There are two kinds of extreme horror writer. One type thinks that graphic gore, bloodshed and nastiness are all that is required. The other realises that you need characterisation and investment for the aforementioned scenes of horror to have any impact. Matt Shaw is definitely one of the latter.
“Join me in the club” is an immediately engaging story based around an interesting dystopian concept. The world is over-populated and low on resources, so the government has decided that the solution is to prune the unfortunate population. They hold special events at “the club” for which people are randomly selected via the receipt of a red or white token. The red tokens will die, but as a farewell bonus, they get to be in charge of how they spend their last night. They are paired with a white token who will survive, but have to fulfil whatever the red token’s desires might be, as well as being instrumental in their death which is conducted in the manner of their choosing.
The main character is Gary, a regular family man, who has received a white token, and the story begins with the build up to his night at the club. Rather than going straight for the jugular, the tale shows how an ordinary family are preparing for the potential fallout from such an event. This could include damage to Gary’s marriage, as some red tokens insist that the white tokens sleep with them before they die, and Gary’s wife is understandably upset about this possibility. And although he will survive, how will they continue as normal after he has killed someone?
The realistic concerns, frustrations and arguments of a couple forced into this horrible situation are handled with aplomb, and we are drawn into their predicament before the horror has even kicked off.
The timeline jumps back and forth between the club night and the domestic events leading up to it, which creates a pleasing pace, and we also learn a little about Mary: Gary’s red token partner for the night. There’s some real darkness in her soul, and this sets a suitably ominous tone.
The book also features the plight of Justin – a pleasant man and a doomed red token holder – and his wife Emma. Palpable and tragic, this section is a beautifully written vignette with an elegiac tone that both contrasts and elevates the gruesome shenanigans about to be unleashed.
As this is extreme horror, the last section of the book naturally becomes quite inventively brutal. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the grisly surprises that lay in wait, but strap yourself in. Because we’ve already invested in these characters, it becomes an uncomfortably powerful read, and the tale ends on an open yet very satisfactory note. There’s certainly potential for a sequel – which would please me no end – but it works as a standalone piece regardless.
I enjoyed “Join me in the club”. It’s a short book of novella length, and very easy to fall into and devour in one sitting. If you’re a fan of extreme horror, you’re probably familiar with Matt Shaw and will demolish it too.
If not, but you’re feeling adventurous and would like to dip your toe into this controversial sub-genre of horror fiction, I’d say this is a good place to start. The author brings quality storytelling and emotional depth to a fascinating concept, and while the graphic elements are shocking – and quite rightly so – they are undercut with a psychological darkness that takes it to a whole new level.
Party like there’s no tomorrow.