Calling Occupants of......
One of the great things about the horror genre is its blatant refusal to be pigeonholed by the restraints of genre categorisation. From the quiet horror of MR James, via the supernatural crime of John Connolly all the way up to the extreme horror of the bizzarro crowd, it is a genre that welcomes all and has something for everyone.
Neil Spring's historical novel is based around the UK's very own Bermuda Triangle. In 1977 the Welsh costal village was the epicentre of a series of unexplained events involving close encounters and mysterious lights in the sky. While it never reached the same heights of public interest as its more exotic cousin, the events of that year was enough to capture the imagination of Neil Spring, who is quickly becoming a major force in neo-British Gothic horror. Following on from his debut novel The Ghost Hunters, The Watchers cements his place in the ranks of writers you should be paying attention to.
The Watchers is one of those books where the more you talk about the plot the more you lessen the effect of the book, which is a shame as the plot reads like the ultimate Pertwee era Dr Who, with a unique spin on the origins of UFO's. You have a nervous civil servants desperately trying to find out if the Truth is Out There, a tiny local village for local people, full of dark cults, dark secrets and dark times ahead. Children in peril, mutilations, Vicars with secrets, people disfigured from encounters with the UFO's and more secret background politics and double dealing from mysterious military and Governmental organisations than you can shake a stick at. And when you throw into the mix a hero who has been emotionally and spiritually scarred from events in his childhood, and whose accounts may not be completely reliable thanks to his severe mental instabilities, you have the makings of a brilliant neo-gothic thriller.
Where this book excels is in its storytelling. This may sound like an obvious point, but where some books have great characters, or a great sense of style they sometimes just lack that basic thing of telling a good story. That's not to say that The Watchers doesn't have great characters or style, it does. It just succeeds in telling a thrilling, imaginative story that manages to cover so many bases in terms of genre, in such a way that the book never falls from being a highly enjoyable read.
Despite it's somewhat large length (500 pages), there is no sense of the author filling the narrative with padding. He has allowed the story to unfold in such a way that the narrative is allowed to breath, and build into a believable setting, while allowing the characters to develop and grow as their story matches the narrative's flow.
While the story is told from a first person perspective, and as such means that our opinions of the other characters are all subject to our narrator's version of events. It also means that we are kept in the dark as to the true nature of certain individuals. Some you will figure out for yourselves, and some will leave you reeling in shock. Certain characters are painted early on as being villainous but will redeem themselves when their true nature is revealed in the book's captivating finale. And others who you thought were on the side of good will reveal their true nature when the overlords make their move.
Spring has constructed the story in such a away that it keeps the reader's interest by the clever way in which he reveals information key to the story's development. There are no huge info dumps that can sometimes plague books such as these. Spring utilises a "trail of crumbs" approach, that drives the reader into reading the "just one more chapter". There are chapter cliffhangers, and chapter revelations, scattered throughout the book, but they are limited enough in their use that the book doesn't read like one of those Saturday TV serials.
The dialogue in the book is both natural and fitting for the time period, there is nothing worse when reading an historical book where the dialogue and terms used, are just not correct for the period. Spring has taken great care in ensuring that this book is authentic in its execution and sense of time and place.
The Watchers is an enthralling book that succeeds in bringing a new twist to the UFO thriller, by combining a standard UFO thriller with a rural folk horror gothic twist Spring has created the ultimate cross over book that will appeal to fans of UFO stories, ghost stories and small town horror. Think X-Files meets The Wicker Man and you would be pretty close to how this book plays out.
The Watchers is a confident, bold and engrossing read,one that shows that Neil Spring is an author that we should all be looking out for.
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