Book Review: Hasty for the Dark by Adam Nevill

These tales are dark, starkly violent, but also subtle and ambiguous, often at the same time.”

Following 2016’s rather excellent collection Some Will Not Sleep, Adam Nevill returns with another output of his shorter fiction in the form of Hasty for the Dark. Once again published through the author’s own press, Ritual Limited, and matching its predecessor’s top quality production levels (the limited hardback is weighty, solid, and beautifully bound, and all editions have atmospheric artwork from Adam’s brother, Simon Nevill), the question is, does the content equally impress?

The answer is, unsurprisingly, a resounding yes.

Kicking off with ‘On All London Underground Lines’, the collection sets its intent out straight away. A piece of claustrophobic, atmospheric, and nightmarish prose, it’s a story which takes the awfulness of morning commutes in London to a horrifying extreme. Not one word is wasted, not one image un-affecting. This is followed by a twin of sorts, in ‘The Angels of London’, in which a tenant of a run-down block of flats finds his landlord may be more—or less—than he appears. Creating an original mythology that begs to be explored in a longer work, it nevertheless continues its predecessor’s sense of grim hopelessness.

‘Always in Our Hearts’ opens with its protagonist ruminating on the myriad ways in which one might be injured or killed by a vehicle collision. A throwaway line becomes awfully, grimly relevant towards the end, as the taxi driver takes a succession of strange individuals on a relay of fares. It’s both terrifying and heartbreaking in a subtle way. In ‘Eumenides (The Benevolent Ladies)’ we enter more surreal territory as a strange date in an abandoned zoo leads to disorientation and escalating terror. The imagery is understated and ambiguous, allowing the reader space to fill in the gaps. It’s a lovely piece which demonstrates Nevill’s range and abilities, an excellent homage to Robert Aickman. Examining a long-standing, toxic relationship, ‘The Days of Our Lives’ follows its narrator’s subservient marriage to the brutal, spiteful, and violent Lois, who metes out a terrible revenge against those innocents he has the temerity to even smile at. Claustrophobic, bleak, and filled with dread; even in its conclusion, a thin hope is only arrived at by way of a terrible act.

‘Hippocampus’ is a characterless narrative, which plays out like the eye of a roving camera. Following a trail of blood and death through a seemingly deserted freighter ship, its visuals and clues are parcelled out with care and slow suggestiveness. It’s a fascinating experiment and works very well indeed. It also appears to segue—in a way—into the next story, ‘Call the Name’. A novella length tale which mixes a near-future slide into an apocalypse, historical and archaeological fossils and theories of ancient oceanic—and otherwise—life, and an infusion of cosmic horror by way of Lovecraft. It also deals, in a realistic and sensitive way with dementia in the elderly. Beautifully written, compelling and filled with inventive lore and nightmare imagery alike, it’s a wonderful piece which shuffles inevitably to its desolate conclusion.

Another tribute story, this one to Mark Samuels, ‘White Light, White Heat’ seems almost a departure for Nevill. It is, on the surface, a futuristic dystopian piece, which in many ways resembles—tonally, if nothing else—parts of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, or George Orwell’s 1984; even parts of Aronofsky’s mother!. Remarkable, considering it was written before that film. Yet within its drab environments and oppressive atmosphere are flashes of offbeat unreality, connections to worlds beyond the ‘normal’. It’s also rare for Nevill in that it contains elements of hope and an almost uplifting tone, uncertain and fragile it may be. It is, for this reviewer, the best story in a collection full of excellent works, perfect and hypnotic.

The final story, though, is no less excellent. ‘Little Black Lamb’ is the fourth tribute tale, this time to horror legend Ramsay Campbell. It is, by turns, a ghost/possession story and a serial killer tale, with hints of a mysterious secret society, and still manages to paint a picture of domestic disintegration. A fitting end to a collection with not a single missed note.

Adam Nevill continues to show he is one of the finest writers in the genre. And not just in horror, but in the literary arena. He produces stories which not only entertain but also enthral, disturb, and linger long after reading. Straddling with ease that fine line between the purely horrific and the literary ambitious, he shows that it is possible to combine the many varied disciplines of the horror tradition and the wider literary world, and do so successfully. These tales are dark, starkly violent, but also subtle and ambiguous, often at the same time. There are undercurrents of recurring themes, swimming below the surface like a great, alien leviathan hiding beneath the ocean. The hardback is a thing of beauty and the whole package is completed by a comprehensive and fascinating detail of each individual story’s genesis. Another excellent release from Nevill’s own Ritual Limited; here’s to more.

PAUL MICHAELS

Publisher: Ritual Limited.
Paperback: (240 pp)
Release Date: 31 October 2017.

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