Monthly Archives: March 2012

V.M.Zito guest blog and The Return Man reviewed.

Out now from Hodder

I have just closed this book and, if truth be told and I didn’t have another book to read by Tuesday, I would happily open it straight away and read it all over again.

Forget 28 Weeks or 28 Days Later – The Return Man is the most immediate, action packed tale of hunting and avoiding the undead that I have ever read.  If you love the movies of George Romero, The Walking Dead comic books and tv show, then you are in for a real treat here….

The author has somethings to say about the books that have scarred him a little way down this post, but first here’s a little more about his own explosive entry to the genre:

THE OUTBREAK TORE THE USA IN TWO.

THE EAST REMAINS A SAFE HAVEN.

THE WEST HAS BECOME A RAVAGED WILDERNESS.

THEY CALL IT THE EVACUATED STATES.

Before the outbreak, Henry Marco was a doctor, doing his utmost to save lives. Now his job is to end them.

The outbreak of the Resurrection has torn America in two. In the West, the evacuated States are a bleak wilderness – not a single living soul, except for Marco. But in the East, the Safe States are a different matter, crammed with 50 million refugees, not enough food and jobs to go around. Half the population relies on welfare and government assistance to survive.

In the days immediately following the outbreak, Marco remained hidden in his home, avoiding the search and rescue teams, despondent that his infected wife Danielle had disappeared in the chaos. Now, the Evacuated States are under quarantine, and Marco faces the grim prospect of a permanent life out in this wasteland, left alone to fight for survival against the infected.

But he has found a purpose – hired by grieving relatives in the Safe States to seek out their infected loved ones and deliver peace. Marco is good at his job. And yet . . . he cannot find the one person he wants to find the most. Danielle.

Now, the Safe States Homeland Security has a new job for Marco. His mission: Travel to Sarsgard Medical Prison in California, and track down a mysterious doctor named Roger Ballard.  To succeed and survive, Marco must return to where the outbreak started, where the secret of its conception is hidden . . .

In the acknowledgements at the end of the novel, Zito gives a nod to the great Richard Matheson ‘who led the way’ and it’s clear that ‘I Am Legend’ and a great number of other great genre books and movies have influenced his writing, whilst also managing to provide the reader with a fresh and exciting read.

Set in 2018, the story has a terrifying premise that, despite its essentially ‘undead’ formula, still manages to seem completely plausible as we read every day in the press about almost Frankenstein-like medical practices and advances. I was pleased to read in the press release that The Return Man has been optioned for Film Rights by The Ink Factory – in the right hands this could make for a cracking full-on horror action movie.

I enjoyed the pacing, the characters and the whole central idea that Marco is essentially just a contractor, hired to take headshots at the ‘resurrected’ to release them and kill them for their loved ones, sending trinkets back as proof of closure for those in mourning of the not-quite-dead.

And, before you all rush off to order your copies, here’s the author with some of his favourite reads (which I will also now be checking out – if they influenced this great new book, they can be no bad thing ….although I think they’ll be full of bad things ……).

V. M. ZITO  – Guest Blog Post

6 STORIES THAT SCARRED ME . . .

Some horror stories don’t just scare you; they scar you. You read them, let them into your head, and they wreck up the place; with sharp claws they scratch awful images into your cerebral cortex, like primitive drawings in some dark, ghastly cave. Sure, you might put the book away, and years of forgetful bliss might pass — but then one day, somehow, something reminds you, and instantly you’re right back in that cave, shivering madly, scared all over again.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved short horror fiction. And I’ve got the scars to show it. Wanna see? Go ahead, open me up, peer into the fear center of my brain. Notice all those slashes and slice marks? I’ll tell you exactly how they got there. People often ask me, ‘What’s your favorite horror story?’ I never know how to answer that question fairly, because there are just too many that I love — but I can easily name the stories that have disfigured me.

So here they are, 6 tales in chronological order of injury:

1. Sweets to the Sweet by Robert Bloch. When I was ten, I found a book of horror stories in my parent’s basement, and I made the error of reading this one down there alone. For months afterward, I’d break into a cold sweat at bedtime, dreading another night with the horrible, horrible, horrible image conjured by Bloch’s last sentence leering at me in the darkness.

2. The Lonesome Place by August Derleth. Another scar on my vulnerable ten-year-old psyche. Remember that one old-looking house in your neighborhood that always creeped you out as a kid? This story confirms everything you ever feared.

3. The October Game by Ray Bradbury. Take note, writers. This piece is the absolute perfect example of where to end your story for maximum impact. If Bradbury had gone just a single sentence further, it wouldn’t have cut the same way it does now. In fact, thanks to Bradbury’s mastery, the wounds in my mind are all self-inflicted.

4. Extenuating Circumstances by Joyce Carol Oates. Holy shit, this story is the most upsetting on the list. I can’t even think about it without getting chills. In fact, my eyes just watered as I typed the title. If you haven’t read it, please, please do so. Right now. I’ll wait.

5. The Summer People by Shirley Jackson. This actually might be my favorite horror story (yes, favorite). The horror I like best is shapeless, undefined; we fear what we don’t understand, and nobody owes us an explanation. In this story, I’m caught waiting for something terrible to happen, and I’m not even sure what. As an adult, I often have this same feeling…

6. The Inner Room by Robert Aickman. And here he is, Aickman, the master of unexplained horror in which the monster hides just beyond our perception, ready to grab us. Do I really understand this story? No. Can I tell you exactly what happens in it? Not quite. Did I feel unsettled, disturbed, somehow altered forever when I’d finished reading it? Hell yes.

So there you have it. My horror scars. Six pale lashes on my soul, defining me today as a reader and as a horror writer, too. Now I’d like to know… What are your scars?

V. M. Zito

A big thanks to Victor for dropping by with his own recommendations.

Be sure to check out his book, his website www.thereturnman.com and follow @hodderscape on twitter for the latest on this and other great horror fantasy reads.

Keith

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A Titanic release! – The Company of the Dead by David J. Kowalski

Out now from Titan Books.

To celebrate the release today of the fiction debut and launch of his epic book in time for the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, author David J. Kowalski has dropped by to Books and Writers to reveal some his favourite conspiracy theories.

But, first, here’s a little about the mammoth book he has just set sail:

Can one man save the Titanic?

March 1912. A mysterious man appears aboard the Titanic on its doomed voyage, his mission to save the ship. The result of his efforts is a world where the United States never entered World War One, thus launching the secret history of the 20th century.

April 2012. Joseph Kennedy, grand-nephew to John F. Kennedy, lives in an America occupied on the East Coast by the Germans and on the West Coast by the Japanese. He is one of six people who can restore history to its rightful order – – even though it may mean his own death.

And here’s the author with his

Top 5 Titanic Conspiracy theories…

It’s said that if you accept one conspiracy, you’re more likely to accept others. It’s also said that people who accept one conspiracy are more likely to accept others, even if they are contradictory.

So…

Here’s 5 for ya.

1. The Coal fire

Some records suggest that the Titanic set off from Southampton with a fire in Coal Bunker 6. Such fires were common aboard coal-fired ships. The theory is that the constant heat may have weakened the ship’s bulkhead making it vulnerable to any icy encounters. The other suggestion is that the ship itself was a floating time-bomb while the fire raged.

2. The Mummy

There is no evidence that any sarcophogus was ever shipped aboard the Titanic, but for quite a while it was suggested that the mummy of a priestess of Amen-Ra, wreaked her final curse on April 14, 1912. This mummy, whose lid is currently displayed in the British Museum, as opposed to the Atlantic floor, caused a lot of trouble for its various owners. Allegedly purchased by William Stead, a self-styled mystic who makes his own dire predictions in The Company of the Dead, it was supposedly smuggled aboard the ocean liner the night before her departure. Matt Forbeck’s Carpathia has vampires roaming through the wreckage of the Titanic. (Can’t wait to read it.) I am hanging out for a tale regarding a mummy shambling through the sinking ship.

3. U-Boat dead ahead

In Company, the results of 1912 lead to a different outcome of the First World War. The proximity of that event, with the sinking, led some people to theorise that the Titanic’s sinking was no accident at all. They propose that the German navy, wanting to test their new U-boat designs, took a shot at the Titanic as it safely nudged its way past the iceberg.

Hmmm…

4. The Riddle of the Titanic (I like this one!)

I read Gardiner’s book, while preparing my own. The theories are a stretch, but well outlined. He examines several events and coincidences that occurred in the months, days, and hours leading up to the sinking of the Titanic. His conclusion, the Titanic never sank. It was her sister ship, the Olympic, already damaged from a previous collision but terribly expensive to repair as the Royal navy wouldn’t pay up, that was scuttled in the ultimate insurance scam.

5. The world will live in is the result of a time travelers intervention aboard the ship.

This is my own contribution. And the details of this little theory can be found elsewhere.

Granted, it’s a little wilder that the idea of a coal fire, or rabid U-boats. It lacks the mystique of a Mummy’s rampage and the nasty manipulation of evil businessmen in the White Star Line. But I guarantee you. It’s the truth. Possibly.

Thanks to David for dropping by.

Now go seek out this great alternative history of what may or may not have happened to Titanic and what may or may not happen in April 2012.

Keith

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HARROGATE HITLIST: The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams

Published by Headline

They always open the door . . .

The last sound she heard . . . was the tiny crack of her neck, like a wishbone snapped in half . . .

You must be wondering who I am . . .

I am the stranger you seek . . .

 

In Atlanta, Georgia, a vicious serial killer is at loose, luring victims with ease, killing them with a combination of precision and twisted brutality.

Keye Street is not happy. Formally a rising FBI star, with two university degrees and a brilliant track record in criminal profiling, she’s now working for herself as a bail recovery agent. It’s not exciting work, but it keeps her agency afloat.

So when her friend and mentor, Lieutenant Aaron Rauser, wants her on his case, Keye is reluctant to help him out. That way, obsession lies, and she knows her demons. But when he shows her a letter he’s received from the killer, Keye feels a familiar excitement. They’re being played with, the snare is set, and Keye just can’t resist picking up the bait . . .

From its great cover, to the quote from Karin Slaughter, to the comparisons with Slaughter, Tess Gerritsen and Patricia Cornwell, this cracking debut delivers as a crime thriller which is simply on a knife edge every step of the way. Presenting a welcome new investigator to the worlld of crime fiction, I found ‘The Stranger You Seek’ to be a lot more believable than many a serial killer based novel, mainly because the central character and her team have other crimes to concern themselves with, there’s always something else they have to contend with. In Aaron Rauser’s own words ”And it’s not like the other shit stops just ’cause we got a serial, you know?’

With much of the killer’s taunting via letters, I couldn’t help but think of the ‘Dear Boss’ letters from Jack the Ripper and they work in the same chilling way. The relationships within the book worked well, the plot had me tripping up several times along the way with every twist of the knife and, oh those knives!  I would well imagine that, based on the evidence here, Williams could find herself included in future debates about women portraying some of the most violent acts in crime fiction – she’ll be at Harrogate this year, so we’ll see…  A really enjoyable debut, with a central character who you’ll want to read more of, and one of the best scenes involving a cow I’ve read in a long while (since a certain C.J.Box novel as I recall).

Keith

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HARROGATE HITLIST: The Helper by David Jackson

Published by Pan Macmillan

A grisly murder in a shabby New York bookstore seems to hold a special significance for Detective Callum Doyle: the victim’s been marked with a message that could have been left especially for him. But why?

Then the sinister phone calls start. Doyle is told more deaths are planned but the caller will give him clues – on condition he keeps them to himself. So begins his dilemma. If he turns the offer down he will have nothing to go on. But if he accepts and gets it wrong, he will have concealed knowledge that could have stopped a killer.

As more deaths follow, increasingly vicious and apparently random, the pressure on Doyle to find a link becomes unbearable. Does he continue to gamble with people’s lives? Or must he sacrifice everything to defeat a ruthless and manipulative enemy?

I was a huge fan of David Jackson’s first novel, Pariah, and was really pleased to see him back hard on that success with this follow up featuring his great NYPD tec’ Cal Doyle. Everything I loved and enjoyed in the first book is back in this second novel but with the action, the humour and the darkness all ramped up, and all against the background of the New York skyline written so convincingly by a man from the Wirral that you can taste the coffee and the doughnuts (and occasionally the Guinness too).

Within the first fifteen pages of The Helper the reader is subjected to clever observational humour, extreme violence, loss, grief and mystery all handled with equal power and its clear that here’s an author who is raising his game and has his character’s glock sights set on targeting the big time.

Full of real people, real dialogue, frighteningly realistic crime scenes and traps all interspersed with comic book jibes and an unwelcome fan and sidekick character in the shape of computer geek, Gonzo, this rises above many a serial killer book.

I found the tricks and traps to trip up both Doyle and the reader along the way incredibly inventive, so, nothing more to add other than….

Next book please, Mr Jackson, and quickly !

David Jackson will be appearing at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival in July, so you’ve plenty of time to seek out and read both his ace novels Pariah & The Helper and to book your tickets for the event.

Keith

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Creative Thursday at Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Harrogate 2012

As somebody who has attended The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival’s creative writing course, Creative Thursday in the past, I’d strongly suggest that you check out the details just released of this year’s event schedule.

The day will run from 9am – 5.30pm on Thursday 19th July 2012 and places are now available to book for the price of £99 (including lunch at the Old Swan Hotel).

This year’s intensive writing workshops will cover the subjects of Forensic Research, led by Stuart MacBride with expert input from forensic scientists from The James Hutton Institute, and Plot Development, led by experienced creative writer Greg Mosse. Success Stories will then see authors Mari Hannah, Mark Edwards & Louise Voss share their own stories on how they finally got the attention of major publishing houses, whilst their editors will also divulge what it was about the authors and their work that made them want to publish.

Back by popular demand, ‘The Dragons Pen’ also returns to Creative Thursday 2012. Places are limited, so if you would like the chance to pitch your ideas to a team of publishing industry professionals please advise upon booking.

To book for Creative Thursday 2012, please call the Festival Office on 01423 562303.

Go for it !

Keith

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Or the Bull Kills You by Jason Webster

Published by Vintage Books

Either you kill the bull, or the bull kills you – traditional proverb.

Chief Inspector Max Camara hates bullfighting, but one hot afternoon in Valencia he has to replace his boss, judging a festival corrida that stars Spain’s most famous matador. That night, he is summoned back to bullring where the young bullfighter’s dead body now lies, naked and mutilated.

As the city prepares for Fallas, the five-day festival of fireworks and bonfires, and the politicians work feverishly towards an election, Camara hunts down his prey through the city’s streets and bars. But while he follows the trail of death, money, corruption and sex in search of the killer, he must also battle his own demons and desires . . . 

As though designed to give me the kick up the pants I may well need (see previous post), only yesterday morning the postman brought me the second book in this great new series (A Death in Valencia) and, if the first book was anything to go by, I am in for yet another enthralling and charismatic read.

Whilst it may be true to say that Jason Webster’s central character has many of the trappings of many a fictional detective, those trappings and baggages are there for a reason, they make our cops interesting to read and to follow through long running series. In the character’s own words ‘There he was, Max Camara, a dope-smoking, Fallas-hating, proverb-quoting, flamenco-loving, Valencia-based murder detective with the Policia Nacional, with a complicated, shattered love life, no social life to speak of, and a career lying in tatters.’ and I loved every aspect of his character for all of those reasons.

As the bodies start to pile up and Camara races around the city seeking answers, the plot twists as fast as the streets of Valencia and the place itself becomes a very important and beautiful central character, so whilst I want to read more of Camara, I also want to read more of Valencia – and to get there someday too. In much the same way as David Hewson does with his Nic Costa novels, the atmosphere of the locale is captured perfectly through it’s sounds, smells, food, drink and its people.

The whole area of bullfighting wasn’t a theme I thought would be very successful in terms of providing any possible motives or a great range of suspects for the murder – how wrong was I? – It was the perfect setting and an unsettling picture of just some of the things that go on, and some that might go on within the ‘sport’, as well as a strangely alluring subject matter. Whilst I’m pretty confident that I still do not want to watch a bullfight, the whole atmosphere and the spectacle of the festivals that surround them are clearly all-consuming, as is this book.

Highly recommended – go get yourselves a new detective and a new place to read about.

Keith

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Sporadic blogging and tweeting…..

I feel that I need to in some way explain myself – for anyone who has in any interest in what I’m up to, why I keep disappearing under the radar, why my reviews keep going in fits and starts of late, etc….

Simple fact is:

A: There are just TOO many damn good books out there, not to mention the ones that are not so good, but I am in danger of death for standing close to any of the towering TBR piles, so am choosing to pace myself and pick the books that I genuinely have an interest in reading or anything new that I want to take a chance on, rather than feel like I’m on some constant conveyor belt based on publication dates, which has some weeks left me feeling somewhat like a drone – although I really take my hat off to those bloggers who are so more prolific and detailed in their reviews – I do NOT know how you guys keep up the pace.

B: In recent weeks I’ve been laid low with a number of health issues which, although sound like a great chance to sit in bed and read, have really knackered my concentration skills and attention span – I’m hoping they come back, along with a general improvement in ‘get-up-and-go.’

C: Life and work just generally leaping up constantly to alert me to fact that I do have a young family, stuff needs doing around the place and I am responsible for bringing in business to the company that I work for.  The last few weeks with me being ill have clearly had an effect on business coming in, so that’s a big area of concentration right now.

D: My own want to write my own books has been seriously kicked into touch by the great opportunities that book blogging has given – this is something I really want to get back to, so am planning to take a longer break for the month of April to concentrate on knocking out a first draft (by way of a NaNoWriMo month for me whilst everyone else is busy on Script Frenzy) and then will return to reading and reviewing in May to see how awful my efforts are compared to the great reads I am sent by others….

All that said, I’m still about, although hiding in the shadows a bit more to be able to get stuff done.

So, there you go.

All best

Keith

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GIRL 4 by Will Carver

Published by Arrow Books.

The first three girls took a lot of planning, but even with my letters, my clues, the tip-offs, only one detective seemed concerned.

But they’ll take me seriously after Girl 4: They won’t have a choice.

How long will it take them to piece everything together?

I’ll give them everything they’ll need apart from the name.

GIRL 4. She changes EVERYTHING.

Detective Inspector January David has always put his professional before his private life, but now his two worlds clash horrifically as he visits his latest crime scene. Confronted with a ghostly figure suspended ten feet above a theatre stage, blood pouring from her face into a coffin below, January feels sure this gruesome execution scene is the work of an elusive serial killer.

But Girl 4 is different: She is alive – barely. And January David recognises her.

Three women from three different London suburbs, each murdered with elaborate and chilling precision. And as January stares at the latest body, he detects the killer’s hallmark. If he wants to save his own neck and ensure that there’s never a Girl 5, January must get inside the mind of a serial killer and beat him at his own game . . . 

The serial killer genre is a pretty well trod and, for the most part, tired place to be – so it’s so refreshing when something like ‘Girl 4′ comes along. As with Steve Mosby’s ’50/50 Killer’, this debut by Will Carver presents a sinister and fresh spin on the sub-genre and invites us to join his series character on this, his debut investigation on the page.

I realise I’m late to this (Girl 4 was published last year) but the buzz already surrounding it and the forthcoming second book to feature Detective Inspector January David (what a great name) ‘The Two’ forced me to pick it up and see what the fuss was all about – I am SO glad I did. Well, glad but for one reason to be truthful, as ‘Girl 4’ is the book I wish I could have written and Will Carver writes in a way that had me from the first page and made this wannabe author feel like throwing my current project in the general direction of the circular filing cabinet at my feet. I loved January David as a character and was so pleased to read his name in the short teaser for ‘The Two’ at the back of ‘Girl 4’, he has a great surrounding cast and a mysterious past to go with it. A great haunted cop, with visions of crime scenes played out to him by ‘the smiling man’, like something ripped from the best of John Connolly’s work but made very much his own.

I found the timeframe of the book really effective with its flashbacks to voices of earlier and (without wanting to spoil things) later victims intermixed with the voices of January, his wife to be, Audrey, and the killer, Eames. The scenes where January struggles to balance his homelife and upcoming marriage with the escalating investigation are well played with even some room for humour amongst some very sinister set pieces. And, it’s those theatrical set executions that really leave the mark on the reader as well as on the central character.

I seriously hope this is the beginning of a very long series – it very much deserves to be.

Seek out ‘Girl 4’ here.

And you can pre-order ‘The Two’ here.

Keith

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Sorry by Zoran Drvenkar (translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside)

Published by Blue Door Books

You can say you’re sorry.

You can say it a hundred times.

But to the dead it doesn’t mean very much.

ONE. TWO. THREE. That’s all it takes to drive the nail into her head, to leave her hanging on the wall. She deserved to die. Now all he needs is absolution for his sins, and he knows Just the people who can help.

If sorry seems to be the hardest word,

then let us say it for you

Kris, Tamara, Wolf and Frauke. Four friends with one big idea: an agency called Sorry. Unfair dismissals, the wrongly accused: everyone has a price, and Sorry will find out what it is. It’s as simple as that.

But they didn’t count on their next client being a killer.

Standing face to face with a brutally murdered woman, the philosophy that has brought them so much success sounds hollow. But who is the killer and why has he killed her? Someone is mocking them for playing God and hell is only just beginning.

This book has been taunting me for months, daring me to take it down from the shelf and open it. In many ways at time it made me think back to Clive Barker’s  ‘Mister B. Gone’, a book that dares you to enter and at times drags you in so deep that you fear you’ll not get back out again. This cast of characters have a superb scheme and, in these days of companies setting up to offer all manner of things that years ago would have seemed nonsense, the whole concept of their organisation seems remarkably plausible.

The injection of a killer as their next client and the hold he has over them, shown through photos of their loved ones, threatens their company, their sanity and their very existence. The multiple viewpoints adopted throughout the story works for the most part, despite tripping me up on more than a few occasions and causing me to lose my way.  However, the inclusion of ‘YOU’ as a character and reading your own viewpoint is a clever tool to ensure that those pages will keep turning as the reader joins the other four main cast members on their downward spiral which seems destined to destroy everything and everyone involved.

From its stark black on white (or white on black) cover versions through to its unusual and daring narrative, this is dark dark stuff and I make no apology for suggesting you seek it out. So go here and do so.

Keith

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Epitaph by Shaun Hutson

Published by Orbit

This was no dream. He sucked in a deep breath. A breath full of that strange smell he couldn’t identify. He trailed his hands across the satin beneath him and to both sides of him and, when he raised his hands, above him too. He knew why it was so dark. He understood why he could see nothing.

 

He realised why he was lying down.

 

Frank and Gina Hackett think you’ve killed their daughter and they want a confession. If you say you did it, they’ll kill you. If you say you didn’t, they’ll leave you to die. So how do you stop the next words you say from being your last? It seems hopeless, but there is one way out . . .

 

What would you do ?

I’ve been a fan of Shaun Hutson for many years.

At school and college I loved his great horror stories and, only now, realise just how much I owe to him for ‘Assassin’ for the fantastic mix of crime and horror that it gave me as a younger reader.

In more recent years he has thrilled me with books closer to the me of now, with ‘Hybrid’ he gave me the chills of seeing another me out of my window, tapping away on my own writing in my writing shed (or ‘Shoffice’ copyright Will Carver) whilst I remained safely within the house, then he gave us ‘Body Count’, ‘Unmarked Graves’, ‘Last Rites’ and now I finally got the time to catch up with ‘Epitaph’.

Despite having a copy of the novel glaring at me from the shelf for months, it was a couple of weeks laid up sick at home which led to me reading it – or, rather, listening to it in audiobook form.  It’s been ages since I’d ‘read’ a book that way and, being trapped in bed and judging time of day by the time my daughter arrived home from school each day, was certainly the most uncomfortable way I could ever have thought of experiencing this tale, other than nailing myself shut in a coffin. With earpieces in place I found myself drifting in and out of the story during the duration of its telling and that, probably coupled with my medication, gave me some of the worst nightmare waking moments I have experienced in many years.

The story gives Hutson the chance to describe in horrific detail the two biggest fears I have ever had, the stealing away of a child and being buried alive and he delights in cranking up the tension to both elements equally. Was great to find him making mention of horror paperbacks (such as he used to write) when he describes the insects and, particularly, slugs as those queuing up to enter the coffin.

Read by Sean Barrett, who although at first seems stilted in his delivery, the change in voices, particularly with his at times terrifying tone for Gina Hackett, this was a nightmarish ride through a few hellish days for me, with a good few dark twists along the way.

A dark and pain-filled ride into some extremely dark territory – but, once again, Shaun Hutson does everything that he does best – delivers, in spades!

Keith

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