Book Review: An Augmented Fourth by Tony McMillen

“The individual elements of character, setting and description are intertwined like a strand of DNA to give this tale life and readers a quality read.”

 

Tony McMillen is the author of the novel Nefarious Twit (Branch Hands, 2013), a book LitReactor selected as their Book Club Selection for March 2014. A wonderful achievement for a debut novel. The author and artist has made us wait almost four years for his follow-up, a book that McMillen himself described as “Black Sabbath meets The Thing”. Published by the ever-reliable Word Horde, a publisher whose name has become synonymous with quality and excellence, An Augmented Fourth is Tony McMillen’s much-anticipated second novel.

The book opens with an introduction to the first-person narrator, Codger Burton, the bassist for British heavy metal band Frivolous Black. He awakens in a hotel room, in the middle of his latest attempt to go cold turkey, to get off of the cocaine and alcohol. Codger is an almost-stereotypical rock musician from rock music’s heyday, but McMillen does a great job of developing the character, showing us the trials and tribulations Codger has faced from a difficult childhood to dealing with fame and dealing with the news that John Lennon was murdered three days previous.

The setting, a Boston hotel in the midst of a snowstorm, helps to set the tone of the book. There has been a mass evacuation and the cold weather along with the isolation brings to mind horror stories set in the barren, mostly empty Arctic and Antarctic. But Codger isn’t completely alone, as he soon encounters three fellow guests; John, an employee of the hotel and a huge fan of Frivolous Black, Rikki, feisty frontwoman for a punk band leading the charge to sound the death knell of rock, and Marcus, a bodyguard who used to work for Codger’s band but who now protects a pop star called Frankie Gideon. The interplay between the members of the group is well written and very entertaining, especially between Codger and John (“this fucking kid”) in the early stages of the book. But, given their circumstances in the hotel, the creeping paranoia soon sets in and it isn’t long before strange things begin to happen.

Without giving too much away, there are similarities to John Carpenter’s movie (as acknowledged by the author), both in the build-up of tension and dread, and the cosmic horror. The descriptions of the antagonists are especially well done, the imagery conjured up by McMillen both beautiful and horrific in equal measure. Often, writers can rely on the same old words to describe a being or entity that we have never before encountered. But not McMillen. He pushes the boundaries in this book to bring us a terrifying glimpse into the darkest depths of his imagination with the Unquiet One, the Earworm and the Witch.

The paranoia and suspicions within the group are ramped up as the monsters begin to close in and secrets are revealed. It seems that everyone has something to hide, some more sinister than others, and it all comes to a head in the secret innards of the hotel, which is more than just a mere hotel. The finale takes a Weird twist as Codger must fight for his survival, and possibly the survival of all existence, by doing what he does best and performing on the ultimate stage in a rock band. Performing the music that will either save the day or condemn the universe to chaos.

McMillen has managed to combine two of his greatest loves with An Augmented Fourth; horror and rock music. And he has done so in an effective and entertaining way. He manages to deliver a cosmic horror story with the tone of a frozen wasteland setting, but based in a hotel in Boston. The individual elements of character, setting and description are intertwined like a strand of DNA to give this tale life and readers a quality read. Unlike so many of the rock and roll heroes of yore, Tony McMillen’s second release delivers on the promise made with his debut. And it cements his place as an author with a reputation as a wonderful storyteller.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Word Horde
Paperback: (204 pp)
Release Date: 27 June 2017

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