Book Review: Bad Vision by Dave Jeffery

“If you haven’t read anything by Jeffery, Bad Vision would be a fine place to start. If you have, then you already know you’re in for a treat.”

 

Something that has been mentioned with increasing frequency both on this site and elsewhere is the impressive quality of releases coming from the small presses. From content to covers to the whole look of the book, more and more independent publishers are giving the bigger outfits a run for their money. One of those doing impressive things in the UK is Hersham Horror Books, run by Peter Mark May. Though the press has been in existence for a few years, putting out numerous anthologies, a novelette series, and a collection, it is most recently they have become renowned for The Primal Range. That is, a series of stand-alone novellas that nevertheless share a design and an intent to deliver some of the best in British horror writing. Launching in 2016 with stories from the likes of James Everington and Stephen Bacon, there are now nine in the run, and it shows no signs of stopping. One of the most recent is Bad Vision by Dave Jeffery, a well-known name and figure in the UK horror arena.

Opening in a grimy police interview room, we are introduced to Ray Tonks, a man who is clearly in some sort of bother. He is dressed in an issued “anti-rip suit” and has had all his possessions removed. As the detective pursues his lines of enquiry, we come to suspect something dreadful has happened. And to hammer this home, when Ray jumps right into the story he has to tell by informing the officer, and us, he has premonitions of disasters, we know we are about to experience horrors.

Bad Vision is an intriguing and compelling story, not least because it wrong-foots the reader time and time again, but in a way that feels logical, part of the developing story. Though it opens with this portentous scene of a police interrogation—though one conducted with apparent leisure—immediately followed by Ray describing his vision of a terrible earthquake, we are not then, as might be expected, plunged into a breakneck story of international peril and world-changing horror. Instead, Jeffery dials down the action and takes a more intimate look at the characters. We meet Ray’s wife Denise, who is unaware of Ray’s long-held ability, and also has secrets of her own. Then we are introduced to Ray’s co-workers, all with their own unique personalities shaped by lives of hardship or tragedy. And so natural does all this world- and character-building feel that it’s only perhaps a third of the way in we realise every player in this story has something to say in regards to mental health and illness. Not only do they all work in some capacity in this area, they all have their own idiosyncratic neuroses and compulsions, their own demons. But at no point does this become the main focus or detract from the ongoing story. Rather it all compliments the narrative, feeling natural and logical.

As for that story; although there might seem to be the promise of some epic dark tale at the beginning, it is instead a very detailed and heartfelt story of personal darkness and the stresses of modern life. This is then refracted through the horror lens with the use of Ray’s premonitions, where he is helpless to do anything about these events. From a young age, he has learned to keep quiet in the face of disbelief and his parents’ embarrassment at his outbursts. And we come to feel Ray’s fear, frustration, and anger as he deals with his issues for Jeffery writes a very internalised narrative for his characters. This also includes time with the supporting cast, and it allows him to explore differing facts of mental health, obsessions, and social anxieties. And as if this wasn’t enough, there is also a sub-plot involving some murders in the area. Yet at no point do we feel overwhelmed or confused. It’s all weaved together with ease, and runs at a measured pace towards its looming, dread conclusion. The story manages to juggle atmosphere and events with a more sedate examination of its various participants. So even as Ray’s visions change, showing him gruesome yet inexplicable things he cannot make sense of, described with rich, inventive detail, we are also immersed in his inner-most thoughts, his internalised attempts to rationalise his experiences. It’s a great mix of show and tell and works very well indeed.

If there could be any criticisms at all, it’s that the overall book might have benefited from another light editing pass, but none of it really detracts from the story at all. It’s a novella that culminates with a very satisfying conclusion, recalling, to this reviewer’s mind, the ending to John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, and also one other film that won’t be mentioned here save for spoiling. This is because the author confirms the connection in his afterword, and it was a lovely thing to read for it shows a level of shared experience and horror knowledge. Jeffery homages this particular film in a way that is both honouring and surpassing, taking it as inspiration but making it something all his own.

So, another successful release from Hersham Horror Books, who show no signs of stopping in their mission. A mission that seems to be to put out highly original, well-conceived stories by some of the best independent writers in the UK. And it’s another great work to add to Dave Jeffery’s enviable catalogue, one that includes a dozen novels, numerous novels, and many, many short stories. If you haven’t read anything by Jeffery, Bad Vision would be a fine place to start. If you have, then you already know you’re in for a treat. Don’t let this one pass you by.

PAUL MICHAELS

Publisher: Hersham Horror Books
Paperback: 154 (pps)
Release Date: 18 October 2018

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