Three Basic Tips For Writing Gruesome Horror Fiction

Well, I ended up thinking about the topic of gruesome horror fiction recently after a couple of things. Firstly, one of the short story practice projects (that I probably won’t post here) that I finished the day before writing this article ended up being somewhat different from the more sanitised style of horror fiction that I seem to have drifted towards writing during the past decade. Secondly, I’m also reading another zombie novel (“Plague Town” by Dana Fredsti) at the moment too.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few basic tips for writing gruesome horror fiction.

1) Read it!: I cannot emphasise this enough – to write gruesome horror fiction you need to have read a lot of it.

And, yes, if you’re feeling put off by the idea of this, then this type of horror fiction isn’t for you (and you should probably focus on something like gothic horror or ghost stories or something like that instead). If not, then it is well worth reading several gruesome horror novels before you think about writing this type of fiction.

It’s probably best to start with the splatterpunk classics of the 1970s-90s. The books I’d recommend starting with are “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson, “The Rats” by James Herbert and/or any of “The Books Of Blood” by Clive Barker.

If you want something more modern, then just look for pretty much any zombie novel published within about the past two decades (since this is the closest thing to the splatterpunk genre still around in the present day).

When you read gruesome horror fiction, you’ll start to notice that each author has their own style, vocabulary etc.. for describing scenes of gruesome horror. And, like finding your own narrative “voice”, the best way to learn how to write gruesome horror is simply to read lots of different authors who write this type of fiction.

2) Pacing and frequency: There are two main approaches to this and each have their advantages and disadvantages. So, the best way to handle how often your gruesome scenes appear is probably to aim for something between both of these approaches.

The classic splatterpunk approach to writing gruesome horror fiction is simply to overload the reader with frequent grisly descriptions. This has the advantage of creating a grim, macabre and nihilistic atmosphere, where horrific death is never more than a few pages away.

On the downside, this lessens the shock value and/or horror value of your story’s gruesome moments, since the reader will get used to them fairly quickly. Yes, this makes the reader feel “tough” or “fearless” (since they aren’t feeling shocked or horrified) but it also severely reduces the impact of any individual gruesome scene.

The other approach is to carefully ration your story’s gruesome moments. To only include a small number of them, but to make each one especially horrific or grotesque and to build up to each one using a lot of suspense.

The main advantage of this approach is that these scenes will have a lot more dramatic impact (for a good example, read “In The Miso Soup” by Ryu Murakami). On the downside, this approach to writing gruesome horror fiction is a lot more difficult to get right than the classic splatterpunk approach.

3) Other types of horror: On it’s own, gruesome horror isn’t scary. It can be disgusting, grotesque, repulsive, macabre or grim. But, it isn’t really scary. So, you also need to include other types of horror too. Seriously, don’t just rely on gruesome horror if you’re writing a horror story.

Fortunately, most of the situations where gruesome moments of horror are likely to happen are also situations where other types of horror are to be expected.

For example, if one of your characters is about to be eaten by a monster, then this is the perfect place to add a bit of suspenseful horror. Likewise, if your story is set during a zombie apocalypse, then this is the perfect place to add some tragic horror, bleak horror and/or disease-based horror.

But, the most important thing to remember is that gruesome horror isn’t inherently scary. So, when something gruesome happens in your story, you also need to pair it with other types of horror if you want to make the scene truly shocking or frightening.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Three Tips For Making Your Zombie Story Stand Out From The Crowd

The day before I wrote this article, I started reading a zombie novel called “Dead of Night” by Jonathan Maberry. The really interesting thing about it is that it has so much more personality than another Maberry novel I’d read a week or two earlier called “Patient Zero“.

Whilst both novels feature zombies and ex-military protagonists (Joe Ledger and Desdemona Fox), one is a fairly standard military action-thriller novel with zombies in it and the other is this utterly glorious and unique low-budget grindhouse film of a novel 🙂

So, naturally, this made me think about ways to make zombie stories really stand out from the crowd.

1) Characters and/or settings: A really good zombie story often tends to be just as much (or more) about characters and settings than about shambling hordes of the undead.

The best zombie stories will often have an intriguingly unusual setting and an assortment of eccentric or unusual characters. Not only does this set the story apart from the crowd, but it also provides something other than zombies to hold the reader’s interest too. In addition to this, it evokes extra curiosity in the reader too.

An excellent example of this is probably Weston Ochse’s “Empire Of Salt“. This is a novel that is set in a run-down 1950s/60s-style resort town in the US. The sea beside the town has turned stagnant and the only people left in the town are a fairly eccentric group of people who either like the town enough to stay and/or who can’t afford to move. As such, this novel is incredibly atmospheric and fascinating even before the zombies really show up.

Likewise, another zombie novel called “Double Dead” by Chuck Wendig is fairly notable/memorable for the simple reason that the main character is a vampire who is accidentally awoken from a blood-deprived coma by the events of a zombie apocalypse. Although the novel contains fairly standard post-apocalyptic settings, the interesting choice of protagonist really helps to keep this novel notable and memorable.

Then there’s Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” – although this is technically a vampire novel (it contains “vampires” who act and look like zombies), it’s a really notable zombie story for the simple reason that it’s set in a rural part of 1980s Britain. Given how the zombie genre often tends to focus on the US, seeing an older version of rural Britain in a zombie story really makes this novel stand out 🙂

Then there are novels like Alison Littlewood’s “Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now” (which is set in Mexico) or Toby Venables’ “Viking Dead” (which is set in Viking-era Scandinavia). All of these novels are about a million miles away from the standard American cities, shopping centres etc… typically found in the zombie genre.

So, yes, intriguing characters and/or settings are one of the best ways to make your zombie story really stand out from the crowd.

2) Narration: One of the major things that helps a zombie novel to stand out from the crowd is the narration.

In other words, you need to make sure that your zombie story has a unique and interesting narrative voice. Whether your story is using first or third person narration, your story needs to have the kind of narration that your reader will want to read for the fun of it rather than just as a functional way to learn what happens next.

A good contrasting example of this can be found in the two Jonathan Maberry novels I mentioned earlier. In “Patient Zero”, most of the narration is fairly standard modern thriller novel narration – it’s fast-paced and it’s very readable, but it doesn’t really stand out from the crowd that much. It isn’t that different from what you’d see in a modern Lee Child, Clive Cussler, Dan Brown etc.. novel.

On the other hand, Maberry’s “Dead Of Night” has a much more unique style of narration – which often playfully combines more formal descriptions and the kind of informal, irreverent and comedic narration that makes you feel a little bit rebellious when you read it. This gives the story the atmosphere of a more high-brow novel, whilst also giving it the “edgy” personality of something like a Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez film 🙂

Although “Patient Zero” possibly contains more large-scale drama than “Dead Of Night”, “Dead Of Night” is a lot more fun to read for the simple reason that the narration is a lot more interesting and unique. So, yes, unique narration matters a lot when it comes to making your zombie story stand out from the crowd.

3) The zombies matter less than you might think: Yes, you should be creative with the zombies in your story. But, the zombies themselves matter a lot less than you might think. Likewise, the reasons for your story’s zombie apocalypse don’t matter that much either.

What matters most is how the zombies are presented. Do they symbolise something? Are they there to add suspense? Are they just cannon fodder for action heroes? Are they lurking in the shadows or charging through the streets? Are they powerful? Are they weak?

Zombies are zombies. The stories that really stand out will get around this limitation by presenting the zombies in an interesting way. For example, in Weston Ochse’s “Empire Of Salt”, the zombies are a hidden threat that constantly lurks out of sight in the shadows. They’re Lovecraftian monsters of the deep. They’re 1950s-style horror comic monsters….

I could go on but, although they’re basically just the same undead monsters that we all know and love, they’re a lot more interesting and distinctive than usual for the simple reason that they are presented to the reader in a different way than usual.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Writing Reassuring Horror Fiction

Well, I recently ended up thinking about the topic of reassuring horror fiction recently. And, yes, I know that this sounds like a contradiction in terms – but, horror fiction can be reassuring.

A day or so before I wrote this article, I was stressed out by various things and I also realised that I had to start reading another novel if I wanted to post a review here tomorrow. I’d planned to read a more high-brow novel, but I just didn’t feel in the mood for it.

So, I started reading a sci-fi horror novel (“Aliens: Rogue” by Sandy Schofield) instead. This was the kind of cheesy horror novel I used to read all the time when I was a teenager and it just felt reassuring to be reading this type of fiction again. Like watching a favourite old film or playing an old computer game you really love.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for writing reassuring horror fiction because, yes, horror fiction can be reassuring. So, let’s get started:

1) Unrealistic horror: One of the first ways to write reassuring horror is to make sure that the horrors in your story are clearly unrealistic.

Whether they’re zombies, monsters, vampires etc… the trick here is to come up with a story that will be grippingly suspenseful but, when it is over, your audience will have no reason to keep feeling afraid. This helps your audience to feel tough and fearless and, as such, will make your story feel considerably more reassuring.

And, yes, familiarity helps a lot here too. A classic cinematic example of this is the first “Nightmare On Elm Street” movie. The film itself contains some inventively macabre moments and some nail-biting suspense, but the horror doesn’t linger afterwards for the simple reason that Freddy Krueger is such a pop culture icon. He’s an over-the-top, fantastical monster who is conceptually scary (eg: the idea of a monster who haunts people’s dreams) but, because he’s so well-known, he isn’t likely to shock or disturb the audience too much.

A good literary example is probably Clive Barker’s “The Scarlet Gospels“. This novel is an incredibly gruesome, fast-paced horror thriller – but it isn’t really that scary for the simple reason that the novel’s main villain is such a well-known horror monster (after all, Clive Barker created the “Hellraiser” franchise). So, the reader gets to experience a grisly trip to hell and back without feeling too scared because, chances are, they’ve already seen at least one or two of the “Hellraiser” films and know what to expect.

But, of course, if you’re writing your own horror fiction, then you’ll either have to come up with your own horror monsters (make them witty, over-the-top, slightly silly etc..) or use popular types of monsters that aren’t copyrighted (eg: vampires, werewolves, zombies etc…).

2) Tough protagonists: Real, frightening horror is all about vulnerability. It’s about being alone at night and hearing something approaching. It’s about finding yourself out of your depth. It’s about bleakness, hopelessness and sorrow. It’s about facing certain and inevitable death. All of this stuff is, as you might have guessed, not particularly reassuring.

So, a good way to make your horror fiction a bit more reassuring is to give your protagonists the means and skills to confidently fight back against the horror.

For example, I recently read a novel called “Patient Zero” by Jonathan Maberry. It’s a military action-thriller novel with zombies in it. It was quite a lot of fun to read, but not particularly scary for the simple reason that – even when the main character is unarmed – he’s a well-trained soldier with lots of martial arts experience. As such, whilst the novel is certainly gruesome and suspenseful, you get all of the drama of a horror novel without any of the lingering unease or fear.

The best examples of this sort of thing can, of course, be found in computer and video games. For example, the reason why horror-themed first-person shooter games like “Doom II“, “Left 4 Dead 2“, “Quake” etc.. aren’t very scary is because you’re usually playing as either a well-armed soldier or part of an expert team.

By contrast, a game like “Silent Hill 3” is about fifty times more terrifying for the simple reason that your character is a lone teenager who isn’t very good with weapons (and the game’s combat system is deliberately slow and imprecise to reflect this fact).

So, if your main character is tough and has the means to confidently fight back against the horrors they encounter, then your horror story will be a lot more reassuring.

3) Gory horror: This might sound counter-intuitive but, just because you’re writing a reassuring horror story, don’t be afraid to make it really gruesome. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First of all, gruesome horror is only scary when it also includes other forms of horror too. So, if you don’t include those, then you can make your story as gory as you want whilst also making your audience feel brave and tough because they aren’t feeling too scared by it.

For example, compare the films “Shaun Of The Dead” and “Saw III” – both films contain buckets of stage blood, but “Shaun Of The Dead” is a comedy about zombies. It’s gory, but it isn’t frightening because there are no other types of horror present.

On the other hand, “Saw III” is a scary, shocking, disturbing and unsettling film (people actually fainted when it was shown in cinemas) for the simple reason that all of the film’s gory scenes are accompanied by “realistic” examples of several other types of horror – such as vulnerability, cruelty/sadism, hopelessness, certain death, psychological horror etc….

Secondly, over-the-top gory horror isn’t inherently scary if it is presented in a clearly unrealistic context. In essence, the less likely something is to actually happen in real life, the less genuinely frightening it will be (and the more “fearless” your audience will feel whilst reading it).

This is why, for example, an ultra-gruesome zombie apocalypse novel probably won’t be very scary, but something like a short description of realistic horrors (eg: warfare, disease, violent crimes, natural disasters etc..) will be disturbing. So, if your horror story takes place in an unrealistic context, then you can make it as gruesome as you want without disturbing your audience too much.

So, yes, reassuring horror doesn’t have to mean sanitised horror.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Finding Your Own “Style” Of Horror Fiction

If you’re interested in writing horror fiction, then one of the things that can really surprise you is when the type of horror fiction that you enjoy reading isn’t the same as the type that you are best at writing.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for finding your own “style” of horror fiction.

1) Experimentation and introspection: As any evil scientist will tell you, nothing beats good old-fashioned experiments. Simply put, the best way to work out whether a particular type of horror fiction really works for you is simply to try writing some of it. In addition to showing you what you are good at, it’ll also show you what doesn’t work for you.

And, as I mentioned earlier, this might catch you by surprise. The things that you enjoy as a reader might not be the same things you really thrive at writing. This can happen for a number of reasons – perhaps it was written in a different context to the one you’re writing in? Perhaps you don’t know enough about your favourite genre of horror to feel confident enough about writing it? Is the stuff you enjoy reading too intellectual or not intellectual enough? Who knows?

Once you’ve got over the shock of “I can’t write this, but I really enjoy reading it”, try to work out why. As soon as you work out the reasons for this, then you can either take steps (eg: research, writing practice etc..) to get better at the genre of horror you want to write or, more interestingly, you can use what you’ve learnt in order to find genres of horror fiction that do work for you.

2) Other influences: Another way to find your own style of horror fiction is just to look at your other influences and see if you can find a way to add a bit of horror to them. And, yes, you should have influences from outside the horror genre too. In fact, you almost certainly already do.

I mean, unless you’ve spent your entire life watching nothing but horror movies, reading nothing but horror novels, playing nothing but horror videogames and listening to nothing but the growlier types of heavy metal then you’re going to have other influences, whether you know it or not. And this is a good thing.

Why? If you want to come up with your own unique, distinctive “style” of horror then you’re going to have to introduce stuff from outside the horror genre. After all, fans of the horror genre are already familiar with everything within the horror genre. So, if you want to create horror fiction that’s a bit more unique and a bit more “you”, then you’re going to have to look outside the genre at the things you love for inspiration.

And, sometimes, the style of horror fiction you thrive at writing might be different to the type you enjoy reading. One reason for this can simply be that the greatest influences on your writing come from outside the horror genre. So, try to find a way to add some horror to them rather than just trying to copy the horror novels you enjoy reading.

3) Your own fears and sensibilities: Although the old advice to write about what actually scares you might seem simplistic at first glance, it’s actually really clever advice – if you put some thought into it first. In other words, instead of just copy-pasting your phobias and nightmares onto the page, try to work out why they scare you so much.

Once you’ve worked this out, you can take the basic underlying idea and apply it to much more interesting and imaginative situations. You can give your story a level of personality and depth that a simple monster story cannot.

And, yes, many of the famous tropes of the horror genre started out this way. For example, although zombies might be grotesque-looking walking corpses, this usually isn’t the main source of horror in a good zombie story. In a good zombie story, the zombies will often be a metaphor for some other, more realistic, fear – such as disease, loss of individuality, societal collapse, mortality, bereavement/grief, existential meaninglessness etc…

So, yes, do a bit of introspection and work out why your fears exist – then take that knowledge and use it in a new and imaginative way.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “The Scarlet Gospels” By Clive Barker (Novel)

Back in 2015, I was delighted when I heard that a new horror novel by Clive Barker had been released 🙂 Not only that, it was also a sequel to Barker’s “The Hellbound Heart” – the novella he used as a basis for the film “Hellraiser“.

Unfortunately, I heard this awesome news during the 3-4 year period when I didn’t read much. But, I added “The Scarlet Gospels” to my list of books that I meant to read sometime.

Yet, when I got back into reading regularly again, it took me more than fifty novels before I eventually got round to reading another Clive Barker novel (one from the 1980s called “Weaveworld). It was then that I remembered “The Scarlet Gospels” and, to my delight, I was able to find a cheap second-hand hardback copy of it online 🙂 So, this review has been a long time coming 🙂

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

This is the 2015 Macmillan (UK) hardback edition of “The Scarlet Gospels” that I read.

The novel begins in a gloomy, candlelit crypt. Five magicians have gathered around the grave of their fallen friend, Joseph Ragowski, in order to raise him from the dead. When – much to his annoyance – Ragowski returns to the realm of the living, the news isn’t good. The five magicians who raised him are the only magicians who are still alive. Something has been systematically killing the world’s magicians and stealing their knowledge. Something that has just found the crypt…….

Meanwhile, hard-boiled paranormal detective Harry D’Amour is drinking in a bar in New Orleans and reminiscing about his past. He has been sent to the city by his old friend Norma, a blind medium who has been contacted by the ghost of a recently-deceased lawyer who wants someone to get rid of his secret occult love nest before his family find out about it.

When Harry finds the house, everything seems relatively normal. But, after a bit of searching, Harry finds a secret chamber filled with magical grimoires. And, whilst searching this hidden room, he finds a mysterious puzzle box that starts to solve itself…….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is Wow! Oh my god, this novel is amazing 🙂 Yes, it might lack some of the sophistication of Barker’s earlier works, but it more than makes up for this by being this utterly badass combination of an old-school splatterpunk horror novel, a hardboiled noir detective story, a heavy metal action thriller that could give the original “Doom” a run for it’s money, an epic dark fantasy story, a cheesy late-night horror movie and so much more 🙂 This novel is one of the coolest novels I’ve read in a long time.

I guess that I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements. First of all, imagine the movie “Hellraiser”. Compared to this novel, “Hellraiser” is a Disney movie. In addition to some intriguing paranormal horror and some delightfully grotesque body horror, this novel is the kind of gloriously over-the-top ultra-gruesome splatterpunk novel that could easily have come from the 1980s 🙂 Seriously, imagine all of the grisly horrors of the original “Hellraiser” movie, but turned up to eleven, and you might begin to come close to the macabre majesty of this novel! Seriously, this is a Clive Barker novel 🙂

But, although this novel isn’t exactly scary, it is a joy for any fan of the horror genre to behold 🙂 The novel is saturated in gothic darkness, “film noir” gloom, cackling malevolence and diabolical delights. It is the kind of novel where, like in any good 1980s/90s horror movie, you can practically feel the ominously gloomy lighting. It is the kind of gloriously uncensored, over-the-top, darkly imaginative medley of the macabre that will probably cause you to grin with immature, rebellious delight for at least an hour or two after reading the first half of the story.

Another interesting thing about this novel is that it’s a thriller novel. Yes, it slows down a little bit in some of the later parts, but it is about a million miles away from the slightly slower and more contemplative fiction that Barker is famous for.

The first half of the book is a little bit like one of those awesome noir-influenced gothic horror thriller movies from the 1980s/1990s like “Jacob’s Ladder” or “Angel Heart” or something like that. The second half of the book is kind of like a cheesy heavy metal-influenced 1980s dark fantasy epic 🙂 Seriously, this story is a lot more fast-paced and gripping than I had expected 🙂

The novel’s fantasy elements are kind of interesting too. Although the novel starts out like a really cool urban fantasy novel, it eventually turns into more of a dark fantasy/high fantasy story.

Even though the scenes set in hell initially seem to be pulled straight from a heavy metal music video or a level of the original “Doom” (which certainly isn’t a bad thing), the novel’s mythos gradually becomes a bit more interesting and a fair number of the hellish locations and creatures display some of Barker’s uniquely twisted imagination 🙂 Likewise, the novel also includes a rather interesting take on the topic of Lucifer too, and some truly epic scenes later in the story too 🙂

Yes, compared to the sophisticated imagination of some other Clive Barker novels like “Weaveworld”, “Abarat” etc.. this novel isn’t as unique or imaginative. But, surprisingly, this doesn’t matter. It’s a badass, fast-paced horror thriller novel that is almost like heavy metal music in book form. Yes, some aspects of the location design might be a little bit cheesy or cliched (eg: a building covered in lots of spikes, which are also covered in spikes etc..) but this is half of the fun of a story like this 🙂

Another cool thing about this novel is that, like any good Clive Barker novel, it isn’t for the prudish or narrow-minded either 🙂 In addition to taking a glorious delight in frequent descriptions of the male anatomy, this novel is the kind of story that is both gleefully anti-conservative and “politically incorrect” as hell. Seriously, this novel is a rebellious delight 🙂

As for the characters, they’re something of a mixed bag. Whilst many of the supporting characters (eg: a muscular tattooist, a cute guy from New Orleans, a medium etc..) don’t really get that much characterisation, this kind of lends the story a wonderful “cheesy B-movie”-like quality. Plus, it leaves more room for the stars of the story to really shine. Whilst Harry D’Amour is a typical hard-boiled detective, the real star of this story is the Hell Priest. Or, as he hates to be called, Pinhead.

And, yes, if you’ve seen Doug Bradley’s performance as this character in “Hellraiser”, then this novel will be such a delight to read 🙂 In addition to having lots of wonderfully malevolent lines of dialogue, the Hell Priest also has a really interesting story arc which really helps to explore and define this mysterious monster. In a story that mirrors Lucifer’s fall from heaven, he is a chillingly tragic figure whose ruthless ambition proves to be his undoing.

As for the writing in this novel, it works surprisingly well. Whilst some parts of the novel’s third-person narration have the kind of rich, descriptive style that you’d expect to see in a Clive Barker novel, other parts of the story are written in a more unsophisticated and “matter of fact” kind of way. This helps to keep the story reasonably fast-paced and, although some of the story’s dialogue is corny (even by B-movie standards), the less sophisticated parts of the narration really help to add some fun to the story. Seriously, as long as you don’t go into this novel expecting to read a work of literary fiction, then you’ll probably enjoy the narration.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good 🙂 From what I’ve read about the long history of this novel, it was originally going to be a giant tome at one point. Fortunately, the hardback edition I read had been edited down to a much more efficient 361 pages 🙂 Not only does this help to keep the story streamlined and gripping, but it also means that the pacing is really good too. Yes, it slows down a little in some of the later parts, but for the most part, this is very much a thriller novel 🙂

All in all, this novel is amazing 🙂 Yes, it isn’t as sophisticated as some of Barker’s older stuff. But, this is like comparing an elaborate classical symphony to a modern album by a 1980s heavy metal band. Yes, one might be more complex and sophisticated, but the other is a lot more fun to listen to. And, yes, this what I love about this novel. It is fun. It is a gloriously over-the-top heavy metal horror movie of a novel 🙂 And it is just so much fun to read 🙂

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

Today’s Art (9th April 2019)

Well, since I was slightly tired and in a bit of a rush, today’s artwork is 100% digital. It was a quick digital painting (made in about 20-25 minutes) that I made, which was based on this photo I took of the hallway/staircase near my room after I noticed that, thanks to the way that my digital camera works, the light tended to look more orange in low-light environments.

So, after turning some lights off, I was able to take a photo that reminded me of the tenebrist art of old (my favourite type of historical art). In addition to this, thanks to the orange light and some of the digital techniques I used, I was also able to take inspiration from an amazing classic horror videogame called “Silent Hill 3” whilst making the digital painting too 🙂

As usual, this digital painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Low Light – Silent Hall” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Dead Man Rising” By Lilith Saintcrow (Novel)

Well, after reading Lilith Saintcrow’s “Working For The Devil” a week or two ago, I’d planned to read more books in Saintcrow’s excellent “Dante Valentine” series – especially since I found a cheap second-hand paperback omnibus online. So, I thought that I’d take a look at the next novel in the series – “Dead Man Rising” (2006).

Although this sci-fi/urban fantasy/horror/detective novel can theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel (since it contains recaps), it is best read after “Working For The Devil”. Not only will some elements of the story make more sense, but this novel will also have a much greater emotional impact if you’ve read the previous one first.

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

This is the 2011 Orbit (UK) paperback omnibus which contained the copy of “Dead Man Rising” that I read.

Set in a futuristic cyberpunk-style city called Saint City, the novel starts with half-demon necromancer Dante Valentine and her ex-boyfriend Jace in the middle of a dangerous bounty hunting mission. After the events of the previous novel, Dante has thrown herself into her work in order to distract herself from the emotional and physical pain that she feels.

However, after the bounty has been caught, Dante gets a call from her old friend on the police force. There have been a series of grisly murders and a clue found next to one of the bodies suggests that Dante and one of the victims have a common history. Despite the fact that Dante is still deeply troubled by this distant part of her past, she agrees to help investigate the case…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is both very gripping and it also contains far more horror elements than the previous novel did 🙂 This novel is also more of a character-based drama too, with lots of emphasis placed on Dante’s emotional battles as well as more physical conflicts. So, yes, the emotional tone of this story is a lot darker and grimmer than the previous one, although this segues quite well with the ending of the previous novel in addition to emphasising the horror elements of the story too.

Talking of which, I cannot praise the horror elements of this story highly enough. Although this novel contains a decent amount of gory horror and paranormal horror, there’s also a chilling focus on the nightmarishly dystopian psychic school that Dante was forced to attend when she was younger. Whilst the reader is given enough grim details about this to make them recoil and shudder, there’s also the creeping sense that these details are just the tip of a very disturbing iceberg. So, unlike the previous “Dante Valentine” novel, this novel is actually a horror novel.

The novel’s detective elements are reasonably good too, since they lend the story a level of claustrophobic suspense and gritty tension that the previous novel lacked slightly. Although the solution to the mystery is something that you might guess about half to two-thirds of the way through the story, it includes some really clever flourishes – such as a variation on the traditional “locked room mystery” sub-genre of detective fiction.

In a lot of ways, the detective elements of this story reminded me a bit of both Mike Carey’s excellent “Felix Castor” novels and the “Blackwell” computer games (which I reviewed here, here, here, here and here). Not to mention that they help to keep the story moving at a reasonably decent pace too.

But, whilst this novel is more of a traditional detective/horror thriller, there are still a few action-packed moments too – the best of these being a really cool, if somewhat superflous, fight scene set in a vampire nightclub – which reminded me a little bit of Jocelynn Drake’s excellent “Dark Days” novels (which is never a bad thing 🙂).

In terms of the writing, Saintcrow’s first-person narration is as good as ever – and it is written in the kind of informal “matter of fact” way that you would expect in a good thriller or noir novel. Like with the previous novel in the series, the narration also includes a few mildly cyberpunk flourishes (eg: futuristic jargon like “holovids”, “plasguns”, “plasteel” etc..) in addition to including a fair amount of introspection and characterisation too.

As for the characters in this novel, they’re reasonably good and this story devotes quite a bit of time to characterisation too. However, the characterisation in this story is very much on the “gritty drama” side of things, with lots of scenes showing how traumatic effects have affected the characters. Likewise, the story’s main villian is left mysterious enough to be genuinely creepy too. So, yes, the characterisation in this novel is pretty interesting.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. Whilst the omnibus edition of “Dead Man Rising” seems to be an efficient 250-70 pages in length, this is only due to larger pages and smaller print. Looking online, the stand-alone paperback edition of this novel is about 416 pages long. Still, the novel never really felt like it was too long. Likewise, even though some of the gloomy introspection slows the story down a bit, this novel was still gripping enough for me to binge-read most of it within the space of a single day.

All in all, this is a gripping paranormal detective thriller/horror novel 🙂 Yes, the emotional tone of this story is a bit on the depressing side of things – but, despite this, it is still a creepily chilling and grippingly compelling novel.

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