"Children do that to a man. Good men are always affected by their children. Bad men infect their children" - Nathan Robinson
Some books despite their genre of choice have a power to affect the reader in a profound and deeply moving manner. These are the sort of books you pick up, with expectations of a straightforward narrative where the good guy faces the bad guy and the good guy wins through and saves the day.
This is Elliot's story of loss. Twenty years ago his son disappeared from their back garden, an event which unsurprisingly changed his life forever. For twenty years he has lived his life as a tortured ghost, barely living he has haunted the areas around their town hunting for clues that could reveal what happened to his son. Barely tethered to our plane of existence he is a true hollow man.
Set twenty years after his son vanished, Elliot has now become a drifter in a motorhome scouring the country with posters of what his son might look like now. He has lost everything except the hope of finding his son. A chance encounter in a roadside diner suddenly changes everything for Elliot. Is this the night where his quest finally comes to an end, will it lead to redemption or something much, much worse?
On the surface this books sounds like a typical thriller, the sort of book where you expect a tight action packed narrative where the hero wins through in the end. You certainly don't expect to be put through an emotional wringer. You certainly don't expect to be so touched by the protagonist's plight that you have to put the book down while reading it on the bus for fear of having the other passengers seeing a big grown man with tears in his eyes.
This is a powerful story, after setting the scene in the diner, Nathan Robinson takes us back twenty years to the point where Elliott's son disappeared. He then takes us on a deeply emotional journey of loss, despair and the breakdown of marriage. The writing here is first class, with a real power to move the reader, that comes not from gushy overly sentimental manipulative prose. Rather the emotional core comes for a skillful use of an almost matter of fact style prose, that strips the story right down to the exposed nerves. A great example of this is when Elliot encounters one of his son's school friends at an assembly at the school. Robinson's description of this meeting, and especially the final act of the girl will have you straining to keep the tears back.
After the reader follows Elliot's through his bleak and barren journey to the roadside diner, the narrative style shifts into one of filled with knife edged tension. With the horror of losing a child being replaced with the horror of facing an enemy that you once thought to be the stuff of pure fantasy.
There is always a danger that integrating this sort ending onto a completely tonally different first act feels forced and out of place. Robinson cleverly gets around this by dropping little hints and clues during the first act. For example the mention of a mysterious van, and mentions of other missing people. So when this twist in the narrative is revealed it doesn't feel forced or false. Yes the chance of Elliot encountering what he encounters is a million to one, but hey if it wasn't for million to one chances there would never be any great horror books written.
Ketchup on Everything, is a brilliant novella, tense, emotional and utterly satisfying this is one of those stories that will leave a mark on your emotional core.
"His life should have ours to lose, not yours to gain. You're a misery thief. You stole my grief "
For the past twenty years, Elliott Tather has been living a life of mourning that almost destroyed him. After losing everything he held dear and bound by a consuming sorrow, Tather travels the country attempting to fix a wrong that haunts his every waking and dreaming moment. But one evening after pulling into a roadside diner to settle down with a simple cup of coffee, the door opens and everything changes. The nothing he had, and the regret that filled it will never be the same again. Whatever you do, make sure you order Ketchup on Everything. From the author of ‘Starers’ and the short story collection ‘Devil Let Me Go’ comes a troubling, heart wrenching tale of despair, loss and what might come afterwards.
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When you read as much as I do you begin to notice new trends forming, some of them you run away from and some of them you embrace. The Feast of Saint Anne is hopefully part of a new trend of linked novellas that form one whole novel. I like the idea four self contained yet interlinked stories working off each other to form a satisfying complete book.
"Welcome back to the village of Wyvern Falls...here along the Hudson in that sleepy region with the witching influence in the air" exclaims the blurb from the back cover. These sort of opening lines are like comfy cushions on my favourite reading chair, there is something about a series of books set in special location that calls to me. Even before opening a book these sort of phrases help to calm me down, they make me feel as though I am entering a world full of wonder and awe, where the possibilities for adventure are limitless.
Horror while being a genre that is in a constant state of innovation, is also a genre that likes its staples. Just go and check the shelves, you will find numerous zombie novels, and numerous vampire books. You will also find what is probably the Granddaddy of all horror staples, the Haunted House story. When you consider the heritage and the vast period of time that these books have occupied a space on your dusty bookshelf it is surprising that these books still have the power to unsettle a reader. Perhaps it is because they deal with a real fear. Our home is our castle, and the fear of it being invaded by either natural or supernatural forces is one that sits deep down in everyone’s subconscious. You may not be aware of it but this fear is there in all of us, and when a book or a film manages to tap in that fear, and elicit an icy chill that rises in the pit of your stomach, then you know you are onto a winner.
Horror is such a broad term, it is a term that despite years of work from some of the best writers working today, one that carriers so many misconceptions. Horror is so much more than hormonal girls and angsty vampires. Horror is about heart, it's about emotions, it's about feelings, it is about man’s struggle to find his way in the world and understand the mysteries of life, love fear and death.
Horror has the ability to make the reader take a look themselves, it challenges us ponder on our place in the universe, and it challenges us on what makes us, us.
Daniel Mills' The Lord Came At Twilight, is a short story collection that takes the reader on a deeply emotional journey into the darkest regions of our souls.