Review: “The Hymn” By Graham Masterton (Novel)

Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d read a Graham Masterton novel.

But, although I’ve got a few other Masterton novels that I’ve been meaning to read, I ended up stumbling across my old copy of Masterton’s 1991 novel “The Hymn” (which I first read about sixteen or seventeen years ago) and decided to re-read it.

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

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Note: I read the the 2000 Warner Books (UK) paperback reprint of “The Hymn” but I won’t include an image of the book cover here because, although the cover art is probably technically “safe for work”, the combination of implied nudity and a subtle visual allusion to the extremist views of the story’s villains made me err on the side of caution here. Sorry about this.

On a side-note, although the cover art is somewhat “edgy” by modern standards, it is really well-designed. Not only does it make excellent use of attention-grabbing visual contrast, but it also contains enough dramatic-looking visual storytelling to give the reader a general impression of the story whilst also keeping things mysterious enough to make them want to read more. Plus, on a technical level, the quality the of painting is absolutely superb too (seriously, I miss the days when painted cover art was standard for horror novels).
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The novel begins in Southern California. A Vietnam veteran called Bob Tuggey is working in a McDonalds when he happens to see a blonde woman carrying a can of petrol across the car park. He has a war flashback about a Buddhist monk immolating himself in protest. He suddenly realises what the woman is about to do. Grabbing a fire extinguisher, he rushes out to the car park. But, he is too late.

A while later, wealthy restaurant owner Lloyd Denman is chatting with his staff and preparing for another day in Denman’s Original Fish Depot when the police show up. They inform Lloyd that his fiancee, Celia, has set herself on fire. Reeling with grief and puzzled by the bizarre circumstances of her death, Lloyd decides to investigate.

Out in the California desert, a group of cops get a call about a mysterious bus fire. When they reach the smouldering bus, they find all of the passengers still sitting in their seats as if they had made no attempt to escape the furious inferno that claimed their lives.

One of the things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it isn’t perfect, it’s a really interesting mixture of the horror, detective and thriller genres. It’s a compelling story that can be richly atmospheric, occasionally cringe-worthy, inventively horrific and occasionally unintentionally hilarious.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re really good. In addition to lots of grisly fire-related horror, the novel also includes suspenseful horror, occult/paranormal horror, psychological horror, WW2-related horror, slasher movie style horror, disturbing horror, character-based horror and tragic horror. Whilst this novel isn’t outright frightening, there are enough disturbing moments and macabre scenes to place it firmly in the horror genre.

As you might expect from a horror novel, one of the major themes of the novel is death. Whether it is the many scenes that focus on characters mourning the dead, or the scenes involving the undead, this is a novel about both the after-effects of death and the fear of death. In addition to this, it is also a novel about the dangers of extremist ideologies and how charismatic people can exploit the fears of others for their own ends.

Surprisingly, “The Hymn” is also both a detective and thriller novel too. The novel balances these two elements fairly well, with Lloyd’s investigation into Celia’s death eventually segueing into a slightly more fast-paced game of cat and mouse between the forces of good and evil.

Plus, like in many classic detective novels, the police are very little help to Lloyd (even suspecting him of some of the novel’s macabre murders at one point) and it is up to him and his friends to get to the bottom of what has happened.

These compelling detective/thriller elements also mean that, whilst some of the later parts of the story might come across as a little bit silly, random and/or contrived, you’ll probably be too gripped by the story to care too much about this.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly well-written. The novel includes enough characterisation to make you care about what happens to Lloyd and the people he teams up with during his investigation. Likewise, there are a lot of scenes of character-based drama where the characters try to deal with and make sense of the events of the story. Plus, many of the background characters also come across as vaguely realistic people too.

On the other hand, the novel’s fascist villains (Otto and Helmwige) walk a very fine line between being genuinely disturbing antagonists and cartoonish sources of unintentional comedy (eg: the scene where Helmwige takes a bath, Otto’s Renfield-like habit of eating insects and his “Indiana Jones villain”-like appearance etc.. ). Surprisingly, the creepiest character in the novel is probably Celia – since her character arc shows how an otherwise good person can be manipulated into performing unspeakably horrific actions.

In terms of the writing, it is really good. Leaving aside infrequent cringe-worthy descriptions, I was genuinely surprised by the sheer quality of the writing in this novel. The novel’s narration is a really good mixture of intelligent, descriptive formal prose and more fast-paced “matter of fact” descriptions. It really helps to add a lot of atmosphere to the story and depth to the characters. However, the novel’s numerous classical music, posh food/wine etc.. references can come across as a little pompous at times.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At 346 pages in length, this novel is slightly longer than you might expect but is still the right length for the story it is telling. Likewise, although the story is fairly compelling, the pacing can often be at least slightly slower than you might expect. Even so, this allows for a lot of atmosphere, descriptions and characterisation. Not to mention that the later parts of the novel become a bit more fast-paced too.

As for how this twenty-eight year old novel has aged, it both has and hasn’t aged well.

On the one hand, some parts of this novel can come across as either old-fashioned, conservative or “politically incorrect”. For example, in contrast to the punk sensibility of a lot of other 1980s/early 1990s horror novels, the relatively uncritical focus on various story elements (eg: Lloyd’s wealth, classical music etc…) here can feel a little bit conservative or old-fashioned when read today. Plus, although the novel is generally critical of things like discrimination, expect to encounter at least a small number of very “politically incorrect” moments.

But, on the other hand, the novel as a whole still remains very atmospheric, dramatic and compelling to this day. Likewise, the complete lack of mobile phones (the closest thing is a car phone) in the story also helps to add extra suspense and drama to several scenes 🙂 Plus, due to the disturbing events in the US over the past couple of years, the story’s main plot feels even more chilling today than it probably did during the less polarised/politicised early 1990s. So, yes, this novel has both aged well and aged terribly.

All in all, whilst this isn’t a perfect novel, it is a surprisingly atmospheric and compelling one that manages to blend the horror, detective and thriller genres in a fairly interesting way.

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

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Review: “The Ritual” By Adam Nevill (Novel)

Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d take a look at Adam Nevill’s 2011 novel “The Ritual”.

This was a novel that I spotted when looking for second-hand books and, since I’d heard that there had been a film adaptation of it (which I’ve only seen the trailer for) and because the title sounded hilariously melodramatic, I decided to get a copy.

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

This is the 2017 Pan Books (UK) paperback edition of “The Ritual” that I read.

The novel begins with a short scene showing four hikers discovering a grisly animal carcass dangling from a tree in the middle of a forest, before flashing back to several hours earlier.

Luke, Hutch, Phil and Dom were flatmates at university. About fifteen years later, they decide to have a reunion and go on a hiking holiday in Sweden. Of course, tramping through rain-soaked fields and sleeping in tents isn’t the relaxing break that they had somehow expected it to be. And, with tempers fraying and Dom’s knee acting up, Hutch decides to call the holiday to an early end.

So, after checking the map, he proposes taking a shortcut to the next town through a wild patch of unmanaged forest. What could possibly go wrong?

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is one of the most compelling, creepy and atmospheric horror novels that I’ve read recently. Imagine a mixture of horror stories by Dennis Wheatley, Shaun Hutson and H.P.Lovecraft and this might give you the vaguest hint of what to expect. It is also one of the very few genuinely scary monster novels I’ve ever read.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, it contains a gloriously unsettling mixture of suspenseful horror, location-based horror, atmospheric horror, occult horror, monster horror, claustrophobic horror, camping-based horror, paranormal horror, psychological horror, bleak horror, character-based horror, gory horror, sadistic horror, cosmic horror and survival horror (yes, survival horror, in a novel).

Seriously, whilst this novel might not outright shock or terrify you that often, you’ll probably be in a constant state of nervous unease throughout most of the story.

The novel also manages to make the monster genre scary too. In part, this is because it uses the Hollywood trick of not directly showing the monster that much. But, it is also because of the fact that the novel has such a realistic tone and atmosphere that, for large parts of the story, you aren’t really quite sure whether the monster actually exists or not. The novel also makes sure that the monster isn’t the only source of danger and fear that the main characters encounter. Seriously, it’s a scary monster novel 🙂

Plus, if you believe that tent-based camping is only appropriate for music festivals, then this novel will be a chilling source of realistic horror too. Seriously, the novel’s depiction of the squalor, bleakness and general misery of camping in something other than a caravan is terrifyingly accurate. Likewise, the novel’s woods are a really claustrophobic, creepy and menacingly atmospheric location too.

However, if you’re a fan of heavy metal music, some of the later parts of the novel might either be scarier than you expect and/or might make you roll your eyes. The second half of the novel focuses on something similar to the violence and political extremism that the metal scene in Scandinavia was infamous for during the 1990s, with the novel’s human villains being members of an extreme metal band called Blood Frenzy who wouldn’t exactly be out of place in that context.

Given that this is the scariest and most disturbing part of the metal genre’s history, I can understand why it would inspire part of a horror novel – although it is kind of annoying that the novel doesn’t really contain a more nuanced, modern and/or realistic portrayal of the genre and it’s fans, given how infrequently heavy metal turns up in fiction these days.

Thematically, this novel is fairly interesting. This is a novel about alienation, loneliness, time, ageing and death. It’s a mid-life crisis story about how friends drift apart and how there is no right way to grow older. Yet, surprisingly, the story doesn’t drift into nihilism. It is a story about how life is valuable and meaningful, even if it is often harsh and apparently meaningless. This theme is handled well and it really helps to add a lot of extra depth and emotional impact to the story.

In terms of the characters, this novel is brilliant. Not only is the realistically complex, and often antagonistic, friendship between the four hikers a major source of drama, but all of them get more than enough characterisation to make you care about them. Likewise, the main characters also suffer from realistic problems (eg: Luke has depression/anger issues, two of the characters are going through divorces etc..), which add tension and character-based drama to the story too.

Plus, even though the novel’s metal band are caricatures, they still become suitably chilling villains as the story progresses. Likewise, the monster is left mysterious enough to remain frightening, but shown enough to be dramatic 🙂

In terms of the writing, this novel is brilliant 🙂 Whether it is how the novel’s third-person narration sometimes contrasts elaborate formal descriptions of the forest and more informal “matter of fact” descriptions of the characters trying to survive in it, or the disorientating nightmare sequence that somehow uses first, second and third-person perspective within the space of a couple of pages, this novel is really well-written 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At 418 pages in length, the novel can feel a little long at times. Seriously, the first half of this book would almost work as a gloriously efficienct short novel 🙂 Likewise, although this novel is a moderately-paced horror story, the consistent use of suspense gives the story more of a thriller-like quality that keeps it compelling. Seriously, I was absolutely riveted during some parts of this story 🙂

All in all, this is a really brilliant horror novel 🙂 Yes it could have been a bit shorter and, if you’re a metalhead, some parts of it will make you roll your eyes. But, this aside, it is a wonderfully atmospheric, well-written, constantly chilling and utterly gripping horror novel 🙂 Seriously, if you want to see a scary example of the monster genre, then read this book!

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

Review: “The First Days” By Rhiannon Frater (Novel)

Well, it’s been a while since I read a zombie novel. So, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d take a look at Rhiannon Frater’s 2008 novel “The First Days”. This was a zombie novel that I found when I was looking online for second-hand horror novels and, after reading the first chapter, I just had to read the rest.

However, I should probably point out that this novel is the first in a series and doesn’t tell an entirely self-contained story. Even so, it still works reasonably well as a stand-alone novel.

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

This is the 2011 Tor (US) paperback edition of “The First Days” that I read.

The novel begins in an unnamed Texan city during a zombie apocalypse. After seeing her husband and sons turn into zombies, Jenni barely manages to escape her house before being rescued by a mysterious woman in a pick-up truck.

The two survivors, Jenni and Katie, decide to leave the city and head to the safety of the surrounding countryside. When they reach a petrol station, the attendant hasn’t heard about the zombies and mistakes them for thieves.

But, soon after they fill up the truck, the zombies begin to arrive at the station. Still shaken by everything that has happened, Jenni remembers that her stepson Jason is at summer camp in the nearby woods. So, they begin to plan a rescue…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a really gripping, atmospheric and innovative zombie novel with excellent characterisation 🙂 It’s a little bit like a cross between Jonathan Maberry’s “Dead Of Night“, Dana Fredsti’s “Plague Town” and Melissa Marr’s “The Arrivals“, whilst also being somewhat different in tone and style to pretty much every other zombie and/or post-apocalyptic novel I’ve read.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, it is filled with the kind of fast-paced gruesome horror that you’d expect from a zombie novel, but there is also quite a bit of emphasis on bleak post-apocalyptic horror, suspenseful horror, tragic horror and some moments of character-based horror too. Although there are lots of horrific zombie encounters, this is more of a novel about the emotional toll that the zombie apocalypse takes on those who survive it.

One of the really innovative things about this novel is how the other survivors are presented. Traditionally, zombie novels/films tend to make the other survivors more of a threat to the main characters than the actual zombies are.

However, this novel takes a slightly more realistic approach to the topic – with most of the other survivors Jenni and Katie encounter being friendly and eager to work together to protect themselves against a common threat.

In a similar way to the computer game “Shadowrun: Dragonfall“, this is an anarchist story in the best sense of the word. Whilst it doesn’t gloss over the occasional arguments and problems between the survivors, it is a novel about a group of people organising themselves without outside authority. Yes, some characters do lead the survivors at times, but this leadership is based on competence and consensus rather than official authority. Seriously, I’m surprised that this doesn’t turn up in more zombie novels.

As for the actual zombies, the novel mostly uses modern-style fast moving zombies, who sometimes display limited forms of intelligence. This adds a lot of fast-paced drama and suspense to the story, especially during the earlier parts.

Although the zombies have some traditional elements (eg: a bite turns someone into a zombie, zombies can only be killed by destroying the brain etc…), the novel also does a couple of other innovative things. For example, many of the characters are reluctant to use guns because the noise attracts more zombies and, when a zombie isn’t chasing a person, it just kind of stands there and does nothing.

In terms of the characters, this novel is excellent 🙂 In addition to a lot of well-written characterisation, a lot of the novel’s drama focuses on how the characters handle the zombie apocalypse emotionally, in addition to dealing with their memories of the time before the apocalypse (eg: Jenni is still haunted by memories of her violent husband, Katie spends the novel mourning her wife etc..).

As I mentioned earlier, the relationships between the survivors that Jenni and Katie meet are surprisingly, and realistically, friendly – although there are still arguments and conflicts. Plus, this novel’s romantic elements are also realistically complicated in the way that you’d expect with a group of random strangers meeting each other after an apocalypse too. Seriously, the characters are one of this novel’s major strengths 🙂

In terms of the writing, it’s really good. The novel’s third-person narration is written in a fairly fast-paced and “matter of fact” way, whilst also including plenty of descriptions and characterisation too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a mixed bag. At 331 pages, it is neither too long nor too short. But, although the earlier parts of the novel are a brilliantly fast-paced adrenaline rush, most of the rest of the story has a slightly more moderate pace (with more of an emphasis on drama and/or suspense). Even so, the whole novel is still very compelling. However, perhaps because of the fact that it is the first novel in a series, the ending/epilogue feels somewhat rushed and some plot threads are also left unresolved.

All in all, this is a really well-written and innovative zombie novel with excellent characterisation 🙂 Yes, the pacing was a bit different to what the earlier parts of the story had led me to expect, but this is a very small criticism of a brilliant novel.

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

Review: “The Mall” By S. L. Grey (Novel)

Well, for the next book in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d take a look at a novel from 2011 called “The Mall” by S.L. Grey. I first found this novel shortly after I’d finished reading Sarah Lotz’s excellent “Day Four” a few weeks earlier and decided to search online for other novels by the author.

And, given my fascination with abandoned shopping centres, this novel (co-written by Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg) intrigued me enough to order a second-hand copy of it.

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

This is the 2012 Corvus (UK) paperback edition of “The Mall” that I read.

The novel begins in Johannesburg. A down-and-out British woman with a coke habit called Rhoda is searching the halls of a large shopping centre for the child that she was supposed to be babysitting for her cousin.

Although the centre’s security guards aren’t exactly helpful, Rhoda eventually gets them to talk to a bookshop assistant called Daniel who she thinks might have seen the lost child. However, the incompetent guards mess this up and give Daniel the wrong description.

With suspicion falling on Rhoda, she flees the guards and lies in wait in a nearby car park for Daniel to emerge from the centre at night. When he does, she threatens him and eventually, at knifepoint, forces him to return to the centre to help her look for the child.

But, soon after they break into the closed shopping centre, they find that they cannot leave. Not only do parts of the centre look slightly different, but they both start receiving creepy text messages from someone who wants to play a game with them….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it the first half of it is one of closest things that I’ve ever seen to a “Silent Hill” novel 🙂 Yes, the story goes in a slightly different direction later in the book, but the first half or so of the book is like an awesome mixture of the shopping centre level from “Silent Hill 3” and the “Saw” movies 🙂

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they are a brilliant mixture of suspenseful horror, psychological horror, surreal/paranormal horror, atmospheric horror, creepy locations, dystopian horror, realistic horror, unreliable reality horror, gross out horror and character-based horror.

As I hinted earlier, the novel’s horror elements are at their very best during the first half of the novel – where the characters find themselves trapped in the run-down parts of a deserted shopping centre. Everything from the creepy mannequins, to the “nightmare world” atmosphere to the menacing text messages reminded me a lot of both “Silent Hill” and the “Saw” movies 🙂 Seriously, it’s really cool to see this type of horror in a novel 🙂

The second half of the novel focuses a lot more on surreal satire, dystopian horror, bleak horror and more realistic drama. Although the story does something really clever with it’s twisted nightmare-world (which I won’t spoil) during the late parts of the novel, the second half of the novel is a bit more understated and less visceral than the earlier parts of the novel. These parts of the story are more creepy, bleak and/or disturbing than outright scary, if this makes sense.

I should probably also talk about the novel’s satirical elements too, since this novel is a satire of consumerism. About halfway through the story, the characters find themselves in an uncanny alternate version of the mall, where all of the shop signs are different (eg: parodies of shop names), the adverts are grotesque, everyone speaks a slightly weird version of English and the mall’s inhabitants are sharply divided between homeless people, inhuman robot-like employees and grotesque ultra-rich “shoppers”.

This segment of the novel reads a lot like an updated version of the dystopian fiction of the 1950s-80s and it is surprisingly compelling, not to mention both hilarious and disturbing at the same time too. And, although I’d have liked to have seen slightly more “Silent Hill”-style horror in this part of the story, it’s refreshing to see a modern version of this type of old-school dystopian fiction 🙂

This novel is also more of a thriller than I’d expected too 🙂 Thanks to the way that it is written and the clever use of mystery and suspense, this novel is a surprisingly gripping and fast-paced one. Although, like with the horror elements, this is at it’s best in the first half of the novel, the second half is still very compelling too.

In terms of the characters, they’re really well-written. Not only do both Dan and Rhoda get a lot of characterisation and character development – which turns them from unsympathetic characters into very sympathetic ones – but the weird love-hate relationship between them is also a really compelling part of the story too. In addition to this, the novel is also populated by an unnervingly odd cast of background characters who really help to add a bit of extra unease to the story too 🙂

In terms of the writing, it is better than I’d initially thought. In short, even though this novel uses both present-tense narration and the dreaded multiple-first person narrators, it actually works surprisingly well. Each chapter clearly signposts who is narrating and, once you get used to the slightly weird present-tense narration, it really helps to add some extra intensity to the story.

The writing style in this story is more on the informal and gritty side of things and, although this means that it takes the story a while to really build up some atmosphere, it keeps things moving at a fast pace and really fits in with the general style and tone of the story too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At 312 pages in length, this novel doesn’t feel too long and, although the first half is more fast-paced than the second half, both halves of the novel are really compelling 🙂

All in all, this is a really innovative, creepy and compelling horror novel 🙂 If you’re a fan of the classic “Silent Hill” games and/or old-school dystopian fiction, then you’ll really love it 🙂 Yes, the narration is a bit weird and the first half is slightly better than the second half, but it is still one hell of a novel 🙂

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

Review: “Relics” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Woo hoo! It’s October. And, with Halloween only a few weeks away, I felt like focusing on the horror genre for a while. So, with that in mind, I thought that I’d re-read Shaun Hutson’s 1986 novel “Relics”.

Although I first read this horror novel during a summer holiday when I was about fourteen or fifteen, I’d forgotten about most of it (except the ending) until I happened to browse an awesome second-hand bookshop in Petersfield last year and find some of the 1980s Star Books editions of various Shaun Hutson novels that I’d already read.

Since these editions have cooler cover art than the early 2000s Time Warner reprints I read when I was younger, I ended up buying about four of them – one of which was “Relics”.

So, let’s take a look at “Relics”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS (but I won’t spoil the ending..).

This is the 1987 Star Books (UK) paperback edition of “Relics” that I read.

The novel begins with a description of an obscene occult ritual, before showing archaeologist Kim Nichols working on a Celtic-era site near the rural town of Longford. Although the dig has turned up a few torcs and other relics, progress is slow until a small earthquake suddenly causes the ground to split open. Although Kim barely manages to avoid falling into the chasm, one of her fellow archaeologists isn’t so lucky.

Following this accident, a detective called Wallace arrives at the site. When Wallace climbs into the chasm, he finds that the poor archaeologist has landed on a giant spike in the middle of a chamber littered with bones. A while later, Wallace and the archaeologists also discover a hidden passage branching off from this chamber, revealing a mass grave and several ominous inscriptions.

Shortly after this grim discovery, strange things start happening in Longford….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is classic Shaun Hutson 🙂 In other words, not a novel for the easily-shocked.

In a lot of ways, this novel is almost like a grittier, creepier and more disturbing version of Hutson’s 1982 novel “The Skull“. Yes, there are some fairly significant story differences, but this novel is almost a spiritual successor to “The Skull”, and this works surprisingly well 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements, which were scarier than I remembered.

Although this novel contains loads of the ultra-gruesome splatterpunk horror that you’d expect from a 1980s Shaun Hutson novel, the genuinely scary parts of the novel include things like paranormal/occult horror, mysterious monster horror, gritty crime, startling moments, disturbing animal cruelty, suspenseful slasher movie-like scenes, character-based horror and an ending that you won’t forget.

Even so, several of the novel’s moments of horror do feel a little bit contrived/random and this is also one of those novels where you often can’t go more than a few pages without something gruesome, cruel and/or disturbing happening. Although this constant avalanche of horror adds up over time to create a bleak and menacing atmosphere, it can feel a little bit random at times.

In addition to this, the novel is also structured like a thriller too – with lots of ultra-short chapters that really help to both keep up the suspense and keep the story moving at a fairly decent pace.

This novel is also an early example of Hutson blending the horror and detective/crime thriller genres too, with some parts of the story playing out more like a gritty crime drama and/or police procedural. Even so, the emphasis is firmly on horror here 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably ok. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation here, there is just enough characterisation to make you care about what happens to the main characters. There is also a large cast of background characters, many of whom don’t exactly have long lifespans. Likewise, there’s also a fair amount of characterisation devoted to a rather disturbing criminal called Ferguson, who is as much of a monster as the actual monster of the story is.

In terms of the writing, this novel is classic Shaun Hutson. In other words, the novel’s third-person narration is a rather hard-hitting mixture of fast-paced “matter of fact” thriller novel-style narration and more elaborate/formal descriptions (eg: whenever anything grisly, lurid, sleazy and/or horrific happens).

This novel’s narration also contains an abundance of classic Hutsonisms too (eg: “orb”, “cleft”, “liquescent”, “putrescent”, “scapula” etc…), which are always fun to see.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At an efficient 269 pages, it never feels like there is a wasted moment. Likewise, this novel is also structured and written like a thriller, which helps to keep the story compelling. The novel also gradually builds in pace, with the final act being especially fast-paced.

In terms of how this thirty-three year old novel has aged, it is one of those books that probably wouldn’t be written today. Whether it is the ages of several characters during certain parts of the novel, the vaguely “Life On Mars“-like depiction of the police etc… this novel is very much a product of a different time. Even so, this novel is still fairly dramatic and gripping when read today.

All in all, this is a creepy, disturbing and compelling Shaun Hutson novel. If you want to see an example of extreme 1980s horror fiction, red in tooth and claw, then this one might be worth checking out. Likewise, if you enjoyed Hutson’s “The Skull”, then you’ll love this novel too. Just don’t read it if you’re easily shocked and/or have pets.

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

Review: “Alan Wake” By Rick Burroughs (Novel)

Although the “Alan Wake” videogame was very slightly too modern to run on any tech that I owned at the time of preparing this review, everything I’d heard about it intrigued me (Edit: Although I got a more modern PC several months after preparing the first draft of this review, I still haven’t got round to buying or playing “Alan Wake” yet).

So, when I happened to find an online list of novels based on videogames, I was pleased to notice that “Alan Wake” was on there. And, a while later, I ended up getting a second-hand copy of Rick Burroughs’ 2010 novelisation of “Alan Wake”.

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

This is the 2010 Tor (US) paperback edition of “Alan Wake” that I read.

The novel begins with famous horror writer Alan Wake having a nightmare. When he wakes up, he is travelling to a rural town called Bright Falls with his wife Alice. Alan has had writer’s block for the past two years and Alice thinks that a holiday in a cabin in the woods might help him out.

After meeting several of the eccentric locals and being given the key to a house in the middle of the local lake called Bird Leg Cabin by a mysterious woman that Alan meets in a diner bathroom, they settle into the cabin for the night.

However, much to Alan’s dismay, Alice has brought his old typewriter along with them. After an argument, Alan storms out of the cabin – only for the lights to suddenly go out. When Alan rushes back to the cabin, something pulls Alice into the lake. Alan has a mysterious vision and then wakes up in a crashed car a week later…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a fairly compelling horror thriller novel. It’s kind of like a mixture of Twin Peaks, a Stephen King novel/film and a zombie movie. And, although this novel is a little bit mysterious/confusing at first (especially if, like me, you haven’t played the game it’s based on), it gradually makes more and more sense as the story progresses.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re reasonably good. There’s a fairly decent mixture of paranormal horror, psychological horror, ominous locations, mythological horror, gory horror and suspense. There’s also a really good mixture between fast-paced zombie movie style action scenes and slightly weirder psychological horror scenes too. Even so, this novel feels a lot like a horror videogame at times – with dramatic set pieces, mysterious visions etc.. and stuff that probably works slightly better on the screen than on the page.

The novel’s thriller elements are fairly interesting too. In addition to quite a few fast-paced action scenes, this novel also makes good use of mystery and suspense throughout the story too. As I mentioned earlier, this is one of those stories that doesn’t entirely make sense at the beginning, but gradually makes more and more sense as the story progresses.

Although I haven’t played the game this book is based on, it’s not hard to imagine what it is like. Not only does Alan find a glowing tutorial message at one point, but the novel also includes things like a videogame-like weapon progression, a level-like progression from location to location, consistent game-like rules when Alan fights the zombie-like monsters (eg: they are invincible, except when exposed to light) and game-like pacing.

Even so, the story’s meta-fictional elements work really well on the page. Since this is a story about writers and the power of stories, this works excellently in novel form. For example, throughout the story, Alan finds mysterious manuscript pages and several of these are included at the end of various chapters. Not only do they provide intriguing fragments of backstory, but they also occasionally describe later scenes in the story in an intriguingly incomplete way.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. Although you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there is enough here to make you care about what happens to the characters. In essence, the characterisation in this novel is like a slightly deeper version of the characterisation you’d find in a movie or a well-written videogame.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is fairly good too. It’s a little bit like the kind of fast-paced “matter of fact” narration that you’d expect to see in a thriller novel and it works really well here. Likewise, thanks to the horror elements, the narration also includes a few descriptive elements too that help to add atmosphere to the story.

As for length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At 305 pages in length, it never really feels bloated. Likewise, the story is reasonably fast-paced too. However, the pacing is very videogame-like in many parts of the story. In other words, there are lots of mysterious and/or dramatic set-pieces that almost feel like in-game cutscenes. Likewise, there is a level-like progression between different locations. Even so, when you get used to seeing stuff like this in a novel, it works fairly well.

All in all, this is a compelling horror thriller novel. Yes, it feels like you’re reading a videogame at times, but it’s a fairly good one (not to mention that, unlike an actual game, this novel doesn’t have system requirements 🙂 ). It’s also a good mixture of Stephen King-inspired horror fiction, “Twin Peaks”-style small town weirdness and thrilling zombie-movie style monster action too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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