Tuesday 18 June 2024

Heck returns this autumn in all new novel

Im absolutely delighted to announce that the Mark Heckenburg crime series will recommence in the autumn of this year, with a scheduled publication date of mid-October.

There. Ive said it, Im committed to it and nothing will change it. 

I know that for fans of the Heck novels there have been false daws previously, which has been agonising for me as well, I assure you. But all the days of uncertainty at last are over, and Ill be bringing the next novel out - its called ROGUE, and will be the eighth in the Heck series - in time for the Christmas market. Its been a long and difficult road, this, and Ill explain a little bit about the problems that have arisen.

First though, as a quick interlude, just a quick reminder that there will be no Terror Tales volume this year, as my bandwidth is simply too full, but that we’ll be making up for it next year with a bumper edition, TERROR TALES OF CHAOS, as provided by a host of top horror names. 

And now, back to the main news item of the day ...

Heck returns

The Heck series was a great success for me. The first batch of Heck novels ran from 2012 until 2018. There were seven in total, but also a number of short stories and novellas. 

They follow the investigations of a young detective sergeant attached to the Serial Crimes Unit, a subsection of the National Grime Group (a kind of British version of the FBI, and before anyone says anything, the first of these books was published before the National Crime Agency was born, so as I always say, Scotland Yard got the idea from me).

As a cop whose brief is to follow the very worst of the worst - serial killers and rapists, hitmen, torturers and other violent psychopaths who are all deemed likely to continue their reigns of terror until brought to book - Heck has got himself into some unenviable scrapes over the years, and thanks to his unit’s remit to cover the whole of England and Wales, has pursued ultra-dangerous offenders in locations as far apart as the Thames estuary, Sunderland, the Lake District, Manchester and even on occasion, in the wilds of the Scottish Highlands. 

At the core of the overarching story sits Heck’s difficult relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Gemma Piper, who by this time, as the detective superintendent in charge of the Serial Crimes Unit (or SCU), had become his senior supervisor.

Heck and Gemma had originally split up for spurious reasons (mainly Heck’s) and by the time the books start, have a purely professional relationship, though of course things can never be that simple.

Throughout the books and stories, they unsuccessfully try to keep each other at arm’s length. In fact, they hold each other in such unspoken affection that simply concealing it is difficult, though increasingly not so much for Gemma, who as the straightest bat in the police service is endlessly frustrated by Heck’s more chaotic approach to the job.

Basically, Heck will stop at nothing to shut down the careers of those he considers to be enemies of society. And this isn’t just restricted to playing every trick in the book. If necessary, he can and will strongarm his targets. Of course, that’s a dangerous game in the modern police era. You can end up in prison yourself, which for Heck would be a death sentence. So, he continually walks a perilous tightrope through the world of law enforcement, as often at odds with his own side as with the opposition.

What happened?

The reason the Heck series came to its temporary halt in 2018, with KISS OF DEATH the most recent caper in chronological terms, is purely technical. 

In short, I changed publishers. 

Avon Books were part of HarperCollins, who enabled me to create the Heck series, and I had many happy years rolling out the novels for them. When I moved to Orion in 2020, they were willing to continue the series under their banner - which was amazingly generous of them, given that Heck had never been their original character - but in the end, it was my own decision to write stand-alones for Orion. Two of these books were produced: ONE EYE OPEN and NEVER SEEN AGAIN. Again, they were no holds barred crime thrillers, set in the same universe as Heck (the National Crime Group and the Serial Crimes Unit were all referenced, though Heck himself didn’t appear).

After writing a couple of historical novels for Canelo - USURPER and BATTLE LORD - something I was simply desperate to do, I’ve now returned to the crime fiction scene with Thomas & Mercer, who have commissioned two more stand-alone novels, DEATH LIST and THE MURDER TOUR. Again, these are not Heck novels, but seeing that they are only slated for publication in 2025, T&M have very graciously allowed me to bring the next Heck novel out this year.

Anyway, that’s the background stuff. Now ...

Where do we pick up?

The Heck series resumes a very short time after KISS OF DEATH.

For those new to the series, KISS OF DEATH saw Gemma Piper’s Serial Crimes Unit, under dire threat of being axed in order to save costs, and thus put under joint-command with the Cold Cases Team (helmed by Detective Chief Superintendent Gwen Straker) with the codename Operation Sledgehammer, and assigned to bring in the 20 most dangerous wanted fugitives from UK justice who are still believed to be in mainland Britain.

The whereabouts of these various killers are unknown, but all of them are classified as Category A, aka they are wanted in connection with the most heinous crimes imaginable and are capable of homicidal violence at the drop of a hat.

For example, Leonard Spate is chief suspect in the murder of a his ex-girlfriend and then the burning down of the Carlisle house in which her two children were sleeping, while Patrick Hallahan is believed to have committed a restaurant robbery in Slough, where two members of staff and a customer were shot dead, and Malcolm Kaye is the suspected deviant who’s been raping and strangling sex workers in Liverpool.

Heck, now working with his new SCU partner, the spiky but spirited Detective Constable Gail Honeyford (whom we first met in HUNTED), is sent in pursuit of Eddie Creeley, a career bank robber, whose last job saw him abduct a bank manager and his wife, and murder the latter by injecting her with battery acid.   

Immediately, though he’s focussed on capturing Creeley, Heck is mystified that so many of these ultra-violent offenders have gone missing. Have they themselves become a target for someone?

What follows is a investigation fraught with danger, as Heck and Honeyford follow Creeley’s twisting trail from Humberside back to London and finally to Cornwall, in the process entering the world of high-level organised crime, where vengeance can be enacted on recalcitrant elements by forcing them to fight each other to the death in hideous gladiatorial combats.

In case there are any folks reading this who haven’t yet read KISS OF DEATH, I won’t say any more about how the book pans out, but I do need to mention that once all the dust has apparently settled, it culminates in a truly horrific event, which nobody involved saw coming, and which sets the scene for ROGUE, a Heck thriller which ultimately is as much about revenge as law enforcement.

My recommendation would be that, if you haven’t already read KISS OF DEATH, do so before you pick up ROGUE. But if you’d rather not, you can rest assured that ROGUE stands on its own merits; I’ve endeavoured from the start to make it crystal clear what is happening and why, and to ensure that not having read the previous volume will NOT spoil your enjoyment of it.

Dear All ... ROGUE is a book I’ve been dying to launch into the public domain. The final processes are now underway, and, as I say, it will be published this autumn, most likely in October. But keep watching this space for lots of updates re. artwork, blurbs, book trailers, pre-order details and so forth. 

Wednesday 5 June 2024

Chilling books for the chilly end of the year


Greetings all as summer dawns, even though it’s wet, miserable and unusually cold here even for Lancashire. And apologies that I’ve not been a very frequent poster of late. It’s not that I haven’t got much to report - quite the contrary, though a bit more about that later - but mainly because I’ve been so busy. Deadlines have been piling up on me one after another, with such regularity that I haven’t been able to take any time off to blog.

I know that probably sounds like an excuse, but I swear it’s true. However, a convenient break in the schedule has now arrived, which, if nothing else, will allow me to focus on a whole bunch of upcoming book titles, which in my opinion are going to make exciting reading in the second half of this year, in other words from July through to December.

You’ll find that item further down the column. Feel free to jump straight down there, if you wish. Unless of course you’re equally interested in those snippets of Finch news that I hinted at, in which case keep on reading.

The year so far

I’ve just delivered the first draft of my brand new crime novel, DEATH LIST, to my new publisher, Thomas & Mercer. It’s a free-stander, but it’s a bit of a departure for me in that it doesn’t involve an official criminal investigation, though worry not: it’s cop-heavy, crime-heavy, murder-very-heavy (as you can see, we won’t be straying too far from home).

I don’t want to give too much away at this stage, though I can admit it’s a very unusual setting for me, even if it will still, hopefully, be one of the scariest books I’ve written to date. To know more, sadly, you’ll need to wait until publication in spring next year.

I’ve also spent time in this first half of 2024 putting the finishing touches to the first draft of my next novel for Canelo. I can’t disclose the title as yet, but it’s another historical adventure, this time set during the Third Crusade. 

It involves the same Saxon/Norman family who participated in USURPER and BATTLE LORD (and who knows, maybe a kind of saga is taking shape here). This time, the central character is far from home, not only fighting in the army of Richard the Lionheart, but increasingly concerned that through past misdeeds, his soul might be lost. The question is does the solution to this lie in his becoming meek, charitable and forgiving, or by waging war all the harder against those deemed to be God’s enemies, or by returning a prize captive to England, an angelic young woman who is also a pillar of Christian piety, and in the process needing to overcome every kind of obstacle imaginable?

Also, thanks to the intense workload in this first part of the year, I’ve got some shorter material out in the second. A short horror story, JACK-A-LENT (a slice of folk horror set in urban Liverpool) will appear in the indefatigable Mark Morris’s latest horror anthology, ELEMENTAL FORCES, in October. In addition, a horror novella, which I can’t reveal the name of yet (also an urban chiller, though in this case with Satanic undertones), will be published in the second part of the year, along with a new Mark Heckenburg novelette, which again is embargoed at the present time. In both those cases, keep watching this space for further info.

Lastly, and this is a more recent development, autumn will also see the publication of the next full-length Heck novel, ROGUE.

Yes, you read that rightly. 

For several years now, I’ve been beset with enquiries about whether the Heck series will continue. The answer is yes. At last, all the necessary agreements have been reached, and ROGUE will be out before the end of this year. The reason I’m not delivering this important news with a trumpet blast and much banner-waving is because, though the book is finished and has been edited, there are still a few hoops to jump through in terms of publishing logistics. So, you’ll just need to bear with me on that and I’ll blast it out noisily when everything is finally in place.

And now, as promised ...

30 CHILLING READS FOR THE 
CHILLIER END OF THE YEAR


I think you all know the format by now. At the end of each of year, usually around late December, and at the halfway point each year, usually in June, I regale you with 30 upcoming book titles I’ve cherry-picked for the six months ahead ... and yes, that’s where we are today.

Though my selections always come from under the blanket term, ‘dark fiction’, I will, as usual, be dividing them up into three distinct categories and picking ten from each: Crime, Thriller and Horror.

These will not be exhaustive lists by any means. There are more exciting looking publications due over the next six months than I can possibly name in one blogpost, so, to stay fully informed, keep your eye on the social media outlets that deal with this sort of thing. But I feel fairly confident that the 30 I’ll be underlining today will be of strong interest to most of those following this blog.

It’s probably also worth making the point that, by the nature of this item (these titles not having been published yet), I’m not in a position to offer you book reviews. All I can do at this stage is give you the publication dates and accompany these with cover shots and official publisher blurbs.

Okay, here we go. July to December 2024, in order of publication, 30 of the most interesting looking works of dark fiction thus far drawn to my attention, 10 crime, 10 thrillers, 10 horror. Enjoy ...


CRIME


1. MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT 
by Riley Sager (Jul 2 in hb)

On July 15, 1994, ten-year-old Ethan and his best friend Billy fell asleep together in their quiet New Jersey cul de sac.

In the morning, Ethan woke up alone. The tent was sliced open, and Billy was gone, taken. He was never seen again.

Thirty years later, Ethan has returned to Hemlock Circle, still desperate for answers.

Who took Billy?

Plagued by bad dreams and insomnia, he begins to notice strange things happening on the street under the cover of darkness. Someone is prowling the cul de sac when no one is awake to see them.

Are they still out there?

This isn’t a bad neighbourhood. These aren’t bad people.

What if they are?


2. CONFESSIONS OF THE DEAD by James Patterson and JD Barker (July 4 in pb and Audible)


The dead tell no tales . . .

Hollows Bend is a picture-perfect New England town where weekend tourists flock to see fall leaves and eat breakfast at the Stairway Diner. The crime rate – zero – is a point of pride for Sheriff Ellie Pritchett.

The day the stranger shows up is when the trouble starts. The sheriff and her deputy investigate the mysterious teenage girl. None of the locals can place her. She can’t – or won’t – answer any questions. She won’t even tell them her name.

While the girl is in protective custody, the officers are called to multiple crime scenes leading them closer and closer to a lake outside of town that doesn’t appear on any map . . .


3. RESOLUTION by Irvine Welsh (July 11 in eb, hb and Audible)


OLD TRUTHS HAVE NEW CONSEQUENCES

Ray Lennox is determined to move on from his darkest days. The former detective has left Edinburgh for a fresh start in Brighton. Soon, his fixations and addictions have been replaced with quiet evenings and a rigorous fitness regime.

Then Lennox meets Mathew Cardingworth. Rich, smooth-talking and immaculately dressed, he presents himself as a successful and respectable property developer. Yet their encounter reawakens memories that have haunted Lennox for decades, sending him into a spiral of confusion and rage.

Lennox has no choice – he must confront the events of his childhood. But the more he identifies the links between Cardingworth, the disappearance of a group of foster care boys and the violence of his past, the more he finds himself asking: What will he sacrifice to achieve resolution at last?


4. SUGAR ON THE BONES by Joe R Lansdale (July 16 in hb)


PI duo Hap and Leonard investigate the untimely death of a woman whose family stood much to gain from her passing.

Minnie Polson is dead. Burned to a crisp in a fire so big and bad it had to be deliberate. The only thing worse is that Hap and Leonard could have prevented it. Maybe. 

Minnie had a feeling she was being targeted, shaken down by some shadowy force. However, when she’d solicited Hap and Leonard, all it took was one off colour joke to turn her sour and she’d called them off the investigation. 

Wracked with a guilty conscience, the two PIs - along with Hap’s fleet-footed wife, Brett - tuck in to the case. As they look closer, they dredge up troublesome facts: for one, Minnie’s daughter, Alice, has recently vanished. She’d been hard up after her pet grooming business went under and was in line to collect a whopping insurance sum should anything happen to her mother. The same was due to Minnie’s estranged husband, Al, whose kryptonite (beautiful, money-grubbing women) had left him with only a run-down mobile home. 

But did Minnie’s foolish, cash-strapped family really have it in them to commit a crime this grisly? Or is there a larger, far more sinister scheme at work?


5. THE LOST COAST by Jon and Jessie Kellerman (Aug 8 in hb)


When coroner-turned-private investigator Clay Edison is approached to work on a fraud case, he uncovers more than he bargained before: a decades-old scheme targeting the vulnerable.

His investigation leads him to a strange town in the remote California wilderness where the residents don’t care much for outsiders.

They certainly don’t like Clay asking questions. And they’ll do just about anything to keep him quiet. . .


6. WHITESANDS by Johann Thorsson (Aug 8 in eb and pb)

A detective on the bitter edge. A killer like he’s never seen before.

Detective John Dark’s daughter has been missing for two years. In his frantic and fruitless search for her he overreached his position and was reprimanded and subsequently demoted.

Now mysteriously reinstated to the homicide department, Dark is put on a chilling case – a man who killed his wife in their locked house and then dressed the body up to resemble a deer. A few days later an impossibly similar case crops up connecting the suspects to a thirty year old missing persons’ case.

As Dark is finally making headway, a new lead in his daughter’s disappearance pops up and threatens to derail his career again.

Time is running out and Dark needs to solve the case before more people are killed, and while there is still hope to find his daughter.


7. BLOOD LIKE MINE by Stuart Neville (Aug 15 in eb, hb and Audible)


You would do anything to protect your child.
Even if she’s a monster . . .

Rebecca Carter and her daughter Monica, nicknamed Moonflower, travel the American West, always on the move, always hiding, always looking behind them, always keeping Moonflower out of sight. They speak to no one, only interacting with people when it’s absolutely necessary.

But wherever they go, bodies are left behind.

Special Agent Marc Donner of the FBI has been tracking a killer for the best part of two years. A murderer that strikes once every few weeks. The victims are all men, many disappearing only to be found months later, dumped in forests or rivers or quarries, far from their places of death. All of them with their throats opened, their bodies bled out and their spinal cords severed.

The killer leaves no trace, no clues – only a trail of corpses.

After all this time, Donner has gleaned only a handful of facts from the few witnesses and snippets of CCTV footage available. He’s hunting a middle-aged woman who drives a van with blacked-out windows and false plates. Often she poses as a child online to lure in her prey. It’s never been enough to track her down though.

Until now.

And so begins a cat-and-mouse game between Donner and his prey, Rebecca and Moonflower. But who is the actual hunter – and who is the actual prey? For perhaps Moonflower isn’t the child that her mother claims she is. Perhaps she’s something else – and as Donner puts everything on the line to capture them and prove his suspicions right, perhaps he isn’t prepared to face what is really out there.


8. THE DARK WIVES by Ann Cleeves (Aug 29 in eb, hb and Audible)


A LOCAL MYTH. A DEADLY THREAT.

A body is found by an early morning dog walker on the common outside Rosebank, a care home for troubled teens. The victim is Josh, a staff member, who never showed up to work.

DI Vera Stanhope is called out to investigate. Her only clue is the disappearance of fourteen-year-old resident Chloe. Vera can’t bring herself to believe that a teenager is responsible for the murder, but even she can’t dismiss the possibility.

Vera, Joe and new team member Rosie are soon embroiled in the case, but when a second body is found near the Three Dark Wives standing stones in the wilds of the Northumbrian countryside, folklore and fact begin to collide.

Vera knows she has to find Chloe to get to the truth, but it seems that the dark secrets in their community may be far more dangerous than she could ever have believed. . .


9. THE EXAMINER by Janice Hallett (Aug 29 in eb, hb and Audible)


Six Students. One Murder. Your Time Starts Now...

The mature students of Royal Hastings University’s new Multimedia Art course have been trouble from day one. Acclaimed artist Alyson wants the department to revolve around her. Ludya struggles to balance her family and the workload. Jonathan has management experience but zero talent for art. Lovely Patrick can barely operate his mobile phone, let alone professional design software. Meanwhile blustering Cameron tries to juggle the course with his job in the City and does neither very well. Then there’s Jem. A gifted young sculptor, she’s a promising student... but cross her at your peril.

The year-long course is blighted by accusations of theft, students setting fire to one another’s artwork, a rumoured extra-marital affair and a disastrous road trip. But finally they are given their last assignment: to build an interactive art installation for a local manufacturer. With six students who have nothing in common except their clashing personal agendas, what could possibly go wrong?

The answer is: murder. When the external examiner arrives to assess the students’ essays and coursework, he becomes convinced that a student was killed on the course and that the others covered it up. But is he right? And if so, who is dead, why were they killed, and who is the murderer? Only a close examination of the evidence will reveal the truth. Your time starts now...


10. THE WAITING by Michael Connelly (Oct 15 in eb, hb and Audible)


LAPD Detective Renée Ballard tracks a terrifying serial rapist whose trail has gone cold with the help of the newest volunteer to the Open-Unsolved Unit: Patrol Officer Maddie Bosch, Harry’s daughter.

Renée Ballard and the LAPD’s Open-Unsolved Unit get a hot shot DNA connection between a recently arrested man and a serial rapist and murderer who went quiet twenty years ago. The arrested man is only twenty-three, so the genetic link must be familial. It is his father who was the Pillowcase Rapist, responsible for a five-year reign of terror in the City of Angels. But when Ballard and her team move in on their suspect, they encounter a baffling web of secrets and legal hurdles.

Meanwhile, Ballard’s badge, gun, and ID are stolen, a theft she can't report without giving her enemies in the department the ammunition they need to end her career as a detective. She works the burglary alone, but her solo mission leads her into greater danger than she anticipates. She has no choice but to go outside the department for help, and that leads her to the door of Harry Bosch.

Finally, Ballard takes on a new volunteer to the cold case unit. Bosch’s daughter Maddie wants to supplement her work as a patrol officer on the night beat by investigating cases with Ballard. But Renée soon learns that Maddie has an ulterior motive for getting access to the city’s library of lost souls.

THRILLER


1. DEATH PACT by Matt Hilton (July 2 in eb and hb)


All angels are not goodness and light. In fact . . . they’re some of the most murderous creatures you’ll ever come across

Former detective Nate Freeman just wants to be left alone as he recovers from the case that ended his career two years ago. As a child, he and his brother Will were saved from a religious fanatic compound in the US and brought to the UK. Now, as an adult, Nate has no idea where Will, or any of the other surviving ‘Children of Hamor’ are, until they suddenly start turning up dead - minus some skin . . .

When his old boss DCI Openshaw asks him to assist in finding the serial killer who is hell bent on collecting the symbols so brutally branded onto the children’s backs in the name of Berith - the Fallen Angel - Nate finds himself conflicted. As one of ‘the promised’ Nate is in mortal danger, and as the case builds momentum Will becomes the prime suspect. It’s an intense race against time for Nate to uncover the identity of the ‘angelic’ serial killer and save his own skin in the process!


2. A BETTER WORLD by Sarah Langan (July 2 in eb and pb)


As the outside world literally falls apart, Linda and Russell Farmer-Bowen and their teenage twins are offered the chance to relocate to Plymouth Valley, a walled-off company town with clean air, pantries that never go empty, and blue-ribbon schools. The family jumps at the opportunity. They’d be crazy not to take it. This might be their last chance at survival.

But fitting in takes work. And the strange residents fervently adhere to a group of customs and beliefs called Hollow... but what exactly is Hollow? Finally, thanks to Linda’s medical skills, they begin to find acceptance, and everything seems fine. Sure, Russell starts hyperventilating through a paper bag in the middle of the night, and the kids have drifted like bridgeless islands, but at least they’ll survive. But something isn’t right. The more Linda learns, the more frightened she becomes. Should the Farmer-Bowens be fighting to stay, or fighting to get out?


3. THE STRANGER UPSTAIRS by Lisa M Martin (July 2 in pb)

Most people wouldn’t buy an infamous murder house to renovate for fun . . . but Sarah Slade is not most people.

A therapist and self-help writer with all the answers, Sarah has just bought a gorgeous Victorian in the community of her dreams. Turns out you can get a killer deal on a house where someone was murdered. Plus, renovating Black Wood House makes for great blog content and a potent distraction from her failing marriage. Good thing nobody knows that her past is as tainted as the bloodstain on her bedroom floor.

But the renovations are fast becoming a nightmare. Sarah imagined custom avocado wallpaper, massive profits, and an appreciative husband who would want to share her bed again. Instead, the neighbors hate her guts and her husband still sleeps on the couch. And though the builders attempt to cover up Black Wood’s horrifying past, a series of bizarre accidents, threatening notes, and unexplained footsteps in the attic only confirm for Sarah what the rest of the town already knows: Something is very wrong in that house.

With every passing moment, Sarah’s life spirals further out of control—and with it her sense of reality. But as she peels back the curling wallpaper and discovers the house’s secrets, she realizes that the deadly legacy of Black Wood House has only just begun.


4. THE WILDS by Sarah Pearse (Juy 16 in hb and Audible)


After the dark events that scarred her childhood, Kier Templer escaped her hometown and twin to live her life on the road. They’ve never lost contact until, on a trip to a Portuguese national park, Kier vanishes without a trace.

Detective Elin Warner arrives in the same park ready to immerse herself in its vast wilderness - only to hear about Kier's disappearance, and discover a disturbing map she left behind. The few strangers at the isolated camp close ranks against her questions, and the park’s wild beauty starts to turn sinister.

Elin must untangle the clues to find out what really happened to Kier. But when you follow a trail, you have to be careful to watch your back...


5. THE GRIEF HOUSE by Rebecca Thorn (out now on Audible, eb and hb, July 18 in pb)

Everyone is lying.
But the dead know the truth.

A week-long retreat on a beautiful country estate with no phones and no WiFi isn’t ex-tarot reader Blue’s usual getaway. But ever since her mother’s death she’s been carrying a secret. Could this finally help her let it go?

When she arrives, it’s raining, and there’s something strange about the house. Only a few guests have made it through the weather. As the owners, Molly and Joshua Park, try desperately to cling to normality, the storm worsens until they’re stranded in the house - cut off from the outside world.

And after one of the guests disappears in the night, Blue wonders who around her, the Parks and the guests, is telling the truth about why they’re there - and whose grief might be hiding a deeper secret.

The floodwater rises. Everyone is keeping secrets - but only one is a killer. Can Blue escape with her life, and her sanity?


6. ONE PERFECT COUPLE by Ruth Ware (July 18 in eb, hb and Audible)


Five beautiful couples.
One deadly game.
Who will escape alive?

Lyla Santiago has spent months working on a research project that could be the key to getting a permanent job in her field.

So, she can’t really drop everything to go to a desert island with her actor boyfriend Nico to film One Perfect Couple, a new reality TV show that Nico is sure will lead to his big break – can she?

Two weeks later, Lyla finds herself boarding a boat to an isolated luxury resort in the Indian Ocean.

The rules of the game are simple. Ten strangers have to survive together on the island - and the last couple standing scoops the prize.

There will be sun, sea, laughs and plenty of flirting.
What could possibly go wrong?

But when a huge tropical storm cuts them off from everything, the group must band together.
As tensions run high and fresh water runs low, Lyla realises that someone is playing this game for real – and they’ll stop at nothing to win.

Ten might have arrived, but who will survive to the end?


7. HOUSE OF BONE AND RAIN by Gabino Iglasias (Aug 6 in hb)


For childhood friends Gabe, Xavier, Tavo, Paul, and Bimbo, death has always been close. Hurricanes. Car accidents. Gang violence. Suicide. Estamos rodeados de fantasmas was Gabe’s grandmother’s refrain. We are surrounded by ghosts. But this time is different. Bimbo’s mom has been shot dead. We’re gonna kill the guys who killed her Bimbo swears. And they all agree.

Feral with grief, Bimbo has become unrecognizable, taking no prisoners in his search for names. Soon, they learn Maria was gunned down by guys working for the drug kingpin of Puerto Rico. No one has ever gone up against him and survived. As the boys strategize, a storm gathers far from the coast. Hurricanes are known to carry evil spirits in their currents and bring them ashore, spirits which impose their own order.

Blurring the boundaries between myth, mysticism, and the grim realities of our world, House of Bone and Rain is a harrowing coming of age story; a doomed tale of devotion, the afterlife of violence, and what rolls in on the tide.


8. PRECIPICE by Robert Harris (Aug 29 in eb, hb and Audible)

Summer 1914. A world on the brink of catastrophe.

In London, 26-year-old Venetia Stanley – aristocratic, clever, bored, reckless – is having a love affair with the Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith, a man more than twice her age. He writes to her obsessively, sharing the most sensitive matters of state.

As Asquith reluctantly leads the country into war with Germany, a young intelligence officer is assigned to investigate a leak of top secret documents – and suddenly what was a sexual intrigue becomes a matter of national security that will alter the course of political history.


9. HELLE AND DEATH by Oskar Jensen (Oct 10 in pb)


A snowstorm. A country house. Old friends reunited.
It's going to be murder...

Torben Helle - art historian, Danish expat and owner of several excellent Scandinavian jumpers - has been dragged to a remote snowbound Northumbrian mansion for a ten-year reunion with old university friends. Things start to go sideways when their host, a reclusive and irritating tech entrepreneur, makes some shocking revelations at the dinner table. And when these are followed by an apparent suicide, the group faces a test of their wits... and their trust.

Snowed in and cut off, surrounded by enigmatic housekeepers and off-duty police inspectors, not to mention a peculiar last will and testament, suspicion and sarcasm quickly turn to panic. As the temperature drops and the tension mounts, Torben decides to draw upon all the tricks of Golden Age detectives past in order to solve the mystery: how much money would it take to turn one of his old friends into a murderer? But he'd better be quick, or someone else might end up dead...


10. NOBODY’S HERO by MW Craven (Oct 10 in hb)

The man who can’t feel fear is back, in a race against time to find the woman who knows a secret that could take down the world as we know it.

When a shocking murder and abduction on the streets of London leads investigators to him, Ben Koenig has no idea at first why the highest echelons of the CIA would need his help. But then he realises he knows the woman who carried out the killings. Ten years earlier, without being told why, he was tasked with helping her disappear.

Far from being a deranged killer, she is the gatekeeper of a secret that could take down the West, so for years she has been in hiding. Until now.

And if she has resurfaced, the danger may be closer and more terrifying than anyone can imagine.

So Ben Koenig has to find her before it’s too late. But Ben suffers from a syndrome which means he can’t feel fear. He doesn’t always know when he should walk away, or when he’s leading others into danger . . .

HORROR


1. THAT WHICH STANDS OUTSIDE by Mark Morris (July 16 in eb, hb and pb)


After Todd Kingston rescues Yrsa Helgerson from muggers one rainy London night, their resulting friendship quickly develops into a romance. When Yrsa’s mother dies, Todd accompanies her back to her childhood home, an isolated Nordic island. The reception they receive there is one of suspicion and hostility. 

The islanders believe Yrsa to be a child of a mythic race called the Jötnar, a claim which Yrsa dismisses as superstitious nonsense. But as the island is rocked by a series of devastating events, Todd finds himself caught up in a terrifying battle, one which possibly threatens the future of the world itself.


2. I WAS A TEENAGE SLASHER by Stephen Graham Jones (July 16 in pb, July 24 in Audible)

1989, Lamesa, Texas. 

A small west Texas town driven by oil and cotton―and a place where everyone knows everyone else’s business. So it goes for Tolly Driver, a good kid with more potential than application, seventeen, and about to be cursed to kill for revenge. 

Here Stephen Graham Jones explores the Texas he grew up in, the unfairness of being on the outside, through slasher horror but from the perspective of the killer, Tolly, writing his own autobiography. 

Find yourself rooting for a killer in this summer teen movie of a novel gone full blood-curdling tragic.


3. FOLK HORROR SHORT STORIES (BEYOND AND WITHIN) ed by Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan (Aug 20 in hb)

A new anthology of Folk Horror stories, covering a wide range of mythologies and dark corners from around the world, revealing tales from the shadows of isolation, creepy forests and horrors rising from the land itself. 

Award-winning anthologists Paul Kane and Marie O'Regan have commissioned and chosen an outstanding selection of stories from some exceptional authors.

Contents: The White Road by Neil Gaiman; The Well by John Connolly; Rabbitheart by Jen Williams; 
The Original Occupant by Adam L.G. Nevill; Summer Bonus by Lee Murray; The Druid Stone by Katie Young; Blessed Mary by Stephen Volk; The Great White by Benjamin Spada; The Marsh-Widow’s Bargain by H.R. Laurence; Good Boy by Alison Littlewood; The Finest Creation of an Artful God by B. Zelkovich; The Third Curse by Helen Grant; The Lights Under Rachel by Kathryn Healy; 
Pilgrimage of the Hummingbird by V. Castro; The Grim by Cavan Scott; Pontianak: An Origin Story by Christina Sng; Ghost Land of Giants by Linda D. Addison


4. BOUND IN BLOOD ed by Johnny Mains (Sept 10 in eb and hb)


A chilling anthology of over 20 stories of cursed and haunted books; featuring malevolent second-hand books, cursed novelizations, unsettling journals and the end of the world.

You find it hidden in the dark corner of the bookstore; tucked away in a box in the attic, desperate to be read; lurking on your bookshelf, never seen before. Crack the spine, feel the ancient pages. Read it aloud, if you dare.

This anthology brings together horror’s best and brightest to delve into the pages of cursed books, Eldtritch tomes and haunted bookstores.

Featuring stories from: Charlie Higson, A.K. Benedict, Alison Moore, Eric LaRocca, Nadia Bulkin, Lucie McKnight Hardy, Priya Sharma, Isy Suttie, Kim Newman, Zin E. Rocklyn, A.G. Slatter, Amanda DeBord, Jeremy Dyson, Ramsey Campbell, Robert Shearman, Guy Adams, Elizabeth Hand and Adam Cesare.


5. WITHERED HILL by David Barnett (Sep 26 in pb and eb)


If you find your way here, you’re already lost.

A year ago Sophie Wickham stumbled into the isolated Lancashire village of Withered Hill, naked, alone and with no memory of who she is.

Surrounded by a thick ring of woodland, its inhabitants seem to be of another world, drenched in pagan, folklorish traditions.

As Sophie struggles to regain the memories of her life from before, she quickly realises she is a prisoner after multiple failed escape attempts. But is it the locals who keep her trapped, with smiles on their faces, or something else, lurking in the woods?

In London, Sophie leads a chaotic life, with too many drunken nights, inappropriate men and boring temp jobs. But things take a turn as she starts to be targeted by strange messages warning her that someone, or something, is coming for her.

With no idea who to trust, or where to turn for help, the messages become more insistent and more intimidating, urging Sophie to make her way to a place called Withered Hill…


6. THE BOG WIFE by Kay Chronister (Oct 1 eb and pb)


It is said that the Haddesleys have too much of the bog in their blood to live in the world. Living an isolated existence in the Appalachians, they observe strange rituals and worship the forest and mud that surrounds them.

When Charles, the patriarch of the family, reveals he is dying, his children rally around him, only to find their fraying bonds tearing apart one by one, and their beliefs upended. For Wenna, the only Haddesley to have ever escaped the forest, it means coming home to face difficult truths. For Charlie, the eldest son, his father’s death means facing up to new, terrifying responsibilities.

Because the bog is waiting, ever-growing, ever-hungry, and if the Haddesley children aren’t careful, they will awaken something they have tried to keep at bay for a century.


7. WILLIAM by Mason Coile (Oct 3 in eb, Audible and pb)


Henry, a brilliant but reclusive engineer, has achieved the crowning discovery of his career: he’s created an artificially intelligent consciousness. He names the half-formed robot William.

But there’s something strange about William.

It’s not that his skin feels like balloon rubber and is the colour of curdled milk, nor is it his thick gurgling laugh or the way his tongue curls towards his crooked top teeth. It is the way he looks at Henry’s wife, Lily.

Henry created William but he is starting to lose control of him. As William’s fixation with Lily grows and threatens to bring harm to their house, Henry has no choice but to destroy William.

But William isn’t gone. Filled with jealousy for humanity, for its capacity to love and create life, William starts to haunt the house.

He lurks behind each locked door. You can hear him muttering in the eaves of the attic. He is whispering in Henry’s head. And he will be the one to take control . . .


8. ELEMENTAL FORCES ed by Mark Morris (Oct 8 in eb, hb and pb)


Elemental Forces is the fifth volume in the non-themed horror series of original stories, showcasing the very best short fiction that the genre has to offer, and edited by Mark Morris. This new anthology contains 20 original horror stories, 16 of which have been commissioned from some of the top names in horror, and 4 selected from the 100s of stories sent to Flame Tree during a short open submissions window. A delicious feast of the familiar and the new, the established and the emerging.

Featuring stories from: Poppy Z Brite, Andy Davidson, Aaron Dries, Paul Finch, Christina Henry, Laurel Hightower, Verity Holloway, Jim Horlock, Gwendolyn Kiste, Annie Knox, Sarah Langan, Tim Lebbon, Will Maclean, Tim Major, Luigi Musolino, Kurt Newton, Nicholas Royle, David J Schow, Paul Tremblay, David J Schow, PC Verrone.


9. IN THE MAD MOUNTAINS by Joe R Lansdale (Oct 15 in pb)


Eleven-time Bram Stoker Award-winner Joe R. Lansdale returns with this wicked short story collection of his irreverent Lovecraftian tributes. Lansdale is terrifyingly down-home while merging his classic gonzo stylings with the eldritch horrors of H. P. Lovecraft. Knowingly skewering Lovecraft’s paranoid mythos, Lansdale embarks upon haunting yet sly explorations of the unknown, capturing the essence of cosmic dread.

A sinister blues recording pressed on vinyl in blood conjures lethal shadows with its unearthly wails. In order to rescue Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn traverses the shifting horrors of the aptly named Dread Island. In the weird Wild West, Reverend Jebidiah Mercer rides into a possessed town to confront the unspeakable in the crawling sky. Legendary detective C. Auguste Dupin uncovers the gruesome secrets of both the blue lightning bug and the Necronomicon.

Exploring the darkest corners of the human psyche, here is a lethally entertaining journey through Joe Lansdale’s twisted landscape, where ancient evils lurk and sanity hangs by a rapidly fraying thread.

Contents: The Bleeding Shadow; Dread Island; The Gruesome Affair of the Electric Blue Lightning; The Tall Grass; The Case of the Stalking Shadows; The Crawling Sky; Starlight, Eyes Bright; In the Mad Mountains.


10. BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR #16 ed by Ellen Datlow (Dec 19 in pb)


For more than four decades, Ellen Datlow has been at the centre of horror. Bringing you the most frightening and terrifying stories, Datlow always has her finger on the pulse of what horror readers crave. Now, with the sixteenth volume of the series, Datlow is back again to bring you the stories that will keep you up at night. Encompassed in the pages of The Best Horror of the Year have been such illustrious writers as: Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Stephen Graham Jones, Joyce Carol Oates, Laird Barron, Mira Grant, and many others.

With each passing year, science, technology, and the march of time shine light into the craggy corners of the universe, making the fears of an earlier generation seem quaint. But this light creates its own shadows. The Best Horror of the Year chronicles these shifting shadows. It is a catalogue of terror, fear, and unpleasantness as articulated by today’s most challenging and exciting writers.

Monday 22 April 2024

Monsters with claws sunk into our psyche


Do monsters roam the Earth?

That’s quite a question to ask, I’m sure you’ll agree, and not something we can easily answer in a single blogpost. Which is why I intend to dedicate an entire book to it in the not-too-distant future. Allow me to elaborate: the main thrust of today’s column will concern the next publication in my TERROR TALES series, and yes, monsters will play a big part in that, but I
’ll outline it in more detail in a few paragraphs’ time.

Before then, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to chat a little bit about …


Upcoming publications

Unfortunately, I’m not in a position today where I can give too much information about anything. Considering I’ve been working full-tilt – to start with, I have three novels to write this year – there is little news so imminent that I’m able to put titles and dates to it.

For example, check out some of the questions I’m regularly asked online.

Q – Can you tell us when the next Heck novel will be out?

A – I’m afraid not. I can only say that it’s already written and under consideration by a publisher. But factors beyond my control mean that the wait must go on for now. (There is some Heck news, though, so keep reading).

Q – You’ve already announced that you’ve signed with Thomas & Mercer, Amazon’s publishing arm, to write two new stand-alone crime thrillers. Can you tell us anything about them yet?

A – There’s nothing more to add at present than you’ll have seen in my previous posts. Both those novels are exciting projects, but both are still being written, so even I am not entirely sure what their final form will be. Sorry about that.

Q – Is there any news on the proposed Lucy Clayburn TV adaptation?

A – No. In fact, this is probably the one definitive answer I’m able to give you today. Covid killed it, basically. Before the pandemic, we were apparently only a couple of months from being greenlit. Since the pandemic ended, I’ve heard nothing at all. We must assume that project is dead in the water.

Q – Will there be another book in the Wulfbury Chronicles.


A – Not as yet. What I am able to tell you on this front is that my third historical novel is now with Canelo, and in this one, we move a century forward into the era of the crusades. However, while it isn’t officially connected to the previous two books, there is some similarity among the names of the key characters, so we can safely assume that it’s a the same family.

Q – In God’s name, there must be something you can tell us?

A – Okay ... I can announce that a brand new Mark Heckenburg novella is due for publication later this year. Unfortunately, I’m unable to disclose any actual dates yet, or the name of the publisher or the title of the work. All I can say again is sorry, but modern publishers like to announce these things themselves, usually with a bit of fanfare. I can also add that a brand new horror novella of mine, though this one is actually quite lengthy – it doesn’t fall far short of being classified as an actual novel – will be published next year. As before, I can’t yet give you the title, the name of the publisher or the date of publication. 

However, one thing I can talk about in some detail, and I
’m very proud of this, is the upcoming publication of my short story, Jack-a-Lent, in the indefatigable Mark Morris’s latest horror anthology, ELEMENTAL FORCES. It's out on October 8 this year, from Flametree Press, and if you look at the line-up, you’ll perhaps understand why I am so honoured to be included.

Q – Any specific details about anything else?

A – Well, on the basis that I still owe you something …


Monsters … monsters … monsters

They’ve been with us since the dawn of human awareness. Terrifying, destructive beings, creatures that defy description, that are unknowable, uncontrollable, deadly. Ruthless annihilators of the natural order, which can only be stopped by the most heroic acts of human self-sacrifice.

In every society on Earth, in every religion and every mythology, there are references to monsters. Unspeakable abominations whose very existence is often inimical to the survival of mankind. But what exactly are monsters? How is it they have found such an unassailable place in our collective imagination? Are they entirely based on fantasy or is there some element of truth in these horrifying tales?

The forms that monsters have taken are myriad. 

Most people have heard of dragons and titans, of frost giants, of lustful, goat-legged satyrs, of the bull-headed minotaur, the zombies of the Caribbean, the vampires of Eastern Europe (check out Mr Lee, right, in Dracula, 1958). But in truth, the pantheon of malevolent beasts is so enormous, so positively encyclopaedic, that more horrific beings than I can count remain unknown to the vast majority of us.

How many readers of this column, for example, know what I mean when I mention the Fachen? The Tarasque? The Yateveo? The Tupilaq? The Lamia?

And believe me, that’s not even scratching the surface. I mean, there are so many questions to ask here. To start with, how is it that so many eyewitness reports of monsters come to us from the pages of history, and yet the beasts themselves are almost completely absent from the fossil record?

All kinds of explanations have been offered.

Monsters are metaphors for mankind’s misfortunes ...

The werewolf is a warning sign that Man, for all his veneer of civilisation, still possesses voracious appetites lurking just below the surface. The colossal sea monster, Leviathan (left, as painted by Katinka Thorondor), advised us that Man can never be dominant in the cosmos, that in the end only God will wield the ultimate power. Medusa, the youngest and most fearsome of the snake-haired gorgons, embodied the routine mistreatment of women by men, and indicated that even if they fought back justifiably, they would be demonised for ever more.  

Monsters are an attempt to understand the chaos of our world (that’s an important word today, ‘chaos’, look out for it later on) ...

Entities like Behemoth, Jörmungandr, Tiamat and Typhon were so vast and terrifying that they could only, in truth, be the personifications of cataclysmic Earth events (much how Godzilla was viewed in 20th century Japan). Even smaller beasts, like goblins and boggarts could be a frightening and damaging presence in the remote communities that believed in them because they caused breaches in an orderly world (souring milk, blighting crops) that everyday folk thought they understood and were appalled to learn they didn’t ...

Monsters are simply errors that our ancestors made when they misidentified natural creatures they’d never encountered before ... 

When ancient mammoth skulls were uncovered, the aperture to accommodate the trunk looked for all the world like an extra eye-socket, and if the encircling bone had rotted through, which meant the actual eye-sockets were also encompassed by the yawning gap, it was easy to assume that this was all that remained of a huge one-eyed monster, or cyclops (as immortalised by Ray Harryhausen in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, at the top of this column). Race memories of gigantopithecus, the largest ape that ever lived (12ft tall!!), and which died out 300,000 years ago, may well have provided the origin for stories about giants and ogres. The Vikings told tales of the kraken, an immense, many-armed sea horror that would drag down entire ships, and almost certainly were referring to the colossal squid.

But there is one very important thing to consider.

Our distant ancestors might not have been as well educated as we are today, but they weren’t stupid, otherwise they wouldn’t have survived, and they were quite adamant that many of these hellish beings that brought such trauma to their world were actually very real. 

Trolls (as depicted above by Einar Martinsen) did ambush lone travellers in the deep and frosty forests of old Scandinavia. 

Griffins did guard treasure hoards in the mountains of the Middle East and they would tear you to pieces if you tried to get your hands on any of it. 

Grendel, the infamous Walker in the Dark, did drive a Danish king called Hrothgar from his new hall in the swampy region of Lejre, slaughtering 30 of his warriors in the process. 

The bonze giant, Talos, did heat himself in a roaring fire until he was glowing red, so that he could embrace the wooden hulls of ships visiting his island and consume them with flames.

And these stories don’t just come to us from the distant past.

In 1959, the infamous Dyatlov Pass Incident saw nine student hikers brutally killed and mutilated in their snowbound camp in the Ural Mountains, an unsolved mass slaying, which some observers, with plenty evidence to support them, have attributed to the Alma, or Russian Yeti.

More recently, off the Devonshire coast in the 1970s, a group of scuba divers from the Salcombe Shark Angling Society were frightened out of the water by a terrifying sub-aquatic roar, though one witness later described it as being more like a repeated, monstrous bark, which is associated in local tradition with a ferocious sea serpent called Morgawr. Such a hold does this semi-mythical sea brute have on the imagination of Devon and Cornish folk that Peter Tremayne wrote a highly successful novel in 1982 called The Morgow Rises.

Many times in the last hundred years, climbers on Western Scotland’s remote Ben Macdui, the highest peak in the Cairngorm mountain range, have reported being pursued through the fog and snow by a towering figure known simply as the Big Grey Man. A giant in every sense, the unknown entity is not known to have attacked anyone, though at least one climber claimed to have taken shelter in a bothy, while the beast circled the isolated structure, and only failed to get at him because he’d barricaded the door.

You may be wondering what all this refers to, and whether I’ve just gone off on a monster tangent because I’ve lost the plot. Well, in actual fact, what I’m getting around to explaining is, first of all, there will not be a TERROR TALES anthology this year. I’m afraid that my nightmarishly packed schedule simply does not allow for it. However, Telos Publishing and myself are determined to make up for this, so, I’m also able to announce that, next year, we’ll be doing a bumper edition, in hardback as well as softback and ebook, called TERROR TALES OF CHAOS, which will be launched at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton (Oct 30 - Nov 2).

For once, it will not focus on any specific geographic region or particular period of history, but it will follow the same basic format as the other books in the series, new stories interspersed with snippets of scary non-fiction, and will be strongly influenced by both folklore and mythology. 

While the emphasis will be on chaos, it will not be on the realm called Chaos - i.e. that limitless ocean of nameless elemental forces said to lie between Heaven and Hell - but on its products, aka the many terrible forms it has taken in the eyes of mankind during its frequent visitations to Earth. 

The 17th century English poet, John Milton, took his cue from much more ancient wordsmiths by naming and describing some of the terrifying denizens of Chaos, unimaginable beings who were every bit as wild and destructive as the substance from which they were made. 

Individuals like Peor, Arioch (pictured left, as created by Useh) and Demogorgon were so ghastly that even the fallen angels lodged in Hell could not get past them. Perhaps it’s no surprise, therefore, that whenever the children of Chaos have made it into our world, they have done so in the form of unstoppable monsters.

And there you have it: TERROR TALES OF CHAOS will explore the many, many monsters that have terrorised us throughout our histories and mythologies. There’ll be none here that the writers have invented themselves, or which are the work of other writers like the Frankenstein creation or Mr Hyde. There’ll be lots of room for modern interpretation obviously, but essentially all will hail from the long-ago past, and will have come down to us in stories that our distant ancestors would have insisted are absolutely true.

And on the subject of the writers ... well, put it this way, we aren’t far into developing the book yet, but I am very, very happy with many of the names to come on board. Fans of the series will miss out this year, but in 2025 I can confidently predict that they are in for a real treat.  

Keep watching this space for further info.