake. Anita and her boss, Bert, have been summoned to the house of a multi-millionaire called Harold Gaynor. Gaynor is willing to pay Anita a million dollars if she raises a two-hunrded and eighty-three year old corpse from the dead.

However, the older a body is the larger the sacrifice needed to raise it becomes. For a body that old, only a human sacrifice will be sufficient. Needless to say, Anita refuses the job. But, although she and Bert walk out of the house in one piece, it’s clear that Gaynor will not take no for an answer.

Not only that, Anita gets a call from the police a while later. They need her help with an especially grisly murder case. It doesn’t take Anita long to work out that the crime has been carried out by something undead. Not only that, it also seems to be part of a series of murders….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s certainly an improvement on the previous novel in the series πŸ™‚ Not only is it a reasonably gripping detective/ action thriller novel, but it’s also a pretty decent horror novel too. It’s also a little bit more focused and confidently written than the previous novel too.

I should probably start by talking about the horror elements of the story. Not only does this novel contain some reasonably creepy paranormal horror, suspenseful horror, implied horror, moral horror, criminal horror, character-based horror and body horror, but it also includes a decent amount of gory horror too.

Whilst this isn’t quite a splatterpunk novel, it certainly comes close to one during a few gruesome moments. Plus, although most of these grisly moments are played fairly seriously, there is also some absolutely hilarious dark comedy (eg: detectives throwing body parts around a crime scene etc..) during one of them which really helps to lighten the mood a bit.

The novel also has a rather inventive take on the zombie genre too. Whilst the zombies in this story are of the traditional Voodoo variety, they can also act a bit like more traditional horror movie zombies when ordered to do so (or if angered). Likewise, the zombies in this story also run the gamut from intelligently articulate former humans to shambling undead horrors, which helps to keep things unpredictable.

This variety also allows the story to use multiple types of zombie horror too. In addition to allowing for lots of moral horror (eg: evil experiments involving zombies, people using zombies as slave labour etc..), this also allows the story to include some wonderfully grotesque and suspenseful “horror movie”-like scenes involving the undead too.

In terms of the story’s detective/thriller elements, they’re really good too. In a lot of ways, this story has more of a “modern film noir” kind of atmosphere to it with Anita finding herself in the middle of a dangerous web of criminal intrigue where multiple groups of criminals are out to get her.

Not only does this keep the story thrillingly suspenseful and fast-paced, but it also allows for a slightly more “noir” style plot too. Plus, although this story is slightly more of a thriller novel than a traditional detective story, the murder mystery at the heart of the story is still intrguingly mysterious.

The writing in this novel is reasonably good too. Like with “Guilty Pleasures”, the novel is narrated by Anita and – as you would expect in a noir-influenced detective thriller novel – the story is told in a reasonably fast-paced, informal and “matter of fact” kind of way. In addition to this, the story is also peppered with cynical and sarcastic comments and observations from Anita too. Although most of these are fairly amusing and/or dramatic, at least a couple of them come across as annoyingly self-righteous, mean-spirited and/or judgemental.

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably good. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-complex characterisation, the characters are certainly a reasonably interesting bunch of people. Not only are the villains all suitably creepy, evil and generally disturbing – but there are also a few interesting background characters too.

Likewise, although Anita is pretty much the same character she was in “Guilty Pleasures”, she gets a bit of character development too. Not only does her obsession with carrying guns everywhere make a bit more sense in the context of this story, but there’s also a little bit of focus on how she tries to reconcile her supernatural powers with her religious beliefs (and, a couple of moments aside, she also comes across as a little bit less self-righteous/preachy in this story too). Plus, the story also devotes a little bit of time to Anita’s complicated relationship with Jean-Claude (from the previous novel) too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At about 340 pages in length, this novel never really feels too long and, as you would expect from a thriller novel, the story travels along at a reasonably fast pace too πŸ™‚

As for how this twenty-five year old novel has aged, it’s aged reasonably well. Yes, a few moments of this story seem a bit dated and/or “politically incorrect” by modern standards – but, for the most part, this is the kind of story that could very easily be set in the present day. Plus, the story’s thriller elements still remain suitably gripping and the story’s horror elements still remain suitably macabre and disturbing too.

All in all, this story is a definite improvement on “Guilty Pleasures” πŸ™‚ Not only are the horror elements a bit more gruesome and creepy, but the story’s detective/thriller elements feel a bit more focused, compelling and suspenseful too. Plus, it’s a zombie novel too πŸ™‚

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

Review: “Last Rites” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Well, I was still in the mood for reading horror novels and, a day or two before I wrote this review, I suddenly remembered that I had a copy of “Last Rites” by Shaun Hutson.

Back in 2009, I’d been out shopping when I had noticed that there was a new Shaun Hutson novel in the bookshop. Needless to say, I bought a new hardback copy of it there and then (something I’ve only done with maybe four or five books before). And then, for some completely unknown reason, I never got round to reading it. For almost a decade. So, yes, this review is long overdue.

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

This is the 2009 Orbit (UK) hardback edition of “Last Rites” that I read.

The novel begins with a mysterious description of a man walking through a tunnel. Then, the story moves to North London where a teacher called Peter Mason is being brutally beaten in the street by a group of five young hooligans. They flee, leaving him for dead, but he is taken to hospital and, after being comatose for several days, he finds that he luckily has no serious lasting physical injuries from his ordeal.

Whilst all of this is going on, creepy things are happening in the Buckinghamshire town of Walston. The local church has been desecrated, several animals have been killed in bizarre ways and there is a spate of mysterious suicides amongst the town’s youth.

Suffering from panic attacks after he has been discharged from hospital, Peter Mason realises that he can’t stay in London any longer. So, he applies for several teaching jobs outside the city. To his delight, he is offered an interview at a prestigious private boarding school in the quiet, bucolic rural town of Walston…

One of the first things that I will say is that this is a Shaun Hutson novel. It has all of the grittiness, compelling storytelling and intense horror that you would expect, although it is a considerably bleaker and more depressing novel than I’d expected.

Yes, it could be because it’s been a while since I read a more contemporary Hutson novel (the only other Hutson novel I’ve read within the past few years was from the 1980s) and I’d forgotten just how bleak and cynical they can be, but it really caught me by surprise. It probably didn’t help that I binge-read most of the book in a single evening.

I should probably start by talking about the horror elements in this novel. After all, it is a horror novel and it is a very effective one at that! But, surprisingly, there is relatively little of the over-the-top splatterpunk horror that you would traditionally expect from a Shaun Hutson novel. Yes, the novel certainly has a few grisly moments but, by Shaun Hutson standards, they’re very tame. Seriously, I’ve seen horror movies that are gorier than this novel!

Yet, whilst this novel contains relatively little gory horror, it contains pretty much every other type of horror under the sun. Amongst other things, there is suspenseful horror, bleak horror, medical horror, sexual horror, crime horror, psychological horror, implied horror, realistic horror, atmospheric horror, bullying horror, claustrophobic horror, social horror, bereavement horror, tragic horror, occult horror etc… And all of these different types of horror are considerably creepier and more disturbing than the gallons of gore you’d traditionally expect to see in a Shaun Hutson novel.

So, yes, this is a grim, disturbing horror novel that does it’s job perhaps too well. Literally the only relief from the horror (and perhaps my only criticism of the novel’s horror elements) is the slightly ludicrous twist ending. Yes, some parts of it are brilliantly foreshadowed and the final chapter has a chilling sting in it’s tail. But, as a payoff for the nail-bitingly gripping and chillingly disturbing suspense throughout the novel, the ending comes up a little short. The mystery is far scarier than the answer to it.

However, the ending seems more like a formality than anything else. The rest of the novel is this incredibly gripping thing that just begs you to binge-read it. This novel is written and structured much more like a thriller novel than anything else (probably a side-effect of all of the brilliantly intense action thriller novels that Hutson wrote during the 1990s and early-mid 2000s) and this works really well.

Whilst the third-person narration includes some traditional Hutson flourishes (eg: the words “cleft” and “liquescent” appear, albeit separately), the story’s thriller-style elements include short chapters (that keep you wanting to read “just one more”), a very compelling mystery and a grittier and more matter-of-fact style narration that really helps to make the story more intense and fast-paced. Even though this novel is about 338 pages long, it’ll probably take you as long to read as a 200-250 page book would.

All in all, “Last Rites” is an incredibly chilling – and gripping – horror novel. Yes, it’s depressing as hell and it probably isn’t for the prudish. Yes, the ending is a little anticlimactic too. But, it is the kind of book that will pretty much make you binge-read the whole thing out of grim fascination. It is intense, it is disturbing, it is gripping. It is a Shaun Hutson novel.

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

Review: “Empire Of Salt” By Weston Ochse (Novel)

A week or so before I wrote this review, I was in the mood for a zombie novel. I had originally planned to buy another one but, after seeing mixed reviews of it online, I instead remembered the excellent “Tomes Of The Dead” series by Abaddon Books (that I first discovered at some point during the late 2000s).

Since the last time I read one of these novels was in 2013 (Toby Venables’ “Viking Dead“, if anyone is interested), I decided to take a look at them again. And, after looking at a few of them, I ended up buying a second-hand copy of Weston Ochse’s 2010 novel “Empire Of Salt”.

So, let’s take a look at “Empire Of Salt”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2010 Abaddon Books (UK) paperback edition of “Empire Of Salt” that I read.

The novel begins in a diner in the run-down Californian town of Bombay Beach, next to a stagnant inland sea that is full of nothing but rotting fish. After shooing away the local drunk, the diner’s owner – an old man called Lazlo- goes out onto the beach to observe and document the mysterious green lights that flicker under the water at night. However, something is lurking nearby and he is quickly attacked by it.

Some time later, Lazlo’s remaining family travel to Bombay Beach and decide to keep the diner open. Although Lazlo’s son Patrick has had a tragic life that has driven him to drink, Lazlo’s teenage grandchildren – Natasha and Derrick – seem to fit into the strange, dilapidated town fairly well once they meet a local teenager called Veronica. She gives them a tour of the town, including the homes of the town’s more eccentric residents and a mysterious “desalination plant” further along the coast.

But, then, the child of a local Amish family goes missing. An old woman is trapped inside her trailer by a mysterious intruder. Natasha spots a retired scientist in one of the trailers dissecting a decaying hand. A disabled Korean War veteran has some kind of creature chained up in his garage. Needless to say, things quickly get a lot stranger and creepier….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is… Wow πŸ™‚ Not only is this a zombie novel that is actually scary, but it is also one of the most atmospheric, unique, vivid and creative books that I’ve read in a while.

The best way to describe it would be that it’s like a cross between the Simpsons episode “Summer Of 4 Ft. 2“, the TV show “Twin Peaks“, the “Return Of The Living Dead” movies, “Creepshow” , possibly some kind of suspenseful Hitchcock film and so much more….

In other words, this book is like a more intelligent version of a 1980s horror movie, but set in the present day. And it is awesome πŸ™‚ Normally when reviewing a horror novel, I start by talking about the horror elements of it but I’ll start by talking about the atmosphere of this book because it is brilliant.

Not only does this book vividly describe the strange town of Bombay Beach in a way that makes it actually seem like a physical place but it also is the kind of intriguingly strange place that will haunt your daydreams after you put the book down. Seriously, the novel’s setting alone is a masterpiece – it is fascinating, depressing, welcoming, hostile, unique and humdrum at the same time.

My comparison with the 1980s wasn’t made frivolously either. Since the town is so remote and so poor, it is basically stuck in the 1980s. Mobile phone reception is zero and, since most of the richer people moved out when the nearby sea started rotting, the only people left are too poor, too drunk and/or too eccentric to leave. So, this novel has a real 80s-style vibe to it, whilst still being a very modern novel. Which brings me on to the horror elements of the story.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a zombie novel that is actually scary. I didn’t think that this was possible, but it is. For the first half of the novel, a lot of the horror comes from ominous suspense. This novel has an eerily mysterious, ominously fascinating and creepily claustrophobic atmosphere that will haunt you between reading sessions. When the zombies do appear in the earlier parts of the book, they aren’t shuffling skeletal things – but ominous green, slimy, ichor-filled Lovecraftian creatures of the deep.

A lot of the earlier scenes of horror aren’t the kind of ultra-gory moments you’d expect to see in a zombie novel – they’re more like something from an old 1950s horror comic. In other words, they’re suspenseful, they’re mysterious and they contain a dark and twisted version of America that can only usually appear in a comic book.

And, yes, this novel really does build up the suspense perfectly. From the start, you know that something is wrong with the town and that the mysterious “desalination plant” has something to do with it. So far, so predictable. However, the way that this all plays out is nail-bitingly gripping, creepily unpredictable and ominously fascinating. Then, when the zombies do eventually appear in force, the novel turns into an equally nail-biting action-thriller story that is filled with brutal moments of tragedy and horror.

All of this creepy suspense is also complemented by many other different types of horror too – including economic horror, gory horror, tragic horror, conspiracy theory horror, drug-based horror, war horror, cruel horror, character-based horror and so much more. Seriously, this is a horror novel πŸ™‚

The characters in this novel are, in a word, superb. It would take too long to describe all of them, but they’re all interesting and unique people who might be strange or eccentric, but have been made this way by the circumstances of their lives. This novel, like many great TV shows, has a real sense of community to it – whilst also making no bones about the fact that these poor, eccentric characters are society’s rejects and misfits who have been let down by the grand vision of the American Dream that the town of Bombay Beach once symbolised.

The writing and third-person narration in this novel is also excellent too. The novel is written in a reasonably modern way, which still manages to be as descriptive as an older novel. The narration is also filled with moments of humour, sarcasm, satire and other such things that really help it to feel vivid and alive. Seriously, I absolutely loved the writing in this novel πŸ™‚ At times, it even comes close to the stratospheric standard of Billy Martin‘s writing, whilst also containing subtle hints of writers like Raymond Chandler too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of the novel is spent building up suspense and these segments work reasonably well since there’s usually some mystery and/or creepy event that holds the reader’s attention. Likewise, the later segments of the novel are suitably intense and fast-paced too. My only possible criticism is the ending, which almost seems like the vague set-up for a sequel.

As for the length, the novel is about 310 pages long – which is fairly ok for a modern novel. It never really felt too long and, although an actual 1980s horror writer would probably be able to tell the story in 200-250 pages, I didn’t mind spending extra time in the fascinatingly creepy town of Bombay Beach πŸ™‚

In a way, I’d be tempted to call this novel timeless. Although, in a lot of respects, it really isn’t. Not only does a brief pre-tragedy reference to the town of Sandy Hook seem a little eerie when read these days, but this novel is also about the contrast between modern post-credit crunch America and old America.

The novel shows how some things never change (eg: two characters are traumatised, scarred veterans from old and modern wars), but also how a lot of the residents of the town are stuck in the past (eg: an Elvis impersonator, a 1960s-style hippie priestess etc..) because this is the only place they can call home. The town itself is, as I mentioned, is a faded shadow of it’s former 1950s heyday too. Seriously, for a novel about sea zombies, all of this stuff is ridiculously sophisticated πŸ™‚

All in all, this novel is a masterpiece. If you like atmospheric, vivid, intelligent stories that are filled with intriguing characters and the kind of locations that linger in your imagination after you stop reading, then read this book. If you want a modern version of a 1980s horror movie, read this book. If you want a zombie story that is actually scary, then read this book. Even if you don’t like the zombie genre, read this book. It is a masterpiece.

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

Review: “The Undead” By Guy N. Smith (Novel)

Although I read a couple of second-hand Guy N. Smith novels when I was a teenager, I didn’t really read many of his books. Still, since I was still in the mood for reading some retro horror novels, I remembered his name and decided to check out some of his other novels.

Looking online, a second-hand copy of one from 1983 called “The Undead” seemed to be going cheaply. So, I thought that I’d take a look at it.

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

This is the 1983 New English Library (UK) paperback edition of “The Undead” that I read.

The novel begins in 1775. In the land surrounding the rural Welsh town of Gabor, a group of men are chasing a strange man called Bemorra who has abducted the local Lord’s young daughter, Isobel. But, even though the men have hounds, Bemorra has too much of a headstart and manages to evade them. Then, when he is safe, he decides to return to Gabor Wood with Isobel.

Luckily, the local lord has men waiting there but, before they manage to apprehend him – he drowns Isobel in the lake! After this, Bemorra is seized and sentenced to death. But, as he drops from the gallows, he glowers at the assembled townsfolk and they suddenly realise that he has placed some kind of curse upon them. Needless to say, the town has been an unlucky place ever since…

Then we flash forward to the 1980s. Bestselling horror author Ron Halestrom has just bought a lovely house in the countryside. However, this causes another blazing row with his wife Marie, who doesn’t like the house and doesn’t think that it will be a good place for their deaf daughter Amanda when she returns from boarding school. But, Ron is convinced that the old manor house next to Gabor Wood is the perfect place to live…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, despite the fact that it is called “The Undead”, despite the fact that it has a picture of a zombie on the cover and despite the fact that it is by Guy N. Smith, this isn’t a zombie novel and it is barely even a splatterpunk novel. If anything, this novel is more of an old-school ghost story/paranormal horror story.

And, in this regard, it works well enough. The novel is filled with a gloomily ominous atmosphere and lots of creepy moments (eg: ghostly underwater faces, ominous noises at night, evil trees, psychic voices, a mysterious local hermit, insular villagers etc...). Yes, some of this stuff comes across as hilariously melodramatic and/or old-fashioned rather than creepy, but the novel certainly has a few creepy moments of paranormal terror- such as when a police diver makes the unwise decision to explore Gabor Wood’s dark, silent lake.

However, compared to what I can remember from the Guy N. Smith novels I read when I was a teenager, there’s very little in the way of the “1980s splatterpunk”-style gory horror that I would have expected. Yes, there are a few shocking moments – but the main horror of these moments comes from the facts of what is happening rather than from grisly descriptions (which are remarkably tame by 1980s standards). So, in many regards, this is more of a slightly “gritty” version of a traditional horror story/melodrama than a splatterpunk story.

In terms of the characters, they’re ok. Although the tumultuous and fractious relationship between Ron and Marie is meant to evoke a sense of tension, I personally found that it made them both seem like rather unsympathetic, bitter characters. Still, they are reasonably well-written, I guess. Likewise, the other characters all seem like fairly typical 1980s horror novel characters too. So, the characters are reasonably ok, I guess.

In terms of the writing, it’s a lot better than I expected. Like a lot of 1980s horror authors, Guy N. Smith writes in a slightly formal and descriptive way which is still very readable. This style helps to add atmosphere to the story and makes the story’s eerie rural settings and creepy events seem even more dramatic. Still, if you’re more used to modern novels, you might find the writing style slightly slow-paced or old-fashioned.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. The story remains fairly compelling throughout, with no major slowdowns at any point. Plus, this book also includes some wonderfully melodramatic chapter titles too (eg: “Snakes!”, “Harbingers Of Doom” etc..). Likewise, at an efficient 176 pages in length, this novel never really feels bloated either. I say it in many of these reviews, but I miss the days when paperback books could be short.

In terms of how this thirty-six year old novel has aged, it hasn’t aged that well. Yes, it’s still very atmospheric and the story is still reasonably compelling. But, this is the kind of novel that would probably be considered “politically incorrect” these days. Whether it is the scenes involving gypsies, inner city youths, a dodgy youth leader or even the novel’s brief mention of what are now considered to be dated attitudes towards sign language (eg: a description of Amanda that mentions that she’d get into trouble if her parents or teachers caught her using sign language), this novel probably hasn’t aged that well.

All in all, this novel is a reasonably ok ghost story. Yes, I was expecting a traditional zombie novel – but this book is very atmospheric and reasonably creepy. Yes, it hasn’t aged that well and some “scary” parts of it also seem hilariously melodramatic too (eg: any scene involving the local hermit). But, if you want a reasonably ok and fairly compelling old-school horror/ghost story, then this one might be interesting.

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