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Book Review: Under a Watchful Eye by Adam Nevill

“Nevill writes thoughtful, frightening stories that are calculated to infect a reader’s imagination and leave them scrambling for his back list.”

Adam Nevill isn’t afraid to scare his readers. He’s familiar with the genre, but more importantly he’s familiar with the emotion of horror, and he uses this knowledge to full effect in his latest novel, Under a Watchful Eye.

A figure in black, grimy and hostile, is appearing to horror author Sebastian Logan. The figure is everywhere—standing in the sea, at the end of a boardwalk, in the hall of his home—and Seb can’t seem to shake him. With every manifestation, the figure gets closer, and Seb starts to recognize his old college friend, Ewan, who once informed and inspired Seb’s literary career. Ewan, a vagrant who’s spent years living rough, has a proposition for his old friend, the successful writer, and Seb’s about to realize that even if he refuses, it’s too late.

Like in many of his other novels, Nevill plays with the tropes of horror before revealing his intentions. The story changes, expands, and readers are left breathlessly turning the pages, anxious to uncover each new detail, and each new delicious scare that Nevill has prepared. Adam Nevill is a haunting writer, equally comfortable with elegant Gothic prose and current, realistic dialogue, and he knows how to take his time and creep into a reader’s imagination. Like the best horror novelists, Nevill understands that the Devil is in the details, and his world is so completely imagined that even an incongruity in the story, caught by a watchful reader and dismissed as a publisher’s glitch or typo, is actually a purposeful gem of plot and foreshadowing that pays off in spades.

As knowledgeable as the author seems to be about horror’s past, though, the scares in Under a Watchful Eye are fully modern. The sounds, the images, all written in tactile, relentless prose, pull a reader into the story so completely that we’re left to wonder at what lies just beyond our realm of understanding. Like other horror grandmasters before him, Nevill knows that the lasting frights are the ones so completely realized that they’re undeniable. We hear them rubbing up against the side of our homes or just outside our bedroom doors, or growing from the shadows, and, like Seb, we’re not likely to ever forget them.

The only time Nevill seems to test the patience of his readers is when Seb tries to get information out of Ewan. The drunken vagrant talks in spiraling madness, and Seb’s frustrations with his old college friend can become contagious. Its part of the effect Nevill’s prose can have on us, how a reader becomes complicit in the creation of his nightmares. Wanting more, peeling back each page to get at the heart of the story, seems exactly what Nevill has planned. It’s a dance, a ritual, and only by going through each step can we uncover Ewan’s dark secrets.

Nevill writes thoughtful, frightening stories that are calculated to infect a reader’s imagination and leave them scrambling for his back list. There are rewards to be found there, shared ideas and an emerging mythology, but Under a Watchful Eye is a perfect jumping-on point for new readers to discover a master of the craft.

Adam Nevill has been compared to Stephen King and Clive Barker, but with Under a Watchful Eye he has come back to show that there’s no comparison necessary. Adam Nevill is his own sort of beast, a 21st Century writer who rises above the familiar and creates new scares and a world of terrors that will leave any fan of horror delighted and fully satisfied.

JAKE MARLEY

 

Publisher: Macmillan
Paperback (416 pp)
Release Date: 12 January 2017

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