Beneath the Boards by David Haynes

Beneath the BoardsI’ve read and enjoyed the horror/ghost stories by this author that are set in Victorian times. This one is set in current times and the impact is all the greater because of it. The thought that this may all be happening, right now, in a house not far away, makes the horror more intensely disturbing.

A young man with a failed marriage behind him has to retire from the police on medical grounds suffering PTSD-driven hallucinations after receiving serious injuries. He tries to start a new life by buying a run-down country cottage. The scattering of locals make him welcome, but as he starts the renovations he is troubled not only by his own past, but by a sensed history of evil within the cottage.

Are we witnessing at close hand his descent into madness, or is he uncovering past deeds of dreadful horror?

This is written with a vividness that forces sights, sounds and smells into the reader’s senses. Those who have already read it will know what I mean when I say that I’m having difficulty shifting from my brain, “Scretch, scretch, scretch.”

Recommended – if you think you are strong enough.

It is available from Amazon for Kindle.


Lisey’s Story by Stephen King

Lisey's StoryIt’s been a while since I’ve read a Stephen King novel. He’s such a prolific author that I’m now a lot of books behind with little likelihood of catching up. I picked out Lisey’s Story because it sounded different.

Well, it’s certainly different. Unfortunately, it’s the worst Stephen King book I’ve ever read. The structure is chaotic, jumping backwards and forwards through time and from place to place so often that I’m sure the author himself was confused. The constant repetition of made-up words (‘smucking’ for example) became infuriating, as did the trotting out of homespun philosophy that was at best trite, but more usually meaningless nonsense.

There’s at least one significant plot flaw and, on top of all that, I didn’t find any of the characters even remotely likeable, so I didn’t care what happened to them.

I felt sure that my views must put me in a tiny minority, but when I looked on Amazon I found that there are more 1* reviews than 5*. Lisey’s Story

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Cover imageA short story that thoroughly deserves the classic status it has acquired. Based on the author’s own experiences it is convincingly told and deals with a woman’s descent into madness, with a significant contributing factor being the well-meant treatment by her medical practitioner husband of what we would now call post-natal depression. Numerous editions are available including free one shown. It is also available in a collection of the author’s work.

I obtained an anotated edition for Kindle from Amazon, but a lot of other editions are available. The Yellow Wall-Paper (Little Black Classics)

Blackened Cottage by A E Richards

Cover imageThink of the coldly gripping Gothic horror of Edgar Allan Poe; think of the excitement of a modern chase movie; now combine the two and you have a feel for Blackened Cottage. Images of blood and souls in torment abound as the stage is set. Questions kept forming as I tried to find a possible explanation for what was occurring. The questions kept coming as the book maintained its horror theme, but moved into an exciting chase thriller. Who are the real villains? Who is real and who is not? The author drops subtle clues along the way that the careful reader will pick up.
I developed a theory – and the author proved me right. But there was no time for self-congratulation as the story swept me off around more twists and turns until the chase concluded.
This is a very well plotted and very well written book that I strongly recommend – as long as you think your nerves can take the strain. A very impressive debut by a new author.

I bought it for Kindle from Amazon Blackened Cottage

The Cupboard Under the Stairs by Roger Knowles

Cover imageI avoid novels based on police procedures. If I’m ever the victim of a serious crime, or arrested for having committed one, I may take more interest, but for now I prefer to avoid accounts of cynical police officers probing unpleasantness. Reviews have mentioned difficulty in deciding the genre of this book – police procedural or horror. I’m a big fan of horror: not that based on gruesome violence, but the more psychological type based on the existence of forces of evil that we cannot understand, much less control.

By constantly telling myself that this book fell into that category I was able to ignore the police procedural and gruesome violence elements and enjoy it for what remained. In deciding whether a book is ‘well written’, do we not have to take into account the genre? Literary fiction should be so well written that joy is found in relishing the prose itself and the story line is almost irrelevant. But for the horror genre, among others, my entertainment is in the basic idea and the plot. I’m happy to describe this book as well written because it kept the pace up and kept me reading in a manner that meant that any clunky writing passed unnoticed.

The ending was the only weak point for me. The whole point of supernatural horror is that ultimately there is no explanation that we can readily understand and a satisfactory ending is one that leaves the reader with the uncomfortable feeling of an unresolved issue that could return to haunt them.

For me, apart from that first sentence, the Prologue makes a decent final chapter.

Only available as an ebook from Amazon. The Cupboard Under The Stairs

The Dark by James Herbert

Cover imageFor me this book encapsulates the best and the worst of the writing of James Herbert.

The good bits (and they are very good) are the intense psychological elements of the horror – the spiritual dimension of the ultimate struggle between Good and Evil. The ending is thought-provoking and moving.

The tedious aspect is the body count; hundreds of people die with unnecessarily detailed description. I can picture the author scratching his head, thinking, ‘I’ve bumped some off by shooting, stabbing, drowning, hanging, falling from buildings, strangulation, acid attack and being crushed by vehicles. What else can I do? Oh yes, I’ll have some burned alive.’

People don’t just fall from buildings; they fall down stair wells having limbs ripped off on the way. When people hit the floor we’re told of the squelch of bursting heads.

The good aspects stir the imagination. The tedious aspect is for readers with no imagination.

I read it when this book was chosen by a Goodreads group to mark the author’s passing and bought it for Kindle from Amazon where it’s also available in print format. The Dark

RIP James – and thanks for so much good reading over the years.

The Village of Lost Souls by Sam Kates

Cover imageI can recommend this book to anyone who prefers their horror to be more psychological than savage. I finished it on the day that the death of James Herbert was announced. I’d been thinking that it reminded me of Herbert’s early work – which is praise indeed.
The writing is pacy, flows beautifully and swept me along. The characterisation and dialogue are convincing as are the sense of time and place. That is a more challenging writing challenge than it may sound as we see the world through the central character as he ages from five to seventeen before, and during, WW11. The sense of menace builds gradually and subtly. It’s a strong, original story, well told. At 60,000 words it’s not a long book and could be read in a single session.
I bought it for Kindle from Amazon. The Village of Lost Souls

Complete Works of H P Lovecraft

Cover image for H P LovecraftI have bought a lot of the Delphi Classics range and been very pleased with the quality of the production. Like a couple of the other reviewers on Amazon I was initially taken aback by all of the punctuation and spelling errors in the first few, very short, stories – until I realised what I was reading.

These ‘errors’ are very easy to see using Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature. But this is a collection of Lovecraft’s writing and it is in chronological order. The first story, ‘The Little Glass Bottle’, was written in 1897 when he was only seven years old. It wasn’t published until the 1950s when it was reproduced exactly as the seven-year-old had written it. All subsequent published versions have reproduced the same text. This also applies to the other early stories. Move on a few stories and the errors have disappeared.

Publishing the stories in chronological order makes fascinating reading. We can follow the writer as he developed his craft until we find the truly extraordinary work for which he is famous as the master writer of the psychological horror genre. Some of the writing is sublime. He frequently starts a story with the mundane and steadily builds to an atmosphere of terror using hauntingly beautiful imagery.

One such story is What the Moon Brings, about a man who becomes terrified of the moon. Objects that are familiar and loved by day become alien and threatening by the light of the moon, and he is frightened of its ability to move our seas through some unseen power. In one scene the man is in a moonlit garden, sitting by a stream. In daylight it would have been beautiful, but occasionally a white flower falls from a bush into the water and is carried away. The man sees the flowers being ‘swept under a bridge and staring back with the sinister resignation of calm, dead faces’. Can’t you just picture it?

A very well produced collection at a very modest price.

I bought it for Kindle from Amazon. Delphi Complete Works of H. P. Lovecraft (Illustrated)