I always find reading horror on a sun-soaked beach throws the average tourist. The reality is that I find it is the safest place to indulge in scare tales, as the night terrors can play havoc with my mind. In the small hours a Moroccan lampshade can turn into a dark, cloaked figure ready to drag me off into hell. (But at least, I think, I have got a lot of friends there!) If looking for a touch of horror on your travels this summer, I would suggest packing a copy of Adam Nevill’s House of Small Shadows or downloading one onto your technological reading device of choice.
Being branded by a credible UK newspaper (that is definitely not The S*n or The Daily
Bigotry Mail) as the ‘British Stephen King’ could intimidate or worry some writers. Yet Adam Nevill continues to illustrate his literary craftsmanship, particularly with his horror offering. Nevill’s work has everything that makes a story of the supernatural: a dilapidated Victorian house, eccentric inhabitants, noises in the night, a psychologically vulnerable mixed-up protagonist. The Wicker Man meets The League of Gentleman.
Narrator Catherine has left her corporate job in a popular television production company. High-profile bullying saw her fired and forced to leave London to start a new career in a new town. Landing an assignment with huge potential, she is tasked to catalogue the late M H Mason’s eccentric collection of antique dolls and puppets. Mason’s elderly niece invites her to stay at the Red House – the House of Small Shadows – both workshop and home of the dead man. It is here that Catherine sees for herself the darkness behind Mason’s unique ‘Art’.
A disturbed imaginative investigation that taps into the innate human fear of puppets. If anyone can say that they can look Mr. Punch up close in the eye and not be freaked out, they are either a liar or a little missing of a few strings themselves.
The Red House, like that other infamous horror house Amityville, features as a prominent character in the story. The first description hints at the atmosphere that is flowing through its foundations:
All of the lines of the building pointed to the heavens. Two steep gables and the arch of every window beseeched the sky, as though the great house was a small cathedral indignant at its exile in rural Herefordshire. And despite over a century of rustication among uncultivated fields, the colour of its Accrington brick remained an angry red.
With this tale Neville gives the reader small tasters of the narrative. At the beginning of House of Small Shadows each chapter is minuscule. As the tale unfolds, the chapters become bigger, bursting with syntax and disturbing imagery that totally immerses the reader into the horror on the page. I suggest reading a tale from this bastion of dark fantasy this summer. Besides you may not be the only person by the pool reading dark materials, I did notice someone dabbling in the Satanic pages of a Katie Price biography and that does indeed fill me with terror, by day or by night.