Ginger Nuts of Horror
By Tony Jones
“Adam Nevil opens his door for a second helping of darkness
Hot on the heels of his debut short story anthology “Some will not Sleep: Selected Horrors” (2016) Adam Nevill returns with its nasty little sibling “Hasty for the Dark”. The former recently, and deservedly so, scooped the prestigious ‘Best Collection’ award at the British Fantasy Awards in Peterborough. One wonders when our friends across the pond at the Horror Writers Association are ever going to award his talents with a long overdue Bram Stoker nomination? Having two major collections released within the same twelve month period is a rare treat for Nevill enthusiasts, however, all good things must come to an end. As this second collection features stories from the period 2009 to 2015 we cannot expect a third helping of horrors for a few more years, instead we wait for the next novel.
“Hasty for the Dark” undoubtedly has a broader range of stories that its predecessor. The nine tales are cleverly varied, exhibiting varied pace, chills which deal with the supernatural in both every day and altogether freakier situations, and other curve-balls which drop feet into other genres. It is lovingly complimented with really excellent end notes which reveal the inspiration behind many of the tales, of course you will not be surprised to find lots of autobiographical nuggets lurking within the pages. Likewise the tributes are equally revealing, featuring the likes of Ramsey Campbell and others whom Nevill is both hugely influenced by and a fan of.
The sneakiest treat of the collection are the various references and wider connections to his novels and other stories, an element of cross-referencing which is relatively new to his writing, at least to this extent. Anorak fans such as I love this sort of stuff… Amongst others our old friend Mr Hazzard from “Under a Watchful Eye” continues to exert his influence, and the novella length story “Call the Name” is set in a very similar environmentally destroyed world as his novel “The Lost Girl” featuring a geriatric unreliable narrator who believes the world may soon end. Filled with some shocking imagery, the vision of mass drownings and deaths of granny and grandad is a hard one to shake off in this engrossing Lovecraft inspired story. And don’t forget to cross-reference the mysterious ‘Movement’ which pops up here and there with Adam Nevill in fine playful mood.
“The Angels of London” was a true corker featuring the land-lord from hell. When luckless and down at heel Frank moves into a grotty room above a closed dilapidated pub called ‘The Angel of London’ he quickly regrets it. The place is worse than a dump, and after a bad day poor Frank soon gets into an argument when his horrible landlord Granby taps him for a rent increase (Granby would have been right at home in the house from Hell, in the novel “No One Gets Out Alive”). Things then go from bad to worse for Frank and soon he’s even too scared to use the toilet on the landing after a fellow tenant hints about what lies in store if he defies the slimy Granby. As there is no negotiating with Granby. You can cut the tension with a blunt knife, and it really did time-warp me back to a previous pub residence of my own in the mid-1990s, peeling wall-paper, a toilet with a peephole, worn-down carpet and all. A time and place I would rather avoid, brought to life by full and bloody descriptions of the squalor with the supernatural.
“Always in our Hearts” was equally terrific. Taxi-driver Ray causes a hit and run death and after lying low for a while thinks he’s in the clear and starts going about his business, picking up taxi fares across run down council estates. The story kicks off when he picks up John from a really horribly rundown house, the rather unsettling jolly passenger takes a package with him which appears to have something moving in it. A sick pet perhaps? Ray is then instructed to take a series of different passengers here and there, most of which have shifty looking packages. Easy money soon oozes into something else… It really was a great story, full of dark humour and tension, filthy breadcrumbs dropped here and there, with the reader certain John will get his comeuppance, but how? Horribly unpleasant stuff which has a terrific flow to it, as the author effectively drops the reader into the taxi with Ray, but thankfully we don’t have to pick up the bill. Something about it vaguely reminded me of the UK horror film, “The Kill List” but I’m not sure what.
“Hippocampus” changes style entirely and is a darkly descriptive story set on an abandoned ship with no visible living beings. This is one of several stories where Nevill changes his style considerable creating an imposing atmosphere and a story which is a jolt in style from the previous one in the book. So where are the crew? Why is their abandoned uneaten food? Who has murdered whom? Death is most certainly in the air. One can almost imagine walking through the after effects of some horrible crime or event with the reader feeling like he is intruding on something painful and that should be avoided.
I also really enjoyed my trip into a long since abandoned Victorian zoo. However, this is not exactly first choice for Jason in his surprise first date with the gorgeous Electra (but hey, he’ll take what he can get…) However, in “Eumenides [The Benevolent Ladies]” Nevill does what he does best and takes the reader on a dark and unsettling journey through the crumbling and deeply unpleasant zoo. Soaked with decay, unpleasant imagery and gnashing of teeth, you just know things are going to end badly for poor Jason who never really had a chance of getting his leg over with the saucy Electra.
As a downtrodden Scottish exile living in London I correctly guessed the background behind “On All London Underground Lines” as Nevill lived there for a number of years and like the rest of us suffered the delays and pain of rush hour on the London Underground. This story takes an unnamed narrator on a cycle of despair around a series of tube delays which seem never ending and something otherworldly lurks behind the veneer of the luckless traveller.
The final three which completed the collection were also very enjoyable and the Kafkaesque “White Light, White Heat” finds an editor struggling to survive in a huge company where the threat of dismissal and starvation is only a breath away in a dystopian society where it seems impossible to make any cash. But this guy will not be beaten! I found this story to be pretty funny and an entertaining detour away from straight horror and perhaps for Nevill reliving the memories of being a poor struggling author himself. “The Days of Our Lives” a warped tale of a bizarre marriage, with cross references to other stories was also laced with sly humour and both funny and unsettling scenes. Finally, “Little Black Lamb” was another twister, set in a domestic environment, about a couple who receive memories which are not their own. These final three stories move Nevill away from his traditional horror settings into a wider bracket of the supernatural but more than hold their own in this superb collection.
There is not much more to say except that Nevill fans will eat this new offering up and fully enjoy the range of the collection. On another note I hope the film version of “The Ritual” brings many new fans to this highly accomplished writer of supernatural fiction. Where would a newbie start? Any novel. They are all well worth reading.
These selected terrors range from the speculative to supernatural horror, encompass the infernal and the occult, and include stories inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Aickman and Ramsey Campbell.
Hasty for the Dark is the second short story collection from the award-winning and widely appreciated British writer of horror fiction, Adam L. G. Nevill. The author's best horror stories from 2009 to 2015 are collected here for the first time.