New review 19:08:2013

Soul Masque by Terry Grimwood. © 2013 Terry Grimwood. Cover concept ©  2013 Neil Williams/Spectral Press. All rights reserved.

Soul Masque by Terry Grimwood. © 2013 Terry Grimwood. Cover concept © 2013 Neil Williams/Spectral Press. All rights reserved.

It’s been fairly quiet around these parts lately, so let’s change that by bringing you the latest review of Terry Grimwood’s chapbook story, Soul Masque. This one is from subscriber Paul Feeney, and was posted to his Facebook timeline:

“The world is on the brink, demons are rife and those that purport to do God’s (yes, God, with the capital…) work seem as corrupt as those they fight. Within this dark, grimy war revolves the separate yet tangled lives of Sian, a facilitator and handler of sorts and dispenser of mingled pain and pleasure; Jon, the wielder of the Glory and slave to chemical dependence; Meg, Jon’s lover and companion; Rennie, who loves Meg but carries his own dark secrets; and The Singer, an angel whose appearance and motivations somehow seem less than holy…

Twenty three pages of short story and there’s enough here for an entire novel. I don’t just mean the idea, I mean the thing itself reads like a novel. It’s mind boggling to think how much Terry Grimwood has managed to squeeze into this small chapbook. It’s a testament to the writing which is spare and fractured, yet incredibly detailed. In fact, the whole structure is disjointed, adding to the fragile, brittle world the characters inhabit – and also themselves. In a few scant words, Grimwood gives full flesh to his people, covers the bones of his story in rich detail with light strokes of his writing. It’s an incredible feat, only slightly marred for me by the use of present tense in places. At least at first. It made it difficult for me to break into the story at first, which is already dense and layered. I feel, and this is purely a personal thing, that it would have been better to start with past tense and introduce the present later, because, as the story races towards its end, it really doesn’t distract at that point.

Still, a minor quibble. The story is epic, beautiful, tragic and very dark, with little hope of redemption for any of its protagonists. There’s enough here to sustain a whole series of novels and I’d love to see more. The scene with Sian and The Singer in her room…well, it sent shivers up and down my spine.

Gorgeous, brutal stuff. Look forward to more.”

Many thanks, Paul – more soon!

Rough Music: a reader’s view

Rough Music Front Cover

We here at Spectral love getting feedback from readers and subscribers as well as reviewers – and subscriber James Bennett has just sent us this short but excellent review of the latest chapbook, Simon Kurt Unsworth’s Rough Music – this is what he had to say about it:

Rough Music is the fifth release in the Spectral Press line of chapbooks and another fitting addition to the collection. Simon Kurt Unsworth is a British horror writer, whose work has appeared in several acclaimed anthologies, including Never Again, Lovecraft Unbound and The Very Best of New Horror. In 2008, he was nominated by the World Fantasy Awards for Best Story.

Rough Music is another impressive feather in his cap. The story centres on Cornish, a married man who is trying to resolve a troubled relationship with his wife, Andrea. As events in the story slowly unfold, Cornish begins to hear a strange musical discord in his neighbourhood late at night. When he looks out of his window, naked and afraid, and sees the grotesque troupe come to dance on the local green, he finds himself drawn into a weird confrontation with the shadows of his past…

The author takes nothing for granted in this story and handles the unravelling of the plot with patience, skill and genuine depth of feeling. Kurt Unsworth uses crisp, clean prose to draw the reader through the unsettling, enigmatic scenes. Rough Music is subtle and will make you think. The story remains haunting and engaging throughout, the themes of loneliness, guilt, secrets and loss compelling from start to finish. The atmosphere is wonderfully claustrophobic, something for horror fans to savour. The main character’s dread is increasingly chilling as the bizarre performance outside his window swells from the initially annoying into a menacing cacophony. What does the troupe want? Why have they come here for Cornish? An air of mystery pervades the narrative beautifully.

Rough Music is a thoughtful, eerie and fascinating tale, and while the discordant theme turns our eyes to the shadowed corners of our own hearts, the ambiguous ending strikes just the right note.

Highly recommended.

Many thanks to James for taking the time to put this together!!

If there are any other readers/subscribers out there who would like to put forward a review of ANY of Spectral’s publications, then please do so – send them to spectralpress[AT]gmail[DOT]com. We look forward to hearing from you!!

A recent review from a satisfied customer..

A good friend I know from my FracturedSpacesRecords days sent me this review of  Gary McMahon’s What They Hear in the Dark… glad to hear of another satisfied customer!

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Truly original and inspiring horror is a rarity to come across these days, far too often ‘modern’ authors depend on ‘schlock/blood/guts/gore’ to sell their books, almost dispensing on what makes for true horror. “What is that then?” you ask bemusedly? Atmosphere. dear reader…atmosphere! Simon Marshall-Jones at Spectral Press knows what horror is really about, and his authors are that rare breed who feed of getting under your skin … into your head … deep inside your fears and neuroses…leaving you feeling really ‘sullied and unusual’ for the longest time after.

What They Hear… is a slow-burning novella by Gary McMahon, beautifully constructed, with only the merest of subtle hints of possible savagery and violence – instead it’s a tale swathed in dark oppressive cloying atmospherics, I began to genuinely feel a sense of claustrophobic unease the further I read, Gary finds a way of not just making you ‘see’ his characters and environs, but to actually put you ‘in’ there alongside them, actually sharing in the fear, misery, and creeping dread.

As the story unfolds, I actually wanted to stop reading, I was genuinely so uncomfortable, yet as much as I wanted to stop… to put the book away completely… I just couldn’t… I had to keep reading, as the story reached its shuddering grisly finale. I finally finished and put the book down, but I couldn’t think what to do next, I kept going back over what I’d read in my head… Gods help me if I’d needed to sleep…that would have been a complete non-starter!

Congratulations to both Gary, and to Spectral Press… I’m hooked… well and truly…curse you for freaking me!

Satanic “Darkest Fears” Muttley

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And yet another satisfied reader…

I received this customer review from Clayton Stealback yesterday via Facebook… glad to read of another satisfied reader!

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“Let me start by saying that I am very impressed by Spectral’s first chapbook. The quality of the artwork, layout, and the print make these wonderful to read and essential to collect.

Spectral’s first release features a masterfully rendered story by Gary McMahon. Here Gary gets straight into the story – no messing about – setting the rather oppressive scene of a couple recently moved into a dilapidated house, cleverly describing the couple’s surroundings though their feelings and their senses to create an impressionable bond between reader and characters. So, pretty much the entire stage of the story is described in the first few pages…then the magic really starts. Upon setting up the scene, Gary brilliantly starts to delve into the character’s minds, ruthlessly peeling away their outer layers to reveal their truest, deepest feelings and the darkness harboured within. It’s very skilfully done, and there’s a kind of reflective quality about the scenes and the characters that manage to complement each other, bringing the whole story to life and making it lucid. Tim Lebbon got it exactly right when he quoted that Gary’s horror is heartfelt.

And finally, let me end by saying that if this is the kind of quality Spectral is aiming for, then I’ll be signed up for life.”

Another satisfied customer….

Here’s what a good friend of mine, John Boden of Shock Totem magazine, said about What They Hear in the Dark, (and posted on his blog) after reading it… chalk up another satisfied customer…

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What They Hear In The Dark” by Gary McMahon (2011 Spectral Press)

I read this in half an hour. Which is a perfect chapbook, if you ask me. I will start by saying that this is a sharp looking booklet. Nice artwork and sharply done…Nice collectible feel…and then we get to the actual story. I am not familiar with McMahon’s work, but I am good friends with Spectral Press founder Simon Marshall-Jones, and know him to be a stickler for quality. This is a superb tale about a haunting. A couple buying an old house to renovate and work through a personal tragedy only to find themselves haunted by emotions heavy and horrifying. McMahon’s descriptions of the emotions at work here are fantastic. I am eager to check out more of his work…and extremely anxious to see what is next from Spectral Press.