Book Rec – Maniac Gods by Rich Hawkins

Where to start with this one…

I first read Rich Hawkins’ fiction in preparation for interviewing him on the This Is Horror podcast back in 2015. I picked up “The Last Plague” and “Black Star, Black Sun”, both of which are excellent. But what struck me was how as good as the writing was in “The Last Plague”, Hawkins had improved by the time he brought out “Black Star, Black Sun”, despite there not being a huge amount of time between the releases.

Fast forward three years and Hawkins has completed his “Plague Trilogy” and released some of the best novellas I’ve read in recent years. So I find myself pleased, yet unsurprised to be recommending his latest release “Maniac Gods”.

I was delighted to pick up a copy of this book from source – aka Justin Park of The Sinister Horror Company at Edge Lit in Derby back in July. The cover art and production of the book are superb.

As ever with Hawkins’ work, he blasts straight into the story, thrusting our protagonist Albie into a village overcome by religious mania, to which his ex-wife and daughter appear to have succumbed. What happens next is a visceral, gut-wrenching examination of a man groping for salvation and reason in his life.

One of the many strengths of this novella is how Hawkins paints vivid characters, that immediately make the reader feel something – it isn’t always empathy, but then it doesn’t have to be. Whenever I’ve reviewed Hawkins’ work in the past, I’ve always talked about his descriptive abilities. This novella is another stellar example of his talent. There is a sick poetry to the way that Rich writes, how he draws the fetid and disgusting. It’s compelling, grim and not for the faint of heart. This is how I like my fiction.

Hawkins’ nails the emotional core of the story. The horror of a missing child and broken family. The despair drips from the page, but in a way that drives the reader onward. He pulls at the heartstrings as well as delivering horror beyond words.

As with all of Hawkins’ work – this book is highly recommended.

Pick up your copy here. Do it!


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.