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Blackstoke

BLACKSTOKE . . . Between the covers


HeaderMany readers have come to associate Rob Parker with his energetic thrillers featuring the redoubtable runaway Special Forces operative Ben Bracken (click to read more) but one of his early novels, Crooks Hollow (2018), suggested that he had a flair for the macabre, and here he has produced a fully fledged horror novel.After a brief and enigmatic prologue, which tells us very little but suggests bad times are ahead, we are introduced to the residents of Broadoak Lane, Blackstoke, which is an upmarket but only partially finished housing estate somewhere in the north west of England. We have, in order of appearance:

Peter and Pam West. Married, but not entirely happily, they have two teenage children. Peter, after a promotion at work, has put down the deposit on their large house, but he suspects that the mortgage may be a great test of his equanimity.

David and Christian. They are a couple, and they have adopted a child, Olivia.

Fletcher Adams and his wife, Joyce. Adams is an up-and-coming MP. His long hours at work – or at least long hours out of the house – have placed a strain on their marriage, but Joyce seems to have given up the ghost, and has settled for the comforts of a quiet life. They have twins, unkindly likened by someone to the ghostly pair in The Shining.

Grace Milligan, a young, bright and thus-far successful solicitor, she lives alone – except for her Irish wolfhound Dewey. She is another who is having to make serious sacrifices to keep up the mortgage on a house she never wanted, but her father was insistent that it was the right thing to do.

Quint and Wendy Fenchurch, a retired couple. He spent a lifetime as a police officer, she as an employee of the NHS. He lives his life as if had never left the force, while his gentle wife has never revealed to him that by the end of their careers, she was earning much more than he was.

black032Parker ratchets up the ‘something nasty this way comes’ mood in gentle increments: there is a slight, but unmistakable smell of decay in the air, a much-loved guinea pig meets an unfortunate end, little Olivia makes some distinctly Regan MacNeil sounds over the baby monitor, and Dewey the dog is accused of doing something malodorous and messy. But then, after this phoney war between the residents and whatever is lurking in the shadows of Broadoak Lane, it all goes to hell in a hand-cart and we go into full The Hills Have Eyes mode.

I don’t think I have read a horror novel from choice in years, at least not one that has no supernatural element, but this was highly entertaining stuff. I won’t give any more away, except to say that the mayhem hinges on what was on the Blackstoke site before the unscrupulous developers bought it, and that the menace comes as a result of the terrible things human beings do to each other, rather than any intervention from ghosts or ghouls. If you are likely to cringe at the description of someone being emasculated with a meat cleaver, a man’s skull being decoratively rearranged by a fearsome blow from a cricket bat, or the havoc that repeated consanguinity can wreak with the human body, then you might want to give this a miss. Otherwise, if you enjoy a touch of visceral David Cronenberg style body-horror, then this inventive and fast paced thriller will tick all the boxes. It is published by Red Dog Press and is available now.

ON MY SHELF . . . April 2021

The book deliveries have been pretty healthy lately so, helped by a few successful fishing expeditions on Netgalley, my TBR pile is looking good.

DOWN IN THE COUNTRY by James Bowring
Book Guild Publishing 28th April

When a couple return to their home in rural England from their holiday in Italy (remember when we could do that?) their welcome home present is a dead body – a woman,strangled – in their garden. The local senior police officer has been badly injured in an accident, and Acting Inspector Beauregard is the man who has to step up and investigate the murder. Unfortunately, Beauregard is soon overwhelmed by the case. Help is at hand, however. A nearby luxury hotel is run by a former policeman, ex Detective Inspector Clive Walsingham. Walsingham is finding the relative sanity, safety and security of civilian life something of a bind, and he leaps at the chance to help Beauregard solve the  crime. The dead woman, however, had “something of a past”, and was connected to a notoriously crooked local businessman. When the case is further complicated by the disappearance of the daughter of a local aristocrat, Walsingham has to use every ounce of his experience to bring the case to a close.

PATHFINDERS by Cecil Lewis
Imperial War Museum 20th May

Lewis was one of the band of brothers who served with distinction in both world wars. He joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1915, after lying about his age and learned to fly at Brooklands. In 1916, he flew with No. 3 Squadron and was awarded the MC for his actions during the Battle of the Somme. Flying over the battlefield on 1st July 1916 to report on British troop movements, he witnessed the blowing of the mines at La Boiselle. He later described the early morning scene in his book “Sagittarius Rising”. Pathfinders focuses on just one night in 1942, when each member of the crew of a Wellington bomber prepares for a raid in his own way, with his own hopes and fears.

SUMMON UP THE BLOOD by RN Morris
Severn House 22nd April

I have become a firm fan of RN Morris’s likeably eccentric London copper, Detective Silas Quinn. Click this link to read my reviews of a couple of earlier novels in the series. We are, as before, in that fateful year 1914, but it is March; the events  of June in far-off Serbia were still months away, and that last long Edwardian summer of innocence was yet to begin, but in London, however, there is a bizarre precursor of the ensuing bloodshed – except there is no blood. A killer is claiming victims in the dark alleys and byways of the city – and each corpse is found to have been completely exsanguinated. Quinn, considered something of an oddball by most of his colleagues, is in charge of Scotland Yard’s Special Crimes Department, and if ever there were a case that called for Quinn’s peculiar skill-set, it is this one.

BLACKSTOKE by Rob Parker
Red Dog Press out now

Parker is a gifted writer who injects energy and vitality into every paragraph he writes. He has an ongoing series of action thrillers (see below), but he obviously enjoys exploring the darker divisions between the world we inhabit and the nameless beings of the supernatural world. Blackstoke is a high-end housing development, but the land on which it has been built has a history all of its own, and is not a happy one. As the eager new owners move into their luxury homes, ancient and bloodstained memories, thought to be safely buried, begin to stir, and a nightmare becomes a reality for terrified families.

THE WATCHMAN by Rob Parker
Lume Books 24th June

Ben Bracken is an ex-special forces operative who has done jail time for a crime he didn’t commit, has escaped from prison, and has lived a precarious life of aliases, assumed identities – and forever looking over his shoulder. Like all the best action heroes who try to avoid trouble, it usually finds him. The previous Ben Bracken books (click here for reviews of a couple) have been firmly rooted on home soil, but now Ben – newly settled down to family life –  decides to do a favour for an old military chum, and this takes him across the Atlantic to New York, where all he has to do is to collect an envelope from someone in Central Park. Big mistake, Mr Bracken. Pursued by the FBI, the CIA – not to mention The Mob – Ben’s little overseas jolly turns into a fight for survival.

SWORD OF BONE by Anthony Rhodes
Imperial War Museum 20th May

The author served in the British Army during World War II and was involved with retreat of the British Army from Dunkirk. Sword of Bone is his account of the evacuation, in a style that reminded reviewers of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy in its account of the minutiae of military life. After being promoted to captain he lectured in Canada and the United States, where he met and married a niece of Gustav Mahler. The marriage was short-lived and led to a nervous breakdown. He was invalided out of the Army in 1945. Dunkirk is a potent word, and is often evoked to conjure up images of pluck, resolution and indomitable spirit, but it was also a significant military defeat, with the BEF out manoeuvred by the German army.

FALSE TRUTH by CD Steele
Book Guild Publishing 28th April

CD Steele’s debut thriller introduces us to former MI6 agent – and now private investigator – Joe Wilde. As he investigated the disappearance of a young and promising football star, his path crosses that of DI Carl Whatmore of the Met Police. As is ever the case when PIs and regular coppers meet, sparks fly, at least initially. The young footballer – Liam Devlin – seemed to have led a blameless life, but with the help of old MI6 buddy Mark Thompson, Wilde turns over a few stones, and what they see scuttling about spells problems for the investigators, the police – and Devlin’s worried mother Sally.

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