Parasite Crop: Mark Cassell
Reviewed By Daniel Soule
Parasite Crop reads like the best of 1970s and 80s paperbacks from Hell. The novel starts with a sense of isolation that isn’t just physical. Jo, one of our protagonists, tries to come to terms with the death of her father by reconnecting with the grandfather she hasn’t seen since she was a small child. Jo feels disconnected from the present and is looking to start afresh and put down new roots, and her grandfather is her only remaining family. Therefore, both personally and in the location of Dungeness, a rundown former fishing town on England’s south coast, everything feels off-kilter.
Along with her boyfriend, Cane, Jo is trying to find a new home. They explore the local area, and things only become stranger. Jo is haunted by memories of her grandfather’s house, and the old man, on top of his extreme agoraphobia, has secrets. They meet the strange neighbours, the oafish Marshal who seems to be the guardian of a boy in a wheelchair, and there too nothing is quite right.
The first half of the novel is a slow build, taking its time to half-reveal tantalising clues. We cut between Jo, Cane, Grandad Tommy, Sydney and Marshall. Jo and Cane only have questions. The other three only have secrets going back years.
Mark Cassell does a wonderful job of weaving these different points of view to delay the punchline and build the suspense as further uncanny happenings ensnare Jo and Cane. Then at the mid-way point, the novel takes off like a rocket. The stakes and the pace ratchet up and the pages need to be turned faster and faster, as our protagonists are drawn into seemingly inescapable danger, until all the secrets are laid bare in a finale which has strong hints of Lovecraft and King.
The nature of the evil or the monster is a unique spin on some old tropes in the “monster of the week” style of horror novel. As such, it feels comfortably familiar and yet fresh and unique at the same time. I loved the mechanics and back story of the monster, and thought how Mark Cassell revealed it was deft, adding to the tension and satisfaction of the tale.
The only quibble I had was a slight writer’s tic in the overuse of ‘that which.’ But that’s it. The dialogue moved the story along and added to the characters. The descriptions of the gore, of which I’m happy to say there was a good crop (see what I did there?), were glorious, grotesque and imaginative. You may never look at a mushroom or jam sandwich in the same way again after reading Parasite Crop, but it is worth the risk.
We are not reading some genre-bending, post-structuralist, irony laden meta-analysis of horror in narrative form. If that is your bag, there are plenty of those types of books around to knock yourself out with, and hey some of them are even good.
This isn’t that. Parasite Crop is a down the line, honest to goodness horror novel, with all the key ingredients (pun intended): a sense of building dread; characters with something to lose who you can care about; malevolent forces of the humankind who you can understand; and preternatural ones we can barely fathom, and in them lies an alien horror of the unknowable; oh, and a good dollop of gore. Also, of note is the book itself. The publisher Caffeine Nights have done a great job, from the movie poster style front cover to the old school style stamp on the inside cover proclaiming it’s best of British fiction credentials, it’s a nice thing to hold.
All round Parasite crop is a fun, gross and creepy novel in all the right ways. Highly recommended.
Twelve-year-old Sydney often looks out across the ocean, recalling the night in which the ship sank.
He still tastes the saltwater that stole his life over one hundred and fifty years ago.
Cane and Jo visit Dungeness, combining a family reunion with a house hunt. Not only do they discover two generations of secrets, they also unearth a local horror beneath the shingle beach.
When the lives of Sydney and the couple entwine, the crop has other ideas about the true meaning of happily ever after.
Surviving the harvest is the easy part…
Dan Soule – Dan is a horror author. Find his books Neolithica, Witchopper, The Ash and more online. You can get two free collections of Dan’s previously published short stories on his website www.dansoule.com. Connect with him on social media @WriterDanSoule.