{Graveyard Shift) Dan Soule, Author of Savage the latest in his ‘Fright Night’ series is this week’s warden.

You are invited to look after the Kendall Reviews Cemetary, and to choose eight books, preferably horror/dark genre, to take with you to cover your shift; here you can discuss why you chose the books.

As well as the books, wardens are allowed one song/album to listen to. Again, an explanation for this choice is required.

You must also discuss one luxury item you can bring, which must be inanimate and not allow communication.

If you’d like to take part in The Graveyard Shift then please submit an application to gavin@kendallreviews.com

A new shift is about to begin. The warden for the week’s #GraveyardShift is…

Dan Soule

Jack is back, but he isn’t even the worst thing on the streets of Whitechapel…

The Ripper copycat murders are on the front pages, and Dylan is just a paperboy forced to deliver drugs along with the morning news.

When a new house appears on his paper round, fate pushes Dylan into a rival gang’s territory. Risking being stabbed and robbed, he delivers the paper to 25 Gallows Court. But there’s something not quite right about the rundown house.

Apart from being boarded up, and guarded by a rabid dog, no one else seems able to see it. Not the shopkeepers on either side. Not even the three kids from the Duppy Crew who chase Dylan one morning.

When he steps off the pavement and vanishes from view, the house seems to offer protection from a cruel and unforgiving world. On the backstreets of London, where life is cheap, there are always deals to be made. Dylan might want to be a little more careful with whose offer he takes.

Because what he gives away might wake up something far worse than the murderer stalking the women of Whitechapel…

That damn gate needs oiling. I should grease it before the sun goes down. Then again, I don’t want to be down in the old quarter of the necropolis after dark – the town council don’t pay dead men. They barely pay the living ones, and we’re always outnumbered at work.

Maybe the gate can wait. The sun’s nearly at the Rochester clan’s mausoleum on the top of the hill. It’s been a close heat all day, and I don’t think the night will be any different. Better get up that hill, double-bolt the door and put the kettle on.

The nights have a funny way of stretching out up here on the hill with the dead – you’d think an hour limped by like a week. That’s why I put my notebook and fountain pen in my canvas bag, and Led Zepplin’s ‘In my time of dying’ is on a loop in my headphones. It almost drowns out the scratching – almost. The rest I can ignore, as long as I have a good read. I’ve got eight to carry me through.

Brother in the Land by Robert Swindells: This was the first novel I devoured as a young teenager. It was also the first book I read once school let me out of the special needs class, after me and my mum begged them to at least let me try not to fail at English. They were reluctant to let the dyslexic boy try, either because they didn’t want to melt a snowflake or it would drag down the grade point average of the class. Anyway, they let me in. I didn’t fail, and more importantly, I got to read this brilliantly dark book. Robert Swindells is something of a British master of dark stories for middle-grade and young adults. Brother in the Land is set in the 1980s. It starts with a nuclear strike, in which a boy survives. Maybe he’ll wish he hadn’t. The book is about the aftermath. The first time around, I read the original which had a bleak and impactful ending. Then I reread the novel in a fit of nostalgia at university and was horrified to read the new much rosier ending. Swindell’s had many great horror and dark fiction books for children, with considerably more literary depth than Goosebumps (not that there’s anything wrong with R. L. Stien). Room 13 is another great book. Brother in the Land, however, especially for those of us who remember something of the Cold War, will forever huddle in a niche of my psyche trying to shelter not just from the fallout but the monstrous humans that survived.

Pet Sematary by Stephen King: A ‘high concept’ novel for King and for me his scariest. Moving because as a ‘what-if’ premise it is hard to deny its believability on the level of human behaviour. I remember exactly where I was when I read the heartbreaking line at the end of a chapter recounting a perfect day with a child. Books, I think, can’t be separated for the moment in which you read them. My family was very young at the time, and I was primed for this story’s dilemmas. I love Carrie, IT, Needful Things, and more besides, but none have had the raw impact of Pet Sematary.

The Rats by James Herbert:  It’s a punk, raw novel. I was born at the end of the 1970s and the book is for me about the post-industrial decline and failure of the British ruling class. The novel drips with oblique chastisements of authority versus the hardworking, roll your sleeves up everyman. Given the current pandemic and popularist governments on both sides of the pond, I think the book could still resonate. Sure Herbert’s writing has dated badly in several respects. He shows and rather than tells in fairly cack-handed ways at times, with levels of exposition that any modern editor would throw out. Writers today would find more skilful ways to cover the ground, like having a character read and react to newspaper reports. Worse, his male-female sexual relationships were probably starting to date even when he penned The Rats. Women in most of his novels are little more than sexual flunkies for the male hero, which perhaps gives the hero an opportunity to articulate those manly emotions. Plus, Herbert does like a bit of sexy time in his novels. One of his go-to tropes is a sex scene at the end of the fourth act and before the climax (pardon the pun), where our beaten hero (stop tittering at the back of the graveyard), at his lowest ebb, gets some sweet lovin’ to lift his spirits for the bloody finale. Aside from my gripes, I still love this book and re-read it often. It has a brilliant mid-point spread over two chapters. Herbert is a master of gory monster scenes, and rats as a monster remain superb in the conception and execution. The Rats is also a fantastic example of a mass-market paperback at its best or as Grady Hendrix has termed them, a paperback from hell. Like the best pulp fiction, the pages practically turn themselves.

On The Beach by Nevil Shute: This is a special book and like Brother in the Land is another nuclear war book, but probably unlike anything else on the subject. It is a gentle and beautiful horror that if everyone knew how much time they had left, how would they choose to spend it? The premise is that a nuclear war has wiped out the northern hemisphere. Only the trade winds around the equator are keeping the southern hemisphere habitable. The last American sub is in Australia, and they are charged with investigating what is left in the north. It’s about the best and worst of humanity with a take on it which I think can feed the soul in any era, but which I feel we need more than ever, facing the existential dilemmas as we do.

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty: Good gracious! This is a proper, scare your pants off (UK meaning of pants here i.e. underpants/knickers/briefs/boxers/undies/thong – it’s that scary) horror story. Blatty is a master of description. You smell the smoke twirling from the cigarettes. You feel the muscles chording in moments of terror. The words are tenebrous shadows haunting the page. This and Pet Semetary are the only horror novels to give me nightmares. If you can get Blatty’s own reading of the audiobook it is a treat. He had a deep timbre to his voice, perfect for his story. It is one of the best audiobook performances I’ve ever heard.

The Terror by Dan Simmons: Epic in every sense, Dan Simmons novel about the fate of two Royal Navy ships, the Terror and the Eribus, that went missing in the Arctic on the ill-fated Ross expedition from 1839. The two ships are trapped in the ice with stores running low. Worse still a preternaturally large white bear is hunting them. Simmons’ level of detail on all details of Navy life of the period is impressive in itself. Better still is how he uses it all to draw the reader into an immersive world unlike any other. You feel the dreadful cold and the hunger of the crew. The character work is exceptional too, with the politics of a crew, trapped in the ice and under unimaginable pressure, captured utterly believably. The monstrous bear works in parallel to the monstrous side of humanity. What is uncanny about the book is that after its writing the Terror and Erebus were eventually found, and Simmon’s was not far wrong in his guesswork which didn’t match the official accounts. The ships had left messages in brass tubes at strategic intervals about what they were planning but when rescue expeditions followed the clues they couldn’t find them. What led to the discovery of the ships was oral accounts by the indigenous Inuit who have an oral memory of the strange white men going mad on the ice and turning to cannibalism, refusing help from the indigenous people. Their testimonies were always dismissed as unreliable, echoing the Victorians’ hubris, arrogance, and rank racism. But Simmons researched them. It’s the kind of book that as a writer you read and think “Oh well, I might as well give up now. That was a masterpiece.” As a reader, it is a truly exceptional work of literary brilliance.

Jaws by Peter Benchley: You’ve seen the movie but did you get around to the novel. If you haven’t you should. The movie is a great example of a successful novel adaptation. However, there are some notable differences, most significantly with the portrayal of Hooper. He is not nearly the positive side-kick he is to Brody in the movie. The movie also plays up Brody’s fear of the water, which is not such a big deal in the novel. Brody’s real flaw, which is the same as the town’s, is money. The town wants to keep the beaches open because they are dependent on the summer trade. Brody married up. Ellen is a white-collar, country-club Hamptons girl; while, Brody is a blue-collar townie. This is where the novel has greater depth and resonance figuratively speaking; whereas, the movie hits on a more visceral level. In both, the shark is a metaphor for money. The novel plays this theme more strongly with Brody trying to navigate the politics of the town and the unnerving presence of Hooper – who is a metaphor for the shark on land, hunting (sexually speaking) Brody’s wife Ellen. This adds a certain fusion to the three men in a boat climax (the ghosts are tittering again – yes, I said titter. They may be dead but they never grow up.)

Ghoul by Brian Keene: There is a nice dose of 1980s nostalgia in this one, but not too much. Just enough to sweeten the story for those of us of a certain age. Kids on bikes in a small town, building dens in a graveyard: there is more than a whiff of Spielberg and King. Ghoul is still its own thing. All that other stuff is a bricolage for constructing the story. A seal is broken in the graveyard, where the boys have their den, and the ghoul is freed. It’s hungry and it’s horny, and promptly sets about eating the dead by tunnelling out a warren to all the tasty morsels buried thereabouts, and obtaining a couple of fertile young ladies with whom to have coitus for the spawning of a new lineage of ghouls. (Quiet down and go back to your graves. You lot haven’t had any action since the great syphilis of 1842). Sorry about that. Back to the novel. It’s a good job there are some pesky kids more attuned to the plausibility of the impossible. There is so much that could go wrong with Ghoul to turn it into pastiche or farce, but none of that happens. Instead, we have three kids with depth, you can’t help get behind, and an underlying theme that gives the story a good deal of resonance beyond the basic plot. That theme is the passing of childhood into the monstrosity of adulthood. Brain Keene puts all the ingredients together in the right order to make a classic, with an epilogue/denouement that hits in the gut with its gritty dose of truth.

I see the glint of sunlight creeping under my door. The rowdy night crew have crawled back under their blankets of moss and dirt. I’m off home, a little greyer than yesterday. It’s good to remember it won’t be long until we’re the ones scratching at the graveyard shifts door.

Savage

Jack is back, but he isn’t even the worst thing on the streets of Whitechapel…

The Ripper copycat murders are on the front pages, and Dylan is just a paperboy forced to deliver drugs along with the morning news.

When a new house appears on his paper round, fate pushes Dylan into a rival gang’s territory. Risking being stabbed and robbed, he delivers the paper to 25 Gallows Court. But there’s something not quite right about the rundown house.

Apart from being boarded up, and guarded by a rabid dog, no one else seems able to see it. Not the shopkeepers on either side. Not even the three kids from the Duppy Crew who chase Dylan one morning.

When he steps off the pavement and vanishes from view, the house seems to offer protection from a cruel and unforgiving world. On the backstreets of London, where life is cheap, there are always deals to be made. Dylan might want to be a little more careful with whose offer he takes.

Because what he gives away might wake up something far worse than the murderer stalking the women of Whitechapel…

You can buy Savage from Amazon UK & Amazon US

Dan Soule

For more information on Dan, please check out his Linktr

You can follow Dan on Twitter @WriterDanSoule

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