NR: Dear Laura

As far as I can remember, Dear Laura is the first thing I’ve read by Gemma Amor, but it probably won’t be the last.

Laura’s childhood sweetheart Bobby disappears, taken by a man with a van. One year later on her fourteenth birthday Laura receives a letter from the abductor. He tells her that Bobby is dead, but if she cooperates he will reveal the whereabouts of his body. Subsequent letters arrive, demanding tokens – her underwear, her toothbrush – and giving Laura map coordinates. Laura is too scared to tell the police, with threats to herself and her family, and the possibility of never finding Bobby, not even when the abductor demands that she harm herself. In between letters Laura manages to make a life of sorts for herself, but the cloud always hangs over her until a chance comes to resolve matters one way or another, to achieve a long overdue closure.

Simply written this was a compelling story, the tale of a cat and mouse relationship between abuser and victim. As Laura comes to understand it was never really about Bobby, but rather about controlling her, making her dance to the killer’s tune. In some ways Laura is a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, unable to shake off the malign influence of her abuser, and this is where the book is on shaky ground to my mind, but Amor does enough to make us accept that Laura’s actions are credible, even if most other people in her shoes would have gone to the police. At the same time there is a subtext on the power of first love, of how we can never forget the first person we kissed. The letters from the abuser and the things he asks of Laura are unsettling, both for the almost restrained nature of the forfeits and the self-justifying language of the abuser, almost as if he feels that he and Laura have a romantic relationship. The struggle against the wilderness through which Laura must journey in the story’s end game and the way in which her ‘problem’ is resolved reek of authenticity, while the abuser and his setting are shown in the most repellent of terms.

Overall this was an entertaining and fast paced slice of horror fiction, one that involves us in its protagonist plight and makes us feel for her suffering, with a subtext on the nature of evil that gives the reader something to think about in among all the cruelty and violations.

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NR: Night of the Mannequins

I’ve got a couple of titles by Stephen Graham Jones stacked up on my kindle, but until now apart from the odd short story in an anthology the only thing I’d read by him was chapbook The Elvis Room.

A group of teenagers use a mannequin as a prop in their various escapades during summer holidays. They decide to prank their friend Shanna by dressing Manny up and smuggling him into the movie theatre where she works as an usherette. Only things go slightly wrong and nobody is quite sure what happened, whether Manny was found or not. In fact Sawyer, the narrator of the story, is convinced he saw Manny get up and walk out of the theatre under his own steam. And then Shanna and her family are killed when a truck ploughs into their house, but Sawyer becomes convinced that Manny, now grown to giant size, was responsible and intends to kill the rest of them. Horrified by the thought of collateral damage, Sawyer comes up with a damage limitation plan.

This was a crazy ride, totally gripping even though at times it might feel as if the whole thing is so over the top it’s floating in the stratosphere. In a way allowing for the fact that the kids are slightly older, it could be a dark side version of The Goonies with Sawyer’s madness driving the plot, or perhaps a more knowing version of Bradbury’s Green Town summers. There is here the same feel of kids having fun, enjoying the very best times of their lives, with friendship at the heart. It contains within itself the seeds of all the monster and horror movies that these kids have seen, but there is a fly in the ointment, in that one of them has lost touch with reality. Sawyer, as he comes to realise, has become the monster that he is trying to thwart – he has looked too long into the abyss. The reader is bemused by the rationality and backwards logic that he uses to justify his actions, to the point that we wonder if he is simply a monster finding a rationale for acting as he does. Of course the whole thing is slightly silly, as you’d perhaps expect given the title Night of the Mannequins, but we make allowances and accept it for the romp that it is, and on that level it is wholly enjoyable. There’s humour here and horror, all wrapped up in a slightly askew picture of small town America and a narrative that is never afraid to take risks with credibility. I loved every minute of this rollercoaster ride.

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NR: Helpmeet

Initially this novella made me think of a Roger Corman film in which Vincent Price and his female companion arrive by carriage at a mist shrouded mansion existing in splendid isolation amid the trees and swamp, within whose walls you just know that something horrific will take place. Naben Ruthnum’s Helpmeet is all this and much more.

Louise married above her station, going from nursing auxiliary at a hospital to wife of one of its most prominent surgeons, but now Edward Wilk has become her patient, the victim of an illness that robs him of all vitality and liquefies his flesh and organs. It is suspected that the disease is something he has contracted from one of the many prostitutes whose services he used. Close to bankruptcy, the Wilks abandon their city residence and travel to an isolated family house outside Buffalo. Once there Edward tells her of the unwitting bargain he made with the prostitute Jean. His body finally gives up the ghost but it is not the end, just the latest step in a process of metamorphosis far more bizarre than anything dreamt up by Kafka.

This novella is beautifully written, with Ruthnum superb at capturing his late nineteenth century setting and bringing its fin de siècle sensibility to life on the page. The quiet, mannered prose style is totally compelling, grabbing the reader’s attention from the very first and carrying it through to the end, empowering us to accept strange and terrible things simply for the matter of fact telling. Helpmeet is, as others have pointed out, a tale of body horror, with Edward’s dissolution relayed through nauseating imagery, his face mostly gone, his eyes sucked inside the skull, and the rest of him changing into repellent pus. The love and loyalty of Louise through all of this is laudatory, perhaps even more so when you consider the circumstances in which he was infected.

The metamorphic slant to this illness takes our tale off on a tangent into the realms of the weird, and while I might quibble at the nature of the creature that emerges from Edward’s carcass it was an intriguing revelation, one that hints at other life forms battening on to humankind and using us in ways similar to our own relationship with the natural world, our bodies simply the soil in which their seed may be planted. And yet there is finally a moral dimension to all this. The entity responsible for all that takes place is aware of the cruelty implicit in its actions and willing to compromise, to do the best to make amends, reward the good and punish the bad, and in an end twist everyone gets more or less of what they deserve. It is, ultimately, a love story, with Louise and Edward finally capable of a greater unity than ever before – physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual. In a way it could be argued that they represent a Platonic ideal. Ruthnum gives us much to think about and I unreservedly recommend this novella to devotees of the weird.

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NR: An Absence of Natural Light

I’d never heard of F. G. Cottam until I picked up this novella for a bargain price on Amazon, which is surprising as when I look at his back catalogue he seems like just the sort of writer who would be celebrated in genre circles. Go figure.

Forced to retire owing to an injury, footballer Tom Harper buys a luxury flat where he can begin a new life without his token wife. He also starts to date estate agent Rebecca Green. But the property at Absalom Court has a few problems. At night Tom is woken by the sound of jazz music emanating from the basement and he smells perfume and cigarettes, while the sketch of a cat has appeared on his laptop as screensaver, signed with the initials RG. Tom and Rebecca investigate and discover that the flat was once occupied by Rachel Gaunt, a femme fatale obsessed with the occult who committed suicide. Talks with her former professor and an old boyfriend who suffered a mental breakdown help to flesh out the picture. They come to realise that Rachel Gaunt isn’t finished with life yet, even if life has finished with her.

While it may be the first work I’ve read by Cottam, I hope this short work won’t be the last. It is an excellent supernatural story in the tradition of M. R. James, but with a thoroughly modern feel to the material. I loved the characters, with the interplay between Tom, who is not a typical footballer*, and Rebecca a delight, banter that sounds genuine and both of them gratifyingly self-deprecatory. The other characters are just as engaging, from Professor Fleetwood, with his besotted reminiscences of Rachel Gaunt and adulation of Tom, to ex-boyfriend and Arsenal fan Archie, from archivist Simon with his personal agenda and pomposity, to the absentee WAG Melody. Though not present in body, dominating the proceedings is Rachel Gaunt, whose machinations are at back of everything else, a character who is completely ruthless when it comes to getting her own way, prepared to sacrifice others to succeed. The supernatural effects mount gradually, with the music barely heard at first, and then smells and visions that crank up the unease, with everything we learn about Rachel Gaunt making her all the more threatening, but at the same time with an undeniable sexual allure and charisma. Cottam builds assuredly, each detail neatly slotted in and adding to the whole, setting us up for the inevitable climax, which he resolves with an enviable lightness of touch. My only quibble is that I could have done with a bit more information about the mysterious Jericho Society, Rachel’s sponsors and the prompt for her suicide.

This small book is a perfect demonstration of what can be achieved in only seventy pages, and at only 49p for the kindle edition on Amazon it’s an ideal way to sample Cottam’s oeuvre if you haven’t as yet encountered his work.

*To be fair, my idea of a typical footballer owes more to sensationalist tabloid press headlines than any actual experience

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NR: The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings

The plan is to produce an Advent Calendar of novella reviews and given the season there is no better way to start this endeavour than with a ghost story.

Author Dan Jones made his name as a historian, putting all that research to good use with the September 2022 launch of his novel Essex Dogs, but a year prior to that he dipped a toe in fictional waters with The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings, his retelling of ‘a Medieval ghost story’

In his chatty introduction Jones explains how M. R. James discovered a manuscript containing twelve ghost stories, ostensibly true accounts, written down for posterity by a monk at Byland Abbey back in the 14th century. Along the way he touches on James’ own career as a writer of ghost stories and the reason he was so successful in the field. Then he admits his own desire to produce something similar with which to impress his children, resulting in this adaptation of the longest story in the Byland collection.

Snowball the tailor is riding his horse Borin home from Gilling to Ampleforth, when he finds a dead raven in the road that miraculously comes back to life and attacks him. He repels the bird only for it to return as a monstrous dog, one that speaks to him and informs Snowball whose spirit it is, the ghost of a man who was buried outside consecrated ground for his sins. On pain of dire punishment Snowball is charged with travelling to York to find priests who will grant the sinner a pardon, which he does, though it costs him. Appearing first as a goat and then as one of the dead Kings, the ghost is granted absolution, warning Snowball of other perils in wait and the possibility of fortune.

This is a very simple story, but Jones gives it enough horror grace notes to entertain. His account of Snowball’s meeting with the clerics who sell absolution and haggle over the price is both amusing and at the same time, by the standards of the day when it was first written, makes a very serious point. Similarly the friend of Snowball who wishes to meet the ghost and then chickens out at the last minute adds more humour and demonstrates a keen understanding of human nature. The descriptions of the ghost are suitably macabre, as is its threat to Snowball and his methods of defence. Of course this can’t compare with the best of modern horror, but it is a decent enough tale and holds the reader’s attention, with some images that will stay in the mind for a fair while after the reading is done.

To round out the book Jones gives us a history of Byland Abbey and the original Latin story, as transcribed by James, so that those who have the benefit of a classical education can check how many liberties he took with the text.

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The Story So Far – November 2022

Okay, for various reasons I’m having to set this post up before the end of November, so when I refer to books read in November, I mean up till today, which is the 28th.

I read fifteen books in November, taking my total for the year so far to one hundred and forty six titles, and none of the newly read made my Top Twenty list. Terror Tales of London edited by Paul Finch was the title that came closest to making the cut, but couldn’t quite knock Tom Fletcher off the bottom spot.

The list remains the same as for last month:-

Look Where You Are Going Not Where You Have Been – Steven J. Dines

The Blackhouse – Carole Johnstone

The Dollmaker – Nina Allan

Mirrorland – Carole Johnstone

Lies of Tenderness – Stephen Volk

All That’s Lost – Ray Cluley

And Then I Woke Up – Malcolm Devlin

The Killing Lessons – Saul Black

This Isn’t Anywhere You Know – Gary McMahon

Sorrowmouth – Simon Avery

The Shadow Man – Helen Fields

Scar Tissue – James Cooper

The Whisper Man – Alex North

Ormeshadow – Priya Sharma

Electric Breakfast – Paul Meloy

The Shadow Friend – Alex North

True Story – Kate Reed Petty

Triflers Need Not Apply – Camilla Bruce

You Can Run – Steve Mosby

Witch Bottle – Tom Fletcher

N.B. These rankings are not intended as noting literary merit – only an expression of how much pleasure each of these books gave me. And, of course, the whole process is highly subjective – at any other time my ratings might be entirely different.

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OR: I Can See You

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #14:-

I Can See You (Headline hardback, 512pp, £12.99), is the latest novel from Karen Rose, a writer with a proven track record in the crime/thriller genre.

Noah Webster is a Minneapolis homicide detective, a member of the famous ‘Hat Squad’, and also a recovering alcoholic, having sought refuge in a bottle after the tragic death of his wife and child in a car accident. And yet Noah goes to a bar every week, drawn by his attraction to bartender Eve Wilson. Eve has noticed him too, but has her own troubled history to deal with. The survivor of not one, but two violent attacks that left her scarred physically and psychologically, she has a whole kitbag full of neuroses, and feels she can never have a relationship with a man. Eve finds comfort and self-worth in her work as a graduate student with a project that involves researching online activity, discovering how people’s internet relationships affect those they have in the real world. But then Eve’s test subjects from online community Shadowland become the targets of a killer who fakes their suicide, dressing the corpses in gaudy clothes, gluing open their eyes and stealing a shoe as a souvenir. Eve and Noah must join forces to solve the case and prevent more deaths, along the way dealing with their feelings for each other and the past issues that keep them apart.

Shadowland was probably inspired by Second Life, the Internet’s largest, user-created, 3D virtual world community (at least, that’s what it says on their website), and if memory serves me correct a while back an episode of CSI: New York featured a connection between murders in the real world and activity in Second Life. The way in which virtual reality is used here is interesting and adds a touch of originality to the mix, but seems like a bit of a stretch on occasion to those who don’t see the fascination of life online 24/7. Rose makes it work through painstaking attention to technical detail and walk throughs of Shadowland in which Eve introduces us to the various characters, giving them personalities that reflect and complement those of their real world counterparts. The appeal of virtual reality is made implicit, that online you can be anyone you wish, act in a totally different manner to the ‘real world’ you, but equally under Rose’s artful direction it becomes just the sort of place where a killer might hunt for socially inadequate prey.

A particular strength of this book is the complexity of the story, with Rose adding subplots that feed into and off of the main narrative arc. There’s a father and son hit squad with a grudge against Noah and his partner Phelps, a young woman searching for her missing prostitute sister and a reporter who seems to have a hard on for Webster doing his best to poison the relationship with Eve. Rose does an excellent job of stage managing all these disparate elements of her plot, keeping a firm grip on things and never letting them get out of hand. And she wisely resists the temptation to gross out on the murders, avoiding the Grand Guignol effects of the Carter and Jeffrey in favour of something low key and more believable, with sinister grace notes that keep reader and detectives alike off balance, such as the pit in which the killer disposes of the bodies of his ‘other’ victims.

Rose has characterisation down pat too, as seen in the friction between Webster and his partner Phelps, who is falling down on the job, the esprit de corps of the police officers and their civilian helpers, the obvious affection shown Eve by the members of her extended family/support group. Solid work is done in providing a convincing background and motivation for the killer, with explanations of why he glues the women’s eyes wide open and why he takes one shoe, so that this is the most believable of the serial killers under consideration here, and also the most chilling, the one most tainted with the touch of reality.

Central to the story is the relationship between Noah Webster and Eve Wilson, and at first I found their look but don’t talk stand offs a bit unnatural, clichéd even, but as the story unrolled they grew on me and what had caused difficulty became explicable in the light of who these people are. Both are flawed individuals, damaged by their past and as a result of that convinced they do not deserve happiness, unwilling to take the risks it entails. Everyone around them tells Noah and Eve otherwise, and gradually they unveil their emotions, expose vulnerabilities and doubts, paradoxically growing stronger by doing so, becoming people we can care about and who are free to love each other. When, to use a trite phrase from tabloid advice columns, the inevitable happens it is a scene fraught with potential for calamity, a long series of stops and starts, of communicating at the most basic level, and totally realistic in the way it avoids the mawkishness and florid romanticism of the similar scene between Genny and Dallas in Barton’s novel. Noah and Eve are real people, not Mills & Boon prototypes, and it shows in the way they make love.

I Can See You is a fast paced read, a story packed with incident and real people, and it kept me engaged for the whole of its nearly five hundred pages. Recommended.

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Ruby Tuesday

It’s Sunday, but here’s Melanie with “Ruby Tuesday”.

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Books Read in 2011

This post follows on from Books Read in 2010, which I posted at the end of October.

And for 2011 I read one hundred and twenty books, fourteen up from the total in 2010, though again with some duplications. And, as ever at that time in my life, most of these books were read for review in the pages of Black Static.

A couple of the author identifications are problematic. I almost certainly received an e-copy of The Lives of the Savages by Robert Edric from PS Publishing, but I have no recollection of the book and can’t find any note about the book in my files. Similarly, I definitely had a copy of Birdman by Mo Hayder, a present from a friend, but don’t recall ever reading it and can’t find anything else in my files. If anyone knows of books with those titles but by different authors, please shout out in the comments below.

On this day in 2011 I was chilling out with Taxidermied: The Art of Roman Dirge, and on the occasion of my 57th birthday I read The Bear With Sticky Paws (please, don’t ask). 2011 was the year when I first read a book by Ralph Robert Moore, the first of many. My favourite book of the year was The Third Section by Jasper Kent, and I definitely need to catch up with the rest of his Danilov Quintet.

Here’s the list:-

What They Hear in the Dark – Gary McMahon

Girl in the Woods – Jennifer McMahon

The End of the Line – Edited by Jonathan Oliver

Haunted Legends – Edited by Ellen Datlow & Nick Mamatas

Burying Brian- Steven Pirie

Christmas With The Dead – Joe R. Lansdale

The Broken Man – Michael Byers

Old Order – Jonathan Janz

Sparrowhawk – Paul Finch

The Place Between – Terry Grimwood

Transparent Lovers – Scott Nicholson

Frankenstein’s Prescription – Tim Lees

What They Hear in the Dark – Gary McMahon

Pain – Harry Shannon

Homeschooling – Carol Guess

The Lives of the Savages – Robert Edric

Unpleasant Tales – Brendan Connell

Blind Swimmer – Edited by David Rix

Sylvow – Douglas Thompson

Field – Tom Fletcher

Lexicon – Christopher Burns

The Painter, The Creature, and The Father of Lies – Edited by Phil & Sarah Stokes

Weirdtongue – D. F. Lewis

The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales – Mark Samuels

The Life of Polycrates and Other Stories for Antiquated Children – Brendan Connell

Blonde on a Stick – Conrad Williams

The Render of the Veils – Ramsey Campbell

Dark Minds – Edited by Ross Warren & Anthony Watson

I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like – Justin Isis

The Leaping – Tom Fletcher

The Thing On The Shore – Tom Fletcher

Loss of Separation – Conrad Williams

Dracula’s Guest: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories – Edited by Michael Sims

The Abolisher of Roses – Gary Fry

Terra Damnata – James Cooper

Carmilla – J Sheridan LeFanu

Dracula – Bram Stoker

The Mammoth Book of Dracula – Edited by Stephen Jones

Anno Dracula – Kim Newman

Dracula In Love – Karen Essex

The Dracula Papers – Book I: The Scholar’s Tale – Reggie Oliver

Engines of Desire – Livia Llewllyn

The Abolisher of Roses – Gary Fry

Terra Damnata – James Cooper

Dead Sea Fruit – Kaaron Warren

Homeschooling – Carol Guess

I Smell Blood – Ralph Robert Moore

Our Lady of the Shadows – Fritz Leiber

Cursed – David Wellington

13 Bullets: A Vampire’s Tale – David Wellington

Bloody War – Terry Grimwood

Weirdtongue – D. F. Lewis

Charnel Wine – Richard Gavin

Mistification – Kaaron Warren

Ill At Ease – Mark West/Neil Williams/Stephen Bacon

Old Albert: An epilogue – Brian J. Showers

Midnight’s Angels – Tony Richards

Beneath the Surface – Simon Strantzas

Nemonymous Night – D. F. Lewis

Delicate Toxins – Edited by John Hirschhorn-Smith

The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies – Edited by D. F. Lewis

Revenants – Daniel Mills

A Lust for Lead – Robert Davis

Darkhouse – Alex Barclay

Voodoo River – Robert Crais

The German – Lee Thomas

Twisted – Jonathan Kellerman

Viking Dead – Toby Venables

Blinded – Stephen White

Birdman – Mo Hayder

Acceptable Loss – Anne Perry

No Second Chance – Harlan Coben

The Third Section – Jasper Kent

Roman Hell – Mark Mellon

King Death – Paul Finch

Do Not Pass Go – Joel Lane

The Company Man – Robert Jackson Bennett

Taxidermied: The Art of Roman Dirge – Roman Dirge

Bricks – Leon Jenner

Friday Night in the Beast House – Richard Laymon

Nowhere Hall – Cate Gardner

The Zombie Autopsies – Steve C. Schlozman

The Joy of Technology – Roy Grey

Isis Unbound – Allyson Bird

The Devil in Love – Jacques Cazotte

The Dedalus Meyrink Reader

O My Days – David Mathew

Regicide – Nicholas Royle

The Redemption – William Peter Blatty

Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives – Edited by Justin Gustainis

Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares – John Landis

The Burning Soul – John Connolly

The Shadow of the Soul – Sarah Pinborough

A Christmas Odyssey – Anne Perry

A Dark Matter – Peter Straub

The Silent Land – Graham Joyce

The Concrete Grove – Gary McMahon

The Unseen – Alexandra Sokoloff

The Ritual – Adam Nevill

Full Dark, No Stars – Stephen King

Quiet Houses – Simon Kurt Unsworth

Remains – G. A. Pickin

Sullom Hill – Chris Kenworthy

Dead Bad Things – Gary McMahon

Do Not Pass Go – Joel Lane

Ill At Ease – Mark West/Neil Williams/Stephen Bacon

Old Albert: An Epilogue – Brian J. Showers

The Bear With Sticky Paws – Clara Vulliamy

Taxidermied: The Art of Roman Dirge – Roman Dirge

A Cold Season – Alison Littlewood

Nowhere Hall – Cate Gardner

The Theatre of Curious Acts – Cate Gardner

Ashes – Isla J. Bick

The Best Horror of the Year Volume Three – Edited by Ellen Datlow

Barbed Wire Hearts – Cate Gardner

Fearful Festivities – Gary Fry

Eat Your Heart Out – Dayna Ingram

Cull – Michael G. Preston

The Silver Wind – Nina Allan

Evolve Two: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead – Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick

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OR: The Kult

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #14:-

Like the Carver (see Tuesday’s post), The Kult (Leucrota Press paperback, 328pp, $9.95) by Shaun Jeffrey is set in the UK and delivers an interesting variation on the serial killer theme. Prosper Snow is a police officer in charge of the high profile hunt for serial killer The Oracle, who abducts people and kills them, transforming their dead bodies into grotesque artwork, and then sending the police pictures of his victims on display, their corpses surrounded by photos of other killers. Snow is also a member of The Kult, five former school friends who now and then would join forces to hand out punishment beatings to people who had offended them. But now fellow member Jerel wants to kill somebody, a man who raped his wife, a career criminal, and he hopes with the help of the others, especially Prosper, to pin the killing on The Oracle. Against his better judgement Prosper is coerced into going along with the plan and providing the others with vital information. Only as soon as the execution has taken place, they receive proof that the Oracle is on to their game and not at all happy about being accused of a crime he did not commit. Jerel is murdered and the others find themselves set firmly in the killer’s sights.

There are some good ideas here, particularly in the twists it delivers on familiar concepts. The serial killer as artist is not a new thing, but I can seldom recall one as memorable as The Oracle, with his work described in repellent detail, while the reasoning behind the placing of the photographs was gratifyingly ingenious. Similarly the chances are that anybody who has watched more than a dozen horror films will have stumbled across the scenario in which a group of friends cover up an accidental death and then find themselves stalked by a maniac (e.g. I Know What You Did Last Summer). Jeffrey scores originality points for having The Kult plan their crime and carry it out, rather than being innocents who just neglected to do the right thing in a moment of weakness.

This plot twist is also one of the book’s major weaknesses though. The plan to implicate The Oracle seems flawed from the start and a little too complicated to work, so I’m surprised that Prosper bought into it, while his later attempts to derail the enquiry and throw his police colleagues off the scent came over as horribly naff. I’m not even sure that he would be allowed to stay in charge of the investigation once a personal link became known. I guessed what was going on long before Prosper did and as for the story’s big reveal, there’s a moment that is lifted direct from the first Saw film and gives the game away to anyone familiar with it. Another point against the book is the presence of more typos than can easily be ignored, some of which undermine the reading experience with unintentional humour (e.g. ‘summersault’ for ‘somersault’ and ‘on suite’ for ‘en suite’).

Regardless of such shortcomings, this is a decent outing, one that entertains without exactly setting the serial killer sub-genre on fire. The ideas at back of The Kult are good ones, and Jeffrey shows himself to be adept at misdirection. There are some very tense moments, particularly in the final scenes, with Prosper and his friends hunted by The Oracle and desperately fighting for their lives, a cinematic feel to the proceedings that suggest this would work very well as a film. The characters, if not particularly deep as regards their psychology, are sufficiently well sketched to be credible, with their motives and backgrounds filled in piecemeal. Prosper especially is an interesting case study, a man torn between duty and friendship, someone who wants to do the right thing but doesn’t know what that is, and the more he tries to find out the worse his situation becomes. Typos aside, Jeffrey comes over as a straightforward writer, somebody who is never going to rate as a great prose stylist but has a workmanlike ability to get the job done, to tell his story and tell it well, holding the reader’s attention. I’d rate The Kult the best so far of this clutch of serial killer novels.

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