Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: No One Gets Out Alive by Adam Nevill

Adam Nevill has fast become one of the big names of horror fiction. His first novel was published in 2004, and since his second novel in 2010 he has delivered one horror novel per year, with short stories appearing sporadically. Last year I reviewed House of Small Shadows (my favorite of his six novels) and then conducted an interview with Mr. Nevill this past august after the book was released in the US.

No One Gets Out Alive is his latest, and longest, novel. It wastes no time getting to the action, and the terrors of 82 Edgehill Road begin in the very first chapter. The book tells the story of Stephanie, a young woman who has been hit hard by the recession. Her mother died young, and she was raised by a father and a mentally ill stepmother, and after her father dies she tries to stay on with stepmother but the arrangement doesn't work. She has left her last boyfriend, and finds herself truly on her own. Jobs are scarce to the point of nonexistence, and a temping agency barely manages to get her any gigs, so the girl is forced to confront poverty head on and take a ridiculously cheap room in a shady, rundown house. This is where the book starts. Stephanie wakes up to all sorts of noises: plastic crinkling under her bed, sobbing girls in adjacent rooms, a muttering female voice from the fireplace, and the presence of someone in her room walking over to her bed. One night in the house would be enough, but due to financial circumstances she has nowhere else to go. Things go from bad to worse, and only keep going downhill.

Structurally, the book reminds me of Nevill's third novel, The Ritual. There was a turning point in The Ritual where the book seems like it could end, only to do a 180 and become almost a completely different horror novel. The book was highly praised, and some fans loved the subverting of expectations while some were put off by the drastic turning point. I was in the former camp. This novel has a similar structure, and when the horrors reach a crescendo and the novel seems to be over it continues for another 200 pages. While there were moments I felt like the latter portion could have been a bit shorter, I thought that overall it worked well and took the story to new heights.

Also like The Ritual, No One Gets Out Alive deftly blends realistic horrors with the supernatural. The hauntings of 82 Edgehill Road are scary enough in their own right, but the true horrors of the house come from Nevill's darkest characters yet: landlord Knacker McGuire and his cousin Fergal. The proprietors are the scum of the low class: uneducated, shady, predatory, angry, selfish, violent. They're criminals, who hide behind flashy clothes, manipulating and taking advantage, and ultimately resorting to extortion and violence when things don't go their way. The author did an excellent job depicting these characters realistically, and the books most intense, terrifying moments involve them.

The horrors of poverty are center stage, as well as the horror of being alone, with no one to turn to and nowhere to go. The book is also a look at female victims and survivors in horror. Nevill has some poignant things to say about modern society and their reaction to female victims as well, which is in itself another powerful avenue of horror.

The supernatural doesn't take a backseat to the realistic horror either, but instead works in tandem with it. No one believes that she saw ghosts and worse, leaving her with few friends, and even the ones she has don't believe her, thinking her mentally and emotionally broken. This leaves her mostly on her own, facing a horror that's become a part of her.

Adam Nevill has come a long way since publishing his first novel, and his growth as a writer has been apparent over the course of his novels. No One Gets Out Alive is one of his best yet, and truly reaches for new heights of terror. That Nevill managed to sustain dread throughout a novel of this size is a true accomplishment, as this book throws horror at the readers from the very first paragraph and doesn't let up until the end. If you're a fan of horror and Adam Nevill isn't on your radar, you're doing something wrong. The novel is set to hit shelves in the UK on October 23rd and will be released in the US April of 2015.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Review: The Mission by Ted E. Grau

I’ve always been partial to the Weird Western. My love of the weird, horror and fantasy has always been strong, but I didn’t truly appreciate the Western until I came across the gritty Spaghetti Western films directed by Sergio Leone. These films hit the sweet spot. There was the frontier setting, wild and lacking any controlling institution, bandits and vigilantes running rampant. Every man carried a six-shooter at the very least, forging his very own path through the dust and grime. These were tough sons-of-bitches, dealing with tough situations. Danger is a constant. The violent setting of the American West is horrific, so throwing supernatural horror into the mix just serves to up the ante. Lovecraftian and cosmic horror in particular has always seemed to be well-suited to the Western environment, giving an author a desolate, wide-open setting to place his horrors, making man feel quite alone before the horror even takes the stage.

T.E. Grau’s The Mission serves as prime example of what can be done when these two genres collide. The novella starts off with a typical Western plot; a group of Army men are on the hunt for a couple of Native Americans. Grau shows what can be accomplished when combining the West with the horrors of Lovecraft, as the men make some strange discoveries.

The tension of the group is already thick when the novel begins, with some members clashing over racial differences and just skimming the boiling point. Once the stage is set, the already palpable tension ratchets into overdrive for the remainder of the novella. As the group is beset by strange occurrences, such as finding an out of place town where a town shouldn’t be, the Captain does his best to stay cool and keep his group from tearing each other apart.

Some of The Mission brought to mind The Men From Porlock or Blackwood’s Baby by Laird Barron. All three stories are period pieces featuring groups of tough guys coming face to face with horrors beyond their comprehension. Grau nails the rough tone required to portray these types of characters, making for a story that has already moved high up on my list of favorite Weird Westerns.

The Mission was published by Jordan Krall’s Dunhams Manor Press, an imprint of Dynatox Ministries, as a very limited chapbook. orders.