THE RITUAL by Adam Nevill 9/10

I cannot deny it, I love Adam Nevill’s work. BANQUET FOR THE DAMNED went straight into my Top Ten Best Books of All Time. APARTMENT 16, whilst more difficult to get into than BANQUET is easily streets ahead of so many other wannabe horror writers. At one point during my reading of A16, I had to get up to make sure the front and back doors were locked. I bought a copy of BANQUET for my mother and she had to put it down halfway through because it gave her nightmares. In short, Adam has a unique ability to make you wonder if its safe to turn the page.

And THE RITUAL maintains this excellent ability.

With a simpler, more recognisable plot that its predecessors, THE RITUAL is by far the easiest of the 3 to get into. I picked it up after going through a month of not reading. I’d been unable to focus on anything for more than just a few pages and began to wonder if I was ever going to complete a book again before THE RITUAL put me straight. With images straight from Dennis Wheatley, Deliverance, Hammer Horror and Southern Comfort, this is a book that never lets up. It is claustrophobic to the extreme. His protagonists are out in the open, lost if a Scandinavian forest and yet it feels like they’re mice trapped inside a maze on a laboratory desk. Their very existence soon becomes futile. When they’re picked off one-by-one, I feel no shame in admitting that I actually jumped when victim number two was despatched.

THE RITUAL is actually two books in one. The first half is desolation, despair and an immense lack of hope due to claustrophobia and their being played with by an unseen creature (which is a masterstroke in my opinion); the second half has the same qualities only the claustrophobia is replaced by devil worship and death metal. As an expert in heavy rock and metal, Adam is more than qualified to discuss the matter and the beliefs expressed towards groups such as Cradle of Filth are both fascinating and hilarious.

Scarier than A16 and more amenable to Adam virgins than BANQUET, THE RITUAL is a superb novel from a man who must have both the spirits of MR James and Jimmy Sangster nestling in his soul

THE CONCRETE GROVE by Gary McMahon 8.5 /10

This review contains minor spoilers. If you don’t want to know, don’t read on.

I recently stated that I believe Gary McMahon is fast becoming the master of urban horror – and with THE CONCRETE GROVE, he again proves my point.

Unlike his previous effort, PRETTY LITTLE DEAD THING, which is a disturbing crime novel with horror elements – much in the same way as John Connolly and his ilk –  THE CONCRETE GROVE is a traditional horror involving a world within a world, a psycho trying to get from one to the other, an innocent child and a distraught mother – oh, and a carer who cannot abide the woman in his charge (aka, his wife). So all in all it contains most of the elements required to make an intriguing story. Some characters are despicable, others you want to slap while there are those you want to care and protect – which is ideal because you want to have a reaction to the characters. Like them or not, the worst thing a writer can do is produce a character no-one cares anything for. The plot is relatively simple – but then, surely the best ones are? – and handled with the appropriate care and attention. The only time I felt a slip up (for me personally) was the manner in which the mother (Lana) decided to wipe her debt. This monumental decision was made very quickly and just after she’d started a new relationship. Why someone would be willing to let themselves be gang-raped when on the cusp of a new love life is beyond me but then, I’ve never been in that situation and so I was willing to suspend my disbelief. And perhaps that’s why this is a slight moan because Gary has this amazing ability of making fantasy horror seem real. Suddenly you believe there is another world just out of reach; you do think about the things you see in your peripheral vision. This willingness to be a lamb to the slaughter just seemed a little far-fetched (and yet is probably the closest thing to genuine fact). But it is a minor quibble and besides, once you find yourself reading the woman’s treatment you find your heart quickening, your sweat seeping and your anger rising. So in that respect, it’s job done!

My only other issue is that I would have enjoyed the thoughts of the ‘sea cow’ as she battled with her guilt for making her husband give up living his life to care for her after the fallout of the sins enjoyed with her lover. But I can understand why that wasn’t included because it would affect the book’s perfect pace.

Speaking of pace, Gary’s work has been accused in the past of being too dark and too bleak. Well, THE CONCRETE GROVE is a fast read. A couple of days at most. If his novels were so dark and so bleak, surely it would be harder work to get through? A couple of days for each chapter perhaps? Not the case.

This is horror writing at its near best. There are only a few horror writers out there writing with Gary’s skill – and Clive Barker and Stephen King (Gary’s heroes) are not among them. I’m looking forward to the follow-up, SILENT VOICES, which I believe will genuinely cement his status as the top urban horror writer working today.