Friday, 15 December 2017

The way horror should be written

What a great pleasure to read this re published story some 30 years after the initial print run . In some ways I had become weary with the horror genre and was hoping that something fresh could grab my attention and rekindle my enthusiasm. The Happy Man is a classic edgy horror story that follows the fortunes of one suburban San Diego resident Charles Ripley. His everyday life is about to change when newcomer Ruskin Marsh and alluring wife Sybil move into the recently sold property next door. Charles is drawn unexpectedly to the charismatic lawyer Marsh a happy gregarious character not only an expert on art but also insatiable in his pursuit of young delectable females. The writings of the Marquis de Sade feature predominately in the world of Marsh and Charles offers himself as an eager scholar keen to understand and indeed partake in violent sexual acts depicted by De Sade.

What I particularly loved about this story was the build-up from a seemingly sedate middle class development to a world with no barriers where murder and sexual deviation are accepted as the norm. Was Charles Ripley prepared to sacrifice his home, job and wife in pursuit of excitement to feed his ever increasing need for gratification under the auspices of Ruskin Marsh? This is a great example of how horror can be used to structure the every ordinary day into a place of evil and pleasure with no responsibility nor limit. Many thanks to the good people at Valancourt Books for providing me with a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review. This small independent company specialize in rare neglected and out of print fiction promoting authors and works that might otherwise remain unknown. Recommended.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Irresistible nonsense

I really wanted to dislike this book but found myself racing through the text and you know what I enjoyed! The plot is absurd and reads as follows; It has been discovered that within each one of us there a "match" gene. The secret of a successful relationship is to find your future partner who will have exactly the same "match" gene, and once you find each other future happiness is assured. To do this all that is required is a simple DNA swab  which will be entered into an online database and then wait patiently for a confirmation email that you future partner has been found...hurrah! The entrepreneurial founder Ellie (also chasing a life partner) is fast becoming a very rich lady. It is not difficult to berate this premise, for in order for this "imatch" to be successful every human being on the planet must donate their DNA working on the assumption that there is only "one" life partner.

We follow the story through four main characters; Ellie, Jade, Mandy and Nick nicely presented in alternate and clear chapters. The reader never loses interest as the separate adventures for all four is quite different but as will be discovered not everyone's intentions are honourable. Now if you add to this mix a deranged serial killer then we have all the ingredients for an additive read or a tale of nonsense depending on your viewpoint. John Marrs is the kind of author I like to delve into periodically when I simply want some entertainment. He doesn't take himself too seriously, presenting a fun read with little concentration needed. I'm not saying I am about to dash out and acquire his latest book but just like a cup of hot chocolate, nice to drink occasionally.

Friday, 8 December 2017


Having enjoyed immensely The Loney with the quiet and isolated Lancastrian coast, I was hoping to be equally enthralled by Devil's Day where John Pentecost returns to the place of his childhood, the rural farming community of the Briardale Valley known as the Endlands. On this trip he is accompanied by his wife Katherine who is heavily pregnant with their first child. The reason for the journey is to attend his grandfather's funeral affectionately known to everyone as Gaffer.

Whereas The Loney had a great story to tell with a very unsettling conclusion, I found Devil's Day a rather laborious exercise and almost give up at the half way point. It is really a story of rituals, local folklore and introverted hillside sheep farmers. Legend has it that once a year the Devil returns to the valley in an attempt to unsettle the community and cause mischief amongst the sheep. By telling tales, regurgitating stories from the past, and redrawing the boundary lines it is hoped that the Devil can be kept isolated and the people of Endlands kept safe for another year. Endlands is that rare thing a place separate from the intrusion of the modern age entrenched in tradition and a population willing to fight for independence to maintain their link with the past. John Pentecost is drawn to the beauty and harshness, his wife Kat feels very uneasy as she is seen as an outsider and viewed with suspicion; tolerated more than accepted. There is however one acceptation, Grace Dyer, a young and rather consused teenager who with her odd power of prediction forms a very disquieting attraction towards a pregnant Kat.

The story is somewhat confusing and at times hard to follow as we view Endlands both in the present and the past. The narration is through the eyes of John Pentecost and we meet him in the present, in the company of his son Adam, trying to instil him the ways of his ancestors then, without warning we are immediately in the past again with a pregnant and suspicious Kat. Whereas The Loney used the landscape to great affect creating a wonderful modern horror story Devil's Day has some good ideas and moments played out through the characters of John, Kat, Adam, Grace and Dadda but essentially little seems to happen and ultimately leading to a somewhat predictable conclusion. Many thanks to netgalley and the publisher John Murray for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Simply sublime

In the winter of 76 and 77 in the area of Oakland in the county of Michigan four children aged between the ages of 10 and 12 were abducted, held for days before finally being brutally murdered their bodies being left either naked or partially clothed in the frozen landscape. The babysitter killer, as he came to be known, was never apprehended and The Dark Gray Blanket is a fictional novel about this event.

Frank Pellegrini, an experienced detective, works with the Child Victims Investigative Unit of the Detroit Police Department. He is tolerated by his boss Captain McDougal who knows that Frank has the best wishes of the greater community at heart even though at times his methods are somewhat unorthodox. He lives a lonely bachelor life having been greatly affected by events in his childhood disclosed later in the novel. His days are days of routine usually complemented with a visit to his favourite watering hole "O'Malleys"..."Frank's evening up until now had been predictable the medicinal shots of Wild Turkey 101 at O'Malleys, his favourite meal, two hours of mulling over his cases at his desk while dressed only in his underwear, and the final dose of Wild Turkey launching him into a deep, worry-free sleep." When the naked body of a child is found partly buried in snow Frank, together with his new partner Jimmy Wilson, is tasked with the job of bringing the killer to justice. As the body count rises, and the word serial killer is uttered, the good citizens of a frightened community are demanding answers exerting justifiable pressure on an overworked Detroit Police Dept.

The writing of The Dark Gray Blanket is sublime narrated in unhurried deeply descriptive prose. We learn a little of the history of the area made famous by the automobile industry in particular Henry Ford and also two renowned musicians; Vincent Damon Furnier and Robert Clark Seger better known as Alice Cooper and Bob Seger. The cold frosty snowbound Michigan winters of 76 and 77 add a frosty and chilly feeling to the developing nightmare...."The dark black night sky was being punctuated with the soft, fluffy, white falling snow, and the huge boughs, stretching in every direction from the gigantic Douglas firs, were gently swaying under their white burden and the gently blowing wind."....

Pellegrini's personal mission to solve a difficult case, his dogged unflinching determination and the relationship with his new young partner Jimmy Wilson create a spell bounding work of genius and a story that I found once started was very difficult to leave until completed. Throughout is a lingering uneasiness and a sense of morbid anticipation as we wait for the killer to strike again..."He still could not believe his eyes. In all his years, he had never viewed a scene quite like this-the solemn, cold, naked isolation of the frailest among us, having endured the most unimaginable horrors form something so evil."....

I always wonder when reading a detective novel if the author will have the ability to create a unique conclusion something that will be totally unexpected. The final chapters produced a sequence of events that thrilled me in their audacity and inventiveness, naturally I cannot disclose them to you (dear reader of my review!) for to do so would spoil your enjoyment of a novel that I rate as totally unique, and possibly the best book I have read this year. Many thanks to the good people of netgalley and publisher Howard Schrack for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written. Highly, highly recommended.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Wily old fox

After so many years it is still great to read about that wonderful creation from Ian Rankin, that wily old fox who even in retirement can never let go; John Rebus. "Even Dogs in the Wild" is once again written to a very high standard and inevitably sees Rebus not so much confronting but consulting with his great adversary Big Ger Cafferty. As the years have passed they have developed perhaps not a fondness but a grudging respect for each other. The plot revolves around the murder of a well known MP and his association with "Acorn House" a care home for children. Given the amount of news coverage attributed to sexual abuse and in particular sexual abuse of minors it comes as no surprise the direction and shape this story takes. To me the bolder than life characters are more important than the theme and in this Rankin excels with shady underworld connections in the guise of Darryl Christie and Morris Cafferty and the robust old fashioned policing, nor forgetting the deadpan humour, of Detective Inspector John Rebus (retired) Rebus is everything you would expect a detective, whose routes lie in the past, to be. His methods are more suited to dogged hands on police work rather than as I am sure he would describe...fancy computers. He has no interest in the comforts of this world preferring to drive an old Saab, listen to bygone bands on his record player (The Steve Miller band and the amazing Rory Gallagher) and relaxing at the end of the day in his favourite watering hole The Oxford Bar with a pint of IPA close by.

Those readers acquainted with the style and wit of Ian Rankin will devour this story, just like stepping into a comfy pair of slippers. The only sadness is knowing that in the not too distant future John Rebus must surely finish leaving the reader to ponder if he will finally be stopped... his own decision? ill health?  or perhaps have his life ended suddenly by an old acquaintance or underworld operator!

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Tedious and uninspiring

Benedicta O'Keeffe  affectionately known as "Ben", works and lives in Glendara, Inishowen a peninsula in County Donegal. We quickly establish that she had a sister Faye murdered by an individual known as Luke Kirby. He has served a prison sentence for manslaughter and is now released. On a business trip to Dublin Ben encounters, on a chance meeting, Kirby and immediately feels intimidated and frightened. Back in Glendara the body of a local barmaid, Carole, is discovered by Ben and her boyfriend Molloy, a sergeant in the local Garda Siochana, on an early morning xmas walk. In a separate incident the local hostelry "The Oak" is destroyed in a fire and arson is suspected......
I do have a few problems with the telling of this story: The synopsis for the book on all the usual forums ie Amazon, goodreads etc states that Ben was chilled to the bone when she encountered Kirby in Dublin by something that he whispered as she walks away? what could this startling revelation be? Did he threaten to kill her? In fact all he said was..."Looking good, babe" Again the book abstract refers to all kinds of strange and sinister happenings in Glendara boldly declaring that someone is out for revenge with devastating consequences! Yes the pub is destroyed and a body is discovered and I was set for a wave of murder and serial killing in this quiet Irish backwater. However apart from these two brief incidents the majority of the book descends into Agatha Christie territory where all the residents are introduced and displayed as possible suspects. Remember Luke Kirby? if you thought this story was about him and some big revenge plot...forget it...he is not mentioned again until 70% of the story is told. As we analysed the lives and loves of the residents of Glendara I became totally confused as to who they were and what actually was happening? Of course Kirby was involved and as I trolled through endless encounters and descriptions, I became thoroughly dismayed and disillusioned with the direction the book was going (or indeed if it had a direction)....You will not be surprised as to the culprit but the secret (so the author would have me believe) is discovering his accomplish and their reasons. If you enjoy this type of lumbering storyline then The Well of Ice is perfect for you, to me the whole experience was akin to watching paint dry and apart from the beautiful west Donegal setting I found little of merit. I received a gratis copy from netgalley in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

Monday, 20 November 2017

The evil that men (and women) do

Absorbing and sickening in equal amounts this biography and evaluation of the life of notorious killer Rose West is essential reading for anyone interested into the thinking and deranged mind of serial killers. The early years of Fred and Rose is a harrowing tale of constant physical and sexual abuse in a world where there were few if any boundaries. What goes around comes around is the central theme and children will often imitate the teachings of parents whether that be good or bad. If the young are witness to and the object of incest, beatings, and even murder it is not surprising that they may choose to adopt this way of life as some code of practice. However no amount of bad upbringing can excuse the crimes committed by Fred West and Rose Letts. Crimes that spanned a period of some 25 years and never once did anyone suspect what this lovely chatty couple at 25 Cromwell Street were involved in behind closed doors. It was only after a flippant remark made by the younger West children when in care..."their father had joked that he'd put them under the patio like their big sister"...that social workers and finally the police in the guise of DC Hazel Savage demanded entry to Cromwell Street where the lives, deaths and torture of so many innocents was soon to be discovered under the patio.

This was never an easy read and yet once started I found it impossible not to finish so fascinated and shocked was I by the content, simply astounded by the evil that man or woman can perform and see as normal or accepted. The whole experience is best summed up in a quote from the early chapters...."I think the human race is pretty rotten. The more I see of it, the more rotten it becomes."...