Book review: Red, by Paul Kane

June 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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red-front-cover21Paul Kane’s an author I’ve kept my eye on ever since his short fiction began appearing regularly in the genre small press in the late 1990s. Over the last few years his output has been unnaturally prolific and of a very high standard. This is evidenced by a strong showing on the Long List of the British Fantasy Society’s latest Awards: Kane’s first novel The Afterblight Chronicles: Arrowhead is up for Best Novel; two titles, Reunion, and Red are up for Best Novella, and no less than four of his short stories are up for that particular Award: A Chaos Demon is for Life, Lifelike, The Suicide Room, and Wind Chimes, (which I thought was the outstanding story in the third Bloody Books’ Read by Dawn anthology from last year).

Red is a contemporary take on the classic fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood. Far removed from the quaint childhood we imagine for the little girl in the original tale Rachael Daniels, an aspiring actress, lives in a grey urban environment, just about making a living as a careworker whilst enduring the frustrations she understands will come her way at the onset of her chosen career. Already a little jaded, she’s recently broken up with her boyfriend, and dreads walking the streets after dark as the city is a threatening place wit its hoodies and vast concrete estates, such as the Greenham Estate which is where her favourite client lives, the 80 year old Miss Tilly Brindle. Read more

Book review: Filth Kiss, by C. J. Lines

April 29, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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filth_kisscover_front_copyC.J. Lines returns us to those gloriously gory days of the 1980s in tone and in setting with his debut novel, Filth Kiss, via the independent Hadesgate Publications.

A brutal 190 page-turner readable in a couple of hours, Lines wastes no time immersing the reader in the lives of  his main characters, the Davies brothers. Jeff is coming to terms with the news that his father, Guy, has died. Taking time off from his job in London he mulls over the realisation that he never had much to do with his father whilst he was growing up, and neither did his brother Peter, always the younger, quieter of the two.

Peter is a convicted paedophile, (for a relatively minor offence, he insists), and his relationship with Jeff and his sister Jennifer has deteriorated completely. Out of prison on parole with a job in a fish and chip shop, Peter is trying to rebuild his life and resist urges which have never truly gone away. The scene is set for the brothers’ return for their father’s funeral, and an uneasy reunion with Jennifer who still lives in the Gloucestershire village of Broadoak where they grew up.

Not all is as it seems with the Davies family, and the villagers of Broadoak. The brothers learn that Guy Davies drowned in the River Severn and was with a young girl from the village who has not been seen since that night. A disenchanted schoolgirl, Sarah Hobson, finds a severed hand on the banks of the Severn, and in a morose moment, removes a strange ring, detailed with two intertwined serpents, from one of the frozen fingers.

Filth Kiss could stand upon uneasy ground with elements and characters of its plot as Peter and Sarah move closer together, much of it at the youngster’s insistence. But Lines shows us a convincing portrayal of a paedophile as a weak-willed and somewhat desperate individual, and crucially, one that makes no excuses for himself or his actions. He knows what he feels is wrong. This must be one of the most difficult tasks a writer could set themselves, but I think Lines succeeds as the reader is left feeling sympathetic towards both parties in different ways, and with a full appreciation of the motivations involved.

The loss of their father is relatively simple to handle compared with the  struggle to manage their relationships with each other and the attitude of the locals towards Peter, an attitude which Jennifer is only too happy to encourage. The 1980s Broadoak is brilliantly evoked through the eyes of its bored, disenfranchised youth, naturally railing against the mundanity of everyday village life, the pottering of the elderly, the lack of diversity of its shops, and the apparent refusal to adopt change that the Davies brothers witness on their return, justifying their distate for the place. But behind this rather stereotypical front of closeted rural calm is a system of heirarchy designed to feed the darkness that lurks within all of us for a higher and utterly Devilish end.

In Broadoak the villagers keep one eye on their post, for when a black envelope containing a tulip pops through your letterbox the time is near for the next sacrifice. In the hills above the village, on Symonds Yat there is a sacred place where something is growing… Think Hot Fuzz without the humour, swirling in a bowl of virgin’s blood, mixed with Dennis Wheatley’s black magic rituals, the disquiet of youth and several scenes of graphic, very imaginative demonic sex, and you have Filth Kiss.

First released in 2007, Filth Kiss has seen a reprinting since that date, proving that there is an appetite for a solid and thrilling story with horrific content from readers. Possibly a crucial factor in the book’s endurance has been its availability throughout Waterstones stores, and a round of applause should go to them for taking the chance on the title and supporting an independent publisher’s endeavours. More of this open-minded approach from booksellers when stocking the shelves would be welcome.

Highly recommended for fans of Shaun Hutson, Guy N. Smith, Richard Kelly, Rex Miller (remember him anyone?) and Clive Barker’s hypnotically and viscerally sexy Books of Blood volumes, C.J. LinesFilth Kiss is a little gift of dark perverse power.

And keep a careful eye on your post…

Book review: Garbage Man, by Joseph D’Lacey

April 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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garbage-manIn 2008 Joseph D’Lacey unlocked the pen and set free MEAT, a dystopian and possibly post-apocalyptic novel that coupled religious cults and corrupt governance with unspeakable food production sources and techniques – authoritarian hierarchies and processes  enabling the isolated town of Abyrne to survive without help from an outside world that might not even be there.

D’Lacey’s second novel, Garbage Man, takes us straight to the seeds of an impending environmental apocalypse, allowing us to watch as its roots spread intractably throughout the town of Shreve, a town that is just like any other in today’s United Kingdom.

Mason Brand is an outsider, a man who turned his back on society and his once successful career as a photographer. Living in the deepest countryside, with an old farmer as his guide, Brand learnt about himself, about the nature of nature and its relationship with man. He understands nature evolves to survive, that its processes cannot be predicted and that it simply doesn’t sit back and take abuse. He’s heard and responded to ‘the calling’. Now, giving society one last chance before he retreats forever into the wilds, he lives quietly in Shreve, shunned by almost everyone in the town, the town eccentric.

Shreve sits next to a massive landfill site, a noxious influence when the wind blows in the direction of the town. This influence is spreading, the land unable to cope with the rubbish and the poisonous chemicals being pumped into the earth. And when this brew also contains unwanted human matter, and is imbued with malicious intent, guilt and greed, it shouldn’t be surprising that a strange hybridised life-form, the fecalith, emerges from the sticken ground. Mason Brand has seen the signs; once again he’s heard the calling, and this time it’s right on his doorstep, it has a message and a command he cannot deny.

I loved Brand’s character, a figure I immediately found myself able to associate with during these harsh concretised times. After a solid week’s work, go for a walk, out of earshot of traffic if possible, and feel that money/work/time focus flow out of you to be replaced by whatever you allow… It’s a simple thing to do, but there’s certainly the ability for all of us to hear ‘the calling’ in one form or another, no matter where you live, or what your feelings are for the countryside.

D’Lacey’s especially adept at showing us the everyday stresses that afflict Shreve’s teenagers, their blossoming but untrusting relationships, their already jaded world-views, the parental and peer pressure that blinkers their thoughts, reducing their aspirations to the mundane. This frustration and jealousy threatens to overwhelm at times, (but isn’t that just how the real world works anyway?), but D’Lacey manages the trick of energising his characters through these emotions, making us care for them, or at least stay interested in them.

As the garbage crawls and spreads throughout Shreve the lives of the protagonists draw closer together through Mason Brand, the only one who understands what is about to happen, the man who is mainly responsible for that vital evolutionary stage of the fecalith, the struggle for sentience. Geoff Nelder‘s already suggested that Garbage Man should have been called Gaia’s Revenge as it most definitely shares an outlook with James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis: the earth as a single organism, everything affecting everything else. As with MEAT, there is a strong moral message; a message of caution that D’Lacey interweaves seamlessly with solid horror plotting, without stinting on the gore and cleverly paced action.

Fast becoming the master of contemporary eco-horror, D’Lacey’s voice is absolutely unique in the field; and the final chapters, depicting an evolution of almost biblical proportions are simply stunning.

Garbage Man is published on May 7th 2009 by Bloody Books.

Joseph D’Lacey and Bill Hussey (The Absence) are celebrating the publication of their second novels with a tour of some haunted locations around the United Kingdom; and with readings and signings at the Wood Green Bookshop on May 6th, and at Borders on Oxford Street in London on May 7th. They’ll also be promoting the Horror Reanimated website, as well as giving away a limited edition Horror Reanimated chapbook, Echoes, to anyone who attends.

Note: I work with Joseph D’Lacey and Bill Hussey on the Horror Reanimated website.

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