Book Rec – The Martledge Variations by Simon Kurt Unsworth

Where to start with this one… I love Simon Unsworth’s fiction. His portmanteau collection Quiet Houses was a formative book for me as a writer. His mixture of ghost story sensibilities and the more explicit descriptions of Clive Barker, struck a chord with me. Check out my review of Quiet Houses over at This Is Horror for more details.

Ever since then, I’ve craved more of Richard Nakata, the reluctant ghost hunter at centre of Quiet Houses. And I’m not alone. Unsworth teased us with a story about Nakata in Diseases of the Teeth, his excellent collection from a couple of years ago. However, to hear that Nakata would be back for another book was genuinely music to my ears.

Which brings us to The Martledge Variations, a new three-story collection from Steve Shaw’s brilliant Black Shuck Books (buy the books, buy all the books). Again, Nakata is at the centre of the piece, linking the stories together in a web of his own making. This is a more cautious, thoughtful Nakata who is wary of his previous mistakes and notoriety. He’s empathetic and vulnerable. An interesting man who continues his arc from Quiet Houses,  a few years down the track.

The individual stories in The Martledge Variations are all well crafted. In “The Dancers”, Unsworth leans on a real life experience of smashing a piano (I’m jealous) to bring us a tale of a haunting, but also a tale about the haunted and the damage such an experience can do to a person. The Smiling Man is the creepiest of the three and has its origins in local folklore. Here, the spirit is malicious and a serial lech. He’s bloody gross. Lastly, The Meadows features an amorous young couple that experience something sad and frightening in the darkness of a secluded park.

Martledge itself is a charming little town, if not one that is plagued by a few wayward ghosts. Unsworth prefaces the book with a brief history ripped from the past of Chorlton, the town he grew up in. At first I was a bit skeptical of the history lesson, but it worked. I’ve always said that one of Unsworth’s skills as a writer was his sense of place, how he uses places as a character using its influence on others, and it holds true here.

It’s interesting to see how Unsworth’s style has evolved across all of his books. His superb Tom Fool books show a vocabulary of the grotesque that is up there with the best of them. Whilst this is toned down somewhat here, he comes up with some truly intriguing flourishes of description. Unsworth knows how to build a horror story and his delivery of those killer lines of description that bring the reader a chill are always spot on.

The Martledge Variations is one of the Black Shuck Shadows series. Pocket sized books showcasing between three and six stories by a particular author. I’ve picked up a few of these, including the one from Phil Sloman which I will be digging into soon. My only criticism of The Martledge Variations is that it left me wanting more, obviously that’s no bad thing for a writer and I can take heart from the fact that Unsworth has always stated his love for Nakata as a character. Hopefully a return to Martledge won’t be too far away…

Pick up your copy of The Martledge Variations in paperback from Black Shuck Books or on Kindle.

 

Book Rec – Overnight by Philip Fracassi

 

I’m often way behind on my reading, aren’t we all? It took me a horrendously long time for Philip Fracassi’s wonderful collection Behold the Void to make its way to the top of my teetering “to be read” pile. But when I picked it up, holy shit, did it blow me away! “Fail-Safe” and “Altar” immediately went on my list of stories that I would’ve cut my own legs off to have written. Behold the Void is one of those books that grabs you by the face and doesn’t let go.

So when Overnight dropped from the wonderful people at Unnerving, it blew all other books out of the water and I simply had to read it straight away. And it didn’t disappoint. Overnight is a sleazy morality tale about a security guard on a film set that is drawn into a morally dubious arrangement with the “biggest fan” of the film’s lead actress.

The story is crammed with Fracassi’s usual superb wordsmanship and fully-rounded characters. It carries a sense of dread from the start and the set-up provides numerous avenues for the story to run down. For the record, it did not end up where I thought it was going! Another bonus.

Overnight is a quick read but one densely packed with detail and suspense. I won’t reveal more about the overall storyline for fear of spoilers but I would say, the story really delivers on a great premise.

Get yourself a copy on Kindle over at Amazon. Or better yet, get it in a lovely hardback edition straight from the source at Unnerving.

Good Things – Awards Season

This is just a quick post to mention two good things that have happened in my writing world of late. Firstly, against any of my expectations, Imposter Syndrome,  that I co-edited with James Everington has been short-listed for Best Anthology at the British Fantasy Society Awards.

The long-list came out ages ago and it had slipped from my mind so to see the book make the final cut is fantastic. It has to be said that this anthology is where it is due to the fantastic quality of the stories sent in by our wonderful authors. Thanks must also go to my co-editor James, Ross and Anthony at Dark Minds Press and Neil Williamson who designed the cover art. As well as all of the readers who picked up a copy. Here’s hoping we can scoop the trophy in October!

The full anthology category is listed below. There is some fantastic competition and congratulations to all of the other nominees.

Best Anthology
· 2084, ed. George Sandison (Unsung Stories)
· Dark Satanic Mills: Great British Horror Book 2, ed. Steve Shaw (Black Shuck Books)
· Imposter Syndrome, ed. James Everington & Dan Howarth (Dark Minds Press)
· New Fears, ed. Mark Morris (Titan Books)
· Pacific Monsters, ed. Margret Helgadottir (Fox Spirit)

Pick up your copy of Imposter Syndrome here: – (UK | US)

In other news, my contributor copies of Stories of the Dead: A Tribute to George A. Romero have arrived, and they look absolutely stunning. The book is a charity anthology and contains stories from great writers such as Rich Hawkins and Anthony Watson. My story “Grounded” leads off the TOC and I’m really proud to have been involved. It’s been a fantastic experience working with Duncan Bradshaw and David Owain Hughes on this book. Pick up your copy here.