The last book I read in 2012 actually turned out to be a favourite, so before a quick overview of the year, it’d be rude not to say a few words about that.
“The Nine Deaths of Dr. Valentine” by John Llewellyn Probert is a tribute to Vincent Price films, in which the Bristol police are baffled when somebody starts killing doctors in the manner of some of the great actor’s most theatrical and nefarious villains.
With Price being my favourite horror actor, this short novel had a bit of a head start, but it contains all the author’s best trademarks: a wry sense of humour, rich prose, and the seamless merging of old-school and contemporary. And of course, plenty of outrageous deaths. The killer’s nemesis – DI Jeffrey Longdon – is pleasingly jaded and dry, and Sergeant Jenny Newham proves to be a solid foil for dialogue.
I loved the switching between the set-piece executions – in which fans of the films will have a great time spotting the references and trying to guess the impending fates – and the efforts of the law: very much in the Phibesian tradition. But despite being a delightfully ghastly tale, it has an ultimately harmless twinkle in its eye.
There’s also a nice line concluding a chapter in which a police pathologist reveals the author’s self-deprecating passion for lurid horror cinema:
“There are a lot of very odd people around who like this sort of thing.”
But anyway, on to a handful of other 2012 favourites, and you can click on the links for more detailed reviews.
With novels, there’s two that spring immediately to mind for their all-consuming dedication to horror. In a similar vein to John’s Phibes tale, Hell Train by Christopher Fowler is a colourful and gorgeously rendered homage to Hammer that cranks up the adult content but never loses its wry sense of theatre. Flesh Worn Stone by John A Burks Jr takes a very different – and extreme – approach to the genre. With shades of Laymon and Lee, it’s a disturbing, gripping study of our most cruel and bestial nature.
I’ve read a few collections this year of varying quality, but there are two that definitely stand out. Peel Back the Sky by Stephen Bacon was highly anticipated by me, and more than delivered with its thoughtful depth and range. Enemies at the Door by Paul Finch is also a stayer. These are two high quality collections by writers who take pride in their craft, and it really shows.
On the anthology front, the nightmarish Darker Minds lingers as it should, and I loved the ethereal artistry and unique flavour of The First Book of Classical Horror Stories (Edited by DF Lewis). Both brim with quality fiction and maintain a coherence despite the varied contents.
Here’s to a horrific 2013.
Excellent choices Matthew. I agree, Stephen Bacon’s collection is the best thing I read last year, really powerful stuff. Thanks for the nod to Darker Minds too, much appreciated.
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