Epeolatry Book Review: Others by James Herbert

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Title: Others
Author: James Herbert
Genre: Horror
Publisher: 12 April 2012
Release Date: Pan

Synopsis: In James Herbert’s Others, private investigator Nicholas Dismas is hired to track down a missing baby stolen away at birth, he finds himself immersed in a grim underworld of lies and deceit. His investigations ultimately lead him to a mysteriously located place with the seemingly innocent name of Perfect Rest, a nursing home where the elderly can live out their days in peace.

But appearances can be deceptive and Dismas discovers the shadowy presence of the Others lurking in the hidden rooms and passages of Perfect Rest. His own dark heart is called into question in the events that follow and, in an astonishing and spectacular finale, Dismas finally resolves the enigma of his existence and answers the disturbing questions. who and what are the Others?

I loved The Rats, The Fog, The Spear and countless other James Herbert novels so I thought I knew what to expect from one of his heroes. Then in 2000 I opened the first page of Others and all that was about to change.

Nick Dismas, foundling child and severely disabled, is a Brighton-based private investigator. Newly widowed Shelly Ripstone engages his firm to find her baby son, born eighteen years earlier in Dartford General Hospital. Shelly was told the boy had died. She never saw him. But she and her clairvoyant are convinced he’s alive. When Nick checks the birth and death registers at the General Registrars Office, there’s no record of Shelly’s little boy at all.

Nick tracks down Shelly’s old midwife, Hildegard Vogel, at the Perfect Rest Nursing Home. He’s immediately on his guard when the staff are cagey about her receiving visitors. At the front of the queue to dissuade Nick from pursuing the search for Shelly’s son is the owner Dr Wisbeech:

‘It was only later, when she began to remember certain things, that she became upset.’

It was then that I noticed a change in him, a stiffening of body, an even greater sharpness in those cold, blue eyes. It was barely perceptible, but alterations in moods is another thing I’m good at recognizing – or sending.

He scarcely missed a beat. ‘And what was it that the poor woman remembered?’

Nick begins to be plagued by dark and disturbing visions and dreams. Shelly’s clairvoyant, Louise, becomes concerned for his safety and perplexed, too, at the auras of frightened individuals reaching out for help:

‘They aren’t far away, Dis…Their presence is so strong, yet they’re so confused. Oh…Dis…they’re desperately afraid.’

When Nick strikes up a rapport with Constance, one of the nurses in the rest home, he begins to find out for the first time what it feels like to have someone be attracted to him and want to be with him despite his disabilities.

I enjoyed the book very much the first time I read it. It’s full of satisfying action and plot twists that come together seemlessly at the end, and it has a likeable but flawed narrator.

Others came into its own for me after my husband became severely disabled. Reading it again I enjoyed even more having a hero who isn’t able bodied and a heroine who has a disability of her own to struggle with. The writer conveyed a real sympathy and an understanding of what it feels like to be (or be with) someone that people stare at in the street – although thankfully in that regard the world is changing for the better.

Enjoy!

4/5 stars

Others is available on amazon and all good bookshops.

Epeolatry Book Review: Body Farm Z

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: Body Farm Z
Author: Deborah Sheldon
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Severed Press
Release Date: 17.8.19

Synopsis: To solve murders, you must understand the process of decomposition. Australia’s newest body farm, the Victorian Taphonomic Experimental Research Institute, is hidden in bushland some four hours’ drive from Melbourne. Scattered across its 150 acres are human donor cadavers and pig carcasses arranged to mimic some of the ways in which police might find murder victims: exposed to the elements, buried in a shallow grave, wrapped in tarpaulin. Forensic scientists and graduate students meticulously track each stage of putrefaction. Today, Detective Rick Evans of the Homicide Squad is at VITERI for the re-creation of one of his cold cases. A human donor will be locked inside a car. But the donor has other ideas… So begins a facility-wide outbreak of the reanimated dead.

“Madam?” he whispered….

She fixed her gaze on him and bared her teeth.

This is a zombie thriller which breaks a few of the genre’s tropes:- it’s set in the outback in Australia (a four hour drive from Melbourne) for a start, and utilises the Australian flora and fauna as an important part of the storyline; so straight away the zombie outbreak isn’t happening in  shopping centres or cities. The zombies are in various states of decay so they’re not homogeneous; some are faster than others. Just like humans. The guy who takes charge, well he’s not that capable really, just an ordinary cop out of his depth and there’s no military help on hand at the Victorian Taphonomic Experimental Research Institute (VITERI) – a site so secret it doesn’t have an address. 

Deborah Sheldon has written a fast moving, entertaining, high octane adventure ride of a novel. It starts off as a straightforward police forensics thriller – where a pair of Aussie cops ( likeable Rick Evans and his loquaciously irritating partner) are visiting a ‘Body Farm’ as part of their day job. A Farm is where large numbers of cadavers are scattered around and/or buried and thereafter scientifically examined for decay etc. by the team of scientists on staff, in order to help solve  murders. This is a bit weird but feasible. 

But then the story gets a whole lot weirder, as the narrative tilts and tips the reader right into an on-site zombie outbreak (what’s dropping from the strange clouds gathering over the farm?) and from now on the Farm’s staff and the visiting cops have to adapt very fast to fighting the undead – some of whom are pretty nippy, some less so. But none of them are friendly.

So this is now a full-on zombie novel, including a cast of zombie birds and possums and other animals (zombie kangaroo anyone?)

In an unusual twist, Sheldon has written one of the characters, a Prof, (who is amongst those who gets bitten) in such a way that we get to follow his zombie transformation from inside his own head, and how he sees/feels it. This draws you in and builds up empathy with one of the zombies, because for the Prof. and his friends, it’s a tragedy and we really feel for him. 

Deborah Sheldon writes with total confidence and builds up what seems at first an unlikely scenario skilfully, she blends in dollops of scientific language and research and fills the narrative with 3D characters you can root for- two of my favourites, being Stella (the Institute’s secretary) and Walter. Her female characters are feisty and hold their own too. No shrinking violets here.

The ending may not offer every reader satisfactory closure, but I thought it effective and maybe leaves the door open for a sequel?

This is enormous fun and if you like horror, zombies, thrillers, action, cold cases, and lots of excitement then download this novel.

Yes worth the buy.

5/5 stars

Epeolatry Book Review: A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising
Author: Raymond A. Villareal
Genre: Horror 
Publisher: Mullholland Books
Release Date: 5 June 2018

Synopsis: In this wildly original debut – part social-political satire, part international mystery – a new virus turns people into something inhuman, upending society as we know it.

The body of a young woman found in an Arizona border town, presumed to be an illegal immigrant, disappears from the town morgue. To the young CDC investigator called in to consult with the local police, it’s an impossibility that threatens her understanding of medicine. Then, more bodies, dead from an inexplicable disease that solidified their blood, are brought to the morgue, only to also vanish. Soon, the U.S. government – and eventually biomedical researchers, disgruntled lawmakers, and even an insurgent faction of the Catholic Church – must come to terms with what they’re too late to stop: an epidemic of vampirism that will sweep first the United States, and then the world.

With heightened strength and beauty and a stead diet of fresh blood, these changed people, or “Gloamings”, rapidly rise to prominence in all aspects of modern society. Soon people are beginning to be “re-created”, willingly accepting the risk of death if their bodies can’t handle the transformation. As new communities of Gloamings arise, society is divided, and popular Gloaming sites come under threat from a secret terrorist organization. But when a charismatic and wealthy businessman, recently turned, runs for political office – well, all hell breaks loose.

“It was like the Mafia: once you were in, you couldn’t leave until you were smoked. Blood in, blood out.”

This fictional oral history taps the post-modern novel with deftness and confidence – interview transcripts and witness statements jostle alongside footnotes to their text and magazine articles in order to build up a multi-perspective viewpoint of the uprising as the narrative unfolds.

The premise underlying the choice of structure is very simple: bodies disappear from morgues and gradually an epidemic of vampirism spreads across America. They are sufferers called ‘Gloamings’ and they rapidly become successful, prominent and influential in society. Soon, lesser individuals are queuing up to be ‘turned’. The Gloaming section of the population faces threats from terrorism and public scrutiny when one of their own runs for public office. Vampire fiction has long included a strand where vampires, courtesy of their virus and longevity, are smarter, better informed, fitter and stronger than the rest of us. This novel has already acquired a well-earned place within that sub genre.

Against a backdrop of real socio-political trends in the US, increasingly mirrored here in the UK and Western Europe too, it isn’t surprising that this interesting and fascinating novel garnered huge attention upon publication. A film is set to follow, and as a story it should translate well to the big screen. Think ‘Outbreak’ with Dustin Hoffman combined with an ‘X Men’ feel.

We live in divided times, and in contemporary societies questions abound about elitism and meritocracy, alongside ‘the other’ as horror metaphor or as generic trope wielded for political purposes. Our wonderful diversity as human beings means that we are each of us by definition somebody else’s ‘other’. This novel provides an interesting consideration of whether someone’s differences to us can be embraced when what makes them uniquely special yields them greater influence, income and prestige than you or I enjoy (or believe we deserve). This is exactly the situation the Gloamings find themselves in.

There are no easy answers to these issues, and in fairness the author does not attempt to provide any. Think of it more as a book that raises questions and elucidates them through fictional characters struggling in highly uncertain times. This isn’t a drawback, in my view, since it may still be too early to expect any literature to be able to provide answers to the challenges we are facing right now.

I enjoyed this novel very much. Notwithstanding the post-modern structure, the characterisation was deftly developed so a personal note pervaded its pages, with plenty of focus on the individual’s experiences and quite a bit of action. It really felt like I was reading something innovative and fresh.

Enjoy!

5 out of 5 stars

A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising is available on amazon here.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Lost Ones

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: The Lost Ones
Author: Anita Frank
Genre: Horror
Publisher: HQ
Release Date: 31 October 2019

Synopsis: Some houses are never at peace. England, 1917
Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house. Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side…

In the classic tradition of The Woman in Black, Anita Frank weaves a spell-binding debut of family tragedy, loss and redemption.

‘I might have once deemed it inappropriate to read a dead man’s correspondence…’

This is Anita Frank’s début novel and its publication date ties in most appropriately with Halloween- a PR match made in heaven. The blurb for the novel compares it to The Woman in Black, says ‘Some houses are never at peace’ and is a ghost story. So that was me in straight away for I am a sucker for haunted Gothic mansions, family secrets, lost children, and feisty heroines who are in danger. 

This is set in 1917 when the Great War is still raging abroad, and the losses at home are being mourned. One such bereaved fiancée is Stella Marcham, the heroine, who is sent to live with her pregnant sister after a nervous breakdown. She is packed off to her brother in law’s Gothic mansion, the fabulously named, Greyswick – and the building is very much a character in its own right. Brooding, cavernous, filled with corridors, whisperings, secrets, and in 1917 is run by an exclusively female staff, who are ruled by the formidable Lady Brightwell, who is quite the harridan and her right hand woman, the hovering, hellish housekeeper Mrs Henge (very much in the Mrs Danvers mould I thought who swishes around and pops up at all the wrong times).

The novel is split into two parts:- part one is Stella’s arrival, fitting into this household, grieving and  vulnerable, who arrives with her ‘strange, otherworldly’ maid Annie. I did find this a slow build, with lengthy descriptions of the house, and the characters. It does reward your patience but you do have to persevere. Very soon Stella and her sister, Madeleine, are hearing and seeing things which cannot be real and having buckets of conflict with the matriarch Brightwell and her seemingly gentle companion Miss Scott. Perhaps Stella is so grief stricken she is going mad? The threat of more medical treatment and indeed sectioning, hangs over our heroine all the way through the book and is a grim reminder of women’s rights and roles in the early twentieth century.

The second part of the novel is when Stella chooses to stay behind at Greyswick, after her sister and brother in law depart, to investigate the ghost’s and why it is still trapped in the house. Now the pace does pick up. A male character is introduced, Tristan Sheers, an injured war vet, a rationalist and psychic investigator who is there to disprove the existence of ghosts. Meanwhile the ghost is hyping up its activity levels; the focus of which is the top floor and the disused nursery. Annie, the maid, is connected in a supernatural manner, which allows her (conveniently for plot purposes) to act as an interpreter for Stella. The growing and changing relationship between the maid and the middle class, but fragile, Stella is another touching and convincing strand to the web of character interplays in the novel. 

The finale is well handled, with a particularly grisly and touching scene in the smoking room where the walls literally hold the secrets. Frank keeps the reveals and twists coming. It is fair to say that every woman in the house has her own secret and is hiding something. 

This is also a story about one woman’s journey to the other side of grief and finding herself again as well as how the evil of past deeds resonates in the present day.

4/5 stars.

Yes, if you love Susan Hill you will love this. 

Weakness – slow start, long convoluted descriptions and dialogue which takes some perseverance.

Am I a Paper Person? A Review of the reMarkable Paper Tablet

Disclosure: Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

In an age when artists and authors are constantly tempted to surrender their focus (I’m looking at you, social media!), the reMarkable e-ink tablet promises a creative experience free of distraction.  That’s a lofty goal, but the reMarkable crew of Oslo, Norway has made it their philosophy since the tablet’s crowdfunding campaign of 2016.  Now, after years on the market and several big firmware updates, consumers are finally able to gauge how well the company delivers in their commitment to Paper People.

Full disclosure:  my writing process has always begun with putting pen to paper.  Given this, I was intrigued by the idea of an e-ink tablet replacing the many stacks of notebooks lining my desk.  But is the reMarkable tablet really an organized and distraction-free creative experience?

My biggest gripe with the reMarkable came before I even purchased it -– the price.  At $599.99, the “Paper Tablet” would be a hefty investment, but the potential of focus and productivity was worth the risk, so I went for it.  Unfortunately, a few days after purchasing the tablet, it went on sale for $499.99, leaving me feeling a little defeated.  Fortunately, after a quick correspondence with the excellent reMarkable customer service, they refunded me the difference, effectively softening the blow of the price-point.

I received the reMarkable in under ten days.  The package included the 10.3” e-ink tablet, a reMarkable pen, ten additional pen tips, and a charging cable.  I was immediately impressed by how sleek and lightweight the tablet is.  And when they say the CANVAS display has the texture of paper, the company isn’t kidding.

After charging the device, I booted up Codex, the custom Linux operating system, and tried my hand at syncing the tablet to the reMarkable app on my phone.  This was a pain-free experience, though many users have had problems in this area.  With the tablet and the app in sync, anything I created would automatically be sent to a dedicated cloud and downloaded onto connected devices via the onboard Wi-Fi.

In my estimation there are four primary uses for the reMarkable tablet:  writing, sketching, reading, and annotation.  Writing and drawing on the e-ink device is surprisingly smooth with the battery-free stylus offering virtually no lag.  The interface offers a variety of options, from pencils to markers to pens, some of which are even pressure-sensitive.  Though the device is entirely in grayscale, there are enough style choices to offer a diverse writing or sketching experience.  Most impressively, though, the system now offers a writing-to-text option that converts handwritten words to editable text that can be e-mailed and further formatted in a traditional word processor.

The reMarkable tablet also doubles as an e-reader for PDF and ePUB files.  Text is stark and readable even in direct sunlight, though it lacks a backlight to read in the dark.  Even so, for a simple device on the go, the reMarkable serves its purpose well, especially for annotating text.  With such tools as a highlighter and its wide array of writing implements, the tablet presents a great way for notetakers to edit uploaded papers in real time.  In fact, a large part of reMarkable’s customer base are students using the tablet to stay organized in class or notetakers in office settings.

Still, though the reMarkable adds a simple approach to the creative process, the device can be slow at times, especially when loading or navigating particularly large files.  Uploading and downloading also requires some patience as the cloud synchronizes everything.  And that writing-to-text option?  Though it’s definitely a game-changer when writing longhand, the software isn’t exactly 100% accurate in its translation from handwriting to text.

Overall the reMarkable is a neat little device that boosts the creative process by stripping away the distractions plaguing artists and authors alike.  The feel of writing on the system is satisfying and has, indeed, replaced the many notebooks that occupy my office.  The battery life isn’t too shabby either as I’ve only had to charge the device once a week after moderate use.  Though the price is steep for such a niche technology (the reMarkable is currently $499.99 on remarkable.com), it is a dream come true for a writer such as myself who drafts in longhand.  There are negatives, to be sure, and many opportunities to further optimize the device, but the reMarkable offers a unique e-ink experience that delivers on its promise of distraction-free writing.

If you are interested in picking up a reMarkable, be sure to head over to Amazon today!

Epeolatry Book Review: Music Macabre

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: Music Macabre (A Phineas Fox Mystery)
Author: Sarah Rayne
Genre: Historical Thriller
Publisher: Severn House Publishers Ld.
Release Date: 30 August 2019

Synopsis: Researching a biography of the composer Franz Liszt, Phineas Fox uncovers evidence of a brutal murder – and finds his own life in danger.

Music researcher Phineas Fox has been enjoying his latest commission, gathering background material for a biography of Franz Liszt. But although he has – as anticipated – uncovered plenty of scandal in the 19th century composer’s past, matters take a decidedly unexpected turn when his investigations lead to Linklighters, a newly-opened Soho restaurant built on the site of an old Victorian music hall, and unearth evidence of a possible murder involving the notorious music hall performer known as Scaramel.

Just what was Liszt’s connection to Scaramel … and, through her, to the infamous Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper? As he delves further, Phin’s enquiries uncover clues to a fascinating and extraordinary story – and plunge his own life into jeopardy.

‘Liszten for the Killer’

I have been reading Sarah Rayne’s thrillers for years and always await her next one with baited breath then devour it one gulp. This is the fourth novel in the series, starring music researcher and academic Phineas Fox, his girlfriend Arabella  in a more peripheral role than previously) and best mate, the hapless Toby.

This time Fox is researching a book about the composer Franz Liszt and it’s a piece of his strange eerie music which provides the lead in in to the mystery. Rayne often uses this motif in her stories. How did Liszt know a Cockney music hall performer, the luscious but scandalous Scaramel? Is she linked in some way to Jack the Ripper, who terrorised Whitechapel in 1888? And does the newly refurbished theatre café Linklighters, with its eccentric owners Loretta and Roland, hide deadly secrets both past and present?
Well you can probably guess the answers to these questions but this review doesn’t want to give away any spoilers.

As in many of her books Rayne uses mirroring time lines – present day and 1880’s London- switching smoothly between the two, bringing each set of characters (now and historic) to vibrant life. Linklighters and the horrible underground sluice gate which lies below the restaurant is the physical doorway to the past and as usual Rayne uses old letters, playbills, sketches (by a young artist known only as ‘Link’), programmes, and newspaper reports as a series of informational signposts for us and Phineas Fox to follow. The way she overlays all this is very well done. 

The scenes set in the sewers were dark scary and very unpleasant. Rayne has done some research on the ‘ghost rivers’ which proliferate beneath London. She is very adept to at depicting the smells, sights and sounds of Victorian London. The story hops over to Paris for a brief digression too 

(both in the past and present day).         

Jack the Ripper hovers over the narrative, a shadowy figure who haunts Scaramel and her feisty maid, Daisy) and Rayne’s fictional solution to why Jack stopped killing is interesting, possible and thought provoking.

There are some violent scenes depicted and if you like your crime cozy with a ‘z’ this may not be for you. 

I would say that this time Fox and Arabella are overshadowed as characters by Loretta (the current black widow style owner of Linklighters) and Scaramel the Victorian songstress, who leapt off the page for me. If you’re looking for loads about Liszt and his music this isn’t the right book for you. His role is peripheral.

A dark, elegantly plotted historical thriller romp through Victorian London and current day Soho.

Bonus Content

Sarah Rayne has kindly given us an insight into the research which allowed her to bring her characters to life so vividly:

‘Taking on the man who is probably the best-known serial killer ever – presenting an aspect of him that nobody had so far thought of – was a slightly daunting prospect.  Linking Jack the Ripper, via a music hall performer, with the eminent composer, Franz Liszt, was more than daunting – it was formidable.

There were, though, lighter sides to the research.  It appears that Liszt, early on, almost led the life of a modern-day rock star, mobbed and adored, his fans fighting to secure scraps of his garments, and fainting in the aisles at his concerts.  

One anecdote in particular stood out for me.  During a youthful affair with the infamous 19th century night-club dancer, Lola Montez, Liszt found himself forced to sneak out of a Constantinople hotel bedroom in the early morning while she was still asleep, since, he said, he ‘feared her importunities were starting to damage his sanity, his constitution, and his virility’.

La Montez, on discovering her lover’s absence, gave way to extravagant fury and smashed up the entire room.  Mirrors were angrily splintered, and what was delicately referred to by the hotel staff as ‘bedroom china’ was hurled out of windows.    

It’s these odd snippets that bring the past vividly to life – although it should perhaps be added that Liszt’s later years were quieter and more seemly, much of his time being spent in a monastery near Rome, where he composed many religious and liturgical works.

It wasn’t just the people that came colourfully to life – it was the places, too.  At various parts in Music Macabre, characters become trapped, lost, and generally menaced in the remains of one of the lost London rivers that lies beneath Linklighters, the fictional music hall.  

Working out this section of the plot, it turned out that there were far more of these ‘ghost rivers’ than I had realized – from the Westbourne to the Fleet, from the Black Ditch to Earl’s Sluice, to Pudding Mill River and Carbuncle Ditch and Mutton Brook. Their names reflected their origins – some of which were ancient – and there was no discrimination as to where they wended their way.  For the purposes of the plot, the dried-out Cock and Pye Ditch fitted the bill beautifully. It once circled an area of St Giles – now more generally known as Seven Dials – which meant that Linklighters could be sited to be directly over it.

There was, though, a touch of dark humour in the fact that the old Tyburn was – and still is – directly beneath Buckingham Palace.  As one character in Music Macabre observes, it’s tempting to imagine times when, if there was an overflow, royalty might have had to wade through sewage, complete with gumboots and mops and buckets, to help with slopping out.’

I’d rate this 4/5 stars and yes would recommend it especially if you enjoy history/mystery with some horror. Great title too.

Music Macabre is available on amazon.

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