It's always been a happy day at Ginger Nut Towers when an Adam Nevill book gets cracked open. Adam is one of handful of British authors who everybody whether they are a fan of horror or not should read. His novels, whether they be about Witchcraft in St Andrews, ( that's how I first discovered Adam, setting a book in my home town is always a sure fire way of getting me to pick it up), or a brilliant take on the haunted house genre, Nevill never fails to bring a fresh and terrifying perspective to the genre. With the Ritual, Adam Nevill delivers his most chilling and frightening novel to date.
Four middle aged university friends Luke, Dom, Phil, and Hutch, decide to go camping in Sweden. What is with middle aged men, do we never learn, did these guys not see Deliverance, this sort of adventure is never going to turn out well. After only a few scant days it's clear that two of the group are just not up to the arduous task of the hike, so they decide to take a short cut in the hope they can make it back home before Dom and Phil collapse.
As is want in these sort of book this was a bad idea. The discovery of an old creepy cottage, neolithic grave markers and the corpse of an animal strung high up in the trees, soon has the gang realising that not all is well in this far from enchanted forest.
What makes this book work so well, is the fact the Adam, has created a book that works on so many levels, yes we have this brilliant creature hunting our unhappy campers, but he has also created an amazing landscape that in itself is almost as scary as the creature. Just imagine being lost in some ancient forest, days from even the barest traces of humanity. Then when you add, strange statues, ancient pagan cults and the perpetual rain you get a forest that seethes with tension. And finally Adam has created an amazing group in Dom Phil and Hutch, these guys live and breath on the page, they all have their own distinctive personalities, personalities that are full of old grudges resentment and anger. These guys may have been best friends at university but all of that is in the past. Even id they all survive this ordeal there will be no going back, even before the hunt begins their friendship has been severed.
It's this group dynamic that really lifts this book into excellence, far too many horror books forget that for a book to really work, you need real characters that interact in a real and believable way.
It's been about six months since I read this book for the second and a half time. The first time I read this I accidentally dropped it in the bath. And even after all this time this book still effects me. Just last night I went for a walk in Rosslyn woods. The woods are an eerie place at the best of times, an ancient primeval forest full of trees that look like they have skulls embedded in them, silent save for the rustling of woodland creatures, trees that have been pushed over whose roots look like they have been covered in blood, and every now and then the rotting corpse of a sheep or deer can be found of the beaten track. We where there at dusk last night and when I got ever so slightly separated form the family, my heart started to pound, and my hand went straight to my trusty knife that I always have on me when we go for walks. There has only ever been one other book that has actually changed the way I act Graham Masterton's Prey, caused me never to sleep with an open wardrobe in the room. All because when I read it the pile of clothes in the bottom of my wardrobe looked liked the hunched form of Brown Jenkins.
The Ritual, is now one of my all time favourite books, for me personally this is a powerful book that ticks every box in horror writing.