The Conduits is a short read by Jennifer Loring full of atmospheric darkness and haunting themes of mental illness. I believe the book’s length would place this as a novella, so it was a quick and interesting read.
The main character, Mara, is a young Japanese-American woman who deals with a tragedy from childhood/teenage years as well as the recent, sudden death of her boyfriend, Jason. She struggles to keep herself together, using self cutting as a way to deal with her intense emotional pain.
The book is structured into three parts - the first part, “The Nothing,” does a great job of setting the tone. We see Mara’s struggle pain and depression while trying to hide its depth from her roommate Andrea. We see the types of dreams she has, filled with symbols she tries to make sense of. We watch as she moves more and more throughout her own understanding of reality until she is confronted by Andrea who is now very frightened of what Mara is becoming.
In the second part, “Committed,” Mara struggles each day in a psychiatric ward. The dreams continue, and the conversations with the other patients only add to the puzzle and add to the internal debate over that which is real and that which is delusion.
And it all cumulates into a fast ending in the third part, “Conduits.” This part takes us deeper into her dark dream, as she walks further into an old house which appears to symbolize her grandfather’s house in Japan she’d visited as a child. She moves further and further into the shadows to learn the terrifying truths about spirits trying to reach her.
Overall, I think this storyline and the settings are extremely creative. Jennifer intricately weaves nightmare and reality into Mara’s tale so that I was left wondering if I was reading about her dreams or about her reality. That can sometimes frustrate me - not knowing concretely where the character is at - but there is a touch of dream and reality in every scene which makes the plot very clever. The scene descriptions were beautifully done. Sometimes it was like I was reading a painting.
I also liked how Mara’s dreams were filled with Japanese cultural references. I often found myself stopping to look up words or phrases to get a better picture of what Mara was seeing. Many times the references were in a context where I could gather the general meaning of a word, but sometimes that wasn’t the case and then I’d definitely need to stop to look something up. But it wasn’t so much that it detracted from the general flow too often. Though I could see that for someone who has little background into older Japanese traditions could feel a little lost without looking everything up.
I feel like the ending was a little bit too abrupt, but it was still a great and unexpected ending.
I came away from the book thinking that this might be something that could raise awareness of mental health issues, namely self-harm. While I have never cut myself the way like Mara has, I do understand how grief and sadness can feel so intense that this type of action may feel like a release. The book could remind us that we all experience pain and grief, and to feel empathy for those who are struggling so deeply that they have a hard time taking care of themselves or staying in touch with reality.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 ginger nuts
Mara is a Japanese-American girl with a history of personal tragedy. Though she still cuts herself to quell the pain, she thought the worst was behind her. But her boyfriend's sudden death, and a visit to one of the most haunted places in Washington State, sends her into a spiral of madness, landing her in a psychiatric ward.
Already suffering from dreams of a strange, ghost-infested house in the woods, Mara begins to question the very existence of reality. She is forced to confront the truth about her older sister's death and the reason the ghosts have chosen her as their conduit.
Review by Kimberly Wolkens
CONDUITS BY JENNIFER LORING - BOOK REVIEW smarturl.it/k7alfo
Mara is a Japanese-American girl with a history of personal tragedy. Though she still cuts to quell the pain, she thought she had left the worst behind her. But her boyfriend’s sudden death and a visit to one of the most haunted places in Washington State send her into a spiral of madness that lands her in a psychiatric ward.
Already suffering from dreams of a strange, ghost-infested house in the woods, Mara begins to question the very existence of reality. She is forced to confront the truth of her older sister’s brutal murder and, unable to distinguish between nightmare and waking any longer, the reason the ghosts have chosen her as their conduit.
What comes to mind when you think of wax? Candles, probably. Maybe a museum. Maybe that one Simpsons episode where Homer drinks the wax to eat the Guatemalan Insanity Pepper. I’m getting off topic, this is a horror book review. So, let’s focus on why you’d think about a museum when asked about wax. I’m guessing because they are super freaky, there’s even a Vincent Price movie about one. Now let’s take a step up the wax chain, and think about the factory that produces this stuff. Gotta be a pretty creepy place, right? Well, Justin Bienvenue thought so when he gave us The Wax Factory. And while the promise is there to scare us senseless, in the end the book couldn’t deliver on that promise.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the concept is there. We can see a good novel hidden underneath the layers of wax. We get a group of college students visiting the recently reopened for tours factory researching historic locations. There is the kooky owner, Gustav Vandaldrake, that happens to be the great grandson of Ghyslain, the founder of the factory. Old machinery litter the large Gothic factory, there’s a basement with hidden rooms, an incinerator, and giant vats of wax. This is all great fodder for a horror story about a wronged factory owner that believes wax is the future.
I was totally on board for having my life be in the hands of a mad man. Then I met our cast of heroes and everything fell apart. They are a complete bore that fit into your typical B-movie stereotypes, but not in a way you could enjoy. No one stands out or has an arc that will keep you interested. There is a moment near the end where our villain forces the heroes to reveal a terrible secret(force is a strong word, more like asks), which you’d think would be a perfect moment to inject a layer of conflict or depth to our characters, but instead just turns into random secrets that have no bearing on the plot. I’m all for cheesy characters, but there needs to be something for us to latch onto and unfortantely our heroes just don’t cut it.
This leads us to our villain, Gustav, who does his part to carry the novel. Bienvenue had a lot of fun making the factory owner bizarre. At the beginning he is a likable old man enjoying the chance to talk about wax, but slowly we start to see cracks until he is rambling about ghosts, monsters, and living forever. Hell, at one point he even eats wax. I couldn’t help but get a Willy Wonka vibe off him that I quite enjoyed. It’s really hard putting the weight of a book on one character’s shoulders and while I think he did a decent job, it wasn’t enough to save the novel.
Where Bienvenue does shine is in his descriptions of violence and setting. He puts us into the factory and we feel the years of dust, wax, and grime on each floor. He haunts us with walls that bleed wax, ghosts that continue to work the factory, hallways that appear to shrink. If you’d told me I could visit this place in real life, I’d believe you after the details Bienvenue delivers. And let’s talk about the moments of violence he springs on us. For long chunks of the novel it’s mainly dialog and people walking around, but then he throws in a bout of visceral violence that reminds us this place is not safe. Deformed monsters dig into stomachs searching for eyeballs, people drown in wax, fingers get jabbed into mouths. This sense of danger definitely keeps us on our toes.
A good setting, violence and evil bad guy doesn’t mean much if the plot doesn’t work. And unfortunately in this case, it just didn’t. There are too many moments of our heroes going along with Gustav after he’s proved time and time again to not be good. He threatens them, then says he was just kidding, and the heroes give him another chance. Nothing is keeping the heroes here, they are not tied up, no one is kidnapped, the door seems to be unlocked, yet they don’t try to run away or fight. Maybe we are supposed to believe this is going for a B-movie vibe, but even those give us something to understand why the characters are in danger(for the most part). I just couldn’t buy the actions of any of the characters other than they needed to move the plot along.
I really think there is a great story in here. The potential is oozing out of the pages. We have a villian that is insane, we have a location begging to be explored, and the idea of wax is always creepy. Bienvenue can weave great descriptions that make us believe we are there. But, his heroes and plot get in the way of something really fantastic.
Sometimes, places are abandoned for a reason...Would you enter a sinister looking factory without knowing what awaits you on the other side?All Dmitri Townsend wanted was the perfect college project. Needing to find a historical building to do a report on, he wants to stand out from everyone else. However, he should have taken a good long look at the Wax Factory because the outside is only slightly terrifying compared to what’s on the inside.
At first all seems well during the tour but when Dmitri, his girlfriend Melina and their friends get to adventure on their own their curiosity gets the best of them and strange things happen. The deeper they go the more odd things become and before they know it they feel their lives may be on the line. This place may have it’s fascinating facts but will this be the college project to die for?
Gustav Vanaldrake dreams of reopening the factory that his great-grandfather was forced to sell. However, there’s something a bit off about him that no one can quite figure out. What exactly is Gustav hiding and why does he seem so weird?
A pre-publication review of The Dead Girls Club, by Damien Angelica Walters
Damien Angelica Walters has hitherto established herself as a real presence in the weird and dark fiction spheres, with collections like Cry Your Way Home and novels like Paper Tigers. This time, in her upcoming book, she has produced a work that sits just as well in the psychological thriller or murder mystery ambit. Which begs the question: how has she done it? And how well does the result work?
To give some idea, the online pre-publication listings and introductory blurbs for The Dead Girls Club don’t pull any punches when it comes to giving a heads-up to potential readers. “In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that, until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real - and she could prove it. That belief got Becca killed,” the intro declares. “Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night - that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn’t seen since the night Becca died. The night Heather killed her.” Now, if you’re looking for a thriller or a mystery, are you going to take the time to read through a book that has already shown its hand? Well, you’d be a fool if you didn’t.
For one thing, Walters puts the reader in the picture within the first chapter - then starts leading you through the narrative with deft, adroit skill that keeps you hanging on for the next reveal. It’s literally a page-turner: I ploughed through the book in a couple of days. Part of its attraction is the beautifully judged, bitten-off prose that mimes Heather’s guilt, repression, suspicions and possible dissociative amnesia superbly. And when the story dips back into the young Heather’s experiences in 1991, it drops into her youthful idiom and memories poignantly and faithfully. If Stephen King had been born female, and with a darker and less sentimental sensibility, this is the kind of story he would be writing. (The girls in the past narrative reference King repeatedly, but The Dead Girls Club does not suffer from the comparison.)
Is The Dead Girls Club “a supernatural thriller,” though, as its Amazon listing claims? Or is it just a straightforward mundane murder mystery, coloured by the inflamed imaginations of teenage girls? The tragedy of the Red Lady, and her revenge, is so powerful in itself that it’s hard to evade or just dismiss as sheer fantasy. Nothing conclusive happens to prove or disprove her existence either way, but there’s no comforting “it was all just a story” get-out for readers allergic to the supernatural. Nor is there any sense of strain in the poise with which Walters holds the balance between the two interpretations. As she says, “You don’t need flickering lights or doors slamming shut, the parlor tricks of a poltergeist, to be haunted. The true ghosts are made of deed and word and live deep inside the marrow and bone.” It certainly helps that, for all the early revelations, she keeps a succession of twists right until the very end of the story. You could class The Dead Girls Club as an example of fantastic fiction in Todorov’s classic definition of work that hesitates between a natural or a supernatural explanation of the story’s events, but there’s no need to cumber it with that kind of scholastic pedantry. Whether you’re a fan of ghost stories and supernatural horror, or a dyed-in-the-wool materialist who shuns any fictional realization of the uncanny, you’ll be captivated by The Dead Girls Club. It transcends genre distinctions as easily as it does scholarly over-interpretation. It’s that good. I wouldn’t want to confine it to any one genre category: I do say that it’s a story you must read.
Crooked Lane Books, December 2019
A supernatural thriller in the vein of A Head Full of Ghosts about two young girls, a scary story that becomes far too real, and the tragic--and terrifying--consequences that follow one of them into adulthood.
Red Lady, Red Lady, show us your face...
In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that, until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real--and she could prove it.
That belief got Becca killed.
It's been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night--that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She's done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn't seen since the night Becca died.
The night Heather killed her.
Now, someone else knows what she did...and they're determined to make Heather pay.
The Candle Man, “Part of You” is the third issue in the Candle Man series. The Candle Man is a legendary figure thought to be just folklore, a story about a trapper in the 1700s who was caught up in a blizzard. The legend is that to keep himself alive, he takes pieces from the living to replace that which is dying inside himself. So when he needs a heart, he takes the heart and puts it inside him. All the while carrying a candle to light his way.
The story opens up with a nice splash page of the Candle Man, who is once again roaming around looking for body parts to fix whatever is broken on him. This time, he needs a new neck. The Candle Man comes across two lovers in the middle of a heated argument. In the argument, Oliver is trying to convince Sherry, his girlfriend of three years, that it was really no big deal that he slept with one of her much-younger coworkers. Besides, he’d only slept with the coworker once, and in his mind, that makes it a non-issue. When Sherry says it’s over, Oliver turns into an even bigger jerk by accusing her of being irrational and downplaying her feelings as simply insecurity due to her recently tuning 45. Sherry leaves the scene in tears, and the Candle Man soon makes his appearance. After all, if Shelly wants no part Oliver, maybe the Candle Man will!
I really liked the story and script here. It takes a familiar scene - a couple fighting bitterly when they think they’re alone and unwatched - and brings in a legendary character with physical needs that must be met through a level of violence. The Candle Man is a creepy character who needs to murder in order to survive, but he’s forgivable because he has a noble way of choosing victims. His stories of harvesting body parts from people who do wrong things should serve as a cautionary tale for those who wrong their loved ones.
The graphics of this issue are phenomenal. You can really see the solidification of the Candle Man’s characterization in each new issue. Drama and gore are expertly depicted in this issue, and the dialogue is pretty easy to follow, even within the couple’s heated argument. I like the way color is used as well.
I’m really starting to like the comic book genre. I think about the amount of work that must go into each issue to make it so that a complete story arc can be expressed with drawings, colors and limited wording. It’s neat to see how people work together to make such a neat product.
Story & Script - Don Everett Smith Jr.
Pencils - Denis Pacher
Colors - Andrew Pate
Letter - James Burton
Artistic Consultant - Rusty Gilligan
Owned by Pinion Comics and Don Everett Smith Jr.
This comic can be purchased here
Unfortunate cave explorers end up on the menu for a vicious aquatic creature
Alister Hodge, either riskily or bravely, provides full disclosure of what lurks within The Cavern in the opening chapter. Because of this early revelation a fair bit of suspense goes out the window as the reader knows exactly what awaits the next group of unfortunate explorers when they start their thirty-meter descent into an uncharted underground cave recently discovered on the land of a local Australian dust-bowl farmer. Desperate for cash, Mr Anastas rents access to his property, and there are plenty of amateur explorers willing to take up his offer.
Chapter one of The Cavern introduces and quickly kills off Jim and Beth who are the first, they think, to explore this remote cavern in the Outback. They are very gorily despatched, so this opening twenty pages will tell you exactly whether this is the sort of book you fancy reading as there is plenty more of the same to come. After venturing deeper and deeper they hear weird clicking noises and make a nervous reference to a creature called the ‘Miner’s Mother’ which the local barman earlier joked (or warned?) them about. Whilst exploring an amazingly beautiful cavern their equipment mysteriously disappears and Beth swears she sees a child causing a ripple in the water. Following the child, which is obviously something else, both are brutally killed and eaten by a horrific monster. If you like this kind of thing read on.
Although The Cavern builds a convincing story and conspiracy around the ‘Miner’s Mother’ the reader simply knows too much too soon and it was relatively easy to predict where the story is heading. The young, keen and intelligent members of the Australian Caving Association, who are looking for a few exciting days away from the city, are destined to be stalked in the belly of the cave. The only suspense is deciding who of the party is going to end up at lunch and who will be dinner.
The main characters are young couple Ellie who specialises in Geology; Sam who is a paramedic but has nervous issues with underground swimming and Frida who is a biologist and an expert on cave ecosystems. They intend to use a computer system called Zebedee to 3D map the cave with the help of local cave experts Aaron and Max. They ignore the early warning signs, having heard of another couple who disappeared from the cave system a month earlier. A big mistake; refer back to Jim and Beth.
Throw into the mix Jack Horwith, a broken-down Vietnam Veteran who now works in the local bar, local ghost tours, a deeper conspiracy involving both the town, its residents, and the creature there is fair bit going on and although predictable it would be unfair to call The Cavern boring. It certainly is not. At various points the novel is even seen from the point of view of the creature and there are some imaginative and explicit kill scenes.
The Cavern was solid underground horror which although it was entertaining reminded me of many other probably better books with a similar underground setting. A few of my favourites include Scott Sigler’s Earthcore, Jeff Long’s The Descent, Nick Cutter’s The Deep, and Tom Walsh’s Nogglz. All four of those novels wisely kept their monsters shrouded from the reader until much deeper into the book and one wonders how The Cavern would have panned out if the ‘Miner’s Mother’ was introduced in a similar fashion? In 2018 Ginger Nuts of Horror ran a feature on Underground Horror and if you want to read more follow the link:
I sped through The Cavern in no time whatever and even though I was fairly sure I knew how things were going to pan out I did enjoy the wild and gory climax where the body-count spirals. The creature was so dangerous and comfortable in its natural habitat you could not help feeling sorry for the poor old potholers. It was trashy and easy-to-read fun which guaranteed to put you off this type of underground exploration for life.
When a sink hole opens up near the Australian outback town of Pintalba, it uncovers a pristine cave system. Sam joins an expedition to explore the subterranean passages as paramedic support, hoping to remain unneeded at base camp. But, when one of the cavers is injured, he must overcome paralysing claustrophobia to dive pitch-black waters and squeeze through the bowels of the earth.
Soon he will find there are fates worse than being buried alive, for in the abandoned mines and caves beneath Pintalba, there are ravenous teeth in the dark.
As a savage predator targets the group with hideous ferocity, Sam and his friends must fight for their lives if they are ever to see the sun again.
"The Cavern is a tense and compelling descent into subterranean horror, with characters you will care about in a setting unlike most fiction these days. I've never been a fan of caving, but having read this book, I'm staying above ground in the sunlight forever." - Alan Baxter, author of DEVOURING DARK and the ALEX CAINE SERIES
A distraught mother reaches beyond the grave to contact
her murdered son in an outstanding study of grief and loss
After being greatly impressed by Andrew Cull’s novella Knock And You Will See Me and his follow-up short story anthology Bones I was intrigued as to how his debut novel Remains would pan out. I’m delighted to reveal that this brutal and heart-breaking story does not disappoint and had me dangling on a string from the first to last page. Remains is undoubtedly one of the stand-out novels of 2019 which is drenched in bleakness with an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness until its final tragic moments. I rarely give books five stars but this stunner fully deserves that accolade and is one of the most distinct and original haunted house novels I have read in a while.
Considering the horrific nature of the plot Remains was remarkably easy to read. Even though the paperback is 202 pages, it is spread over 49 very short chapters many of which have a blank page following their finish, making it deceptively shorter and easy to devour in a few sittings. Within these brief pages there was considerable power, emotion and barely a word was wasted in telling a story which was soaked in overwhelming personal tragedy.
Supernatural goings on aside, Remains was a story of grief and there can be nothing worse than losing a child. Parents in particular who read this will empathise with the tragic plight of Lucy Campbell, whose son Alex was murdered nine months before we pick up the story. For Lucy, her life ended when her boy died and she was left broken suffering from overwhelming guilt. Her pain quite literally drips from the page as she repeatedly sees, or feels Alex is close, calling him name, or has visions of his shadow edging towards her in the darkness. This is the type of horror which exists at the corners of your vision, creeping just out of sight, or lurking in the shadows. It reminded me slightly of the plight of the unnamed and very desperate man who searches for his lost daughter in Adam Nevill’s Lost Girl who would do anything to find her. Lucy Campbell is no different; she will go to any lengths to reconnect with her dead son. Who says death has to be the end?
1428 Montgomery Road was an insidious creation. A location so horrible it brings to mind another Adam Nevill hotspot; 82 Edgware Road, the setting of the house from hell in No One Gets Out Alive. Montgomery is slightly different from Edgeware Road in that if not for the murder of Alex it would just be another house, it was the killing which morphed it from a family home into a place forever connected to death. The circumstances so brutal, the family who lived there immediately fled never to return. Lucy Campbell, however, is drawn to it, the location where she feels the strongest connection to her dead child. Where the blood stains still mark the walls, and the curtains have remained drawn for the nine months following the tragedy. But when Lucy stalks the house by sitting in her car outside, she is sure she can see a small figure in the window. This is just a normal house, on a residential street, a million miles away from the remote windswept mansions which are popular horror stereotypes. However, after a media leak a newspaper story reveals in graphic detail the exact circumstances of the death which is relayed to the reader….
The novel opens when Lucy is being released from a psychiatric hospital after a breakdown and we quickly find out over that period she has divorced her husband Matt. Her doctor, Bachman, who plays a key part in the story, advises her to not leave the hospital and fears she may be a danger to herself once her safety-net is removed. And sure enough, once she is discharged she feels the pull of 1828 Montgomery Road, or is it Alex?
Set over a relatively short space of time, this beautifully paced book, which in some ways had a minimal story, but was soaked in ambiguity gripped on every level. Lucy’s failure to move on was so easy to believe and her loss of grip on reality was riveting to follow. If you’ve read Cull’s Knock And You Will See Me you’ll know messages come from beyond the grave, and something similar happens here as Lucy’s small grip on sanity begins to fracture even more. Remains cleverly refuses to overplay the supernatural element and for the most part the horror and reality of grief are more than enough.
Although Remains was not an action driven novel it has some outstanding scenes; you’ll wince in a car-crash sequence where supernatural powers might be at work, and another corker where a wardrobe lurches, like its being pushed, and careers down the stairs trapping Lucy underneath.
Haunted house novels are dime a dozen and it is very hard to come up with something new in a bulging genre, but Andrew Cull breathes new life into a familiar trope with an incredibly grim book which keeps its intensity going until the darkest of endings in the final paragraphs.
If you are on the lookout for sampling an author you’ve never tried before then I would suggest Andrew Cull is one to take a chance on. Horror does not get darker or more compelling that Remains.
Grief is a black house.
How far would you go? What horrors would you endure if it meant you might see the son you thought you’d lost forever?
Driven to a breakdown by the brutal murder of her young son, Lucy Campbell had locked herself away, fallen deep inside herself, become a ghost haunting room 23b of the William Tuke Psychiatric Hospital.
There she’d remained, until the whispering pulled her back, until she found herself once more sitting in her car, calling to the son she had lost, staring into the black panes of the now abandoned house where Alex had died.
Tonight, someone is watching her back.
“If there's something strange in your neighbourhood
Who you gonna call?
The Borough of Long Draeston Department of Environment and Waste!”
This debut novel from a writer whom had earlier released a couple of impressive novellas certainly piqued my interest. Graduating from the hundred-page range novella to the meatier 300+ full-monty is never easy, but I’m delighted to reveal that The Living and the Lost makes the upgrade admirably. Equally impressive is the fact that content-wise this novel has very little in common with his earlier shorter fiction. Stylistically, however, it is very similar, Richard Farren Barber has a very quiet, understated method to his writing. It is most certainly horror, but do not expect fireworks, his technique relies more upon atmosphere, humour, location and character development.
What do I mean by a ‘quiet’ style of writing? In his superb post-apocalyptic novella Perfect Darkness, Perfect Silence the survivors of a killer virus deal with clearing away and burning the bodies of the dead. There is no big drama with the story beginning after the event. In Closer Still, a teenage girl is haunted by her dead best friend, with much of the action taking place in her bedroom, with bullying an underlying theme. Although The Living and the Lost is bigger and ambitious in scope, it does follow the same low-key storytelling principles and works perfectly by doing so. It takes a long time for the work ‘exorcist’ to be used in this novel, but do not expect any head-spinning, it is just not this author’s style. And that’s a major compliment.
The action opens with Karl, who is in his early twenties, starting a new job for the Borough of Long Draeston Department of Environment and Waste. Karl is pleased to have finally landed a steady employment after a period drifting and believes he will be involved in emptying the homes of the recently deceased. The job advert had vaguely mentioned “waste disposal and people skills” as a requirement. He finds himself doing just this, but not in the way he expects. His boss, and mentor is Archie, who is a veteran of the department and shows Karl the ropes whilst grumpily passing on his years of wisdom. However, once he is on the job he realises that they are cleaning houses of dead spirits whom have refused to move on, for a various of reasons. After watching the first cleaning Karl is thrown in at the deep end and is scared witless helping Archie with this rather strange job.
I really liked the way this ‘cleaning’ department was portrayed as a genuine council department. Set in Nottingham (the home town of the author) it has a convincing working class, downtrodden, feel to it. When not on the job Karl hangs out with Archie and other workmates Paddy, Anna, and George and it realistically portrays men dealing with everyday paperwork (B2 Work Docket) and the daily plod of mundane day to day work. This works exceptionally well and the author slowly expands the story around the co-workers as Karl moves from new boy who does not quite fit in to more of a team player.
The author gives very little away about how the supernatural aspects work, but this is not a particular drawback and only makes the reader pay attention to the occasional nugget Farren Barber does decide to drop. For example, there is a great scene where Archie flips out after realising Karl had been drinking and was therefore more susceptible to being noticed by the dead. Or another encounter when it was quietly revealed that both the police and the hospital staff expect Archie and his friends from the department to pitch up and help. There is also quite a funny scene where Karl is kitted out with his job equipment which includes a candle, crucifix and Star of David. It was amusing as it took place in a weird little shop which reminded me of James Bond getting ‘sorted’ with his latest gadgets!
However, on occasions you may well find yourself questioning the lack of information. One such query; there is never any mention of Karl (or anyone else) believing in God, so in this world being an exorcist does not seem to being connected to being Christian in any way. Don’t you have to believe in the theology for everything to work? Karl does say a number of prayers, but there does not seem to be any question of faith in the book.
The haunting sequences were convincing and quite downbeat; from powerful presences, the speaking of different languages and use of very simple dialogue such as “he’s still here” was very expressive. The novel had so many nice understated touches; Karl started to smell (it is never explained why) but his parents understandably think it is because he is working collecting garbage! Also, bearing in mind this is 2019 and cash is in short supply, at a certain point Archie and the boys are threatened with redundancy, or early retirement. I doubt you would see this sort of down to earth plotline feature in an American supernatural novel! Richard Farren Barber’s fiction is endearingly British and this adds an extra level of charm to it. It has the feel of something which might appear on ITV or the BBC as a 9pm supernatural drama, but I doubt Hollywood will come knocking!
A crisis, and near tragedy after a routine exorcism goes wrong, in the cleaning department moves the plot along and I did not find the second half to be as strong as the first. Archie has skeletons in his closet and the result is the spirits of the deceased (The Lost) almost being able to force their way back into the world (nobody mention Ghost Busters!) This was an importance sequence is the second half of the novel and it became slightly repetitive, The Lost threatened many times, but did not exactly do very much with their frequent appearances. Ultimately you cannot keep saying “BOO!” and then fail to deliver the money shot. Also, Karl was pretty slow on the uptake on the direction everything was heading in the second half, to the extent that it became a bit frustrating. As I said, everything is kept understated and low-key and these small gripes did not detract from an excellent novel too much.
I would highly recommend The Living and the Lost, which is peppered with a host of engaging characters, an authentic slice of British life mixed with an excellent supernatural themed story. It might not roll of the tongue, but……
If there's something strange in your neighbourhood
Who you gonna call?
The Borough of Long Draeston Department of Environment and Waste!
After years of drifting between jobs, Karl has finally found the one – working for the local council to help ghosts pass on to the afterlife. Mentored by Archie, a curmudgeonly old man, Karl begins to learn his trade. Karl’s life is finally going well, but all of this is threatened when a routine exorcism goes wrong.
While Archie lies in hospital, Karl is horrified as their work colleagues attempt to kill Archie. Karl discovers Archie has not told him everything – about their job, about his life. Karl learns about The Lost: a confluence of spirits using the recently deceased to force their way back into the world. Archie’s colleagues believe Archie’s coma provides the bridge for The Lost to return to the living world. As Archie lies dying, can Karl trust his friends to protect Archie and find a way to save him before he is lost?
In Duncan P Bradshaw's previous novel, Mr Sucky (read our review of it here), we were bombarded by one of the most insane and crazy concepts in horror history. A glorious mix of extreme horror and humour, Mr Sucky saw Bradshaw rise from being a great writer to the heady heights of a must-read author. Only someone who fully understands the dynamics between laughter and fear could pull off a book that made you laugh as much as it made you cringe at the horrors contained within it. But what is an author to do after producing not only a career-defining novel but a genre-defining novel? I'll tell what, he says 'hold my beer, I'm going in for the kill.
Judging by the reaction I had reading Cannibal Nuns from Outer Space! (yes that exclamation mark is both needed and well deserved), Bradshaw must have been drinking a beer spiked with a quadruple shot of vodka, and a good old dash of Buckfast, for this is a novel that piles on everything that Mr Sucky brought to the table to the max.
The plot of Cannibal Nuns from Outer Space (CNFOS) couldn't be more straightforward. A band of space aliens that just happen to look like earth nuns have landed on earth with the sole purpose of turning us into one massive factory farm for a multitude of meat-hungry alien gourmands. The only thing standing in their way is a washed up Catholic Priest and his mutated pet axolotl. Yep, you got that right the priest has a pet amphibian that lives in his beard. This should be enough to give you an idea of the level of severe philosophical discourse in this novel, which is zero. What you have instead is a novel that grabs your funny bone by the arm and straps it to a tickleomatic 2000 and sets to maximum ticklage.
Like all of the other great comic authors such as Pratchett, Adams and Strand, (sorry I was hoping to write this review without mentioning the first of these two authors, it's a tired and cliched comparison), Bradshaw understands that for a comedic novel to work it just can't be a page after page of one-liners, puns and punchlines, there has to be a good story underpinning the gags. While (CNFOS) may lack some of the serious undertones of the aforementioned authors, it still has a solid narrative backbone, that is thought out and delivered with enough gusto to keep the reader interested in the story and the characters within it while allowing for Bradshaw to go town with his totally on point brand of humour. Imagine being strapped onto the front of a speeding jet, that's pretty much the rush you will experience from reading this book.
The keen-eyed among you will recognise many hat tips and winks to other works, of particular note, is the account told by the world's worst taxi driver, I won't spoil it for you, suffice to say that it is one of the most excellent chapter length jokes ever committed to the page although Bradshaw does lose some points for his plain crazy and utterly wrong theory on who is the best singer in Boyzone.
And his account of Father Flynn's debunking of a "weeping statue" will have you laughing your socks off while you reach for the sick bucket.
Taking centre stage is Father Flynn, the once top operative for the Order of the Crimson Rosary, a specialised branch of the Catholic Church charged with protecting humanity from all manners of evil. Flynn comes across like a mix of all the worst bits of Bernard Black, Father Jack and Albert Steptoe, and you will relish at is ineptitude while cheering him on in his bumbling quest to save us from the Nuns. Bradshaw has a unique talent for writing believable characters despite their, at times, grotesque caricaturist nature. He fills in their broad strokes with a fine brush of detail and personality.
As the title suggests this was never going to be a serious read, where Bradshaw takes a look at the dilemma of being a space-faring race of carnivorous aliens and the ethics of factory farming, instead you are rewarded with a shaggy dog story so immense that it makes Digby The Largest Dog in the World look like a Shih Tzu.
Cannibal Nuns From Outer Space! is like no other book you will read this year, Bradshaw has done the unthinkable and delivered a book that is funnier and even more satisfying than Mr Sucky, which was previously my all time favourite comedy horror novel. Where he goes next is anyone's guess, all I know is I cannot wait to see what he produces next. Even if I have to buy a whole new drawer of boxers after wetting every pair of them thanks to this book.
The summer blockbuster book! Probably.
I know, you've been waiting for this. Tuck in.
With an encyclopaedic knowledge of cake, and exclusive access to the church’s stockpile of holy weapons, the Order of the Crimson Rosary are on the frontline in the eternal war between good and evil. Whether it’s repelling demonic possession, judging the authenticity of supposed miracles or having the final say on the colour of bunting at church fetes, the organisation's members sacrifice their own freedom to keep the world safe.
Father Flynn, the top operative in the UK, has been responsible for a number of recent high profile gaffs. Given an ultimatum, he must choose between returning to his old job of preserving the last microfiche machine in the church’s library, or submit himself for rehabilitation.
Yet evil doesn’t take a ticket and wait in line, as the dreaded cannibal nuns from outer space land to begin their annual harvest. Can Flynn get himself sober enough to repel their evil machinations? Or will another idyllic British village become the nun’s latest buffet?
One thing’s for certain, to beat them, Father Flynn is going to have to kick the habit.
Book two in the GoreCom series, this time it's highly trained priests facing off against the titular cannibal nuns from outer space. Can the finest Crimson Rosary operatives in the UK thwart the nefarious plan to reduce another population centre to compote?