Sunday, 7 May 2017

Making our gory mark in far distant places

Fast on the heels of my last blog, I’m posting a new one today, and this is mainly in anticipation of CRIMEFEST at Bristol, later this month. 

In addition, in rather timely fashion, I’ll also be reviewing L.A. Larkin’s international conspiracy tour de force, DEVOUR (it’s timely in the sense that Ms. Larkin will be chairing one of the panels on which I’m sitting at Bristol … an event I can hardly wait for, though Im always a tad nervous about these things).

As usual, you’ll find that review towards the lower end of today’s post. But before we get down there, I want to talk a little bit about the Bristol event, but also – and maybe you can treat this as a kind of ‘thought for the week’ – about the many benefits that writers can draw from reading and reviewing their rivals’ work.

That may sound like a contradiction in terms, but just bear with me for a couple of secs …

If you look above, you’ll see a billboard advert for Chris Ould’s very enjoyable Killing Bay; you’ll also see that it’s carrying a quotation from my good self. Now, that billboard is located on London Bridge, one of the most heavily utilised thoroughfares in the capital. It’s a truly great showcase for Chris Ould, but it’s not a bad showcase for me either. In fact, this has been happening quite a lot in the last few months. As you’ll see, just to make the point, I’ve liberally peppered today’s blog with advertising graphics professionally produced by publishers for their authors, which all carry snippets from reviews I’ve given them.

I’m sure you can all envisage the advantage I gain from this.

Of course, we don’t review fellow authors’ works specifically because we hope this will happen. It isn’t, and can never be, a guaranteed way to get your name into the public eye, because quite often you’ll never hear about said review again, let alone see it on a giant billboard in the heart of London. But as you can see, if/when that does happen, even though the main focus is on another writer’s book, it certainly helps get the message out that you too are a person of note.

But even if you don’t even get close to such an honour, posting positive reviews about works you’ve enjoyed is never a waste of time. It’s to all our advantage if our genre of choice is healthy and busy, and if the public are enthusiastically buying the kinds of books we write. And then, if there is a symbiotic offshoot, because other authors and their editors are so grateful to see our positive comments that they return the compliment, all the better, eh?

It’s not as if leaving reviews is a difficult procedure these days. We don’t all have to do what I do, which is write lengthy blogs. Online retailers like Amazon, and review sites like Goodreads, enable us to leave quick, short paragraphs in praise of those books we’ve enjoyed. And it frustrates me no end when I talk to fellow authors who somehow can never find the time to do this. Ultimately, I feel certain that their own careers would benefit if they could only make this minor effort a little more often.

Anyway, that’s my lecture for the week over with. Let’s concentrate next on CRIMEFEST 2017, which as always, is located at the Marriott Royal in Bristol, and this year runs from May 18-21.

For those not in the know, Bristol CrimeFest is one of the biggest and best crime-writing events in the UK. In short, it’s a convention for crime and thriller readers – not just the fanatics, but those with a passing interest as well – and it provides a big draw for novelists, publishers, editors, agents, reviewers and bloggers from around the world.

As well as the annual gala dinner, its programme comprises interviews with guest authors, one-to-one manuscript assessments, pitching sessions with agents, and over 40 panels featuring crime fiction figures from all corners of the genre. But the tone is never less than informal, friendly and very inclusive. You pop along there as a reader and you spot your favourite crime/thriller author in the hotel corridor, don’t hesitate to stop him/her for a quick chat – that’s what we’re there for. 

Special guests this year include authors Ann Cleeves, Anthony Horowitz and Peter Lovesey, artist Tom Adams and Agatha Christie expert and archivist, John Curran.

I attend CrimeFest every year these days, but have more responsibility than usual in 2017, as I’m participating in two panels. First of all, on Thursday May 18 at 3.50pm, I’ll be in the more than capable hands of L.A. Larkin (see today’s book review!), when she moderates The Hunter Hunted: Running For Your Life. And I’ll be on that panel in some very august company: Stefan Ahnhem, Felix Francis and Antti Tuomainen. But more nerve-rackingly still, I’ll be chairing my own panel on Friday May 19, at 9am: How Many Deaths? The  Appeal of the Serial Killer in Crime Fiction. On the table with me for this one are Helen Fields, James Carol, Mark Roberts and Leigh Russell.

If nothing else, I can safely predict that we’re going to have a lot of fun.

Not everyone can make it to Bristol, I know … but if you are there and you fancy a quick natter, just nudge my shoulder and I’ll be happy to gossip for a bit.


An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller and horror novels) – 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 L.A. Larkin (2016)

After a high-risk assignment in Afghanistan’s poppy-growing region, on the trail of a terrorist network, energetic investigative-journalist, Olivia Wolfe – who is no stranger to danger, but even by her normal rip-roaring standards only just returns from this trip with her life and limbs intact – is dispatched by her demanding editor, Moz Cohen, to the even more perilous realm of western Antarctica.

At first, she isn’t keen. It doesn’t sound like her normal field: a team from the British Antarctic Survey drilling down through fathoms of concrete-hard ice in a quest to discover samples of prehistoric life that may still be lurking in subglacial Lake Ellsworth … until she learns that her real mission is to investigate the various ‘accidents’ that are befalling the BAS crew at their research station, including an unexplained and rather horrible death, which more than likely was murder.

This is more up Wolfe’s street, but the situation is complicated by an unseen but menacing presence at home, a mysterious stalker, pursuing her both in reality and online, who barely leaves a trace of himself but is always undeniably there. Who this person is, and why he/she may have a beef with Wolfe is a complex thing to ascertain: there are plenty of people with reason to punish a journalist who has uncovered their dirty dealings in the past. At the same time, of course, Wolfe has to head down to the bottom of the world, to find out whatever she can about the problems facing the BAS.

This, in itself, is no picnic. The difficult conditions of the Antarctic and an engineering/scientific team who, though on the surface they seem quite normal, soon start to reveal stresses and strains among their ranks, combine to make Wolfe’s job a real challenge. While team-leader Professor Michael Heatherton is a time-served professional, dedicated to his cause and with no apparent interests other than a pursuit of knowledge, other members of the group are more secretive, in particular the intense and rather introverted Scottish scientist, Toby Sinclair.

On top of that, she learns that a rival Russian expedition to nearby Lake Vostok, whose mission failed when the lake was polluted by inadequate drilling processes, are now trying to bribe and bully their way into the British effort, which, in Wolfe’s eyes, puts them high on the suspect list – not least the most menacing member of the Russian party, Sergey Grankin, who is almost certainly a government agent. It also raises questions, particularly among the rest of the British team, about naturalised Brit but Russian-born engineer, Vitaly Rushkov; he is one of their own colleagues, at least superficially, but though Wolfe finds him attractive, he also frustrates her because he won’t reveal enough about himself to win her trust.

The tension is ramped up even more – to breakneck pace in fact, when the British team succeed in their quest, breaking through into the subterranean lake – an incredible three kilometres below the ice – and discovering something that hasn’t seen the light of day for millions upon millions of years; something so appalling that it has the potential to completely destroy modern society.

Needless to say, in the time-honoured fashion of greedy world-powers both fictional and real, it isn’t long before various shady forces are competing for control of this monstrous thing.

Even from this relatively early stage of the novel, it is difficult to reveal any more of the actual synopsis for fear of giving away spoilers, but suffice to say that, even when Wolfe returns to London, she finds herself in the midst of a deadly conflict, with numerous vying interests turning the city into a war-zone, and even the little she has already discovered making her into a prime target. Wolfe has developed lots of good contacts in her time, but even two of the best on her home turf – former top cop, Jerry Butcher, something of a father to her, and the infinitely shadier DCI Dan Casburn – are of minimal help; they may even be a hindrance as she tries to battle her way through a tangled web of confusing lies and life-threatening deceit, only to uncover a shocking and terrifying truth …  
If you like your thrillers to have an international scope, then this one is definitely for you. Devour is a wide-ranging, continent-spanning adventure played out in tough, no-nonsense fashion against a latter-day Cold War-type atmosphere. But don’t make the mistake of thinking we’re in 007 territory here. There is a high-tech dimension to Devour for sure, but there is also an aura of realism. We’re not talking ridiculous gadgetry, improbable skills and mind-boggling schemes for world-domination. New heroine, Olivia Wolfe, though she herself is a more than competent globe-trotter and thoroughly au fait with all the latest communications devices, is also very human, which is her most appealing aspect.

In fact, Devour’s greatest strength for me – considering that it’s painted on such an immense canvas – is that it’s all very plausible.

I’d go as far as to say that it’s terrifyingly plausible.

To start with, there is a real sense of danger in this book, and I don’t just mean the horrific force lurking in the sub-Antarctic depths (more about that later), but also from our heroine’s various antagonists. Whoever’s on your tail in Devour, whether they be opium lords, terrorists or security service personnel gone rogue (or even not gone rogue – just doing their government’s dirty work at full throttle!) – you soon get to learn that they are experts at what they do; it’ll only ever be a page or so before they catch up with you. It also becomes plain at an early stage that none of these heinous individuals are playing by the rules of chivalry.

Oh yes, there is some real brutality on show here. Everything about Devour is harsh, gritty and real. Its central characters spend much of it in a state of fear, particularly the civilian scientists who never imagined that their ground-breaking research could have caused such chaos, not to mention Wolfe herself, who soon learns that even if she emerges from this adventure unscathed, her life as she knew it will be over. Several times there are references to people who simply disappear, or run the risk of disappearing – in L.A. Larkin’s world, the niceties of international law just don’t apply when such threats as this endanger the planet, and I, for one, am more than prepared to believe that could be true.

Even routine activities, such as travelling, are given a rugged makeover. We’re talking long plane journeys, soulless waystations, the extreme geophysical conditions of the Arctic, not to mention a drab and wintry London which itself has the potential to endanger life – for example, in one scene, Wolfe gets soaking wet and as it’s December, it isn’t long before she’s struggling with hypothermia. At the same time, death means death; during an early sojourn to Afghanistan, she witnesses the shooting of a young woman, and it haunts her afterwards; she sees it playing through her head again and again.

These are the uber-realistic touches that we simply don’t get in run-of-the-mill thrillers, and Larkin hits us with them repeatedly, as if saying: “This is what it means, this is how it would actually be if you were to genuinely participate in this world”.

And I totally loved it, almost as much as I loved the central character.

Olivia Wolfe is an excellent heroine. She may not be the sort who can take waves of bad guys apart with her bare hands, or jump from plane to train to motorbike and still make it to her favourite restaurant in time for dinner. She may be a martial artist of sorts, but she gets battered, she gets hurt, she gets frightened. However, her main asset is that she is a skilled and highly driven investigative journalist. She hasn’t just got a nose for a great story, no matter how far afield it may lie, she has the determination and wherewithal to get there in time to cover it. But she has a survival instinct too. In anticipation of the dangers she will face, she is technically proficient, and perhaps more importantly, an exceptional judge of character, knowing instinctively who to trust and who to suspect.

In some ways, this may make her a tad unsympathetic. All the way through, she has an on/off romantic relationship with the Russian engineer, Yushkov, and yet she maintains an antipathy towards him too because … well, mainly because he’s Russian, and in this book the Russians are generally up to no good. It reaches a stage where as a reader it almost becomes tiresome, and yet that’s the point. Olivia Wolfe has survived as long as she has because she’s smarter than we are. She has really played this game, whereas we haven’t.

If I’m giving the impression that this is an edgier-than-usual book, that’s probably accurate. It’s no romp, that’s for sure. But this slap-in-the-face factor serves two purposes: it makes you believe it absolutely, and it keeps you glued to the pages – as, of course, does the overarching, and vaguely monstrous – concept.

On that subject, it would be easy, if you’d only read the blurbs, to think that what you’ve got here is something akin to John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? (filmed as The Thing from Another World). And why not? Something nasty is lurking under the polar ice, a bunch of well-meaning scientists discover it and thaw it out, only to find that it’s a force beyond Man’s experience, which imperils the Earth as a result. And if it sounds like science fiction, there may be an element of that, though I draw your attention to the real attempt by British scientists to drill down to Lake Ellsworth in 2012, which failed (maybe fortuitously, or maybe it was halted – who can say?). But it’s all still incredibly plausible. I’m not going to give out any spoilers concerning the nature of the thing, but it’s truly horrifying because, even if surprises you – which it did me – you can very quickly envisage the colossal destruction that would result.

In addition, the novel is underlined with in-depth research – no B-movie stuff, this. LA Larkin, an Antarctic explorer in her own right, handles the biological and engineering complexities of the mission to the South Pole and the follow-up investigations with the same authority and conviction that she does the political intrigue and secret service chicanery, and yet weaves it all seamlessly into the narrative and the dialogue so that at no point do we feel we’re being hit by a cut-and-paste from Wikipedia.

It all makes for a totally believable and completely enthralling techno/eco thriller, perhaps with a few dollops of psycho horror mixed in for good measure (because let’s not forget that there’s an equally formless, equally dangerous threat to Olivia Wolfe lurking at home).

An all-round, superbly-crafted reading experience, which just screams for your attention.

And now, as usual and just for laughs, I’m going to nominate my own cast should Devour ever make it to the screen (and in this era of conspiracy thrillers and girl heroes, I reckon now would be the perfect time). Anyway, here are my picks:

Olivia Wolfe – Emily Blunt
Michael Heatherton – Tim McInnerny
Vitaly Yushkov – Igor Petrenko
Toby Sinclair – Alan Cumming
DCI Dan Casburn – Mark A. Sheppard
Jerry Butcher – Hugh Laurie
Mozart Cohen – Ian McShane
Sergey Grankin – Vladimir Mashkov

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Terror Tales of Cornwall hits the shelves

And here we are at last. After much frantic scampering about, I can announce that TERROR TALES OF CORNWALL is done, dusted and ready to buy. And yes, it does exactly what it says on the tin. 

It takes you down to England’s quaintest, most beautiful, most mysterious, and often wildest coastal region, and then hits you with many aspects of the terrors to be found there.

On a similar ‘homely horror’ subject, this week I’ll also be reviewing Dan Simmons’s seminal story of rural darkness, SUMMER OF NIGHTAs usual with my novel reviews, you can find that one at the lower end of today’s post, and as always, it’s a detailed and in-depth discussion.

But first, we’re going to talk about my new anthology of regionally-flavoured chillers, TERROR TALES OF CORNWALL.

Oh, I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting to say that.

I guess everyone who follows this blog is well aware that the TERROR TALES series, which has now been running since 2011, was interrupted about a year ago when Gray Friar Press sadly had to withdraw from the game. But the gauntlet has been passed, and is now firmly in the grasp of TELOS PUBLISHING, who have done a masterly job with this, their first contribution.

In case anyone is concerned, fear not – the book looks much like the previous volumes (why fix something that isn’t broken?). It has the same style and layout, ghoulish fact interspersing with ghastly fiction, and it follows the same ethos, offering (mostly) new supernatural horror stories based on the mythology, folklore, history and geography of the region. In other words, these aren’t just stories that happen to be set in Cornwall, they are stories about Cornwall.

So, without further ado, here is the artwork for the book in all its glory, the back-cover blurb, and the full table of contents:

Cornwall, England’s most scenic county: windswept moors; rugged cliffs; and wild, foaming seas. But smugglers and wreckers once haunted its hidden coves, mermaid myths abound, pixie lore lingers, henges signal a pagan past, and fanged beasts stalk the ancient, overgrown lanes …

The serpent woman of Pengersick
The screaming demon of Land’s End
The nightmare masquerade at Padstow
The feathered horror of Mawnan
The terrible voice at St Agnes
The ritual slaughter at Crantock
The hoof-footed fetch of Bodmin Moor

And many more chilling tales by Mark Morris, Ray Cluley, Reggie Oliver, Sarah Singleton, Mark Samuels, Thana Niveau and other award-winning masters and mistresses of the macabre.


We Who Sing Beneath the Ground by Mark Morris
Golden Days of Terror
In the Light of St Ives by Ray Cluley
Morgawr Rising
Trouble at Botathan by Reggie Oliver
From the Lady Downs
Mebyon versus Suna by John Whitbourn
The Serpent of Pengersick
The Unseen by Paul Edwards
Finned Angels, Fish-Tailed Devils
Dragon Path by Jacqueline Simpson
Jamaica Inn
The Old Traditions Are Best by Paul Finch
Guardians of the Castle
The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things by Mark Valentine
The Hooper
His Anger Was Kindled by Kate Farrell
The Bodmin Fetch
Four Windows and a Door by DP Watt
Claws by Steve Jordan
The Cursing Psalm
A Beast by Any Other Name by Adrian Cole
Of the Demon, Tregeagle
Moon Blood-Red, Tide Turning by Mark Samuels
Slaughter at Penryn
The Memory of Stone by Sarah Singleton
Queen of the Wind
Shelter from the Storm by Ian Hunter
The Voice in the Tunnels
Losing Its Identity by Thana Niveau

Just to whet your whistles even more, here are three snippets from the stories contained herein:

They came for him, the white children. They dragged him out of the house, like a rag doll. Rocks scored his skin and bruised his bones. At the edge of the sea, they peeled off his clothes and sank their hands through his pouched skin into his body, marvelling at his viscera, taking him to pieces, playfully.
The Memory of Stone 
Sarah Singleton

No more than two metres away was a circular pit that, as far as she could tell, stretched from one wall of the barn to the other. She thought of animal traps, in the bottom of which might be sharpened stakes designed to pierce the animal’s body as it fell. Oh God, oh God. Was that what this was? She tilted her phone down, shining it into the hole.
     It wasn’t black down there, as she had expected. It was red.
     Blood red.
We Who Sing Beneath the Ground
Mark Morris

The masked man yanked the chainsaw’s cord, and Lee shrunk towards the door, then whirled when he heard hoof falls and the creaking of floorboards behind him.
     There was that flashing again – a tiny red dot – and Lee realised that he was looking straight into the lens of a video camera.
The Unseen
 Paul Edwards


An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller and horror novels) – 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 Dan Simmons (1991)

It is 1960 and the start of summer in the Illinois farming town of Elm Haven. For a bunch of local school-leavers, a tightknit group of adventurous 11-year-olds self-defined as the ‘Bike Patrol’, long months of vacation lie ahead. The sun is high, the corn ripening in the encircling fields, and while the adults have their own issues to deal with – the new decade is already presenting different political challenges! – for the youngsters it’s just another extended playtime.

But then something goes wrong. One of their former classmates, a hillbilly kid called Tubby Cooke, disappears, and the Patrol – level-headed leader Dale Stewart and his younger brother, Lawrence, brave and good-hearted Mike O’Rourke, troublesome roughneck Jim Harlen, super-intelligent Duane McBride and loyal team-player Kevin Grumbacher – take it on themselves to investigate.

And very soon, they wish they hadn’t.

At the heart of Elm Haven stands Old Central, the large, ornate and crumbling schoolhouse they’ve just left, which is now condemned and will shortly be torn down. The guys can’t help but feel there was always something wrong about Old Central – not just the school itself, but its staff too, who behaved increasingly oddly as the end of the semester approached. The kids especially become suspicious when they learn that Tubby was last seen alive in the school toilets.

But it’s a hot summer and there is lots of other fun to be had, and so the investigation is undertaken half-heartedly. Surely there was nothing really wrong with their old school?, and none of them much liked Tubby Cooke anyway, nor his oddball sister, Cortie. Within a few days, the whole thing is put to bed … but now it seems their inquisitiveness has aroused a latent hostile force, which they’d never previously noticed in Elm Haven.

The Rendering Truck, a ramshackle vehicle full of rotting animal carcasses, takes to following them around town and trying to run them off the road, while a weird WWI era soldier begins popping up in their peripheral vision and even chases them when he catches them out in the fields.

Something weird is indeed going on here, and Old Central seems to lie at the heart of it.

However, it is only when Duane researches the history of the school and learns that as well as a legacy to the town from the wealthy and mysterious Ashley family, it was also used to house an arcane artefact shipped over to the States from Europe and associated throughout its long history with sorcery and devil-worship, that Hell is really unleashed.

Nightmare faces appear at the boys’ windows, shadow shapes emerge from under their beds, axe-wielding figures attack their tents, and horrible things stir in the corn.

Amid many other distractions that the Bike Patrol never anticipated this summer – sexual awakenings and the like – they now must battle for their lives against this dark and intangible foe, which can assume a multitude of forms and soon seems to infest every corner of Elm Haven …

So many US horror writers appear to owe it to themselves to at some point produce at least one novel steeped in the Americana of their small-town youth. This furrow has been successfully ploughed by such major names in the genre as Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Robert McCammon – to name but a few, so it was no surprise to learn that Dan Simmons had done it too, producing in Summer of Night a semi-autobiographical account of his boyhood in the agricultural Midwest, recollecting it as a fun romp for the most-part, but at the same time striving to capture the complexity of that last summer of childhood, that confusing moment in life when we willingly or unwillingly trade everything that went before, even the good stuff, for a completely different mode of existence (and so often find it a raw deal), and then pumping the adventure levels up dramatically with lashings of supernatural terror.

In the hands of all these great writers, this has proved a potent mix, an unashamed juxtaposing of that cosy age of boy-scout camps and Mickey Mantle baseball cards with the looming subliminal fear of something monstrous and unexplainable. Psychoanalysts would no doubt have a field-day, talking about the remorseless approach of adulthood, the end of play and the commencement of work, and maybe even, with the advantage of hindsight, the transition of that relatively comfortable post-WWII era in America to the more unstable 1960s with its social discord and the horrors of Vietnam.

There is probably something in that, though I suspect it’s actually a lot simpler. Summer of Night is clearly a very personal work for Dan Simmons, but its greatest strength lies in the rollicking and hair-raising tale it tells, and its straightforward pitting of good against evil in such easily understandable fashion that it wouldn’t be out of place on the YA shelves were it not for the juicy language and its frank discussion of adolescent sexuality.

It is certainly a lively and worthy addition to the small-town horror cycle. Many familiar motifs are here: the non-too-perfect lives of some of the kids (who even in the midst of cheerful innocence must cope with ill-health at home, low incomes, drunken or absent fathers, etc), the roaming bands of bullies, the grim and rotting building at the heart of town, the aristocratic founding-family now elevated to semi-mythical status, the existence of something ancient and cruel which only was hinted at prior to this book, the adults who stubbornly refuse to believe in it, and of course the endless, sun-soaked landscapes of youthful reminiscence.

One criticism often levelled at Summer of Night is that it’s too similar in tone to Stephen King’s own nostalgic masterpiece, It. I see that, but I don’t consider it a weakness – the two novels are cousins for sure but Summer is in no sense a rip-off, as the narratives diverge noticeably. However, I do think Dan Simmons’s book suffers a little by comparison.

Whereas It bounces back and forth between childhood and adulthood, Summer of Night anchors us in 1960, and to see the whole thing through the eyes of a bunch of 11-year-olds becomes a bit of a strain when you’re hundreds of pages in and yearning for some adult interaction. It also means that you must suspend belief considerably. Even for a supernatural tale, some of the solutions our youthful heroes adopt feel as if they’d be a little beyond the average bunch of youngsters – their proficiency and ruthlessness with firearms for example, their ability to pick clues from distant history, and their overall maturity in the face of a horrific crisis (when at the same time some of them are too frightened of the dark to turn their bedroom lights off, and others are content to step out of the battle to attend birthday parties and dig for bootlegger treasure!!!).

But these are the only real brickbats. The rest of this novel is a whole load of fun.

Typically for Dan Simmons, it’s a lengthy tale, but it’s sweetly written and totally engrossing. Living, breathing characters populate a richly detailed community. An air of the authentic early ’60s sits vividly on the page, and yet the lurking menace, which, while vague in the early stages, never feels out of place – in fact these are the best parts of the book for me: the slow-dawning awareness that something terrible, only glimpsed at first, is coming on apace, threatening to sweep away this idyllic little enclave in a turbulent world.

And of course, when the book finally fires – it fires on all cylinders.

As you’d expect, there is a grand climax at the end, but well before then – throughout most of the second half of the novel – Simmons hits us a with a series of spectacular action set-pieces, each one scarier and more explosive than the one before it. And don’t be lulled into complacency by the extreme youth of our main protagonists – not all these chilling encounters end well for them (though to say any more on that would really spoil things).

Summer of Night is what people used to refer to as an ‘airport novel’ – in other words it’s a big, fat volume, so big that you’d happily buy it on the first day of your holidays and expect it to see you right the way through. That’s most likely what would have happened; at over 500 pages, it’s an absolute whopper. But though reading habits have changed a little since the 1990s, I still recommend this exciting and enjoyable tome. It may transport you back to your own past, it may provide no more than an amusing diversion for an hour each day, but once you get into the meat of it I guarantee you’ll stick with it right to the end.

In normal circumstances with these reviews, I like to close with some fantasy casting, just for fun picking who I’d love to see play the leads if the book in question were ever to make it to the screen. Alas, on this occasion I must stick my hand up and admit to knowing so little about Hollywood’s current A-list of child stars that I couldn’t make any meaningful suggestions. And given that the kids totally dominate the book, it would seem a little crass to try and cast the adult characters when so many of them occupy background roles.