Book Review: Where I End

Where I End

Where I End, by Sophie White, is set on a small island off the coast of Ireland. Fewer than two hundred people live on this remote outcrop. They speak a dialect of Gaeilge that is understood by few incomers. The locals harbour deep seated superstitions that result in some disturbing practices.

The island has a grey beach at one end and sheer cliffs at the other. In between are houses built from the local stone. The mainlanders marvel at the historic culture retained on this isolated backwater, trying to harness it for monetary gain. The remains of a derelict woollen factory attest to one such failed enterprise. This building is now to be turned into a museum and art gallery in an attempt to attract tourists. The locals regard these interventions with disdain.

Livings are mostly eked out from the sea either through fishing or working on the boats that ferry the few visitors. Learning to swim is frowned upon. When the sea takes lives they are mourned but the deaths accepted.

The story is narrated by nineteen year old Aoileann who was born and raised in a dark and cold house, the last dwelling before the cliffs are reached. Her days revolve around caring for her damaged mother, ‘the bed-thing’. Aoileann’s grandmother is the only person to pay her any attention, and that is as scant and silent as the older woman can get away with. The locals actively avoid the girl, believing she is cursed. Her father visits once a month, staying just one night before returning to the mainland. Aoileann resents the extra work his visits create, a show put on that he may pretend all is as it should be despite the glaringly obvious issues with his wife’s physical and mental health.

The author skilfully weaves the backstory of this family and place around the day to day chores that must be undertaken to keep the mother alive. Despite questions, eavesdropping, and searches of the dwelling, Aoileann still does not know what happened to create the being her mother now is. Photographs suggest her parents were once happy. Her grandmother closes down entirely when asked to explain.

Having set the scene, a catalyst for change arrives in the form of an artist, Rachel, and her newborn baby. Aoileann is mesmerised by this young women, doing what it takes to ingratiate herself into their lives. The reader has been fed snippets of some disturbing behaviour from Aoileann’s childhood. These now manifest in her treatment of the new residents. As someone who has never been loved by a mother, Aoileann is desperate for Rachel to grant her some of the attention she observes being offered so freely to the child.

The sense of foreboding is palpable throughout. This plays alongside the explicit horror of Aoileann’s mother’s situation, revealed gradually but with little reasoning explained until later in the tale. By the end the reader will be recoiling from all that has happened and then been perpetuated. The denouement is still shocking despite the foreshadowing.

A masterclass in creating a darkly disturbing character and sense of place. A unique and brilliant read that I couldn’t put down, reading it cover to cover in a day. It will take much longer to recover from the vivid and searing experience. A horror story I unreservedly recommend.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Tramp Press.

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Book Review: Dead Relatives

dead relatives

Dead Relatives, by Lucie McKnight Hardy, is the book for the spooky season. It is a collection of thirteen short stories – eight of which have previously appeared in other publications, the remainder original to this collection. The author is expert at writing the macabre into the ordinary. The shadowed and shifting undercurrents permeate characters’ everyday interactions and behaviour.

The titular opening story is also the longest, building tension from the first page. It is told from the point of view of thirteen year old Iris, who lives with her Mammy and their two loyal servants in the crumbling family mansion. Iris has never been beyond the grounds, which she remembers were once well maintained. Set in the 1960s, the family own neither television nor radio. She learns of the outside world only from the array of ladies who periodically come to stay. Iris’s best friend is her doll, but even this must be kept hidden.

“‘Cold hands, cold heart,’ I say, which is what Mammy always says, and I smile my special smile, just for her. I want to show her Dolly. I think Nancy would like Dolly, because Dolly is a lot like me and it seems that Nancy likes me. But I remember what Mammy has said, and so I keep quiet about Dolly. Instead, I put my hand out and rest it on Nancy’s belly.”

The second story, Jutland, tells of a young family moving to the Danish island where the artist husband hopes to concentrate on his painting. The wife, Ana, is a writer, struggling to revive the novel she was forced to set aside following the birth of her second child. The couple’s firstborn has yet to speak, communicating with gestures. Ana is not happy, resentful of her husband’s demands now her role is defined as mother and milking machine.

“He paints shit. He paints like shit. He is shit. But me? I’m a writer. Would you like to hear about that? About the awards I have won and the reviews in the broadsheets?”

There are subtle links between individual stories, small mentions of features previously employed in the varied narratives. What runs through each tale is the unhappiness inherent in families. Some revolve around tragedies, others ingrained character traits. All are nuanced, the reader trusted to make connections.

The Pickling Jar is as shocking as it is darkly humorous, telling of a village community with competitive traditions that are seriously questionable.

Cavities is one of the shorter stories but packs a powerful punch. The lingering sadness makes it hard to blame the protagonist for her actions.

Likewise, Resting Bitch Face, provides a warning of the potential repercussions when women are badly treated. Many of these stories are not for the faint hearted.

Some of the later tales move in the direction of the supernatural rather than the macabre. Mostly these uncanny elements invade insidiously. Children in particular struggle through lack of what they long for, even those being raised by parents who care for them. Those whose lives are followed into adulthood carry with them the damage inflicted.

Wretched is set in a near future Britain and provides a timely warning about acceptance of government propaganda. Citizens are given a Value Index that determines what goods they have access to, including food. The Initiative clears the streets of undesirables, processing them to provide a compliant labour force. Even those who perceive what is being done often choose to look away for fear of social censure and personally damaging repercussions. There is a chilling recognition of the direction England could currently be heading.

The final story, The Birds of Nagasaki, details a key event in the lives of a young brother and sister. The cruelty featured is deeply upsetting despite centring on an item of clothing. The skill with which the author makes readers care is impressive.

In fact this entire collection is impressive. The writing is taut and fluid, disturbing yet compelling. The horror is subtle yet penetrating. A darkly fabulous, recommended read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Dead Ink.

Robyn Reviews: The Book of Accidents

‘The Book of Accidents’ is a slow building horror novel, gradually ramping up the tension and secrecy before unleashing terror on its characters. It draws on classics of the genre but puts its own spin on them, maintaining a feeling of freshness and uniqueness. Fans of classic horror writers and tension-packed reads can find plenty to love here.

When Nate’s abusive father finally dies, he finds himself doing something he swore he’d never do – moving back into his childhood home, this time with his own family in tow. His son, Oliver, wants a fresh start after a series of embarrassing incidents at school, and his wife, Maddie, is delighted by the idea of having her own space to fully explore her art. However, it isn’t long before strange things start happening. Nate keeps seeing his father’s ghost walking the halls. One of Maddie’s sculptures comes to life. And Oliver finds himself befriending a strange boy – one with an even stranger book who claims he can do magic. Everyone in the Graves family has secrets – and with something sinister stalking Pennsylvania, those secrets could be deadly.

At nearly 550 pages, ‘The Book of Accidents’ is a reasonably long novel, and most of what happens isn’t touched on by the blurb. This is the best way to go into it – this way, the revelations are more surprising, and the level of tension is higher. All I’ll say is that it starts off reminiscent of a haunted house story, but very quickly diverges into something much more complex. There’s a lot going on, and in places it isn’t clear what’s real and what isn’t. Wendig uses a great deal of foreshadowing and leaves plenty of clues, but there are shocks in store for even the most alert reader. It’s very cleverly done.

The story alternates between Nate, Oliver, and Maddie, with very occasional forays into other perspectives. All are complex characters with their own appeal. Oliver is an absolute sweetheart – at fifteen, he’s been sent to therapy for being too empathetic. He can physically see other people’s pain, and he finds being in crowds of people – like at school – distressing because of the amount of pain on display. However, he can’t tell anyone this because they’d think he was mad, so instead everyone thinks he’s a weirdo and a wimp. Oliver just wants to help everyone, and his isolation makes him naive and easily mislead. He makes a lot of mistakes, but its hard to dislike someone with such a pure heart.

Nate has been a big city cop for years, and going back to work in the fish and game department of the town he grew up in is a huge adjustment. His dad beat him, and Nate is determined to be better, but readjusting to a place he thought he’d escaped forever is difficult for him. His new colleagues don’t trust him, his family is keeping secrets, and he’s seeing ghosts. Like Oliver, Nate is intrinsically a nice guy – but unlike Oliver, Nate is a cynic, worn down by the world and inclined to think the worst of everyone. It’s never clear quite where Nate’s moral lines are drawn – he regularly feels one step away from doing something he’ll regret. However, he sees that in himself, and it’s that recognition and fight against it that makes him a good person.

Maddie is an artist – but not the scatterbrained type. Instead, she’s a planner, constantly overthinking and worrying and getting through life by making a hundred lists of everything she has to do. Her art is her escape. Maddie is a bit spoilt and pampered, but she loves her family and she’s incredibly practical. She knows her own worth and has an independent streak that makes her husband worry but also love her for it. Maddie takes the longest to understand, but by the end its impossible not to root for her.

The atmosphere is one of the strongest parts of this book. The hints that something isn’t right start early, and every chapter has a sense of unease and darkness. There’s also a constant sense of unrealiability – uncertainty that what’s happening is real. Even the quieter chapters become engaging and readable because of the atmosphere surrounding them.

There are a few minor quibbles. This is on the longer side for a horror novel, and it takes some time to get into. The first 150 pages are especially slow, essentially setting the scene and introducing the threat, and while from there the pace picks up and it becomes very readable, the first 150 could really be trimmed down without losing the overall atmosphere. There are also a couple of twists which are slightly over-hinted at, losing a little tension. However, these are only small blips in an otherwise excellent book.

Overall, ‘The Book of Accidents’ is an excellent, atmospheric horror novel packed with gradually escalating tension and wonderful complex characters. Recommended for fans of classic horror stories, intriguing characters, and books that leave you unsettled.

Thanks to Del Rey for providing an ARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Del Rey
Hardback: 20th July 2021

Robyn Reviews: The Ghost Tree

tgtg

This is a very difficult book to review. It has great elements, but certain parts of it make me very uncomfortable. I’m hesitant to recommend it because certain problematic aspects are never called out.

The Ghost Tree centres on the town of Smiths Hollow, a small town on the outskirts of Chicago known for being peaceful and prosperous. While towns around it have suffered from job losses and escalating crime, Smiths Hollow has flourished. However, there’s a dark secret behind that prosperity – and a cascade of events have been set in motion which might lead to it all falling down.

I want to start by explaining my primary issue with this book. It features a developing relationship between a fourteen-year-old girl who has yet to start high school and an eighteen-year-old college student. This relationship is never challenged or spoken of in any negative way. I’m enormously uncomfortable with the idea of young teenagers reading this book and thinking that relationships with adults are acceptable or even cool. There’s a huge inherent power and maturity imbalance here, and whilst it’s natural for teenagers to fantasise about relationships with those older than them, relationships between children too young for high school and actual adults should never be portrayed as normal. This isn’t being marketed as a young adult book, but in many ways it reads as one. I don’t understand why the fourteen-year-old wasn’t aged up to at least sixteen – this wouldn’t have affected the plot in any way, and would have made this feel less uncomfortable.

It’s a shame, because the characters in this are excellent. For a short book it has many point-of-view characters, but this works, creating a real small-town feel. There’s nuanced discussion about the difficulties of being a single parent, the difficulty of raising teenagers, racial tension, and being a teenager changing and growing apart from your family and friends. Many of the characters think uncomfortable things – one is unapologetically racist, another has very problematic thoughts about sex and virginity – but this actually works well, because many people do believe those things, and as long as those beliefs and opinions are challenged by other characters it becomes clear that they’re not being condoned. It captures the feeling of being a teenage girl very well, and whilst I haven’t been a single parent, the way it describes how this feels is also very nuanced and thought-provoking. Through the lens of all the different characters, it manages to show a variety of opinions on each event in a very eye-opening way.

To be honest, I think this would work better as a contemporary rather than a horror story. The horror elements felt unnecessary and a tad contrived compared to the cleverness and insightfulness of the characters and social commentary. They also weren’t particularly scary – I don’t know if this was the intent, but it combined with the age of some of the primary characters to give this a more juvenile feel. Personally, I would have preferred two separate stories – one a contemporary with this cast of characters, and one a gothic horror story about witches and the monster in the woods.

Having said that, the plot wasn’t bad, and I did enjoy reading this. Certain elements were very gripping, and I was really rooting for certain characters – especially Alex Lopez. Those looking for a basic horror story with an intriguing and varied cast of characters will probably enjoy this – I just think every reader needs to be aware that it’s not without its issues.

Thanks to Titan Books and NetGalley for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Titan Books
Paperback: 8th September 2020

Robyn Reviews: The Living Dead

living dead

The Living Dead is a zombie novel started by the filmmaker George Romero, responsible for some of the most well-known zombie films including ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and ‘Day of the Dead’. After his death, it was given to the novelist Daniel Kraus – a lifelong Romero fan – to finish. Having never seen a single Romero film I can’t say how accurate the novel is to Romero’s vision, but I can say that it’s an epic, sprawling homage to the zombie genre, filled with musings on humanity and what it means to live and die.

The book is split into three parts – one right at the start of the zombie epidemic, one very short section as it develops, and one fifteen years later as humanity regroups. The first section takes up more than half the book. It jumps between a variety of characters in different situations – the pathologists who found the very first zombie, the teenager skiving school in her trailer park only to be surrounded by the undead, a news crew trapped in their studio, several members of the US navy on a boat off the coast of Mexico. Each adds a unique element, providing a fresh voice and perspective and showing the breadth of responses to the crisis. As time goes on, their stories start to intersect, unlikely people coming together in a way only a crisis can precipitate. The final section groups all the survivors in the same place – but Romero never believed in books having happy endings, and the ending is more a comma than a full stop.

While the novel is US-centric, rarely touching on anything happening outside, the characters are designed to show the breadth of humanity. Some are likeable, some tolerable, and some downright horrible to be in the headspace of. Highlights include Karl Nishimura, the US naval officer unexpectedly having to command a crisis when all he wants is to go home to his husband and children; Etta Hoffmann, the statistician determined to record everything for the history books; Charlene Rutkowski, the pathology assistant who finds herself hiding out with the married boss she’s been in love with for years; Chuck Curoso, the Face of WNN news network tasked with being the last news reporter on air. There are even rare glimpses inside the heads of the zombies – these are fascinating, with zombies seeing themselves as many bodies of a single consciousness rather than the individuality of human beings.

The main problem with this book is its scope. While it all comes together eventually, the first half is spent getting to know a couple of characters only to suddenly jump to someone completely different. In a way, this is less one large novel than several shorter stories, all of which weave in and out of each other as characters cross paths. It’s hard to remain interested and invested when the perspective changes with no explanation. Once each character is established, the book starts to flow much faster, the story coming into its own – but its possible the beginning would have worked better with either fewer point-of-view characters or a different structure.

Overall, this is an excellent book. The plot is gripping, the writing brilliant, and the characters varied and fascinating. The ending is an uncomfortable read but appropriate to the tone of the book. There are flaws, and I question if it needed to be over six-hundred pages long, but it’s a book worth persevering with. Recommended to all fans of zombies, apocalypse novels, and those interested in the psychology of human nature.

 

Thanks to NetGalley and Transworld Books for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

 

Published by Transworld
Hardback: 6th August 2020

Book Review: The Stepford Wives

Anyone who does not already know the story of The Stepford Wives should skip the introduction by Chuck Palahniuk that opens this edition and read it at the end. It is a thought-provoking opinion piece but gives away key elements of the plot. I picked up my copy of the tale having seen the film (the 1975 version) so was familiar with what would unfold. As is often the case, the book offers a much more powerful depiction than that shown on screen.

Given the way many men, and also certain women, are currently regarding today’s young women, this is a story that deserves to, once again, be widely read. Have we gone backwards from 1972 when the book was first published? Palahnick writes in this 2011 edition:

“In The Nannie Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada and Confessions of a Shopaholic, in this new generation of ‘chick lit’ novels, men are once more the goal. It’s successful women who torment our pretty, painted narrators […] women may now choose to be pretty, stylishly dressed, and vapid. This is no longer the shrill, politically charged climate of 1972; if it’s a choice freely made, then it’s . . . okay.”

“It’s fine. This is what the modern politically aware, fully awake, enlightened, assertive woman really, really, really wants: a manicure.”

The story opens with Joanna and Walter Eberhart, parents of Pete and Kim, settling into their new suburban home in Stepford having left the dirty and dangerous New York City. Joanna, a freelance photographer, is telling The Welcome Wagon Lady about her interests for the ‘Notes on Newcomers’ section of the local paper. Her female neighbours seem more interested in maintaining their already immaculate homes than in socialising. She hopes the article will help her find more forward thinking, like-minded friends. Walter plans to establish himself within the community by joining the local Men’s Association. Joanna is appalled that her supposedly liberated husband will consider attending a club that bans women.

Through the article in the newspaper Joanna meets Bobbie and then Charmaine. The three women get together and collectively wonder at the many beautiful and carefully presented wives in Stepford whose key interest seems to be housework. Their invitations to set up some sort of club for women have been declined with claims that there is no time for such pursuits if homes are to be maintained. And then the vocal and energetic Charmaine changes.

The gradual shift from suburban bliss to the horror of the situation is masterfully achieved. Even knowing the denouement I had to set down the book to catch my breath before finishing. The lengths the men of Stepford will go to in order to ensure their wives take more care over their appearance and become quiet and subservient may appear extreme. Swap their direct action for relentless and widespread emotional coercion and it is all too believable today.

This is a short book that packs a mighty punch with its succinct and fluid structure and language. I am left pondering just how many men would secretly prefer a Stepford Wife to a partner who is, at least, their equal.

The Stepford Wives is published by Corsair.

Book Review: Night Driver

From Wikipedia: Fritz Haarmann (1879 – 1925) was a German serial killer known as the Butcher of Hanover, the Vampire of Hanover and the Wolf-Man, who committed the sexual assault, murder, mutilation and dismemberment of a minimum of 24 boys and young men. Described by the judge at his trial as being “forever degraded as a citizen”, Haarmann was found guilty of 24 of the 27 murders for which he was tried and sentenced to death. A known homosexual and police informant, his preferred murder method was biting into or through his victims’ throats.

Marcelle Perks has taken Haarmann’s story and reimagined it in a contemporary setting. Her serial killer is called Lars, a lorry driver who seeks the intense sexual thrill he gains from murdering young men picked up on his travels. Lars and his lover, Hans, co-own a nightclub that offers clients drugs and the services of prostitutes. Hans cleans up after Lars, making money from the bodies disposed of. Hans also enjoys the services of the women they employ, his handsome good looks and attentions leading each to believe he cares for them.

Into this murky environment enters Fran, an English woman living in Hanover who is eight months pregnant. She met her husband, Kurt, on a business trip to the Cayman Islands where he was working as an engineer. At the time Fran had a well paid job and a house in London. She was drawn to Kurt by his old-fashioned, movie star good looks, his charm, attentiveness and dry humour. When Fran lost her job she sold her house and moved to be with Kurt. They married and returned to his native Germany, to a suburb where he expected Fran to keep house. Since she fell pregnant Kurt has lost interest in his wife. Alone and frustrated by the limits on integration imposed by the language barrier, Fran is determined to learn to drive that she may regain a little independence. Despite daily lessons she is struggling to master the skills required.

Lars in his lorry comes across Fran on one of her lessons, hassling her slow progress until she loses control. Fran’s instructor reports him to the police but they take no action. In her current state there is a risk to the unborn child leading to leniency from the examiner on her driving test. Shaken by events, Fran has no confidence behind the wheel. Determined to overcome her fear she decides to take Kurt’s car without telling him and practice while he sleeps and the roads are quiet.

On her first night drive Fran meets a young Polish man, Tomek, who is trying to track down his sister, Anna. He is kind to the lonely woman and she is attracted to him. She decides to help in his quest as a reason for them to meet again.

Fran and Tomek visit Dorcas, a prostitute and friend of Anna’s. Both women work for Hans. When Tomek goes missing Fran grows concerned and asks for Dorcas’s help. Neither women are yet aware that the focus of the nightclub’s criminal activity has moved to a more lucrative use of the bodies they dispose of. Their dogged interest in the missing siblings makes them a liability that Hans and Lars come to realise they must deal with.

The structure of the story is episodic as in TV dramas with short chapters divided into scenes shown from key characters’ points of view. The narration is clipped in style which suits the typically British portrayal of the German language and efficient attitude. This idiosyncratic presentation was easier to read in short spurts than one sitting.

Descriptions are vivid and often bloody. Sex is perfunctory. I found Fran’s limited concern for her unborn child difficult to empathise with but her isolation in the face of Kurt’s lack of interest for her well-being was well portrayed. The men at the nightclub are chillingly authentic, their treatment of women as property to be used and then discarded believable. The sociopathic tendencies of the killers was unsettling but fitted well in explaining their warped reasoning.

This is a disturbing tale but one that maintained engagement. That it is inspired by true events gives it an added edge.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Urbane.

Book Review: The Coffin Path

The Coffin Path, by Katherine Clements, is a ghost story set on the edge of a lonesome moor in 1674. Its protagonist is thirty-two year old Mercy Booth who lives in the gradually decaying splendour of Scarcross Hall with her ageing father, Bartram, and his faithful servant, Agnes. Mercy works alongside the shepherds and farmhands hired to till their land and care for the flock of sheep that provide the family’s main income. She has been told that one day it will all be hers.

The story opens with the arrival of the first of the season’s lambs. It is not an easy birth and proves a portent of happenings to come. The first of these is the arrival of a stranger, Ellis Ferreby, who is looking for employment. Although the locals are wary of outsiders he is taken on, proving himself a capable shepherd and hard worker.

Mercy has spent her life out on the moor but notices a new, chilling presence, a feeling of being watched as she goes about familiar tasks. Within the hall she hears unexplained noises above the expected creaks and movement of the old house. There have long been rumours of a curse, and her father is suffering a decline of mind.

In her troubles Mercy finds herself drawn to Ellis although both keep their thoughts and fears close. Their interactions are noticed by a local man, Henry Ravens, who grows jealous and threatens to denounce Mercy. Within the hall, Bartram becomes agitated when items he values go missing. These include three old coins, one of which is found under the pillow of a young lad named Sam, the son of the head shepherd and a favourite of the master.

Sam is often around the hall, spending time with Bartram in his study. As the year progresses and strange events continue to unfold the boy becomes agitated and withdrawn. Mercy suspects he knows more than he is saying but cannot coax him to confide in her. Likewise she is unwilling to share her fears with even those she would previously have trusted.

Mutilated lambs are discovered and bad weather threatens the harvest. Along with the ghostly noises from an unused chamber within Scarcross there is much to concern the Booths and those who rely on their employ. Mercy fears that her sinfulness has brought down punishment from God. Ellis watches and waits, keeping his true reason for being there from all.

The plot has many elements of a good ghost story: a run down hall housing secretive sinister artefacts; rumours of an ancient curse linked to the devil; fear of the dead returning; accusations of witchcraft. The church plays a role as does the stranger with a past that is revealed gradually. It is unfortunate that I guessed the main twist early on, and that I struggled to maintain engagement as the Booth’s troubles mounted. I would have preferred a tighter plot construction and a clearer drawing together of the mysterious and the supernatural.

Having said that the last fifty pages held the strongest part of the story. There was horror aplenty and a spine chilling final line.

A tale that started and ended well enough but felt somewhat bloated in between. I am left feeling underwhelmed.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline Review.   

Book Review: Warewolff!

Warewolff!, by Gary J Shipley, is a collection of prose poetry that is intentionally the antithesis of linguistic beauty. It takes a mash-up of recognisable deformities and inverts them, playing with what is considered distasteful and thereby mocking what is socially acceptable. Perceptions and behaviours are stretched beyond possibility but at its heart is the hypocrisy of what modern man will tolerate when he chooses to look away.

The pieces included are between half a page and three pages in length. Reading and trying to interpret them put me in mind of a walk through a high end art gallery. I was aware that there was more to each offering than I was appreciating but from time to time an image would resonate.

As an example, the following excerpt from Foot Glut put me in mind of how a lover attempts to own their beloved, yet in doing so causes change that is unlikely to be desired. They spoil what they loved by attempting to keep it only for themselves.

“I cut off his feet to keep him from leaving. It would take a month, perhaps two, but a new pair always grew back. This was the first of many taunts. I was receiving an education. I was being told that if I wanted to keep something I’d have to mutilate it, and keep mutilating it. That that’s just how things are kept, how lives are maintained. Eventually I cut off his head, and waited for that to grow back. But it didn’t happen. Instead a spider came and nested in the neck. Suspecting it of laying eggs, I killed it with a rolled up magazine.”

Throughout the collection the human body is deconstructed, reactions to what it contains masticated and regurgitated. Few baulk at the idea of taking in other’s saliva when kissing, sexual gratification occurs when a lover is willing to allow semen to enter an orifice, yet who would consider swallowing faeces? The imagery offered is grotesque but it raises questions.

Likewise, few wish to think about the animal parts eaten in processed food. What is done to bodies – human and animal – is twisted to extreme. Actions considered ordinary – sex, cosmetic surgery, transplants, eating, disease – are perverted and then presented in gory, stench filled detail. Cruelties that should be shocking yet are not so far from what is known to happen, kept at a distance where they may be ignored, are reimagined – starvation, rape, incest, cannibalism. The language used is not always easy to interpret and is often weird, intended to sicken.

The raw stream of consciousness with which each piece is narrated is explicit and disturbing. Direction is often unclear, language difficult to elucidate. It is a fantasy horror show that is grimly challenging, horrifically portrayed with a chilling detachment. What is conveyed is appalling, but also appallingly familiar.

Not a book intended to be read for enjoyment, I found myself less upset by it than by more prosaic offerings where men behave abhorrently yet are treated as typical lads having fun. There is no fun to be had in this book, but shocking behaviour is seen for what it is. Man may not do exactly what is detailed but somewhere, someone is doing something as dreadful.

Warewolff! is published by Hexus Press.

Book Review: Broken Branches

Broken Branches, by M. Jonathan Lee, is the story of a family inheritance which brings with it a curse. Ian Perkins, his wife Rachel and their young son Harry had a happy family life until they moved to Cobweb Cottage. Built in the nineteenth century, on land owned by the Perkins family, this remote property had been handed down from father to son for many generations. Ian was raised here but left when he was eighteen. As stipulated in the trust under which the land and cottage were held, his elder brother, Stuart, gained ownership when their father died. Several years later Stuart put a shotgun to his own head, blowing out his brains.

Now Ian and Rachel move through their days barely speaking. They are sleeping in separate rooms. Ian believes that if he can just get to the bottom of the family curse that he had heard spoken of, although never explained, when he was growing up then he can make sense of what has gone wrong with his marriage and rectify the situation. He spends his days sifting through old photographs and papers, researching his family history. Rachel, suffering miseries of her own, treats his efforts with contempt.

In the front garden of Cobweb Cottage is a huge sycamore tree with branches reaching out towards the house. The shadows it casts have always discomfited Ian. Soon it is not just the tree but also the house that is disturbing his mind. The more he finds out about his ancestry the more convinced he becomes that a curse exists.

The story is told along two timelines – the present day and Ian’s memories of growing up. By the time he left Cobweb Cottage he had developed resentments towards his father and brother which eventually led to him severing contact. Similar fallings out existed in the previous generation.

Many horror story tropes are employed in the telling of the tale, and acknowledged along the way. There are badly lit rooms in a creaking old house where shadows move and things go bump in the night. Items are displaced with no explanation. Icy draughts accompany ghostly sightings which Ian is unsure if real or a dream.

Although the author conjures the requisite tension, and I was intrigued by what the details of the curse may be, I found the obsession of the protagonist difficult to engage with. His belief in a curse seemed at odds with the other sides of his personality. The final reveals made sense of what had gone before leaving enough space for a degree of chilling uncertainty. This brought to mind the endings of several horror films.

And this story could be developed into a deliciously unsettling film. The soundtrack may even be provided – the mentions of the music played on vinyl during Ian’s research went over my head but may be better appreciated by a more knowledgable listener.

A tale then that intrigued even if it didn’t fully draw me in. Read it, but perhaps not alone after dark.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Hideaway Fall.