You’ve never read Adam Nevill? Take a giant step into the fog
Later in 2017 Adam Nevill releases his second full collection of short stories “Hasty for the Dark” and to get his hoard of hungry fans into the mood he has just dropped a three story teaser “Before You Wake: Three Horrors” which currently costs 99p in the UK and $1.29 in the USA. However, soon the price will drop to FREE (Edit: it’s now made the drop). So if you’re short of cash hold of buying for a couple of weeks for Amazon to recalibrate the price of “Before You Wake” to nought. In publishing these days “free” is often synonymous with ‘self-published’ or ‘crap’ but if you have that fleeting thought here, kick it straight into touch immediately. In these three exquisitely crafted short stories you have a solid introduction to what one of Britain’s greatest living horror writers is all about. Long term fans will dive in greedily, but if you’re a newbie to Nevill, this taster is the perfect start to an author with a back-catalogue to truly savour and explore at your leisure.
In the UK horror scene Nevill has a well-earned stellar reputation but one wonders why he is not more widely known in the USA? After eight novels of consistently high quality there are precious few authors writing supernatural horror as diverse, frightening, unsettling, cleverly plotted or as original as him. I would have thought his dark ripple would have had a wider impact in the States by now? Although he’s primarily seen as a writer of long fiction his short stories are just as intense affairs as his novels, and the three chosen for “Before you Wake” are all relatively new offerings written between 2013 and 2015. I approach an Adam Nevill short story like a microcosm of his novels, they’re never gimmicky, and they frequently take their time, are always heavy on tension, have strong sense of time and place, are loaded with atmosphere and often have horrible endings. Actually, his short stories are frequently darker than his novels, and that’s saying something.
Your Kindle is over-loaded with free or cheapie books so why do you need this one? Firstly, you may very well hear of Nevill in wider circles later in the year when the big screen version of his terrifying odyssey into a Swedish forest “The Ritual” appears in the cinemas. Secondly, if you dig this free collection there is an earlier trilogy also available for nada, check out Amazon for “Before You Sleep” which are taken from “Some will not Sleep” which was published last year. These 2016 offerings are just as unpleasant as the trilogy I’m about to describe. Thirdly, these stories are designed to lead you to his novels, as that’s where the true gifts and rewards lie for the discerning horror fan.
The first story “The Angels of London” was a corker featuring the land-lord from hell. When luckless and down at heel Frank moves into a grotty room above a closed dilapidated pub called ‘The Angel of London’ he quickly regrets it. The place is worse than a dump [I happened to live in a pub just like it in South Tottenham (North London) in the mid-1990s called ‘The Mitre’ which thankfully is now a supermarket] and after a bad day poor Frank soon gets into an argument when his horrible landlord Granby taps him for a rent increase. Things then go from bad to worse for Frank and soon he’s even too scared to use the toilet on the landing after a fellow tenant hints about what lies in store if he defies the slimy Granby. As there is no negotiating with Granby. You can cut the tension with a blunt knife, and it really did time-warp me back to 1995, peeling wall-paper, a toilet with a peephole, worn-down carpet and all. A time and place I would rather avoid. Yuck, we’ve all lived in places we would rather forget.
Story two “Always in our Hearts” was arguable even better. Taxi-driver Ray causes a hit and run death and after lying low for a while thinks he’s in the clear and starts going about his business, picking up taxi fares across run down council estates. The story kicks off when he picks up John from a really horribly rundown house, the rather unsettling jolly passenger takes a package with him which appears to have something moving in it. A sick pet perhaps? Ray is then instructed to take a series of different passengers here and there, most of which have shifty looking packages. Easy money soon oozes into something else… It really was a great story, full of dark humour and tension, filthy breadcrumbs dropped here and there, with the reader certain John will get his comeuppance, but how? Horribly unpleasant stuff which has a terrific flow to it, as the author effectively drops the reader into the taxi with Ray, but thankfully we don’t have to pick up the bill.
The final story “Hippocampus” changes style entirely and is a darkly descriptive story set on an abandoned ship with no visible living beings. Where are the crew? Why is their abandoned uneaten food? Who has murdered who? Death is most certainly in the air. One can almost imagine walking through the after effects of some horrible crime or event with the reader feeling like he is intruding on something painful and that should be avoided. This moody little story is a nice conclusion to the trilogy and the change of pace is a clever one.
I recently reviewed a 100+ page magazine for another website featuring twelve short stories of various lengths and although there were some decent enough choices when it came to reviewing I felt like hollering: “if you want to find out how to write a really good horror story try Adam Nevill”. It was probably an unfair comparison as those contributors are most likely at the early stages of their careers and still learning their craft. Nevill has been living in this world for the best part of twenty years and when not writing horror, he is reading horror. All the best horror writers I know are also fanatical readers, it is all part of the same dark art. The best short stories aren’t simply black and white, twitchy curtains and ghosts behind the windows and other clichés, they are much more. There is nobody better at avoiding the cliché, and layering stories and writing horror that push the boundaries of horror conventions with cleverly structured stories than Adam Nevill. So aspiring authors should check this collection out and compare their own stuff to what Nevill produces and honestly grade themselves against what might be seen as the gold standard in horror short story writing. Nevill is not alone of course, there are many others who consistently write high quality horror short stories, and one of my favourites as the moment is Ted E Grau who is one of the leading American writers of this type of dark art.
If short stories aren’t your bag and this article has interested you enough to check out an Adam Nevill novel, where do you start? Here are some personal points of reference….
Are you looking forward to the new version of Stephen King’s “IT” but you’re a tad scared of ‘Pennywise the Clown’? Well, I’ll tell you this, Pennywise is a pussycat compared to what lives in the basement of 82 Edgware Road in “No One Gets Out Alive”. Or maybe you’re thinking of spending your hard earned cash on the film version of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower”? The word is the film is supposed to be crap, so instead try “Lost Girl” which gives another type of reality to King, an environment disaster brought on by global warming, but within the chaos a father refuses to believe his lost little girl is dead. A truly brutal read. Finally, maybe you’re bored of stereotypical bad guys and unkillable super-villains and you think you’ve seen or read it at all? Think again, in Adam Nevill’s “Last Days” an unlucky indie filmmaker researches into a long defunct cult until he unleashes ‘the Blood Friends’ a nasty which will have you examining the stain on the wall behind the fridge with edgy suspicion in no time at all. You might be next. All highly recommended, as are his other five novels.
Who knows why Adam Nevill is not better known in the USA? Haven’t I already asked that question? Astonishingly, he has NEVER been nominated for either of the big horror gongs, the Bram Stoker Award or the Shirley Jackson Award. This bizarre oversight has some British horror fans shaking their heads, these awards should be proud to have this guy on their shortlists.
So stick your toes in the water. By taking a punt on “Before you Wake: Three Horrors” it could be the beginning of something special for you. On relatively few occasions, but it does occasionally still happen, I discover an author with an extensive back-catalogue to be explored and it can be an exciting moment deciding what to try next. If that’s you, and supernatural horror is your thing, Adam Nevill’s back-catalogue awaits.
Written by: Tony Jones