Epeolatry Book Review: Contrition
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In her late teens, Meredith Berg-Olsen had all the makings of a runway model. Now in her late forties, after everything she had been through – including horrors that John could only guess at – she looked bloodless instead of pale, skeletal instead of slender, more dead than alive.
John Penrose has two secrets. One is the flatmate he keeps hidden from the world: his high-school sweetheart, Meredith. His other secret is the reason he feels compelled to look after her.
Contrition is a horror story with noir undertones and an atmosphere of mounting dread.
The nurses burst into Meredith’s room….What do you reckon they saw?…..Bite marks.
This is the latest horror/thriller from Australian writer Deborah Sheldon, published on 3 September 2018 from IFWG Publishing and is available on amazon to purchase. Sheldon has created a seemingly ordinary Mr Average, John Penrose, as her protagonist, however it becomes clear very quickly (and at 240 pages there is no extra fat on the bone in this tale) he lives a not so ordinary life. He might have a boring dead end job, rent in the suburbs, no friends and no social life and drink too much beer, but he has an extraordinary secret lodging with him. Both literally sharing his rental home and sharing his back story, set 30 years previously, which still casts long toxic shadows into the present day.
The unravelling of the past when the young, shy college lad John Penrose meets and becomes entwined in the lives of the twins Lyle and Meredith Berg-Olsen, both of whom he loves in different ways but with deadly consequences, is slotted in beside the current day narrative describing John’s tedious existence – moving from rental house to rental house, whenever issues arise with Meredith and her behaviour.
John still loves his Merry, he still sees her with the eyes of his first teenage love, but to us the reader, it is apparent Meredith is not the girl she once was and John is blinded by devotion. Sheldon cleverly gives us clues and hints, but avoids the full reveal about what ails Meredith, until the climax, which is exciting and well constructed and takes an unexpected turn in the last few pages.
A neighbour, a single mother, Donna with a daughter in tow, takes a shine to John, and they begin a sweet gentle courtship but in the neighbourhood animals keep going missing, Meredith never goes out of the house in daylight hours, a ‘witch’ is seen outside Donna’ s windows and John learns new facts about his past from an old school mate now working for a circus performing in town. The mundanities of life are being undermined.
John has a truly unnerving night time encounter with Meredith’s homeless friend, Sebastian, which has John racing for his life through the suburb’s back gardens. Meanwhile at home the tension mounts. Long before John asks the killer questions, we the reader are suspicious – of Meredith and her hobby boxes and of what did happen that summer day with Lyle down by the river, for which John has carried a lifetime of ‘Contrition’ and provides the motivations for all that he does thereafter.
This is a pacy, exciting read with strong horror content and some gruesome scenes which are well written but not for the faint hearted reader. If you don’t like shocks and scares this is not for you. There are noir currents at play here too, John Penrose is very much a man trapped by his femme fatale and one fateful act carried out one long ago summer’s day, which changed his life and from which he cannot get out from under. The guy just never catches a break. You’re hoping he will turn things around, but just like for Elisha Cook, Jnr in all those noir B movies of the 1940’s, you know deep down, it’s not going to happen.
Contrition is for sale at Amazon.
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Alyson lives in the UK; her fiction has been published widely in print anthologies – DeadCades, Women in Horror Annual 2, Trembling with Fear 1 &2, Coffin Bell Journal 1 and Stories from Stone and in ezines, most often on the Horror Tree site, Siren’s Call and The Casket of Fictional Delights. In May 2019 Night of the Rider, was published by Demain, in their Short Sharp Shocks! E book series and reached the amazon kindle top 10 best seller lists. Her work has been read on podcasts (eg Ladies of Horror), shortlisted in competitions and published in charity anthologies. Future work will appear in anthologies from Things in the Well, Mortal Realm and Twisted Wing Publishers.
She performs at open mics, teaches, edits and hangs out with her dog on the moor in all weathers.