Review of Stuart Keane’s ‘Cine’

Review of Stuart Keane’s ‘Cine’

I always like to get the formalities out of the way first. Stuart is one of my editing team at Dark Chapter Press. I struck up a friendship with him as a fellow horror writer while social networking. I’d imagine over time we’re going to sink plenty of beers together. We’ve appeared in a couple of anthologies together too. But that’s me as a writer, and me as a friend. This review is written by me as a reader, a consumer of something that I purchased. The review is my honest opinion, nothing more, nothing less.

Cine takes place in the town of Lake Whisper, a place of Stuart’s own creation, that he features in several of his stories. This is actually the first Lake Whisper story I’ve read.

The book certainly contains more of the extreme end of Stuart’s range, and extreme horror fiction isn’t always my bag. I knew to expect that going in, though and the gore is balanced with a plot. The story focuses on a group of teenagers in Whispers, some of them good and some of them just plain evil. I occasionally found myself floundering a little between who was the sister of whom and who was the boyfriend of which one, as we cut between the good kids, the bad kids, and then some other kids of about the same age who work at the cinema. I just sort of relaxed into it and let the story take us all along and as, inevitably, the numbers thinned, the cast became more focused and I could get into them a bit more.

Stuart must have worked in a cinema as a teenager, by the way. There’s a lot of insight into the inner workings of a multiplex here that I can only imagine come from being a disgruntled teenager, who thought working in a cinema would be the best job ever… only to find that it’s actually a bit shit.

There is another little ‘career choice’ in here that really piqued my interest. A protection racket posing as a ‘secret shopper’ organisation. When you see how this works in the story… well, I just thought it was fantastic. I do have a fondness for gangster movies and documentaries, so this wedge of the story really entertained me.

The brutality in the book grows to an incredible crescendo – a montage of violence and depravity that has been creeping ever closer as the bad guys lined up every piece across the narrative. When it plays out, you’re prepared for it to a certain extent – you know something like this is coming – and then Stuart changes gear, bombarding your mind’s eye with destruction and terror so hideous, you’d be forgiven for wincing at some of it. There was one particular death in this sequence that actually made me consider putting the story down, it struck such a nerve with me. But like the cinema-goers of Whispers Cinema, I couldn’t turn away, I had to see what would happen next.

As usual, we’re treated to Stuart’s confident, unwavering writing style. That he is an excellent writer is beyond doubt, but I have to admit to enjoying the content of stories such as Charlotte and The Customer Is Always… more than I enjoyed Cine. But that’s perhaps the point, isn’t it, to put you beyond comfort? And it certainly reinforces Stuart’s ability as a writer – he aims to make you feel something… well, mission accomplished. This type of story is written very much without everyone in mind. You can either enjoy this, or not, but he will excite feelings in you as you read and you will either be repulsed, and come away with perhaps a negative view, or it’ll hit all the right notes for you and you’ll be shouting about Cine from the rooftops, or perhaps like me, you’ll dissect the story into it components and find balance in what you enjoyed and didn’t enjoy.

So, if you’re not into extreme horror, definitely avoid this one, but if you do enjoy a really brutal piece of fiction, you’re gonna love this!

4 outta 5 – Not my favourite Stuart Keane story. Well written, very effective – shocking and brutal.

Killing Christmas, by Mark Parker [Review]

I suppose I’d better get the disclaimer bit out of the way. Mark is soon to be published by Dark Chapter Press, my firm – I have a story soon to be published by Scarlet Galleon, Mark’s firm. Along with a host of other small horror press publishers and horror writers, I interact with Mark on social media, particularly Facebook, from time to time. However, as always, I review as a reader based on my own personal taste and preferences.

Still here? Then let’s get into it! I read this story at the perfect time – the run up to Christmas, of course. I very much enjoyed the story, but for me, it fell short of 5 stars because I wish it had been longer. With additional length, I feel there could have been a bit more mystery and more red herrings along the way, and Mark’s excellent cast of characters would then have really come up to their full potential.

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As things stand, I feel it’s a book of two halves, with the opening half being an absolute master class in building tension, setting the scene – it’s really heart in the mouth stuff, and in my opinion, it works because with the few characters in those early scenes, the author takes his time, teases the information and action along, so you get this completely immersive experience.

The second half, our main protagonist shares ‘screen time’ with more characters, and some of the strokes of the story aren’t as intricate as in the first half. I wanted to get to know some of the characters better, learn more of the crimes that have been occurring around the town of Bethlehem, so we get to guess and try to fit the horrific puzzle together before charging in at the end.

Overall, though, a cool Christmas short, just right for those who love a good festive thriller. 4 stars outta 5.

Review of The Signalman by Charles Dickens

Review of The Signalman by Charles Dickens

I picked up this tiny paperback edition in Waterstones in the Metrocentre in about November last year. My arms were full of books as gifts in preparation for Christmas and my daughter’s birthday. There, at the cashdesk, was a gorgeous little edition of this ghost story, in black with a mint-green foil embossed cover. It was £1.99 and I couldn’t resist. What better for Winter than a Charles Dickens ghost story?

Continue reading “Review of The Signalman by Charles Dickens”

Review of The Dichotomy of Christmas

Review of The Dichotomy of Christmas

First things first: the Disclaimer. I am the Jack Rollins who has a story in this book, and since contributing my story to the anthology, MBLA, who published this piece, are now my literary agents. So, this anthology presented a great opportunity to me as a writer. However… my reviews are based on what I read and how much I enjoyed it, pure and simple.

Still here? Okay, let’s crack on.

The book opens with information on International Animal Rescue, the charity to whom the proceeds of the book sales will be donated. We then get into the introduction from Keith Chawgo, which goes into the darker Christmas traditions. I really liked the introduction, it reminded me of some things I had forgotten, and introduced me to some aspects of the holiday with which I was previously unfamiliar.

Cassandra Swan‘s poetry is threaded throughout the anthology. I’m no fan of poetry and have seen some poor examples in horror anthologies. I really enjoyed Cassandra’s contributions to this volume and in particular Pocket-Sized Wreath and Christmas Disease made an impression on me.

Next up, Fiona Dodwell‘s story The Wassail takes back the idea of the stranger knocking at your door at Christmas, as a disturbance, a wassail, as opposed to our more modern dilution of the tradition – Christmas caroling. This is the first story I’ve read by Fiona and it won’t be the last. She sets the scene perfectly – a wonderful period piece, of a wintry night interrupted by a panicking stranger. The story plays out to a chilling climax, involving a story within the story. I don’t do spoilers, so you’ll just have to find out all the details for yourself!

Then, Kealan Patrick Burke brings things up to a more contemporary setting with Visitation Rights. This is the story of an estranged father granted… well… visitation rights with his children, drawing up bitter memories. The agony of the estranged father is captured with painful, acidic realism as he tries to please these children who have spent so much time without him – they seem like strangers to him, unresponsive to his efforts. The direction the story takes will sting your eyes, as it did mine, I feel certain of it. Excellent.

Matt Hickman is an author I have enjoyed some authorly social networking and discussion with in recent months. The Naughty List was the second story I’ve read by him and he brought great atmosphere, tension and plays out like a modern day cautionary fairy tale.

Andrew Lennon brings us Killing Christmas… a Christmas story set in October! A grumpy office worker makes it on Santa’s naughtiest list by basically being a miserable bastard as the world around him prepares for the festive season. His name is marked, and old St Nick is NOT happy with him! Short, punchy and vicious. Like a psychotic elf.

Next comes Marjorie, by Brooke Lerma, one of the more thought-provoking stories in the book and, in some ways a neat companion to my own entry. By that I mean, the central characters are dealing with a real-life problem represented in as accurate a manner as possible, but whereas my story sees the horror intermingled with the real-life problem (dementia, in my case), Marjorie lives in a world where horrific things are playing out around her, and she is blissfully unaware, isolated in her own tragedy. There is a literary quality to the story and the protagonist that non-horror fans probably wouldn’t expect from a horror tale (or any genre fiction, for that matter). I guess what I’m saying is that without the horror, there is a story here that would work as literary fiction, too. This one caught me off-guard and surprised me.

Michael Bray‘s With These Hands is a fantastic piece of work. Set at Christmas in a hot, sweaty Tobago, tragedy strikes a couple of holidaymakers who take a trip to get their marriage back on track. Arcane powers reveal that sometimes it’s better that some secrets remain hidden!

Next in the book is Ghosts of Christmas Past, by Jack Rollins– little old me. I’ll let other people tell you if it’s good or not, but I certainly enjoyed writing it, and drew upon my experience of working as a carer to portray the impact of the onset of dementia on the characters as the horror unfolds around them.

Stuart Keane‘s On The First Day of Christmas really gets into the childhood excitement and sleeplessness of Christmas Eve and it’s all as lovely as candyfloss… then you remember this is a Stuart Keane story and we are soon dragged into the realm of childhood fears and wondering if even our parents can take the bad things away…

Then we have Graham Masterton, and I’m having difficulty not saying “who comes along and shows us all how it’s done”, because the stories are all excellent in their own rights, but you know… Graham just sort of turns up in here and shows us all how it’s done. Anti-Clause is incredible. So atmospheric, so cool, so wish I’d written this.

Finally, M.R. Sellars brings the final story of the book, Merry Axemas – A Killer Holiday Tale. What starts as an investigative thriller, which isn’t usually my cup of tea, builds into a compelling horror chiller. I say investigative thrillers aren’t usually my back to read, but I do like some movies in that genre and the character Sheriff Carmichael is absolutely unmissable. He’s like Sam Elliot, merged with Tommy Lee Jones in No Country For Old Men, plus Sherlock Holmes. The main character Constance Mandalay is drawn into the mystery of a gruesome series of Christmas-time murders, with Carmichael as her jaded guide. This story is flawless, and I mean that. Characters sit around and talk to each other for most of the time, but everything they say makes everything they do all the more gripping. The closest thing I can liken it to is the TV show True Detective, where it’s about the characters, not the action, but when the action pops up it’s goooooood!

So, okay, I’m writing this after Christmas has faded, and if you’re reading this in late autumn or winter approaching Christmas, pick a copy up. If it’s earlier in the year, stick it on your Christmas list, or buy it now and have it on your shelf or in the kindle, ready for advent. This collection is totally unmissable.