Full disclosure: I consider Paul Feeney a friend. We’ve worked together on the Gingernuts of Horror site for some time now, we correspond regularly by email, Twitter and Facebook, and we met in person for the first time at Edge Lit.
Nevertheless, my own personal review policy is clear - I only write reviews if I have positive things to say. I’ve started more books than I’ve finished, and I’ve finished more than I’ve reviewed. I have other indie authors I consider friends whose work did not grab me, and I have therefore not written about.
I say all this because I know it’s easy for there to be a perception from the outside that this whole indie scene is… cliquey, if not outright incestious, and I’m sensitive to that because, with my reviewer hat on, it’s important to me that you have some measure of faith in my integrity. Hence both this explanation of my review policy, and declaration of interest.
So can I get on and talk about the book now? :)
Because The Last Bus was a really fun read.Also a quick read - the 105 pages just flew by. Mr. Feeney seems to understand instinctively the pacing advantages the novella form offers, and he presses those advantages admirably, with the action and tension arriving early and staying to the last page.
Elsewhere, the author has described the plot as ‘B-Movie fare’ and while I understand the description, to me it read more like a feature length episode of ‘The Outer Limits’. The setting is really smart - a typical commuter bus in a busy city. It’s clever because it is a natural environment for a classic horror movie cast of strangers flug together by circumstance. It’s a canny move, and one that speaks to Feeney’s clear grasp and understanding of genre.
That understanding is demonstrated again and again, sometimes in traditional ways - cutaway ‘Interludes’ that reminded me of James Herbert’s ‘The Rats’, in terms of the ‘meet people, get to know them, watch them die horribly’ format. These sections serve several functions, allowing Feeney to show, rather than tell, some of the events outside the bus, stretch his not inconsiderable gore chops, and provide a lovely in-joke to those of us who follow the scene closely. At other times, however, Feeney plays with character tropes in really interesting ways, in one early case subverting character expectations in a superb manner that utterly wrong footed me as a reader, and made me realise this wasn't necessarily going to be quite the story I’d imagined.
It’s not flawless - there’s the odd moment of dialogue that didn’t quite ring true to me, and some of the early character descriptions felt just slightly overdone. But it’s a belter of an idea, and once the action starts flowing, it continues with admirable pace and tension, right to the last page. Feeney manages to keep upping the stakes, and also understands how to wring tension out of otherwise mundane situations - I don’t think I’ve ever felt as tense reading about an operation as simple as re-fueling a bus, for example, and that’s down entirely to Feeney’s ability to portray the situation and put the reader in there.
A word about the book itself - this is a limited-to-250 signed paperback by Crowded Quarantine Press, and the production values are exceptional. The cover art is superb, and the internal layout, font, and paper quality are all at a very high professional standard. Given all the small press horror stories I keep hearing about, it’s a real pleasure to see a company so obviously committed to putting out quality books.
I read The Last Bus in one sitting, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Paul Feeney has written a novella that sits snugly within the proud tradition of survival horror, whilst finding his own ways to subvert from within. This is clearly intelligent and imaginative genre fiction, and ultimately The Last Bus is a loving homage (albeit one with significant deftness and the odd very skillful twist) to a hugely enjoyable pulp horror tradition.
If that floats your boat, I urge you to get on board The Last Bus. Just try not to read on past your stop… :)