Category Archives: Horror

The Ghost Line by Andrew Neil Gray and J.S. Herbison

Tor | 2017 (11 July) | c.100p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Ghost Line by Andrew Neil Gray and JS HerbisonSaga is an explorer of abandoned starships and asteroids, regaling her fans with video of her discoveries. Conveniently, Saga is marriage to Michel, a renowned hacker, just the sort of person who can get Saga inside these ships. But the couple are finally ready to take a break and at last have the children that they long for. And then Wei shows up. Wei offers Saga and Michel (and their pilot, Gregor) a huge amount of money to do one last job. The Martian Queen is a luxurious spacefairing cruise liner that used to carry tourists between Mars and Earth. Twenty years ago she was mothballed but she continues to cruise between the two planets, bookmarking a lucrative tourist route and so, according to the law of space, preventing anyone else from taking it over.

It isn’t clear exactly what Wei wants with the ship but she has some strict rules for her team and the chief one is never, ever to remove their protective suits while on board The Martian Queen. But when Saga, Michel and Gregor roam the beautiful corridors and cabins of this enormous and eerily empty ship, it all feels completely harmless and the air is breathable. What harm can it do to take their helmets off? And yet there are moments when Saga could swear that somebody or something is watching her…

I love spooky tales of ghost ships, whether they’re floating on the seas or soaring through space, and so I was instantly drawn to The Ghost Line. It’s a novella, of about 100 pages, and so it’s a quick read but I soon found it to be immersive and pleasingly creepy. Links are made to the Titanic and in fact The Martian Queen seems modelled on that doomed vessel – only missing the funnels and an anchor. The ship has an elegance to it and an evocative nostalgia. It reminds me just as much of the empty grand hotel in The Shining. You just know that somewhere horror is waiting.

Saga and Michel are great characters, particularly Saga from whose perspective we see much of what happens. The short length of the story did leave me wanting. I would have liked many more pages filling out the characters of Saga, Michel and Wei. They’re such interesting and intriguing people – they deserve a full length novel. That way I might have understood a little more the reasons for the ways in which Saga acts. On one level, I can see why she acts as she does but I’d have liked more about what it meant to her and to her relationship with Michel. I definitely wanted to know more about Wei – there’s a story there very ready for telling.

The mood and the atmosphere is excellent and the setting of The Martian Queen is wonderful. For a short novel, the authors do a fine job of evoking its bygone splendour as well as the chilling isolation and loneliness of space. It’s not a bad thing to be left wanting more and The Ghost Line certainly achieved that. I read it as a late night read – the best time for spooky tales – and it was perfect for that.


Unleashed by Peter Laws

Allison & Busby | 2017 (20 July) | 350p | Review copy | Buy the book

Unleashed by Peter LawsFifteen years ago young Holly Wasson hung herself in her bedroom in 29 Barley Street, Menham in South London, amidst rumours and reports of poltergeist activity in the house. Holly’s older sister Rachel barely recovered from the trauma, leaving her home and mother behind as she made a new life for herself elsewhere. But now she has returned, called back by her childhood friend Jo Finch, and in the worst of circumstances. Their friend Steph Ellis has been killed, horrifically and publicly. The signs are ominous and frightening – has the poltergeist returned to Menham to finish what it began all those years ago? Psychic couple Bob and Joyce Hodges seem to think it has and they’re intent on gathering the original group of friends together to see it off once and for all.

The police are not quite sure what to make of it and so they call in Matt Hunter, a former minister and now a professor of sociology. Matt has had some success in the past with this sort of thing and he is determined to get to the truth of it all and put the idea of a poltergeist to rest. But what if it’s real?

Earlier this year Peter Laws introduced us to Matt Hunter in the sensational novel Purged and how brilliant it is to have the follow-up novel, Unleashed, so soon. Matt has done well from the success of his earlier case but otherwise the two novels aren’t connected and so you can read one without the other. I’d suggest you do, though, for the background information Purged provides about Matt and his family. Unleashed builds on the mood of Purged and takes us even deeper into the darkness of poltergeists, restless spirits, paranormal beliefs and, above all else, fear.

Unleashed presents a deliciously creepy portrait of fear and it grips completely from start to finish. The intensity is increased by the narrative which moves between Matt and other characters, especially Rachel, the young woman drawn back to the house that terrified her years before and killed her sister. 29 Barley Road is a chillingly modern interpretation of the Haunted House and it’s just as scary when viewed from the outside. What did people see on the rooftops? And what is wrong with the pets? But this novel isn’t a conventional horror story – it’s a clever thriller and the terror doesn’t always lie where expected. Although, having said that, there is a fantastic seance scene in Unleashed that scared the heebie jeebies out of me! I love to be scared by a book and this did a great job of it.

I love the character of Matt Hunter and I hope we enjoy many more books with Matt and his family. But in Unleashed Matt has to share the limelight with some great personalities, notably the Hodges and Rachel. Knowing who to trust here is as much a problem as pinning down a poltergeist and it makes for a great thriller with just the right amount of creepy chills.

Other review

The White Road by Sarah Lotz

Hodder & Stoughton | 2017 (4 May) | 304p | Review copy | Buy the book

The White Road by Sarah LotzPeople love to be shocked and Simon Newman loves to shock them. He does it through the website he runs with his friend Thierry – ‘Journey to the Dark Side’. And while it’s Thierry who puts up the money, it’s Simon who makes the journeys. The latest trip is dark indeed. It takes him into the depths of the Cwm Pot caves in Wales where years before a number of cavers had died. Their bodies were never retrieved. Perfectly ghoulish material for the website if Simon can get down to them and film them. But it isn’t easy. Following a nasty climbing accident, Simon needs to get his nerve back and he’s not sure that this is the way to do it, especially when he meets the guide who will take him into the underworld. Ed reminds Simon of Quint, the demonic shark catcher of Jaws. It doesn’t bode well. But what happens is far worse that even Simon could have imagined.

It’s all a huge success on the website, of course, so Thierry is keen to send Simon off on the trail of new corpses – this time scattered on the highest slopes of Mount Everest. This will be the ultimate challenge. But Simon did not come out the caves the same man who went in. Terror is now his constant companion.

A new book by Sarah Lotz is always a grand occasion to celebrate. I love her sense of horror. It takes us out of the life we know but not completely. There’s enough of the real about this horror to scare me very much indeed, while it also carries me to places where anything can and will happen – whether it’s on a crashed plane or a stranded cruise ship. Now it’s a mountain, Everest, that is already deadly in itself, just for being there, the goal that climbers aspire to quite literally. But there are horrors on that mountain, and truths that cannot be escaped. I’m getting shivers just thinking about it.

Ghostly tales of terror on mountains are among my favourites and I can think of a few that I’ve read over the last year or two (thinking of Ararat most recently, as well as Michelle Paver’s Thin Air and Dan Simmons’ The Abominable). The White Road fits well into this tradition and has confirmed my determination never to set foot on a mountain again. It’s a miracle I’ve been in a plane since reading Sarah Lotz’s The Three and I’ve certainly not gone near a boat since Day Four. I just hope she doesn’t turn her attention next to sun-soaked palm-treed white sandy beaches.

The White Road‘s opening section in the caves is absolutely superb and one of the most claustrophobic and utterly terrifying tales that I’ve ever read. Told by Simon in his own words, the foreboding oppresses from the very first line. We know something dreadful is going to happen and we know it will never leave Simon. The character of Ed the guide is extraordinary – fully repulsive and yet strangely vulnerable. Sarah Lotz must be congratulated for this portrait. I’ve not read anyone like Ed before. This section is so powerful and memorable. The mountain sections have a lot to do to follow these cave scenes and, while they almost equal it, they don’t quite.

I love the descriptions of Everest’s devastating cold and lack of air. It’s clearly out to kill those who have the audacity to ascend it and survival isn’t assumed by any of the people in the novel. They each have their own stories and they have an impact on Simon, whose voice continues to describe what happens. He changes, and not just through fear. Everest can take people to the edge of death but the horror can push them over it. Whether the terror comes from within or without is up to the reader to judge but it is most certainly oppressive and very frightening.

Although Simon isn’t the most likeable of people – as I’m sure he’d admit – he is worth getting to know and our feelings towards him do change as he changes. He surprises us at times, just as the story surprises. It takes us in all kinds of directions, lulling us into a false sense of security, shocking us once again, moving to and from the mountain, reminding us of the cave. This is a very well-structured story and Simon’s narration, always catchy, is very compelling indeed. At just over 300 pages, this is a short novel and I’d suggest you read it in one go – at night, in the dark.

The mind boggles as I think what Sarah Lotz will do to us next, where she will take us. I’ll be there every step of the way, maybe with my hands in front of my eyes and never making the mistake of looking down.

Other reviews
The Three
Day Four

The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey

Orbit | 2017 (4 May) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Boy on the Bridge by MR CareyBritain is no more. The Breakdown destroyed it. The land now belongs to the Hungries – altered, infected and no longer human, these lost souls live only to feed. A few enclaves of uninfected humans survive, but not many and they’re under constant threat. Only two outcomes are possible. Either the Hungries will devour the last of the uninfected or an antidote will be found. The first is far more likely than the second. But hope persists.

The Rosalind Frankie, or Rosie, is an armoured vehicle that has embarked on an epic, perilous journey from the south of England to the Highlands. Aboard is a group of soldiers and scientists, existing side by side in the most limited of space. Their mission is to recover biological samples placed across the country. Whether they will live to return with them is another matter entirely. But their responsibility is immense. Time has run out. They know they have to succeed. Six soldiers and six scientists live and work aboard Rosie and each has their own personal tale of survival and hope. Each has something to live for and they all have everything to fear. The pressure on them is so immense that it’s only a matter of time before the cracks appear and then each must look deep within themselves for the strength to cope.

Among the scientists is Stephen Greaves, an autistic boy, and Dr Samrina Kahn, who has more reason than most to fear for her future. These two find themselves drawn together while everyone else wonders what on earth Stephen is doing there. But Stephen is very special indeed. When he looks outside he can recognise something else that hides out there among the Hungries and he can look it in the eyes.

The Boy on the Bridge is the follow up novel to the enormously successful (and now filmed) The Girl With All of the Gifts. It’s been a while coming but it is most certainly worth the wait. It isn’t a straightforward sequel. It doesn’t pick up on Melanie’s story but in her place is another fine set of characters to enjoy as they develop through the pages, continuing the tension between the military and scientists, and also within these groups. There is good and bad in both. So you could read The Boy on the Bridge without having read The Girl with All the Gifts first without any trouble at all, but I do think you’d be missing out on the development of this shattered world, as well as the emotional power of a couple of key scenes.

The writing is as brilliant as ever, loaded with personality and opinion, sharp and incisive. There is horror, so much of it, and you can’t look away from it, it’s so gripping and thrilling, but there are moments of peace and calm as well. Rosie really feels like a refuge despite its claustrophobic spaces. Outside, by contrast, is such a scary place. You wouldn’t want to go outside. But Stephen does.

I’m no fan of zombies, whether in novels or movies, but there’s something about the Hungries that fascinates me, especially those that we meet in The Boy on the Bridge. We’re asked to re-examine what they are and, although this means confronting deep fears, it is so compelling, as well as tragic, sad and gory. There are moments in this novel when I shed a tear, that’s how much I cared for these characters (especially Kahn) and for how well this story (and world) has been developed through both novels.

M.R. Carey is a great storyteller with a fantastic imagination, bringing apocalypse and hope together in the best of ways. I loved this portrait of a devastated Britain, with the mix of the familiar and the irrevocably altered. The descriptions are wonderful. At its heart, though, are its people, non-Hungry or otherwise, and they power this unusual horror novel on. Will there be more? I really hope so.

Other reviews
The Girl With All of the Gifts

Skitter by Ezekiel Boone

Gollancz (Atria in the US) | 2007 (UK: 27 April; US: 2 May) | 329p | Review copy| Buy the book: UK; US

Skitter by Ezekiel BooneSkitter is the follow up novel to The Hatching so please make no attempt to read Skitter until you’ve read The Hatching first! This review assumes you’ve done just that and you are ready to have your skin creep and crawl in the most deliciously terrifying way once more. As one of the characters puts it, welcome back to the Spiderpocalypse!

The first wave of spider attacks has ended in the withdrawal and deaths of billions of spiders. Unfortunately, they took with them the lives of many millions of people from around the globe. China is a nuclear wasteland and many of the world’s greatest cities lie in ruins. But any hopes that the desperate might have that the attack is over, that the world can rebuild and repopulate, are soon dashed. Scientist Melanie Gruyer’s continued work at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland has revealed a terrible fact. The first wave of spiders was simply paving the way for the second – feeding it, preparing the ground. And this second wave could take mankind to the very brink of extinction. The US President Stephanie Pilgrim is prepared to do the unthinkable to safeguard the nation’s future. But is it too late? Around the world, something unbelievably terrible is beginning to stir.

To say that I adored The Hatching is a ridiculous understatement. I love apocalyptic thrillers and I especially enjoy these novels when they focus on weather disasters (have you read The Tsunami Countdown by Boyd Morrison yet? Why not?) or beasts, particularly the creepy crawly kind (such as Invasive by Chuck Wendig). If ever there was an animal that lends itself brilliantly to wholescale mass panic and annihilation, it’s the spider. Personally, I don’t mind spiders at all. But as for these spiders…. these spiders scare me to death.

Skitter continues the fabulous formula of The Hatching. The novel’s focus is on the US, and most (but not all) of the principal characters are based there, but it also includes many stories from across the planet, including France, Germany, India and, especially, Scotland. We move between a cast of many characters, some of whom we meet just once (for obvious reasons) but there are others that we return to time after time as they either fight to survive or to overcome. We met a fair few of these in The Hatching and it is a joy to return to them, not to mention a relief that some have survived this far. I don’t want to mention who, just in case you’re reading this with the intention of going back to The Hatching.

Skitter might be the middle novel of a trilogy but it is a fantastic disaster thriller in its own right. The novel copes with the aftermath of The Hatching while preparing us for the showdown of the finale, setting it up absolutely perfectly. But Skitter oozes tension, horror, panic, dread, disgusting deaths, hideous spiders, shocking pain and stunned outrage – not only aimed at the spiders but also at the lengths governments will go to for the longterm survival of the human race. All well and good in theory but a lot less noble when you’re running for your life.

We’re thrown into the action from the outset and it never lets up until the very last page when we’re left longing for the concluding novel. Skitter is such a fast read and it is so well written, each page contributing to the overall story. It’s not the sort of thriller you want to put down unread and its pace is pushed along even faster by its brilliant structure that moves us from one state of tension to another and then back again, time after time.

Prepare to get the shivers, prepare to never look at a spider in quite the same way again. Remember what Jaws did for sharks – this time the sharks are tiny, have legs and there are billions of them. Fantastic!

Other review
The Hatching

Ararat by Christopher Golden

Headline | 2017 (18 April) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

Ararat by Christopher GoldenAdam and Meryam live for adventure. A modern couple, newly engaged, they have become well known for the videos they record on their perilous expeditions across the globe. But everything they have done before now is about to fade into insignificance once they take a call from an old friend and trekking guide in Turkey. An earthquake and avalanche has hit Mount Ararat and a huge cavern has been exposed high in the mountain’s side. They aren’t the only explorers who want to know what’s in that cave and the race is on to claim it first. Meryam and Adam win.

The cave is all that anyone could hope for – it is the Ark, trapped in the mountain, astonishingly well-preserved and now exposed for the first time in countless ages. Meryam is project manager but the team that now investigates it is large, including archaeologists, linguists, pathologists and doctors, as well as others whose job it is to watch. There are mysteries hidden in the wreck and governments are interested, particularly here so close to Iraq. And that’s even before the religious connotations of the Ark are considered. Can any one religion lay claim to the Ark?

But all of this goes by the by once Meryam and her team descend further into the body of the vessel and find a mummified corpse encased in an inscribed sarcophagus, covered in pitch. On its head are the remains of horns while its limbs are distorted. It is abundantly clear that this hideous corpse is most definitely not Noah.

Christopher Golden is such a fine writer of horror (and other things) – I loved his earlier novels Snowblind and Dead Ringers, both of which chilled me to the bone (I’ll never forget the ending of Dead Ringers – that book gave me nightmares!). I’m delighted to say that Golden has done it again. Taking us far away from the comforts of modern life into the Godforsaken cold of the remote and lethal wintry mountain, we can expect anything to happen. And it does, almost immediately. How I love horror novels set on cold, isolated mountains and frozen wastelands.

The team find it hard enough to get along as it is, even without the horror that is thrown at them, and the tension is immense. Some characters we get to know better than others (for some rather obvious reasons), but the ones that we do get to know are developed very well, with hints of their past lives beyond the mountain. There are several little groups of people within the larger team and it’s intriguing moving between them. Not that it pays to get close to anyone in Ararat. The rate of attrition is high to put it very mildly indeed.

Ararat is a frightening novel (hooray!) and it is also a very gory and violent one. There are bits you might want to read with your eyes closed. Obviously you have to suspend your powers of disbelief and there is something rather inevitable about much of what happens but Ararat delivers exactly what I wanted from it. It’s a very well-written, satisfying, frightening, chilly and gory horror extravaganza and, if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get. More, please!

Other reviews
Dead Ringers

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

Raven Books | 2017 (12 January) | 304p | Review copy | Buy the book

The River at Night by Erica FerencikWin Allen is struggling. After the death of her brother and an unhappy divorce, she wants to keep the world firmly locked outside. She sees danger everywhere and her fear and sadness are almost crippling. But when her old friend Pia proposes a white-water rafting adventure in the Maine wilderness, Win is torn. An adventure, particularly THIS type of adventure, is the last thing she wants but this is a chance to re-bond with Pia and their two dear friends, Rachel and Sandra. Time has flown since they last met up and so much has happened to each of them in the interim. Win can’t help but think that if she doesn’t go she’ll regret it for the rest of her life. She’s wrong about that.

And so begins an adventure of a lifetime for Win, Pia, Rachel and Sandra. A time to chat around campfires and put their worlds to rights, to try something new, maybe flirt a little with their young handsome guide Rory, all within this most stunning Maine scenery. None of them could have imagined it would be so beautifully remote, so far away from the cares of daily life. So far from help.

The River at Night is one of those novels that hooks its claws into you almost immediately. It’s not a long novel, at about 300 pages, and so I would recommend that you try to read it in as few a sittings as possible. I read it in two over twenty-four hours and this really intensified its mood and atmosphere, immersing me not only in the wonderful descriptions of the wilderness and the river but also in the horror and terror of it all. The two complement each other perfectly, with Erica Ferencik doing such a fine job of creating the perfect setting for danger and menace and then fulfilling that promise completely.

The novel brings together a range of styles – travel, adventure, buddies, crime, thriller and horror – and it’s a recipe that works very well. Win narrates the story and seeing its developments through her eyes adds so much to the mood. She is an intriguing character – flawed, timid, scared, suspicious – and that’s even before they set foot on the boat. But Win is capable of surprising herself and us. We also learn about the other characters through Win and it’s like peeling an onion of its layers of skin. Sandra, in particular, is fascinating. There are surprises through the book and some take the breath away, they are so unexpected.

It’s clear from the outset that something is going to go badly wrong and the tension builds page by page. I did not want to put it down. As much horror as thriller, this tense, fast and very well-written novel has put me off camping and rivers for a long, long time!

I’m delighted to post this review as part of the blog tour to celebrate the publication of The River at Night on 12 January.

River at Night blog tour poster