Well, I was still in the mood for the macabre. So, I thought that I’d take a look at a novel that I’d meant to read several months ago – namely Rebecca Levene’s 2010 novel “Cold Warriors”. If I remember rightly, I ended up finding a second-hand copy of this book online shortly after I’d finished reading the sequel, but it ended up languishing on one of my book piles after I got distracted by other books.
So, let’s take a look at “Cold Warriors”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins in a graveyard in June 1988, with a secret agent called Tomas climbing into a coffin in preparation for burial alive and resurrection several days later as part of a Voodoo ritual, presided over by his boss Nicholson. As he lies in the grave, Tomas thinks about his beloved, Kate, who has been declared KIA after a mission to Russia. The ritual begins and, as the grave begins the be filled, darkness slowly overtakes Tomas.
Shortly afterwards, a recently-married man called Geraint is getting ready to spend the night with his wife. He sneaks into the bathroom and daubs evil symbols onto his body with blood, keeping them hidden under a T-shirt before joining his wife in bed. Needless to say, it isn’t a very happy honeymoon.
Then we flash forwards to 2009. Two MI6 agents, a younger sniper called Morgan and a more experienced agent called John, are in Yemen surveilling a terrorist base with orders to assassinate their leader. Although Morgan makes a perfect shot, the terrorist’s henchmen spot the two agents shortly afterwards and a fight breaks out. During the chaos, Morgan accidentally stabs John.
Back in London, Morgan’s boss is furious. This is hardly the first time someone working with Morgan had died in strange circumstances. But, Morgan is in luck. Instead of being drummed out of the service, a newly-reopened branch – the Heremetic Division – have expressed an interest in him. Their leader, Nicholson, says that he needs Morgan to travel to Budapest to intercept an ancient artefact that has found its way into the hands of a wealthy oligarch. Not only that, he’ll also be partnered with an agent who even his lifelong string of bad luck can’t kill…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel was that it was a hell of a lot of fun to read 🙂 It’s a really cool blend of both the horror and the thriller genres, which manages to combine the best elements of both in a way that doesn’t dilute either of them 🙂
So, I should probably start by talking about this novel’s excellent horror elements. This novel contains a really creepy mixture of occult horror, psychological horror, gory horror, tragic horror, the macabre, claustrophobic horror, paranormal horror, hideous crimes, apocalyptic horror, character-based horror, creature horror, ghost horror and an inventive version of the zombie genre too 🙂
These horror elements are handled in a brilliantly unsettling way, with a really good mixture of more subtle moments of horror and some splendidly grotesque set-pieces. Seriously, is so good to see a horror thriller novel that pays just as much attention (if not more) to its horror elements as it does to its thriller elements 🙂
The best way to describe the horror of this novel is that it has the gritty and grisly atmosphere of something like a Shaun Hutson or James Herbert novel, with the mysterious occult terror of something like an older episode of “Supernatural” (or possibly a novel by Clive Barker or Mike Carey), with maybe a little bit of the unsettling psychological dread of a film like “The Ring” too 🙂
As for the novel’s thriller elements, they’re a really good mixture of suspense, spy thriller stuff, plot twists, mystery and fast-paced action sequences. All of these elements are handled really well, with the balance between suspense and action meaning that neither element dominates the story in a way that becomes monotonous. This is also one of those good thriller novels that also feels consistently gripping throughout, whilst also slowly increasing in scale and intensity as the story progresses 🙂
Plus, as mentioned earlier, both the horror and thriller elements are blended in a brilliantly seamless way that doesn’t dilute either of them. For example, the drama of the novel’s action sequences is heightened by the fact that they are often as brutal and gruesome as something from a horror novel. Likewise, the novel’s moments of horror benefit a lot from the nail-biting thriller-style writing and suspense that often accompanies them. In short, the spy thriller elements add something new to the horror genre and the occult horror elements add something new to the thriller genre. Seriously, this is a really cool novel 🙂
In terms of the characters, they’re really good 🙂 Morgan comes across as a young man with a tragic past who is out of his depth – yet just experienced/clever enough to get out of danger whilst also being inexperienced/impulsive enough to put himself in it just as often. This is kind of difficult to describe, but it really adds a lot of extra drama to the novel whilst also making him feel like a realistic and complex character too.
Tomas is a really fascinating character too, since he’s basically a man from the 1980s who has been dropped into the late 2000s – with this element of his character being handled in a subtle, but realistic way. The main cast also includes a German agent called Anya, who initially just seems like a generic “serious” character, but becomes a lot more interesting and complex as the story progresses and a really eerie CIA agent called Belle too (who is a powerful psychic who is several decades old, yet has not physically aged since the age of eleven).
And, as you would expect from a horror story, there are some really creepy villains too 🙂 I’m wary about spoiling too much, but the villains in this novel somehow manage to be absolute pure evil without ever really descending into unintentional comedy or moustache-twirling cartoonishness. This is probably because, like the main characters, they actually have (rather dark/grim) backstories and fairly realistic motivations for most of their evil deeds.
As for the writing, this novel is really good 🙂 The novel’s third-person narration is a really good hybrid of the kind of gritty, fast-paced and informal “matter of fact” narration you’d expect from an action-thriller novel and the kind of slower, formal descriptive narration you’d expect from a horror novel. These two elements are blended seamlessly, resulting in an intense and atmospheric story that also moves along at a decent speed too 🙂
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is good too. At a fairly efficient 295 pages in length, it is one of those novels that is able to remain focused and consistently gripping 🙂 I cannot praise the pacing in this novel highly enough. Not only does it make excellent use of mini-cliffhangers to keep up the suspense, but it is also one of those cool novels that starts in a gripping way and then becomes more and more gripping as it goes along 🙂 Yes, the novel leaves the ending open for the sequel, but there is still enough resolution to make the conclusion feel satisfying 🙂
All in all, this is a really fun novel that blends the horror and thriller genres in a way that will give you the best of both worlds 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.