Sunday 29 September 2019

SEASON OF MIST now on the written page

Well, a few weeks ago, I launched my autumn-flavoured novella, SEASON OF MIST, to what so far is pretty decent acclaim (which makes me very happy). Of course, that initial launch was in electronic format, but at the same time, I promised that I would also be bringing it out in paperback as soon as possible.

Thankfully, that time has now arrived.

As you can see above, here’s the full jacket. The book is now available for pre-order in all the usual places. Just follow the links.

I’ll talk a little bit more about SEASON OF MIST is a few minutes, because today I also intend to include some choice snippets from it, just in case your appetites haven’t been whetted enough. At the same time this week, though, I’ll be reviewing another piece of work that occupies the twilight zone between horror and thriller: Marisha Pessl’s enthralling and very chilling NIGHT FILM.

If the Pessl review is all you’re here for, that’s no problem. As usual, you’ll find it at the lower end of today’s blogpost. Just zip on down there straight away. However, if you’re also interested in SEASON OF MIST, perhaps you’d like to stick around here first for some …

Autumn spookiness

SEASON OF MIST is a quasi-autobiographical tale, which follows the fortunes of a small bunch of 13-year-olds, and one of them in particular, Stephen Carter, who in their home town of Ashburn, Lancashire, in the year 1974, experience the kind of autumn that nightmares are made of.

Normally, they enjoy this time of year. Summer is over, which is a bind, but October, November and December bring treats of their own: everything from jack-o-lanterns and bob-apples to gunpowder, treason and plot, from Parkin cake and woodlands turned red and gold with cascading leaves to frost patterns on bedroom windows, snowball fights and the opening of the Advent calendar. Unfortunately, this autumn as you may have seen in the blurb overhead, will be very different, because this year the Lancashire coal town of Ashburn will be terrorised by a vicious killer, who is specifically targeting the young.

The obvious response by the authorities is to impose a curfew, but kids will be kids, you know. They want to get out there and have fun. They want to enjoy Halloween and Bonfire Night and the first snows of winter. They don’t want to be kept cooped up.

However, when the killer starts striking close to home, Stephen and his mates have second thoughts, especially when they spot evidence that this may be no ordinary murderer.

The police are everywhere, but Stephen and co quickly start to suspect that the nameless predator is far more evil than any deviant they will ever have encountered before. The press run sensational scare stories nightly, but Stephen reckons they’d blow a gasket if they knew how strange and mysterious this faceless enemy actually is ...


SEASON OF MIST is 40,000 words in length (so, it’ll keep you reading – it’s not a short story), but it was first published in 2010 as part of a collection called WALKERS IN THE DARK. It’s finally being resurrected as a stand-alone piece because it’s one of my personal favourites and, almost a decade later, because I still have faith in it to scare the pants of folks, especially as recent film adaptations of popular novels like It and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and of course the hit TV series, Stranger Things, have reawakened interest in eerie folk-tales and spooky stories from the edge of town (not to mention some of those very macabre public-safety adverts that we used to get back in the day), as dealt with by a bunch of youngsters who are finally coming of age.

As mentioned, it sprang from my own youth and my life in Wigan, Lancs, (Ashburn in all but name), during the early/mid 1970s, and the many terrifying and supposedly true stories that we used to regale each other with during those long, misty autumn nights.

I also mentioned that some of the events depicted in this book are true, as in they actually happened. Which ones? Well … you won’t even get close to guessing until you read it. But if that isn’t enough of an enticement for you, here, as promised, are a few short excerpts:

At the farthest end of the third lawn was something the Blyford family called the ‘Spinney’. This was actually a small wood. It contained thickets and brambles rather than fully mature trees, but again it was dense and tangled. In summer it was matted with greenery, but in winter black and twisted like a chaos of gangrenous limbs. In the very heart of it, accessible by a winding path, was what they referred to as the ‘Wendy House’, but to call it the ‘Eyesore’ would have been more accurate. It was a small, timber structure, all elaborate cornices and carved woodwork. It looked Germanic, like something out of Hansel and Gretel, and at one time had been painted jolly colours: pink, yellow, sky-blue. Now it was a sombre shell, drab and grey, every part of it riddled with decay. In recent times, the Blyfords had used it to store garden furniture, but with a leaking roof, no glass in its windows and mould running rampant throughout, it had become unfit even for this purpose. Viewed at night, it was an almost impossibly sinister sight, an impression reinforced by its remoteness from the Blyford House, or in fact from any other house.
     “The rules are simple,” Gideon said. “You’ve got to stay in it one at a time, for as long as you can. The one who lasts longest is the winner.”


In spite of the wide interest in the case, the newspapers had nothing substantial to report for the next month, aside from rumour and counter-rumour, and these were never less than lurid. The story about the hysterical laughter at the scene of Alan Richardson’s murder made it onto the front pages, along with new, equally disturbing tales: 
     Satanic symbols had been left next to the bodies.
     A tall, pale-faced young man had been knocking on the doors of a local council estate, asking for cups of water – one old lady lured him into her lounge and went to call the police, only to return and find the young man gone, the words “your grandson is next” written on the mirror in human excrement. 
    A clairvoyant had tried to locate the murderer through a spiritualist session, and received a parcel through the post the very next day, containing a large, black spider …


For the next hour or so, Dom and I loaded firewood onto our barrow; in fact, we loaded far more than we could realistically transport. Dom had his length of washing-line, with which we intended to strap it all in place, but we soon had so much wood that the line wasn’t long enough. We weren’t deterred. We threw it all off again and went for quality rather than quantity. Our cheerful laughs rang across the derelict site, echoing through its empty buildings and passages. Two hours had soon gone, during which we were completely oblivious to the gradual darkening of the sky.
     It took a sudden sound of metal banging on metal to bring us to our senses.
     We both looked up at the same time.    
     The sound had only lasted a few seconds and then stopped. We listened for it again but heard nothing. Only now did we notice how much colder and gloomier it was. Daylight had faded, to be replaced by that deep blue dimness of dusk. The banging sound might have come from a shutter tapping in the breeze, but it hadn’t sounded like that to me. It had been steady and repeated, as if someone was making it deliberately …


An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.

by Marisha Pessl (2013)

New York-based Scott McGrath is a forty-something investigative reporter with a colourful past. In his time, he’s put all kinds of high-profile criminals, con men and corrupt politicians on the spot, exposing their scams and lies, ruining their undeserved reputations and denuding them of their ill-gotten gains, and as such he should now be revered within his profession. 

However, a few years ago, acting off untested info, he made a critical error when, on live television, he slandered cult film director, Stanislas Cordova, implying that he was a sexual predator with a penchant for the very young. Since then, having been on the wrong end of a million-dollar lawsuit, his career has tumbled. None of the major titles want to work with him anymore, and the scandal has even cost him his family, his money-minded ex-wife, Cynthia, having moved on to a new, less-impoverished partner, taking McGrath’s beloved daughter, Samantha, with her.

Five years of this exile have now passed and though McGrath isn’t exactly a mess – he works whenever he can – his thoughts are still dominated by the enigma that is Stanilas Cordova.

The creator of a string of extreme horror films, many of which are now available only as bootlegs or during special screenings purposely held in subterranean tunnels, Cordova was highly talented, a kind of cross between Kubrick, Cronenberg and Polanski, but he no longer makes movies, apparently having broken down before completion of his last masterpiece, the mysteriously titled ‘Matilda’. He hasn’t given an interview or even been seen in public for years, and reputedly lives in seclusion on his remote and fortified 300-acre country estate, The Peak, in upstate New York, which also houses the private studio where his pictures were shot. This absence from the public domain has only increased the belief among his legions of loyal fans that he is the most tortured of all movie-making geniuses, but a dark and powerful figure too, who should not be crossed lightly.

McGrath believes that Cordova is something else on top of all this, but he has nothing solid with which to keep pursuing the secretive icon, until one night in October, when he is jogging through Central Park and starts to suspect that he’s being stalked by a young woman in red. Because a few days later, he learns that another young woman in red – or, more likely, the same woman – committed suicide later that night by throwing herself down the lift shaft of a derelict warehouse. However, the most shocking aspect of this is her identity: she was Ashley Cordova, the legendary director’s sole daughter.

Ashley, an expert pianist, a child prodigy in fact, but a very troubled person, had only recently escaped from a secure care home for the mentally ill. It’s a sad tale but, thinking that the girl might have been trying to make contact with him, McGrath commences his own investigation into her death.

Initially, it proves difficult because Cordova is so elusive. There is only so much that McGrath can glean from paperwork passed to him by acerbic cop, Detective Sharon Falcone, or the film-school lectures of close friend and self-confessed Cordova nut, Wolfgang Beckman. Amusing though the Beckman scenes are, it’s mainly background material that McGrath gathers, while, though he finally gains entry to ‘The Blackboards’, a Cordova fan-site and forum on the Dark Web, he only starts to make real ground with help of two initially unlooked-for assistants: country boy Hopper Cole, a besotted ex-friend of Ashley’s (and a former fellow inmate at a reform camp they were both sent to when they were children) who is desperate to know what happened to her; and Nora Halliday, the novel’s ingénue, a waitress/actress from out of town, who happened to be the last person to see Ashley alive and thus feels it’s her destiny to participate in solving the puzzle.

Even so, it’s a complex and at times scary path, leading the intrepid threesome first to Briarwood Hall, the institution where Ashley was being held, which is so secure that it strongly implies there was something badly wrong with her; then to Cordova’s townhouse in New York City, occupied now by the director’s long-time friend and assistant, Inez Gallo, a sour-faced woman who is very protective of the Cordova brand and will resort to law (and worse, maybe) for the slightest reason; then to the even scarier confines of the Oubliette, a private sex-club on Long Island, where, once they finally achieve entry, the aura of menace is palpable; to a disquieting antiques store run by a weird fake priest called Hugo Villarde. Finally, they arrive at the junk-filled penthouse apartment of ex-star and beauty queen and Cordova’s third wife, Marlowe Hughes (the only one of his three wives who didn’t die in odd circumstances), who is now a drug and alcohol-addled wreck, living mainly in her distant memories. For all this, it is Hughes who provides McGrath with some of his tastiest morsels, explaining that Cordova got involved with a cult on first moving to The Peak, and hinting that Satanic influence may lie at the root of both his and his daughter’s extraordinary talents, for which there will always be a terrible price to pay.

Though he’s hardly a religious person, McGrath and his sidekicks gradually give weight to this latter, bizarre theory, as it doesn’t just tie in with Cordova’s reputation for being the Prince of Movie Darkness, but because they also uncover evidence that they themselves are now being hunted, and according to a ‘white witch’ called Cleopatra, have become the target of black magic rituals. At first, McGrath only partly buys this – until an unlikely accident injures young Samantha, after which he is almost fully persuaded.

With their own lives and sanity seemingly in peril, it appears that only one avenue of investigation now remains open. Somehow or other, they must access The Peak, that mysterious and forbidding country estate high in the Adirondacks.

What they will find in there, will leave its collective mark on them for the rest of their lives …

For the avoidance of doubt, I should say straight away that I thoroughly enjoyed Night Film. Even though, at 624 pages, it’s a massive tome, it was so gripping that I skipped through it in a relatively short time. But I am a sucker for satanic horror stories, especially if they’re done subtly and scarily, and for some reason – and this is purely a personal thing – I find them particularly fascinating if they’re set in contemporary times, when so many of us have abandoned any belief in God or the Devil.

The question is, however, is this actually a satanic horror novel?

Well … it gradually assumes this dimension even though it doesn’t start out that way. In its early stages, its an archetypal Noir, a bruiser of an investigator – a Philip Marlowe among journalists – using a socialite daughter to get to her celebrity father, who may or may not be a paedophile, chasing every lead he can along the darkened alleys of a dismal, rainy city, a range of strange and grotesque individuals to help him on his way. But it’s a measure of the skilled writing on show that, once the supernatural horror begins to flow – or at least when a semblance of that emerges – the novel moves seamlessly into a different literary realm, and yet as a reader you don’t feel jolted or in any way short-changed. It all seems perfectly natural, though it helps that Marisha Pessl herself holds back on the certainty that occult forces have been released, infusing her characters with doubt and disbelief, which infects the readers too, and showing very little that can’t be explained rationally.

Even in the light of all that, though, I’d caution that appearances can be deceptive.
One area where Night Film is a little more ‘on the nose’ is in its presentational style. This is no ordinary novel, and you realise that straight away, as much of the narrative comes to us via authentic-looking web pages, police reports, medical records and so on, with photographic imagery included too. I could have done without the photos, in truth – I’d much rather visualise people and places myself, but, while some reviewers have taken issue with this whole approach, calling it a gimmick and an irritant, I didn’t mind it much. It doesn’t hamper the pace of the book, and, at the end of the day, we are being asked to look into this bewildering case through the eyes of a roving journalist, the background to whose investigation exists in box-loads of such dogeared paperwork, so it works on that level. 

In terms of the horror, there is no shortage of scary moments in Night Film, and all play out very satisfyingly, often with serious outcomes for those involved.

But again, Marisha Pessl demonstrates great skill in hitting us with different types of fear. For example, at one stage everything is quite traditional. We get strong hints of witchcraft; one especially frightening moment sees a voodoo poppet apparently coming alive of its own volition, which flies so much in the face of the counter-culture silliness our heroes initially think they are investigating that it really shocks us. Several times during the novel, we also suspect that in Stanislas Cordova, we are investigating a maker of snuf movies, because more and more evidence appears to suggest that people really died on his sets, while significant numbers of those who participated are no longer traceable, or if they are, they seem literally to have gone mad. 

Probably the two most frightening moments, though, come when McGrath and his cohorts break the normal rules of the game by intruding into private spaces. The scene in the Oubliette sex-club is a real nerve-jangler despite the fact that nothing particularly explicit – in terms of sex or violence – actually occurs. But even that is superseded by the events at The Peak, when our heroes finally bite the bullet and opt to invade what they consider to be Cordova’s inner sanctum. I won’t say any more about that for fear of spoiling things, except to add that, even protracted over fifty pages (yes, it’s a bit too long, alas), it’s an unforgettable head-trip, and a real exercise in existential horror.

It is that indefinable kind of horror, though, which, while it might crystallise in moments like this, pervades the entire book, the author gradually eroding our sense of reality. This becomes a key factor in Night Film: what is real and what isn’t? Even McGrath starts to question this, eventually wondering if he too has now become a character in a Cordova script, even going to the trouble of checking his own life for some of the clandestine signposts with which the maestro used to fill his movies – and finding them.

It’s all done immensely cleverly and, as I say, subtly too, so that it creeps up on you in the most effective, skin-crawling way.

Less subtly perhaps, but certainly enjoyably for film buffs, I’d imagine, are the countless semi-concealed references to classic cinema. You won’t have to look very hard to spot reminders of ‘dark movies’ like Don’t Look NowThe Ring and Eyes Wide Shut, while the feuding actress sisters are reminiscent of the sibling rivalry between Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, which entertained Hollywood for so many years (one of the fictional actresses is even called ‘Olivia’). Cordova himself, of course, calls to mind any number of intense, eccentric and even ‘dangerous’ film directors; we’ve already mentioned Kubrick, Polanksi and co, but you could add to that John Huston, William Friedkin et al.

So, there’s the good stuff. But did I have any problems with Night Film

I have to admit that there were one or two. For the most part, it’s a beautifully written book, especially in its description of place and character, though there is a slight weakness in the latter.

I’m not sure it’s a good thing that the narrative’s two most overarching personalities, those who live and breathe more than any other – Cordova and his daughter – barely appear. It’s a good indicator of how much work Pessl has done on those two in particular, but it’s a shame that several of those characters we actually interact with don’t match up. McGrath is fine. He’s all there; we can see him, we can hear him, we root for him throughout – there’s no problem. But while Nora and Hopper are pretty vivid too, and both go on clear cut journeys, neither appear to fulfil their potential in the story. Again, I don’t want to give too many spoilers away, so you’ll need to make your own judgement on that when you read it.

Other, secondary characters – Falcone, Beckman, Villarde and Hughes being the best examples – are well-realised but are little more in truth than walking info-dumps. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes you need this – the nature of the mystery novel means that we have to learn stuff now and then – but there are quite a few of them here, and on occasion these walk-ons’ explanations of past events, which are frequently offered without the investigators actually having earned them, become extensive chunks of very detailed exposition.

That said, the only one that really jarred for me came from Marlowe Hughes, who seemed to throw off her drug-induced stupour with remarkable speed in order to fill McGrath in on a whole array of Cordova background details. 

I suppose I had only one other brickbat. The idea that a film maker could exist who is so darkly talented (with or without devilish assistance) that his movies have driven viewers mad with terror, induced nervous breakdowns, instigated murder and suicide, is perhaps a little bit … dare I say it, pretentious. I too love to read about these mad, elusive geniuses who, even though we know they are probably quite prosaic characters underneath, revel in their strange reputations and do produce, from time to time, works of high cinematic art. But I think there’s a danger that such student-type adoration can be taken a little too far. That certainly happens in Night Film – we really are required to buy into the Cordova myth – though to be fair to Pessl, The Blackboards, which is the main chat room for his followers, appears to be full of affected, OTT individuals, whom McGrath, while he doesn’t exactly disdain them, is cynical about.  

So, there we are. That is Night Film. As I say, it’s not without its negatives, but I still found it a thoroughly engrossing read – so much so that, even though it’s massive, I carved my way through it with ease and delight. Don’t be put off by its great length. It’s an intriguing and fascinating thriller, which races along and rises to some spectacularly hair-raising climaxes en route. It’s a must-have for anyone’s dark fiction shelf.

I’ve no idea whether Night Film has been optioned for film or TV development yet, but as usual, I’m now going to be bold (or stupid) enough to suggest a cast should such a thing arise. No one will listen to me, of course, so it’s just a bit of fun. Feel free to agree or not, as the case may be. Here we go:

Scott McGrath – Mark Ruffalo
Nora Halliday – Chloë Grace Moretz
Hopper Cole – Lucas Till
Inez Gallo – Sonia Braga
Marlowe Hughes – Diane Lane
Olivia Endicott – Rachael Harris
Hugo Villarde – Michael Emerson
Cleopatra – Kelly Hu
Detective Sharon Falcone – Shannon Lee
Cynthia – Thandie Newton
Wolfgang Beckman – Sebastian Koch

Monday 23 September 2019

Terror Tales of Northwest England is here

Fantastically excited today to be announcing that TERROR TALES OF NORTHWEST ENGLAND is now available to pre-order, initially as an ebook, but very soon as a paperback, with an official publication date due of October 1.

More about that in a moment. But as well as that, this week I’ll be reviewing and discussing THE LONEY from Andrew Michael Hurley – not just because it’s a chilling and enthralling tale of the supernatural macabre, but because this too, very appropriately for today, is mostly set in the wild bleakness of Northwest England.

If the Hurley review is all you’re here for, no worries. You’ll find it as usual at the lower end of today’s blog. Scoot on down there right now. But if you’re interested in this latest volume from the TERROR TALES series, stick around here for a bit and check out …

Terror Tales of Northwest England

I won’t waste any more time than I need to here. With luck you’ll already realise that each book in this series focusses on a different corner of the UK, offering ‘true terror’ anecdotes (from me) and original horror stories from some of the best authors in the dark fiction business.

Here is the back-cover blurb, a full table of contents, and some whistle-wetting extracts:

England’s majestic Northwest, land of rain-washed skies, dark forests and brooding, windswept hills. Famous too for its industrial blight and brutal persecutions; a realm where skulls scream and witches wail, gallows creak and grave-robbers prowl the long, black nights …

The hideous scarecrows of Lune
The heathen rite at Knowsley
The revenge killings in Preston
The elegant ghost of Combermere
The berserk boggart of Moston
The malformed brute on Mann
The walking dead at Haigh Hall

And many more chilling tales by Ramsey Campbell, Stephen Gallagher, Sam Stone, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Cate Gardner, and other award-winning masters and mistresses of the macabre.

Table of Contents

Normal Bones by Jason Gould
The Lost Lads of Rivington
The Mute Swan by Cate Gardner
The Resurrection Men
Factory Rook by Simon Kurt Unsworth
Night Falls Over Pendle
Tights and Straw and Wire Mesh by John Travis
The Lancashire Boggarts
A Weekend Break by Edward Pearce
Lord Combermere’s Ghost
Writer’s Cramp by David A Riley
Screaming Skulls
Wet Jenny by Christopher Harman
Land of Monsters
The Drain by Stephen Gallagher
Chingle Hell
Only Sleeping by Peter Bell
Of Gods and Ghosts
Peeling the Layers by Sam Stone
The Borgias of the Slums
Root Cause by Ramsey Campbell
The Horror at the Gatehouse
Formby Point by Anna Taborska
Hill of Mysteries
Below by Simon Bestwick
The Vengeance of Bannister Doll
Old Huey by Solomon Strange
A Vision of His Own Destruction
The Upper Tier by Paul Finch


That’s a big word, isn’t it … ‘ethos’? Is it too grand a claim to make of a horror anthology series, that it has its own ethos?

Well, I hope not, but you must judge.

In the case of this series, the ethos has always been to evoke the atmosphere and mystery of different corners of Great Britain, examining them culturally, historically, geographically and in terms of their folklore and mythology, and indeed, jacketing them with similarly representative images.

So, for example, with TERROR TALES OF NORTHWEST ENGLAND, the idea was not simply to tell scary stories that happen to be set in the Northwest. They must be scary stories about the Northwest, either that or deeply immersed in that region. The same applie to EAST ANGLIA, CORNWALL, the COTSWOLDS, the LAKE DISTRICT, WALES, LONDON and all the other areas we’ve so far visited (and the many areas we have yet to visit).

And as I say, part of this is the inclusion of snippets of non-fiction – local legends and terrifying tales believed to be true (or at least believed to possess a kernel of truth).

Will this series restrict itself solely to the British Isles?

Well, that’s not my intention. The overall project was inspired by the Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes edited series, Tales of Terror, as published by Fontana in the 1970s. They didn’t restrict themselves exclusively to Britain, so we are going the same way. In fact, I’ve already ventured beyond Britain’s boundaries once with TERROR TALES OF THE OCEAN … but we don’t want to run before the horse to market. I’d like nothing better than to list all the regions of the world that I’d love to visit in TERROR TALES, but let’s focus on the here and now.

So, I reiterate that the latest volume in the series, TERROR TALES OF NORTHWEST ENGLAND is now available for pre-order. As well as all the usual online outlets, it can also be acquired direct from TELOS BOOKS.

And now, just to whet your appetites a little further. Here are several snippets:

A part of my rational brain tried to tell me that it must be a man – the farmer playing a trick, standing up there all day dressed as a scarecrow waiting for somebody to frighten – but God help me I knew that it wasn’t. With nowhere to hide I ran down the track …
Tights and Straw and Wire Mesh
John Travis

A crooked figure moved with a see-saw motion over the road from the church; twisting with repulsive gait up the garden steps; a wan grinning face tilting up towards the window; an awkward yet deliberate plodding down the long dark corridor, its abominable approach slow but inexorable …
     Robert turned his eyes to the door …
Only Sleeping
Peter Bell

I got one other brief impression, of the beast that was bearing down on him from the deeper shadows and it was everything we’d feared it might be; the Hydra, the Gorgon, the Big Bad Wolf, a tunnelful of viciousness thundering toward Spike with the momentum of a train, eyes like baleful headlamps and teeth like knives …
The Drain
Stephen Gallagher

All Hallows Eve

On a not unrelated note, I’m very happy to announce that I’ll be participating in a special HORROR FOR HALLOWEEN panel at Waterstones, Kendal (in the southern Lake District) on Halloween Night this year, where I’ll be reading something spooky of mine and taking questions and answers. It won’t just be about me, of course. I’ll be in company with two other august names from the realm of spooky fiction, Simon Kurt Unsworth and Ray Cluley. For full info on this event, follow the link.

As far as I’m aware, most of my titles will be available for purchase on the night. Certainly all the Heck and Lucy Clayburn novels, along with various titles from the TERROR TALES series, TERROR TALES OF NORTHWEST ENGLAND especially, but also the paperback version of SEASON OF MIST, a recent novella of mine, which tells an autumnal tale of murder and the supernatural in a Northwest coal town during the 1970s. Childhood horrors abound in a story of Halloween, Bonfire Night and ritual slaying.

Hoping to see a few of you there.


An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.

by Andrew Michael Hurley (2016)

We open in the present day, when a misanthropic Londoner known simply as Smith becomes concerned about the discovery of a child’s bones on a remote beach in Lancashire. Smith, we suspect, knows more about this than he should – as does his older brother, a much more contented and grounded character called Andrew.

Andrew is a reasonably successful author, and happily married. He even works as a lay pastor in the Catholic Church, and in so many ways has a better life than his younger sibling, who is an unlikable loner. However, it is Smith, not Andrew, whose narration now takes us back 40 years to the actual start of our story.

It’s the mid-1970s, and each year at Eastertime, Smith and Andrew, young teenagers at this point, (Andrew called by his nickname, ‘Hanny’), are part of a small group of devout Roman Catholics who uproot from their London parish of St Jude’s, and under the humourless leadership of the stern Father Wilfred, head north to the bleak Fylde Coast, specifically a stretch of it known locally as ‘the Loney’, where they lodge in a one-time taxidermist’s home-turned-hostel called ‘Moorings’ (which each time they visit has deteriorated even more in the harsh coastal weather). It’s a form of Christian retreat, wherein they make full penance and follow prayerful rituals, but every year the purpose of the trip is the same. Young Hanny, a far cry from the well-rounded adult he will become, is mute and has severe learning difficulties. The highlight of each trip is therefore a visit to the nearby shrine, or holy well, where it is hoped that God will cure the afflicted lad.

In 1976, the group make what will become their final trip to the Loney. It almost doesn’t happen, because Father Wilfred – to everyone’s horror – has died in circumstances that might conceivably have been suicide, and his replacement, the happy-go-lucky Irishman, Father Bernard, has a less muscular approach to religion. However, Esther Smith, or ‘Mummer’, Smith and Hanny’s devout alpha-female mother, manages to persuade the new guy that everyone wants to keep going to the Loney, and so the small group heads north again.

This time, though, things will be different.

From the very beginning, we get the feeling that, somehow or other, time is running out for this small band of pilgrims. Under the unofficial leadership of Mummer (that name alone, not to mention ‘Farther’, which is how Smith’s dad is referred to, suggests they have isolated themselves for too long from modern society), they are determined to stick to the esoterica of older and more robust religious practise, which even Father Bernard tacitly disapproves of. But it isn’t just that. Other things have now changed at the Loney.

An atmosphere of … dare I call it ‘evil’? lurks on the encircling marshes, summoned by a mysterious tolling bell. A locked room is discovered in the house, where it looks as if a child was once held prisoner. They also find jars filled with urine, nail-clippings and other odious bric-a-brac, which quite clearly have been used in protection spells. They are continually menaced by a group of rough-hewn local men, who are never to be seen without their vicious dog.

Mystery piles upon mystery. Smith and Hanny chance the dangerous mudflats – this is clearly Morecambe Bay by another name – crossing to a grim islet called Coldbarrow, on which an austere house, Thessaly, has stood empty for years. Now, however, the house is occupied by a curious nouveau riche couple, who seem to be completely out of place here, and, odder still, who are the guardians of a heavily pregnant girl of about 13. Hanny takes a liking to the girl, who is sweet to him – probably the only person who ever has been – but it’s soon made clear to the boys that they are not welcome.

Back at Moorings, things are going from bad to worse. The nervous caretaker advises the group that there are people in the area who don’t want them here. Rowdiness is then heard in the nearby woods at night, and when a search is made, the men of the group discover evidence of a dark ceremony and a hideous hanging scarecrow that has evidently been used in a mockery of Christ’s crucifixion.

And yet despite these ever-more tangible threats, the group are unable to draw strength from within. Esther Smith has faith but no charity and is now in constant if understated conflict with Father Bernard, who she feels is weak and is thus determined to get rid of once they return to St Jude’s. The others, still devastated by the death of Father Wilfred, and unwilling to confront the possibility that some inner conflict caused him to lose his belief, go meekly along with her, which only adds to the glum atmosphere. Even the old religious fixtures on the coastline feel spiritually abandoned: the local church is filled with terrifying images of the Seven Sins and medieval hellfire but offers little in the way of comfort. The church itself is found inexplicably chained up on Easter Sunday. Could God really have abandoned this place?

And yet still the two youngsters, Smith and Hanny, continue to explore their gloomy playground, oblivious to the sinister undercurrents, innocent, naïve, happy(ish) with their lives, and completely unaware of the dark forces that are rising in this drear place …   

All kinds of claims have been made about The Loney by a whole range of reviewers. That it’s yet another chapter in the fast-evolving world of British folk-horror. That, even though he takes a distinctly modern slant in this his first novel, Andrew Michael Hurley is reviving the tradition of the British weird in a mainstream format and is clearly the heir-apparent in terms of style and substance to MR James. And above all, that it’s an engrossing, thoroughly enjoyable and at times very frightening read.

That latter point I completely concur with. I hurtled through this book, finding it deeply suspenseful and intriguing, and if, while perhaps not thinking it so scary that it rendered sleep impossible, certainly being disturbed and unnerved by its grotesque undertones, and by two scenes in particular: that moment in the midnight forest when the sacrilegious scarecrow is found, and the unexpected arrival at Moorings of a bunch of so-called Pace Eggers, an old Easter tradition which here is loaded with menace as the mysterious masked performers are unwisely invited inside.

But oddly, especially after making grand claims like that, it’s the bit about The Loney advancing the cause of folk-horror that I would quibble with.

First of all, even though the book carries a generous plaudit from Stephen King, I’m not sure that hardcore horror addicts would consider it to be any kind of horror, or even a supernatural thriller. It’s a deeply introspective tale, worryingly so at times, unreliably narrated and full of mystery. It also skates over the surface of some extreme darkness. But it’s structured more like a literary novel than a work of genre, with an emphasis on place and character rather than plot, and though it’s undoubtedly a quick, smooth read, it concerns itself much with the intricacies of faith and devotion, and certainly doesn’t race towards an explosive or chilling climax (not that there aren’t subtle terrors to be found right at the end of the book, if you look closely enough).

As for the folklore bit, well … I’m half and half on that. Okay, The Loney is set on a wild, windswept corner of the Lancashire coast, with lots of old relics dotted around, strong religious customs still in practice, and a steadily increasing suspicion that some kind of power lies latent in the very ground, and though you may say that this is all it takes to tick the folk-horror box, personally, I think this whole pigeon-holing of genre novels is a bit daft given that so many of them overlap boundaries on all sides. However, if pressed on the subject, I’d argue that The Loney is actually less of a folk-horror and more an occult mystery.

It’s fairly evident that when the church group arrives at Moorings, they antagonise certain folk because they are so religious, and this being the ‘New Age’ 1970s rather than the atheistic 21st century, this dislike probably stems from some local people having an alternative belief system – pagans or Wiccans you might think, except that they exude a genuine, overt threat, so perhaps more likely it’s a coven of Satanists. The totem in the woods is near enough proof of this, though Andrew Michael Hurley is a restrained and sensitive writer, and even through the observant character of Father Bernard, he resists making any obvious statement to this effect, though he works some subliminal suggestions into the narrative: for example, after Hanny is cured by this mysterious alternative group (even though his visit to the Christian shrine failed), the priest advises that Smith should not be fooled by the work of ‘tricksters’ whose power will invariably fade, and indeed, towards the end of the book, we get a slight hint – very slight in fact, almost subliminal – that Hanny’s new happy life may lack longevity. 

It may not be an out-and-out horror novel, but The Loney has certainly got that neo-Gothic vibe, and there are some stomach-curdling moments (a baby lamb torn apart by a savage dog, the discovery of a sheep’s skull with the optic nerves still dangling out, etc). Just don’t expect constant blood and thunder, and likewise don’t look for anything as remotely on-the-nose as MR James (despite the witch-bottles with which the old house has been protected by former tenants – those are very effective and chilling moments).

Some, of course, would argue that such subtlety is one of Andrew Michael Hurley’s great strengths. Another is the excellence of his writing. 

In The Loney, every detail of land and sea is delicately observed. You can almost feel the raw salt wind. You can hear the relentless drum of rain on the crabby slate roof. Two particular interiors are astonishingly evocative. Moorings, that strange seaside hostel, which is almost a byword for dreariness, with its dark, dank passages, its stuffed animals, its dismal closed-off rooms still scattered with toys left behind by children doomed to die from TB. And then the nearby shrine: little more than a rank cleft in the earth, the putrid, peaty waters pouring into which are supposed to be sacred, and yet are “black and silky-looking with a smell of autumn deadfall and eggs”.

And this brings me neatly onto the subtext, the culture clash – not just between the small church group and their Devil-worshipping opponents, but between the group and the rest of society.

Even though this is the 1970s, when more British folk had faith than they do now, Esther Smith rules her people with a rod of iron. Taking her lead from the grim if deceased figure of Father Wilfred, she’s way past the stage where a genuine desire to do good has simply clouded her judgement, and has now become a zealot of the worst sort, a mean-spirited bully who displays none of the love that Jesus taught but is so convinced that righteousness stems purely from belief that she tolerates no opposition, no dissent, and lays the law down on every matter.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is Andrew Michael Hurley putting Christianity under the microscope and finding it wanting. More, it’s Hurley putting all extreme versions of belief under the scope, disapproving particularly of that moment when hardline faith, whatever it might be, morphs into harmful superstition (the moment when Esther tries to make Hanny drink the water in the shrine is quite horrible), and when idealism becomes ideology, which of course leads to isolation and echo-chamber. Esther Smith personifies this, but it’s also exemplified in the contrast between Father Wilfred and his replacement, Father Bernard, the former a harsh disciplinarian (and maybe worse), who reflects almost none of the lessons taught in the New Testament, the latter, who, while not necessarily a hip or modern priest, has served in Northern Ireland, and so understands that right and wrong are separated by shades of grey.

I sincerely hope that I’ve not put off any genre fans with this assessment of The Loney.

Okay, I say again that this is not Night of the Demon, and if anything it’s a deep and absorbing study of religious over-insularity, of the problems and complexities that can result, and ironically, of how poorly it may then gird you for that ghastly moment when real evil appears in your midst. But yes, it is unnerving, disturbing, distressing – all those words apply – and it leaves you pondering it long after you’ve finished reading, which is surely proof that this is dark fiction of the highest quality.

Often at the ends of these reviews, I, very foolishly, suggest the cast I would choose should the book in question be translated to film or TV. Not so on this occasion. The young leads, Smith and Hanny, carry the bulk of the plot, and I have no inside info whatsoever about our best juvenile actors. Even so, here’s hoping that this one gets made. In the light of recent subdued but also very macabre horrors like Hereditary or Midsommar, I feel it could work very well.

Tuesday 3 September 2019

At last, the SEASON OF MIST is upon us!

Well, August was a bit of a disappointment. We had a couple of nice days, admittedly, but on the whole it was an early taste of autumn. And now, inevitably, the real thing has arrived. 

However, this provides an exciting opportunity for me, because now, at last, I can talk properly about SEASON OF MIST, a 40,000-word novella of mine, which is available right now in ebook format (with the paperback following in about a month’s time).

Obviously, you can see the front cover here, and I’m sure you’ll agree that it comprises some majestic artwork from Neil Williams. I’ll give you the full skinny on this in a second, because I should also mention that this week I’ll be reviewing and discussing another dark British thriller with a strong folk-horror vibe: FEROCITY, by Stephen Laws.

Laws, as many of you will recall, is a writer with a great horror pedigree and many best-sellers under his belt. If you’re only here for that review, you’ll find it, as always, at the lower end of today’s blogpost. Feel free to dive straight down there, if you so wish. However, if you’ve got a little more time before then, we can talk about …

Season of Mist

To start with, here’s the back cover blurb:

Our last autumn of innocence. Star-spangled nights. Mist-wreathed woodland. A twisted shape watching coldly from the shadows.

Industrial Lancashire, 1974.

The kids in the coal-mining town of Ashburn love the waning of the year. Fancy dress and scary stories for Halloween. Fireworks and treacle toffee on Guy Fawkes Night. And a month after that, snow and the approach of Christmas.

But this particular autumn will be memorable for entirely different reasons.

Because this year someone is killing the children of Ashburn.

Or should that be SOMETHING?

While police and parents search for a maniac, Stephen Carter and his schoolmates know better. They may be on the cusp of adulthood, but there’s still enough of the youngster left in each of them to recognise the work of an evil supernatural being unique to these deserts of slagheap and coal-tip.


This book is a reprint; I should come clean about that straight away. It first appeared as a short novel in my collection, WALKERS IN THE DARK (below right), from AshTree Press back in 2010. But that was several years ago and I like to think that I’ve picked up a few more readers since then, particularly from among the crime and thriller crowd. And for that reason alone, I’m very hopeful that this particular tale can fly again.

Because SEASON OF MIST, apart from being among my personal favourites of all the things I’ve ever written, is at least as much a crime-thriller as it is a horror (though there is strong horror in it, not to mention much supernatural folklore).

The back-cover blurb gives about as much of the outline away as I’m prepared to countenance, and so I won’t go into any more detail about it than that. But here’s a thumbnail background on what inspired it ...


SEASON OF MIST springs directly from my love of two things when I was a child.

Firstly, the autumn, that ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ (Keats), which, when we were youngsters, always seemed to steal upon us very quickly once the school summer holidays had ended. Before we could blink, the evenings were darker, longer, our local woods had become desolate and eerie. Yet, we always seemed to adjust to it subconsciously; instead of building camps, tree-houses and rope-swings, our attention switched naturally to scarier games, to telling ghost stories and, of course, to preparing for those two great autumn festivals here in the UK: Halloween and Bonfire Night.

In the early 1970s, Halloween wasn’t such a big deal in Britain, not like now. But all that this meant was that we kids had to improvise our own parties, our own costumes, and our own trick-or-treating expeditions. What this added up to was that, on October 31, and probably for several days leading up to it, ours was a world without adult supervision. Which meant that it could sometimes get out of hand, but also that there was no limit to the terror you could inflict on each other, and most important of all, that there was no one there to help if a real ghost or monster showed up.

Conversely, meanwhile, Bonfire Night was bigger back then than it is now. Ever since the Millennium, fireworks have become a staple form of entertainment at everything from weddings to birthdays, from Midsummer to New Year’s Eve. But back in the early ’70s, it was only really November 5 when we used to light up the skies, which meant that this was a particularly exhilarating time for youngsters. You made your Guy Fawkeses out of any old clothes you could scrounge, you built you bonfires anywhere you could (no Health & Safety back then, remember), you acquired fireworks by any means possible (usually older siblings, or understanding parents), and you very stoically navigated the macabre TV warnings that suddenly started cropping up during children’s television, depicting burnt kids from the previous year.

And of course, once these two major main events of the autumn were over, you still had December to look forward to. The opening of Advent calendars, the flowery frost patterns on bedroom windows in the mornings, the early winter snowfalls (which were so common in Lancashire in the 1970s), and after all that, of course, Christmas itself. Yes, the waning of the year was the most exciting time ever when I was a nipper.

The second thing that inspired this book was personal nostalgia.

It seems to me that, over the years, many big-name American horror authors have felt they owed themselves at least one hefty tome chronicling the events of their final days of childhood, saying important stuff about coming of age, a changing society etc, but also spicing it up with all kinds of supernatural terror.

Just off the top of my head, Stephen King wrote It, Robert McCammon wrote Boy’s Life, Dan Simmons wrote Summer of Night. Hell, Ray Bradbury probably started it with that all-time October classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Now ... okay, stay calm. I’m NOT comparing myself with those geniuses. To start with, SEASON OF MIST is only 40,000 words in length – which means that when the paperback comes out, it will probably stretch to about 130 pages. But yes, when I wrote it I was unashamedly mining that same seam of fond childhood recollection, of sexual awakenings and of a transforming society (and at the same time giving it a much darker edge).

Of course, there were some differences.

While Mr King wrote about Derry, Maine, Mr McCammon about Zephyr, Alabama, Mr Simmons about Elm Haven, Illinois, and Mr Bradbury about Green Town, Illinois, I opted for Ashburn, Lancashire, a thinly-veiled Wigan, which, when I was young was still an industrial blot on the Northern English landscape, a sooty sprawl of colliery spoil-land, derelict mills and rows of condemned terraced housing. 

We had woods too though, and parks, and farms and quiet country lanes on the outskirts of town – I’m not channelling George Orwell here. But fair or foul, it was all one big playground to me and my mates. We were scarcely ever indoors whatever the weather, and had some truly wonderful times, but some spooky ones too – and that’s the point today. Some really spooky ones - when the leaves shrivelled, and the nights drew in, and the season of mist was upon us.

Okay … sorry for that dollop of half-assed purple prose. I couldn’t resist. Back to business. As I say, the ebook of SEASON OF MIST can now be acquired, and at the bargain price of £1.99. Within the next month or so, we’ll be bringing out the paperback as well, so, if you’d rather be flicking pages than looking at a screen, keep watching this space.


An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.

by Stephen Laws (2007)

Cath Lane is a very talented and successful British author. She is only in her early 30s and seemingly has the world at her feet. Then, one rainy night in New York, in the midst of negotiating another lucrative deal, and just having given birth to her first child, Rynne, Cath and her husband, David, are attacked by a down-and-out, who knifes the latter brutally before fleeing the scene.

Five years later, Cath, now a withdrawn widow, has moved back home to England and lives with her daughter in a remote stone farmhouse on the Northumbrian moors. It’s something of a solitary existence, though Rynne, who has almost no memory of her father, goes to school locally, at Nicolham, and they have the assistance of Faye Roche, a spirited sixty-something, who knows the area well and now acts as their housekeeper and live-in babysitter.

Cath is attempting to get her career back on track, but is lonely and sorrowful, and constantly haunted by nightmares about that terrible night. However, the first hint of normality returns to her life when she makes friends with Drew Hall, a young and rugged local farmer, who is almost knocked down outside her house by a fast-moving car belonging to reckless millionaire businessman and playboy, Kapler Dietersen.

There would perhaps be an immediate attraction between Cath and Drew were it not for the shadow that lies between them. And this is not Dietersen, who, though he’s not popular in the district, is seen as something of a joke rather than a threat; it is Drew himself, who has many demons of his own, some of which might well be real and could even be prowling the dreary moorland at this very moment, combing for their next victim.

Drew also lost his spouse, though in this case his wife was killed in an accident involving a mechanical harvester, which he now keeps locked up in a dilapidated outbuilding and won’t touch, almost in a real-world attempt to keep the ghastly memory at bay. But one way in which he’s managed to genuinely distract himself from this troubling past is with his determined quest to prove that big cats are abroad on his land.

Several times now, Drew has actually encountered these ferocious panther-like beasts, plus he’s seen how depleted his livestock has become, a clear indication that a breeding population of such killers is covertly flourishing in the district, hidden from prying eyes even though it is very evidently at the top of the food-chain. With no natural enemies, this makes it an extremely dangerous entity. Hall is certain that it’ll only be a matter of time before a human is killed by them.

Of course, he isn’t able to prove any of this, and as his obsession has come to fill his entire life, he has allowed his farm business to run down and his home to turn ramshackle, which means that he’s now viewed in the area as a figure of sympathy (other farmers have lost sheep too) but also as something of an eccentric. A knock-on effect of this is that Cath, who, five years after her own loss, is now unconsciously yearning to re-energise her love life, is also slightly wary of him.

And yet, Drew Hall is not the oddest person in the area. The arrogant Kapler Dietersen affects the attitude of lord of the manor, and though he is an awkward and difficult customer, especially as he shares none of the locals’ affection for this wild, rural corner of England, nor respects any of its customs – for which reason he is at daggers drawn with Hall in particular – even he is not the main menace in everyone’s midst.

That honour may belong to a newcomer, an outsider, a mysterious individual called Tully. But then again, perhaps even Tully might have met his match when it comes to those dark, sleek, flesh-eating forms now roaming this district by night with ever-greater confidence …

I was delighted to learn that Ferocity, which was first published in 2007, had received a new lease of life this year, courtesy of The Brooligan Press – in fact, the sensational cover I’ve used to accompany this review is the brand new one. Other Laws masterpieces of yesteryear are also getting a makeover in 2019, Darkfall last March for example, also from Brooligan, and Ghost Train in November from Valancourt Books, among others.

However, if this gives you impression that Stephen Laws is a name from the horror past, you couldn’t really be more wrong. Yes, he has a huge track-record in the industry. But he is still going strong, and the reissue of his earlier novels – like Ferocity, which in truth wasn’t that long ago – is purpose-designed to his bring his work, which is as fresh and vital as ever, to a new generation of horror readers.

And what a worthy ambition that is.

However, in that regard, Ferocity is perhaps an unusual example of his output, because it isn’t strictly a horror novel. Don’t get me wrong. It has a dark, brooding atmosphere, is packed with suspense and features several moments of full-on terror, but such is the surprising route this enjoyable countryside romp takes that I’d classify it as more of – perhaps, possibly, maybe – a thriller, though there are undoubtedly some horror elements.

For example, the quest to uncover England’s big cats comes straight out of the folk-horror playbook. For those not in the know, the UK officially no longer has any native big cat species, and yet sightings continue to be made in the English heartlands, and farm stock continues to be damaged by such semi-mythological entities as the Surrey Puma, the Fen Tiger and most famous of all, the Beast of Bodmin Moor, whom Laws himself wrote interestingly about HERE after he went on a bona fide Beast of Bodmin hunt himself. All of these legends possibly owe to the existence in the British wild of panthers and leopards, which may have formed breeding populations after they were illegally released from captivity on introduction of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976. There is also a story that a number of US regiments based in the UK during World War Two kept big cats as live mascots and were also forced to release them into the wild when they were redeployed to the European battle zone.

Whether there is anything in this or not – whether it’s a rumour based on solid fact, or drawn from credulous imagination – who can say, but it’s one of the great urban legends of modern Britain, though in truth that should read ‘rural legend’. And it’s marvelous to finally see these mysterious creatures finally get ‘their own book’ if you know what I mean.

Needless to say, Laws goes at it full tilt in Ferocity, packing his narrative with as much big cat mythos as he possibly can, and jacking up the tension tremendously when he finally gets it through to his characters, and to us, the readers, what exactly it would mean if a huge predator was lurking in our spinneys and hedgerows, one smart enough to evade humans but savage enough to effortlessly kill them if the situation demands, and fully capable of wreaking blood-soaked havoc on a wide scale if it felt genuinely threatened.

That’s very much the world we’re in with Ferocity, though in truth it’s even more dangerous than that. Because these particular cats have an added advantage over teeth, claws and superpowered strength and aggression. They have camouflage too. This fascinating avenue isn’t fully explored by Laws in my view; I was a little bemused as to how it could actually happen – but in truth, it works very well. Though we get the occasional glimpse of life from the perspective of the predator, how could we possibly expect it to list for us and explain all its unique attributes? This leaves us with no choice but to accept that the deadliest hunters of all are those we don’t yet know about, in which case the reason for their success must remain something of a mystery.

Of course, in Ferocity, the nameless big cats stalking the fells and moors of England’s Northeast aren’t the only danger. They’re not the worst danger either. As usual, that honour is bestowed upon Man himself. I won’t go too much more into the synopsis for fear of spoiling it for you, but suffice to say that, no matter how brutal and merciless Nature can be, it will always find a counterpart in humanity. And that’s all done very believably here.

Of course, for fictional villainy to have impact, it must square off against genuine virtue, and Laws doesn’t let us down on that score either. Cath Lane and Drew Hall appeal to us immediately because they’ve suffered bereavement, as a result of which both are to an extent lost. Lane is a successful novelist, but to meet her you wouldn’t realise that; thanks to her tragic loss, she’s now shrunk back from the limelight and seems bereft of purpose. Moving across the Atlantic and settling in County Durham, with its endless woods and bleak moorland, she has almost personified her desolate state of mind. She doesn’t really know why she’s here; it was a wild flight to who knew where.

Hall, on the other hand, has found greater purpose. Despite the premature death of his wife, he remains the bluff, blunt hill-farmer that he was before, but he now throws most of his energies into uncovering the truth about the big cats that he is sure are stalking his land, a downside of which is the neglect he shows to his everyday means of existence - and at some point this will cost him dear.

Ferocity is a thoroughly exciting and engaging action-thriller of a type you wouldn’t normally expect from a horror maestro like Stephen Laws, though it’s got a dark edge as well, and it steeps us deep in the mystery and tradition of Northern England’s ancient, mist-shrouded landscape. It’s also smoothly and accessibly written, and gambols along with the jaunty energy of the fearsome beasts at the very heart of it. A bouncing page-turner, which I guarantee you’ll enjoy.

And now, as always – and as always, probably unwisely – I will attempt to cast Ferocity just in case those behind any possible film or TV version need some advice beforehand. Just a bit of fun, of course. I mean, who’d ask me?

Cath Lane – Freema Agyeman
Drew Hall – Tom Cullen
Faye Roche  – Celia Imrie
Kapler Dietersen – Hilton McRae
Tully – Phil Daniels

(Thanks to Lonely Planet for the Bonfire Night image).