This one was posted to the old TTA Press website on 14 June 2007:-
TWISTED SOULS by SHAUN HUTSON
Time Warner hardback, 321pp, £17.99
This is pretty much your bog standard Horror story, the kind of thing that everybody was writing during the glut of yesteryear, but which nowadays survives mainly as straight to DVD bargain bucket fodder.
Oh, and as Shaun Hutson novels.
The plot is the old familiar standby of outsiders visiting an isolated community where the locals are nursing a terrible secret, to which they fall prey. The venue is the country village of Roxton, once a prosperous mining community but fallen on hard times since a devastating explosion at the pit. The outsiders are Emma and Nick Tate, Jo and Pete Morton, two couples who rent a house for a short stay, in search of fresh air and stress free living, but unfortunately they bring with them all of the things they are trying to escape – Emma’s horror at the death of her parents in a car crash, Jo’s resentment at Pete’s philandering, and so on. It soon becomes obvious that not all is well in Roxton, despite the, some might say overly, friendly locals, with the four haunted by terrible nightmares that prey on all of their insecurities and secret fears, at which point fast forward to the grim revelation and their responses.
There’s not much that can be usefully said about all this. Nobody is ever going to accuse Hutson of subtlety, and Twisted Souls is par for the course. Roxton is the literary equivalent of stage scenery, all front but with nothing round the back, no depth, no atmosphere or sense of place. It fails completely to come alive on the page, fading from memory about five minutes after you close the book, while Hutson’s attempts to inject a Jamesian note, with Emma et al finding telltale Latin inscriptions on the recently installed stained glass windows at the church are almost risible (why, if they’re so anxious to keep their big, nasty secret do the locals post a huge clue as to what is going on in a public place?).
Against that, Hutson does a decent job of making the characters and their personal demons real, albeit don’t expect any insights into human psychology from him. The demon behind Roxton’s ills, though underdeveloped, has a certain novelty value, and there are some suitably squirm inducing moments to maintain Hutson’s reputation for schlock, while the use of short chapters and muscular prose ensure a fast paced and undemanding read (‘page turner’ in the colloquial).
Those who hate Hutson will have their opinion confirmed by Twisted Souls and those who love him will find more of what gets them hot. My own opinion is that, while far from being a writer who appeals for aesthetic or intellectual reasons, Hutson’s not as bad as he’s so often painted by those who seem to take his success as a personal insult. He’s the literary equivalent of fast food, and we all have our Big Mac moments, which is certainly not meant to be read as an unqualified endorsement. There are plenty of better things on which to spend money and precious reading time. All the same if you fancy a few hours of effortless entertainment in a Horror mode, a book ideal for a long train journey and which won’t be cause for inner torment if you accidentally leave it behind, then give Twisted Souls a whirl, and afterwards salve your conscience at such guilty pleasure by dumping the book in a charity shop.