The Gulp: Alan Baxter
Reviewed By Steve Stred
I tweeted this on Twitter recently, but Alan Baxter has found his Castle Rock.
What does that mean for those who might not get the reference?
Stephen King sets almost all of his releases in and around the fictional town of Castle Rock. Not only does this give him characters that can be featured in each book and give continuity/shared universes, but it gives us, the readers, familiarity. When we start reading a book by King, we’ve walked these streets before, smelled the smells, visited the shops.
With ‘The Gulp (Tales From The Gulp #1) Baxter has created his very own Castle Rock, one that has elevated an already stunning writer to that next level.
One can’t help but wonder if the release of ‘The Roo’ was the trigger for this? Baxter himself has written some truly fantastic books; see ‘Devouring Dark’ and the Eli Carver series, but ‘The Roo’ was fully entrenched in the Outback. It was a book you could tell Alan had fun writing and has been really well received as a creature-feature release.
So, in my humble opinion, I’d think ‘The Roo’ has opened this door to Baxter developing the town and area of Gulp and its inhabitants. Either way, we the readers are all the better for this development.
What I liked: Told over five novellas, Baxter introduces us to the creepy town of Gulpepper and doesn’t hold back as in the first novella, two truck drivers get stranded when they suffer a flat tire and a broken rim. In true horror fashion, one driver refuses to leave the truck, while the other goes into town to get some food and a room.
This opening novella introduces us to the underbelly of The Gulp, a number of characters who play various roles as the collection plays out and a theme of ‘once here you can never get out.’ Baxter has crafted such a familiar landscape here that you know these people. Every single one of them will remind you of someone from your life. The joy here is seeing how Baxter takes the modeling clay and creates various incarnations of each and every one of them.
Such is the high standard of writing that even the fifth novella adds another textured layer to the painting, while also teasing us for what the future may hold. Of the five novellas, the fifth was the one that unsettled me the most, with some descriptions that made me cackle with glee and disgust.
Baxter has found his home, a place that I hope he visits time and time again with ‘The Gulp.’
What I didn’t like: Incredibly minor – but the ending to the fifth and final novella felt incredibly sudden. I kept flipping my Kindle back and forth trying to see if it’d skipped some pages. I knew it would set up more tales, but I was hoping for a little finality!
Why you should buy this: Baxter has time and time again released highwater releases, so to see him elevate his game to yet another level was truly stunning and made me smile. This is a collection with no weak links, no dip in quality or storytelling and with the familiarity of each character and the town itself, one that will surely become a classic release.
Baxter has set the bar high in the past, but he easily surpassed it and more. Solid storytelling, real characters and a setting both beautiful and depraved. Baxter hits the ground running here and never lets us get off the thrill ride. We’re all the better for it.
Strange things happen in The Gulp. The residents have grown used to it.
The isolated Australian harbour town of Gulpepper is not like other places. Some maps don’t even show it. And only outsiders use the full name. Everyone who lives there calls it The Gulp. The place has a habit of swallowing people.
A truck driver thinks the stories about The Gulp are made up to scare him. Until he gets there.
Teenage siblings try to cover up the death of their mother, but their plans go drastically awry.
A rock band invite four backpackers to a party at their house, where things get dangerously out of hand.
A young man loses a drug shipment and his boss gives him 48 hours to make good on his mistake.
Under the blinking eye of the old lighthouse, a rock fisher makes the strangest catch of his life.
Five novellas. Five descents into darkness. Welcome to The Gulp, where nothing is as it seems.
Steve Stred is the author of a number of novels, novellas and collections. He has appeared in anthologies with some of Horror’s heaviest hitters.
He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with his wife, son and their dog OJ.
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