Review: “Monolith” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Well, it’s been a while since I last read a Shaun Hutson novel. And, although I’d thought about reading another one of his classic 1980s novels, I thought that I’d check out a second-hand copy of one of his more modern novels (one from 2015 called “Monolith”) that I’ve been meaning to read for a while.

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

This is the 2015 Caffeine Nights Publishing (UK) paperback edition of “Monolith” that I read.

The novel begins in London in 1933. An elderly shopkeeper is woken by the sound of shattering glass and, when he walks downstairs, he sees that nothing has been stolen. The vandalism is, as he suspects, another act of hatred towards him. And, as he begins to sweep up the broken glass, he suddenly thinks of a way to get revenge.

Then we flash forwards to London in 2015. A giant high-rise luxury flat/office complex called the Crystal Tower is being built near the Thames. Funded by a mysterious Russian billionaire, the hulking glass and steel tower has caused no end of controversy, with many wondering how the hell it got planning permission. On the building site, two workers are trying to find out what is wrong with one of the lifts. There seems to be no obvious fault with it, but it won’t budge. But, when they investigate further, the lift suddenly falls, killing both of them.

Local journalist Jessica Anderson gets a tip and heads to the scene of the accident to investigate. After all, this freak accident is merely one of a suspiciously large number that have happened since construction began on the tower….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a reasonably compelling suspense thriller/ horror novel that, whilst it isn’t Hutson’s best novel, was still quite a bit of fun to read. It’s also very much a modern Shaun Hutson novel and, if you’ve read novels like Hutson’s “Last Rites“, then the general style and tone of this novel will probably be familiar to you.

Still, I should start by talking about this novel’s horror elements – which are a mixture of suspenseful horror, psychological horror, bleak horror, monster horror, paranormal horror and gory horror. Unlike Hutson’s older novels, this novel focuses a lot more heavily on suspense rather than gory horror. Whilst there are certainly some gruesome moments, they are a bit more infrequent/short/less detailed and they often tend to focus more on the suspenseful build-up and the characters’ reactions than anything else. Surprisingly, this actually works quite well and helps these scenes to retain a lot of dramatic impact despite their slightly toned-down gory descriptions.

The story’s monster-based scenes are a bit hit and miss though. Although the novel does the classic horror movie thing of keeping the monster mysterious for most of the story, you will probably be able to guess what it is fairly quickly. Even so, this mystery helps to drive the plot and build suspense. Not to mention that – as monsters go – it’s a suitably fearsome (and cool-looking) one.

However, the story’s best monster-based element is just kind of introduced and then forgotten about. I’m wary of spoiling too much, but the novel also gives you a lot of very strong hints that it’s going to include a much larger-scale and more innovative version of this monster (possibly even setting the reader up for the type of memorably dramatic ending that appeared in Hutson’s “Relics) and then…. nothing much.

Don’t get me wrong, the scenes with the “ordinary” monster are certainly dramatic and the ending has a bit of a cool twist to it, but this story could have been so much more if this particular background element had actually been expanded upon a bit more (rather than just being an excuse for a few suspenseful accident scenes and some mysteriously disappearing blood).

In terms of this novel’s thriller elements, they’re fairly good. Not only does this novel use the classic thriller technique of ultra-short chapters (most are about 2-5 pages long), but it also makes heavy use of suspense and mystery too. And, like in several of Hutson’s novels, there are even a few police procedural style scenes involving detectives investigating the events of the story too. Still, if you’re expecting the kind of ultra-fast paced ultra-violent action thriller story found in novels like Hutson’s “Exit Wounds”, “Body Count” etc… then you’re probably going to be disappointed. There are a couple of these type of scenes, but this novel is much more of a traditional suspense thriller than an action-thriller novel. Still, it is a fairly compelling one and is probably slightly more of a gritty and cynical thriller novel than a horror novel.

In terms of the writing, it’s a modern Shaun Hutson novel. In other words, the novel’s third-person narration is written in a fairly informal, fast-paced and “matter of fact” way, but with a few formal and/or descriptive flourishes to add atmosphere and suspense (less so than in his older novels, although some moments do have a certain Victorian gothic atmosphere to them).

Plus, the writing also has a bit of personality to it too 🙂 Not only is there are least one Iron Maiden reference (and another possible one with a character called “Adrian Murray”), but there’s also a classic Hutsonism (the “coppery” smell of blood) and, of course, there are a couple of really good cynical moments (eg: a description of social media and a scene involving carrier bags in shops) that made me laugh out loud 🙂

Even so, a lot of the novel’s cynicism is of the serious, bleak variety that was so common in Hutson’s “Last Rites”. Which, of course, brings me on to the characters. As you would expect, many of the main characters have a tragic backstory of one kind or another and are world-weary, cynical people. Still, they are well-written enough for you to care about what happens to them. The novel’s main villain – Voronov – is suitably menacing, but is a little bit of a stylised/two-dimensional villain though.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At a reasonably efficient 306 pages in length, it never really feels like a page is wasted. Likewise, thanks to the short chapters and expert use of suspenseful moments, this novel is a reasonably-paced and compelling one that can be enjoyed in a few hours.

All in all, whilst this certainly isn’t Hutson’s best novel (read “Deathday” or “Erebus” if you want to see him at his best), it is still a rather compelling suspense/horror thriller novel.

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

How Gory Should Your Horror Story Be?

Well, I thought that I’d talk about writing horror fiction today. In particular, the question of how gory a horror story should be. The short answer to this question is, of course, “it depends on the story you are telling”. But, I thought that I’d look at this topic in more detail, since the horror novel I’m reading at the moment (Shaun Hutson’s 2015 novel “Monolith”) reminded me of some interesting modern developments in this area.

In short, with the one exception of the zombie genre, modern horror novels often tend to focus less on gory horror than 1980s horror fiction did. This isn’t to say that they are completely bloodless, but gory moments aren’t usually the main focus of many modern horror stories in the way that they often were in the 1980s. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the main one is that other types of horror (eg: psychological horror, suspense, character-based horror etc..) are a lot scarier than gory horror.

Nowhere can this be seen better than in the first half of a modern Shaun Hutson novel called “Monolith” that I’m reading at the moment. Unlike Hutson’s 1980s splatterpunk novels (such as “Erebus“, “Deathday” and “Breeding Ground) that revelled in page upon page of detailed gory descriptions, the first half of “Monolith” tends to focus more on mystery, suspense, bleakness etc… with the relatively few gruesome moments so far being both shorter and less detailed than they would have been in one of his 1980s novels.

Yet, the novel’s gruesome moments still have a similar level of impact since they tend to focus more on the characters involved in these scenes (and their fear of death etc..). So, whilst “Monolith” doesn’t try to gross the reader out as much as Hutson’s older novels do, this is actually replaced with some more psychological horror. Likewise, there’s often a fair amount of suspense in these scenes too – since you know that something horrible is going to happen, but you don’t know what or when. It’s a really interesting example of how the horror genre’s attitude towards gory horror has changed over the years.

Of course, just because modern horror fiction is often less gory than 1980s horror fiction doesn’t mean that you can’t include gory horror. Pretty much every “serious” modern horror novel will include some level of gory horror – however, it is also often handled in a different (and perhaps more effective) way than it used to be during the splatterpunk heyday of the 1980s. In short, modern writers have realised that gory moments are at their most shocking when they appear less often. In short, if the reader has just read four grisly scenes, then the fifth one won’t really be that much of a surprise to them.

It’s a bit like the old rule about using profanity in fiction. You can use as much of it as you like but, every time you use it, the next time will have slightly less impact. So, gory descriptions tend to be at their most horrifying when the reader isn’t expecting one. In other words, choose your moments carefully. A great example of this is a horror novel from the 1990s called “In The Miso Soup” by Ryu Murakami. This novel only really has one gruesome moment, but it is a lot more horrifying than you’d expect because of when and how it happens.

The best way to think of gory horror is that, these days, it is just one of many tools that a horror writer can use. Truly scary horror fiction relies on keeping the reader on their toes by using lots of different types of horror. Gory horror is one of them, but don’t forget that things like psychological horror, body horror, cruel horror, character-based horror, paranormal horror, bleak horror, gothic horror, suspense etc… matter just as much these days.

Still, saying this, you should still read old 1980s splatterpunk novels (by authors like James Herbert, Shaun Hutson, Clive Barker etc..) because not only do they offer a brilliant education in how to write effective and shocking gory descriptions but they also show off some of the effects of including lots of gore in your horror story.

In short, whilst the gruesome parts of these old novels stop becoming shocking after a few chapters, they still add a lot of horror to the story because the sheer amount of gruesome moments creates a bleak, grim and nihilistic atmosphere (comparable to something like “Game Of Thrones”) which leaves the reader in no doubt that they’re reading a horror novel.

Interestingly, the same effect is still used in modern zombie fiction. Seriously, if you’re writing a modern zombie novel, then you still need to include lots of gory horror. It’s pretty much a mandatory part of the genre because of the nihilistic feeling of bleakness that it evokes (which goes really well with zombie apocalypses).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “Deathday” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Well, although I hadn’t planned to re-read Shaun Hutson’s 1986 horror novel “Deathday”, I found that the other book I’d planned to read just wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped. So, worried about losing interest in reading altogether, I needed to read something I knew that I’d enjoy. And quick!

Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to find the small pile of vintage Shaun Hutson paperbacks I’d found in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield a few months earlier.

Although I first read a 1990s/early 2000s reprint of “Deathday” when I was about fifteen or so, I couldn’t remember a huge amount about the story other than I’d enjoyed it. So, I was curious to see what I’d think of it these days. Plus, after reading a slightly more modern 1980s-influenced horror novel recently, I was in the mood for more of this awesome genre 🙂

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

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

The novel begins in the year 1596, with a horrifying scene showing the church authorities cruelly interrogating someone they suspect of witchcraft about a mysterious amulet. Eventually, they learn that only the first person to touch the amulet will be tainted by whatever lurks within it.

Then we flash forward to the 1980s. In the small Derbyshire village of Medworth, Detective Inspector Tom Lambert is standing in front of his brother’s grave, racked by survivor’s guilt about the car accident that he escaped from unharmed. In another part of the graveyard, two gardeners are getting ready to clear a patch of overgrown land. The work is gruelling and is made worse by a stubborn tree stump that refuses to budge.

But, one of the gardeners – Ray Mackenzie – isn’t going to give up without a fight and insists that they continue. Fetching axes and crowbars, the gardeners give the tree stump everything they’ve got and it finally gives way. In the pit below the stump, a giant slug sits atop a wooden box. Summoning all of his strength, Ray kills the slug and prises the box open. It contains a skeleton wearing a golden medallion. Feeling like he deserves a reward for his efforts, Ray grabs the medallion. Needless to say, things don’t go well…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is even better than I remembered 🙂 Seriously, this is the kind of gloriously fun ’80s horror novel that shows the genre at it’s absolute best 🙂 By the end of it, I was reading with the kind of huge grin that is usually reserved for things like cherished old computer games, corny late-night horror movies and the best heavy metal music. This novel is classic Shaun Hutson and, if you enjoyed Hutson’s “Erebus” or “Relics“, then this novel will absolutely knock your socks off 🙂

So, I should probably start by talking about this novel’s horror elements. It contains a brilliantly unpredictable, and yet reassuringly traditional, mixture of paranormal horror, suspense, a theme of mourning/death, ominous horror, gothic horror, vampire/zombie/demon horror, slasher movie style horror, jump scare-like moments (plus a few playful fake-outs) and, of course, lots of the ultra-gruesome gory horror that you’d expect from a splatterpunk novel. Although experienced horror hounds probably won’t find this novel that frightening, it is still a brilliantly enjoyable horror novel nonetheless 🙂

Shaun Hutson’s 1984 classic “Erebus” blended the vampire and zombie genres in a really cool way and “Deathday” takes this a step further by adding slasher movie-style elements and “glowing eyes” evil sorcery to the mix 🙂 This keeps the scenes of horror in “Deathday” excitingly unpredictable, whilst also allowing Hutson to add the most dramatic elements of each genre to the mix. Seriously, if you like any of these four genres of horror, then you’ll have a lot of fun with this novel.

Not only that, like “Erebus”, this novel is also something of a thriller too 🙂 This is handled extremely well, with lots of tense ominous moments gradually giving way to more intense scenes of frantic suspense before climaxing in a spectacularly dramatic, grippingly fast-paced and action-packed final segment 🙂 In addition to this excellent pacing, there are also detective/police procedural elements, some gloriously cheesy “80s action movie” one liners – with the best probably being ‘I am the law’ – and a good number of dramatic set pieces sprinkled throughout the novel.

Seriously, I love how this novel blends it’s horror and thriller elements 🙂 Unlike most horror thriller novels, the emphasis is firmly on the story’s horror elements – with the thriller elements taking a slight back seat for most of the novel. Then, when the thriller elements finally take centre stage in a furious blaze of gunfire, there are still enough horror elements remaining to give these grippingly fast-paced scenes a level of drama and impact that you wouldn’t usually find in a typical action-thriller novel.

I’ve said it before, but this novel is pure, unadulterated fun to read 🙂 In addition to the expert blend of horror and thriller fiction, this novel takes itself seriously enough to be dramatic whilst also being knowingly cheesy enough to bring a smile to any reader’s face.

Whether it is a scene where the police find an empty coffin with a broken lid (‘As if some powerful force had stove it out… FROM THE INSIDE’) or the brilliantly tongue-in-cheek way that the novel’s action movie-style “lock and load montage” is handled (it goes on for quite a few pages and shows what happens when unarmed policemen try using guns for the first time), this novel walks a brilliantly fine line between grim, shocking horror and gloriously cheesy late-night B-movie schlock that is an absolute joy to behold 🙂

In terms of the characters, they are reasonably ok. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there’s enough here to make you care about the characters. Plus, although the main character – D.I. Lambert – is a bit of a stock character (who goes from grizzled, brooding protagonist to loose-cannon cop to badass action hero), this is handled in a slightly more realistic way (eg: he actually has emotions etc…) whilst still giving him the kind of stylised persona that you’d expect from a 1980s thriller protagonist. Likewise, many of the background characters feel like realistic people and even the less realistic characters – such as DCI Baron – are stylised enough to bring a smile to any reader’s face.

In terms of the writing, this is a Shaun Hutson novel 🙂 The novel’s third-person narration is this brilliant mixture of atmospheric formal descriptions, fast-paced thriller narration and the kind of personality-filled cynical observations and quirky narrative moments that really make this novel unique 🙂 Yes, the paperback edition of “Deathday” I read had a few typographical errors and the writing can be a little corny at times, but this is all part of the charm. However, long-time fans of Shaun Hutson might be a little disappointed to realise that there aren’t that many classic Hutsonisms here (the only one I spotted was “cleft”, used in the usual context).

As for length and pacing, this novel is really good. Although it is a relatively long 383 pages in length, it never feels bloated or padded. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, the novel’s pacing is absolutely stellar 🙂 This is a novel that is compelling from the first page and then gets more and more compelling as the story gradually turns from an ominous gothic horror tale to a suspenseful slasher story to an action-packed zombie thriller 🙂

As for how this thirty-four year old novel has aged, it still holds up fairly well. Although it is very ’80s in a lot of ways, this often just adds to the story’s late-night “video nasty” charm – with the grimness of 1980s Britain (eg: crime, loneliness etc..) being contrasted with the kind of moments you’d expect to see in a cheesy late-night TV show (eg: loose-cannon police-work, an evil druid etc..). Not only that, the story’s plot is still as compelling and dramatic as ever. Even so, this novel is probably slightly on the “politically incorrect” side of things these days – but not as much as you might expect.

All in all, this is the most fun that I’ve had with a book in a while 🙂 It’s an expert blend of horror and thriller fiction, which walks a brilliantly fine line between amusing cheesiness and gripping drama. It’s an even better novel than Hutson’s “Erebus”, and I never expected to say that. If you like zombies, vampires, gothic graveyards, slasher movies, heavy metal music, cheesy ’80s movies and/or thriller novels, then this one is well-worth reading 🙂

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

Four Things Writers Can Learn From 1980s Shaun Hutson Novels

Well, since I’m re-reading another classic ’80s horror novel by Shaun Hutson (“Deathday”, if anyone is curious), I thought that I’d talk about what these books can teach us about writing. However, I should probably start with some background information before getting on to the main part of the article.

If you haven’t heard of Shaun Hutson before, he is one of several horror authors who rose to prominence during the splatterpunk trend in horror publishing, where horror novels could finally include things like ultra-gruesome descriptions and cynical social commentary.

Although Hutson didn’t really get the “household name” fame of some other 1980s horror authors, he still has a loyal fanbase and – like many great horror authors – is still writing fiction these days (returning to horror fiction after writing several gritty thriller novels during the horror publishing drought of the 1990s/2000s). Even so, I’ll mostly be focusing on his “classic” 1980s horror novels in this article.

Even though I only discovered Hutson’s 1980s novels quite a while after they were published (eg: during my teenage years in the early-mid 2000s), they were one of the main things that made me a lot more interested in both reading and writing at the time. And, returning to them again more recently, I’ve started to notice all sorts of interesting writing lessons hidden within them.

Needless to say, this article may contain some SPOILERS for “The Skull”, “Relics”, “Deathday”, “Erebus” and his later novel “Exit Wounds”.

1) Familiarity and difference: One of the cool things about old Shaun Hutson novels is how he’s able to use both familiarity and difference to reward fans of his novels. In short, each novel tells an interestingly different story- but there are enough familiar features, references and “easter eggs” for fans to spot too.

These include things like familiar descriptive words (eg: “mucoid”, “liquescent”, “coppery”, “scapula”, “cleft” etc…), occasional heavy metal/rock references or the fact that the main character’s love interest will almost always be a blonde woman who wears jeans. Although these things might sound like they would make each novel repetitive, the fact that the plot of each novel differs quite a bit means that they are a bit more like an artist’s personal style or the distinctive tones of a musician’s favourite instrument. In other words, they are something that tells fans that “yes, this is a Shaun Hutson novel” 🙂

In addition to this, he also does clever stuff with his previous novels in order to keep fans on their toes. For example, his 1986 novel “Relics” initially seems a bit like an enhanced remake of his 1982 archaeological monster novel “The Skull“, before going in a different and more dramatic direction.

Likewise, there’s this brilliant scene in one of the earlier parts of his 1986 novel “Deathday” where two gardners tasked with clearing an overgrown part of a graveyard finally dig up a stubborn tree stump, only to be confronted by a giant slug lurking beneath it. At the time that this novel was first published, readers would probably have thought “Cool. This is a sequel to ‘Slugs’ and ‘Breeding Ground“, two of Hutson’s earlier monster novels about giant slugs. However, in a genius twist, the giant slug is swiftly killed with an axe and the novel then goes in a very different direction.

So, in short, having familiar features can be a good way to give something extra to your fanbase. However, in order for these to work well, they also have to be paired with creativity, difference and a willingness to catch your audience off-guard.

2) Genre-mixing: Another cool thing about Shaun Hutson’s 1980s novels is how he’s able to blend familiar horror tropes in all sorts of creative ways. For example, his 1984 novel “Erebus” is technically a vampire novel. However, the novel’s vampires – whilst still displaying some vampiric traits – actually act and look more like zombies than vampires. This makes the novel more interesting, and unpredictable, than either a traditional vampire or zombie story would be.

This is expanded upon in “Deathday”, where an ancient curse turns it’s victims into a hybrid of light-sensitive vampires, undead zombies, red-eyed demons and slasher movie serial killers. This blending of horror monsters not only provides a good contrast between familiarity and novelty, but it also means that the reader is genuinely curious about the monsters too. As such, they seem a bit more formidable than just another zombie, vampire etc… would be.

You can also even see this in some of Hutson’s later novels, such as when he temporarily moved away from writing horror fiction (probably because publishers turned their back on the genre) and wrote gritty thriller novels instead. Not only did some of his older horror novels (“Relics”, “Deathday”, “Assassin” etc..) include elements from the crime/detective genre, so that the change wasn’t too jarring – but he also included some elements from the horror genre in his thriller novels too.

For example, his 2000 thriller novel “Exit Wounds” memorably ends with an extended 15-20 page gunfight scene that is as grisly and brutal as something from one of his horror novels. Compared to the faster-paced and slightly more sanitised violence you’d expect to see in a typical action-thriller novel, this can really catch you by surprise.

So, yes, Shaun Hutson novels can teach us quite a bit about the value of genre-mixing. If you want a memorable story that will both surprise and appeal to fans of a particular genre, then don’t be afraid to blend in stuff from other genres too.

3) Do your own thing: One of the cool thing about Hutson’s 1980s horror novels is that you really get the sense that he was having fun writing them and that he was writing the kinds of stories that only he could write.

Whether it is the occasional reference to his favourite music (eg: an Iron Maiden song plays in the background of one scene in “Breeding Ground”, there are song-lyric epigrams in some novels etc..), the way that his brilliantly cynical attitude towards the world emerges in his stories or even the rural southern English settings, most of Hutson’s 1980s novels really feel like his own distinctive thing.

And, you should try to do the same. In other words, look for the things that really fascinate you, which make you you etc.. and then find a way to incorporate them into your novel whilst also telling an interesting story at the same time. Yes, even if you think that you are “boring” or “ordinary”, then do this nonetheless – there will be readers out there who will either find it fascinatingly different or fascinatingly familiar.

I mean, when I was a teenager, there was nothing more amazing than finding an author who not only wrote horror stories set in the kind of places I knew fairly well but who also had the same favourite heavy metal band as I do 🙂 So, yes, even if you feel that you are “ordinary” or whatever, then you should still do your own distinctive thing. There will be readers who are interested in it.

4) Don’t be afraid to be intelligent: One of the cool things I noticed when re-reading Shaun Hutson’s 1980s horror novels is that, whilst they tell the kind of fast-paced, focused stories that are relaxingly enjoyable, they are also written in a more sophisticated, formal and descriptive way than you might expect.

In other words, despite probably being considered a “low-brow” author during the 1980s, Hutson’s writing is sometimes more “literary” than you might expect. Here’s a descriptive sentence from “Deathday” to show you what I mean: ‘The sky was heavy with clouds, great, grey, washed out billows which scudded across the heavens, pushed by the strong breeze.’ It’s a long and formal descriptive sentence, yet it is placed within a fast-paced horror novel. And it works 🙂

What I’m trying to say here is that, even though there is a trend towards narration in fiction becoming more streamlined and informal these days (to compete with smartphones, the internet etc..), don’t be afraid to show off your writing talents. It’s ok to use long words, formal descriptions etc… occasionally if they are interesting or if they add something to the story.

Not only that, don’t underestimate your readers’ intelligence either – I mean, although I didn’t consciously notice all of this formal stuff when I first read “Deathday” when I was a teenager, I still really enjoyed the thrilling fast-paced horror story it told. In fact, from everything I’ve read, most of Hutson’s fans first discovered his novels when they were teenagers. So, yes, slightly sophisticated or formal moments in stories are something that most readers can easily handle.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “Breeding Ground” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Well, since I was in the mood for a retro horror novel, I thought that I’d re-read Shaun Hutson’s 1985 novel “Breeding Ground”. This was one of about four vintage 1980s Shaun Hutson paperbacks that I bought after finding a trove of them in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield a couple of months before preparing this review.

Out of these books, I decided to go for “Breeding Ground” since I’d already re-read “Relics“, since it was the shortest novel in the pile and because I remembered very little about this novel from when I first read a copy of it during my mid-teens. So, I was curious.

Although “Breeding Ground” is the sequel to Hutson’s 1982 novel “Slugs” (which was part of a trend of “giant vermin” monster novels started by James Herbert’s “The Rats” in 1974), it tells a self-contained story and can be enjoyed if you either haven’t read “Slugs” or have read it so long ago that you can’t remember much about it.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Breeding Ground”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1986 Star Books (UK) paperback edition of “Breeding Ground” that I read.

The novel begins with a farmer delivering a load of lettuce to a market stall in London. One of the lettuces looks a bit dodgy, so it is thrown onto a pile of rejects. On the lettuce leaves, baby slugs hatch and slither around unseen.

A homeless man called Tommy is scavenging for food and ends up rifling through the pile of rejected vegetables. Thinking that the lettuce looks vaguely edible, he takes it and eats it. Hours later, he is stricken by extreme cramps and pain. Tommy lurches through the streets in search of help. No one really notices him or tries to help, so he crawls into a nearby public lavatory and dies inside one of the cubicles.

His body is first discovered by a couple of louts who are looking for somewhere to sniff glue. When one of them kicks the body, giant slugs emerge from it. Horrified by this, the louts flee in terror.

The police, led by DI Ray Grogan, find Tommy’s slug-devoured remains a while later and have no clue of who or what could have done such a thing. The next morning, local doctor Alan Finch is making a couple of house calls when he finds that one of his patients, Molly Foster, is covered with strange boils that he can’t seem to diagnose the cause of…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is classic Shaun Hutson 🙂 If you’re a fan of James Herbert’s “The Rats”, then this novel is an awesome tribute (it even briefly references giant rats at one point) in Hutson’s own style. It’s the kind of no-limits retro splatterpunk “Video Nasty” of a novel that reaches the high standards of other Hutson classics like “Erebus” 🙂

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, it contains a unflinchingly relentless mixture of gross-out horror (of various types), creature horror, suspenseful horror, medical/disease horror, body horror, slasher movie-style horror and sexual horror. This is also an atmospheric novel where you can practically feel the dripping slime and smell the plethora of rancid stenches. Needless to say, it isn’t a novel for the prudish or easily-shocked. Like with Hutson’s “Erebus”, this is also an ultra-gruesome novel that makes even the most “extreme” modern horror movies look like Disney films by comparison.

Interestingly, the novel also shares a few technical and thematic similarities with Herbert’s “The Rats”. In addition to the whole “giant flesh-eating vermin” thing, there are also a surprisingly large number of chapters focusing on ordinary people who die in horrible slug-related ways. Although this technique had become a mainstay of the splatterpunk genre by then, it’s really cool to see it in a “Rats”-like novel and with Hutson’s unique brand of cynicism too 🙂

Likewise, the novel also updates some of the themes of “The Rats” – transplanting it from the bleak, poor and still blitz-damaged 1970s version of London to the equally bleak Thatcher-era 1980s London, where people are made homeless by mine closures, where people sniff glue and where everything is generally a bit crap. Although this novel doesn’t contain a gigantic amount of social commentary, there’s still more than enough here to put the “punk” into “splatterpunk”. Not that this is really a punk novel. If anything, it’s a heavy metal novel – with a really cool Iron Maiden reference about halfway through the book 🙂

The novel also includes some really dramatic disaster movie-style elements, which are also reminscent of “The Rats” too – with doctors, detectives and the military trying to stop the slowly-spreading plague of flesh-eating slugs and all of the accompanying problems caused by it (eg: overflowing sewers, people turned into killers by slug larvae in their blood etc..). Like “The Rats”, it also has a wonderfully dramatic final act set in an evacuated segment of London too 🙂

Although I’d normally criticise such a novel as “derivative” or ” a rip-off”, this isn’t the case here. When a story is heavily inspired by a classic like “The Rats” and written by a horror legend like Shaun Hutson, it’s just pure awesome. It’s like an amazing cover version (eg: The Sisters Of Mercy’s cover of “Gimme Shelter”, Hendrix’s cover of “All Along The Watchtower” etc..) that equals or possibly even surpasses the original. Seriously, this novel was so much fun to read 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly decent. The main characters get enough characterisation to make you care about what happens to them, but you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation here. Like in “The Rats”, the bulk of the novel’s characterisation is reserved for the many people who fall victim to the ravenous slugs. These segments of the novel work really well and really help to add a level of scale, humanity and drama to the novel’s large-scale horrors.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is classic Shaun Hutson 🙂 In other words, it’s a wonderfully distinctive mixture of gritty “matter of fact” narration and more formal/detailed narration. Yes, the narration sounds a little cheesy and old-school when read today (and it probably inspired Garth Marenghi), but this is all part of the charm and it’s still extremely readable 🙂 Plus, there are one or two brilliant moments of unintentional comedy too – such as the word “humping” being used in the traditional sense of moving heavy objects around.

Not only that, if you’re a Shaun Hutson fan, then this novel is also crammed with classic Hutsonisms too 🙂 Seriously, I lost count of the number of times that the words “mucoid” and “liquescent” turned up. Likewise, the word “cleft” also makes a couple of appearances, with the only noticeable absences being references to the scapula bone and the “coppery” smell of blood.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is excellent 🙂 At a wonderfully streamlined 220 pages, there isn’t a wasted page here 🙂 Likewise, the novel’s day-based structure (the story is divided into about five segments, each chronicling the events of one day) allows for a suspenseful build-up from a few slug incidents to a full-blown crisis, with the story never really getting dull thanks to the fact that something horrific happens every few pages. It’s the kind of decently-paced story that can be enjoyed in three or four hours.

As for how this thirty-four year old novel has aged, it has mostly aged well. Yes, there are a few “politically incorrect” moments (the worst probably being a “humourous” homophobic T-shirt slogan later in the story) and the novel’s narration is a bit old-school, but the novel’s scenes of horror are timelessly gross and the story’s plot is still very compelling. Not only that, the novel has a wonderfully cynical “’80s” atmosphere to it and is a really fascinating window into the past. Plus, there are some cool ’80s references here such as mentions of Iron Maiden’s “Two Minutes To Midnight” and the characters from “The Professionals” too 🙂

All in all, this novel is classic Shaun Hutson 🙂 It isn’t for everyone, but it’s a really brilliant cover version of James Herbert’s “The Rats” that will delight horror hounds who are looking for something a bit more shocking. If you’re a fan of Shaun Hutson, then this novel will also evoke fond memories of when you first read his works during your teenage years (seriously, did anyone first discover them at a later age than this?) It’s a gloriously gross, enjoyably cheesy and just generally fun retro horror novel that is well worth reading… if you’ve got the stomach for it.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, then 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: “The Skull” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Well, since I was still dealing with the tail end of a cold and because I was in a bit of an unsettled mood after the previous horror novel that I read, I thought “What I need is a nice, relaxing Shaun Hutson novel“. And, after looking through my bookshelves, I found my copy of Hutson’s 1982 horror novel “The Skull” and decided to re-read it.

This was a novel that I first read on a summer holiday in Cornwall when I was about fifteen. If I remember rightly, I’d read somewhere that “The Skull” was one of Hutson’s earlier books that wasn’t reprinted very often (when compared to his other horror novels). And, naturally, I was absolutely overjoyed when I randomly stumbled across a second-hand copy of it in a bookshop back then.

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

This is the 1999 Pan Books (UK) paperback reprint of “The Skull” that I read.

The novel is set in the Derbyshire village of Lockston, which has been cut off by ten days of solid rain. Early one morning, chartered surveyor Nick Regan gets a call from the building site and rushes over there. Thanks to the rain, the ground is too waterlogged for work to continue – so, Regan sends the crew home for the day. Needless to say, this doesn’t go down well with Regan’s boss who, from the cosy comfort of his office, decrees that work on the planned luxury hotel must continue.

Meanwhile, Regan’s wife Chrissie takes a school group on an archaeology trip. The children discover a mysterious buried bottle, which Chrissie takes back to the local museum for further study. Chrissie’s boss, Peterson, dates the bottle to 1650 and decides to try opening it. When he does, everyone in the room hears screaming and glimpses a mysterious face.

The next day, there is an accident at the rain-sodden building site. A JCB falls into some kind of sinkhole. When Regan and a couple of the other workers go down to inspect the damage, they find an underground cave system. Regan also finds a strange half-buried skull and decides to take it to the museum to see if they can work out what species it belongs to.

During an inspection of the skull at the museum, it’s jaws suddenly snap shut and injure an assistant called Swan. The wound quickly becomes hideously infected and Swan is rushed to hospital. Meanwhile, skin has started to grow on the skull…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is “so bad that it is good” in the best possible way 🙂 It is a gloriously cheesy, brilliantly silly and thoroughly fun monster story that was an absolute joy to read. If you’re a fan of horror parody TV shows like “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace“, then you’ll have a lot of fun with this novel. This is cheesy low-budget ’80s horror fiction at it’s pulpiest best 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the horror elements of this novel. Although it isn’t that frightening, it contains a really compelling mixture of ominous suspense, scientific/medical horror, occult horror, body horror, monster horror and, of course, Shaun Hutson’s usual ultra-gory splatterpunk horror. Unlike some of Hutson’s other novels, this one actually starts out as a relatively bloodless story and then becomes more and more grisly as it progresses.

Another cool horror-related element of this book is a sneaky reference to James Herbert’s “The Rats” later in the book: ‘Rush trotted out a story about giant rats being sighted‘. Although, given the rural setting, it could be a reference to Herbert’s 1979 sequel “Lair” instead.

Interestingly, like with Hutson’s “Erebus“, this novel is as much of a thriller novel as a horror novel. It contains lots of mystery and ominous suspense, some dramatic monster encounters and a couple of wonderfully badass moments (Viking battle axe, anyone?). It also has a rather fast-paced thriller-like structure too. Plus, just like “Erebus”, it is set in a wonderfully gloomy and rainy rural village too – seriously, I absolutely love these kinds of atmospheric locations 🙂

Although it isn’t focused on outside of the earlier chapters, one interesting theme in this book is the contrast between the experienced construction workers and their snobbish, upper-class bosses. Yet, unlike the cynical anti-establishment satire in Hutson’s “Erebus”, the police in this novel are actually shown to be sympathetic and vaguely competent characters.

In terms of the characters, there isn’t a giant amount of ultra-deep characterisation but there is enough characterisation and backstory to make you care about the characters. Likewise, Hutson also does the classic splatterpunk thing of introducing a new character, giving them a couple of pages of detailed characterisation and then bumping them off in a grisly way.

In terms of the writing, it is unintentional comedy at it’s best 🙂 This novel was one of Hutson’s earlier novels and it shows. The novel’s third-person narration is this glorious mixture of fast-paced “matter of fact” descriptions and some of the funniest purple prose and most random similes you’ll ever read.

To give you one hilarious example, a 19th century manuscript is described thusly: ‘The writing was jagged like the teeth of a badger‘. Plus, even at this early stage in his career, there are a few classic Hutsonisms like “mucoid”, “putrescent” and blood being described as “coppery” too 🙂 Seriously, if you’re a fan of “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace”, you need to read this book!

However, I have to criticise the editor/publisher of this edition of the book. Despite being a book by a British author that is both set in Britain and reprinted in Britain, the 1999 UK edition of “The Skull” uses US spellings for some bizarre reason. Whilst I don’t usually care about this sort of thing, the US spellings just seem ridiculously out of place in a Shaun Hutson novel.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At 324 pages (with relatively large print), this novel doesn’t feel too long. Likewise, it is written in a reasonably fast-paced way and structured a bit like a thriller too, which helps to keep the story moving at a decent pace. Whilst it isn’t quite as fast-paced as Hutson’s “Erebus”, it’s still a surprisingly quick and compelling read.

In terms of how this thirty-seven year old book has aged, it both has and hasn’t aged well. Although this novel is a bit “politically incorrect” in some places, the general attitude of the book isn’t as dated as you might think (eg: it takes a critical attitude towards various forms of bullying, assault etc.. Albeit in a more subtle way than modern writers would). Likewise, although the settings and characters are very 80s, this just gives the book a wonderfully retro atmosphere. Not to mention that the underlying story is still just as suspenseful and compelling as ever too 🙂

All in all, this is an incredibly fun “so bad that it’s good” 1980s monster novel 🙂 It’s an early work by a writer who, a mere two years later, would release the zombie vampire masterpiece that is “Erebus”. Plus, as I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, if you’re a fan of “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace”, then you need to read this book.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four. It’s “so bad that it’s good”.