Horror isn’t my favourite genre as I’m prone to nightmares – and the very effective and grisly cover did nothing to alleviate my initial concerns. However, the author assured me that it wasn’t gratuitously violent, so I took a deep breath and dived in. He was right – and I found this an enjoyable, engrossing tale with plenty happening.
All is not well at Gossmoor Park Care Home. Too many residents are dying and Matron Elizabeth Waverly, along with her lover, Norman, who works as a nurse, have a brutal grip on the frail people in their care. Some of the other staff are growing increasingly concerned – but who will stand up to the menacing couple?
And that – or something similar – is what should be on the back cover. Instead, the two short paragraphs contain enough spoilers that give away a good third of the plot – so my first piece of advice is do NOT read the back. Fortunately, as I’ve read far too many blurting blurbs I skipped it till the end, but I have to say I think this example is one of the worst – which is a real shame. Because one of Smythe’s strengths as a writer is his ability to weave a convincing plot with plenty of pace – along with some twists I didn’t see coming, but are posted all too clearly on the back of the book.
Smythe’s evil protagonists are a product of their own miserable, abusive childhoods and he manages to make us aware of their vulnerabilities, so that although we may not like them we do understand what drives them. The uncertain start rapidly picks up pace and confidence as we learn about Norman’s childhood. While this is definitely a horror tale with a steadily growing body count, there are flashes of humour that at times approach farce, particularly near the end of the book during the Halloween celebrations. Smythe is an entertaining writer with an inbuilt sense of when to pick up the pace and when he needs to slow it down. In a book where events – along with the body count – start accelerating, it would have been all too easy to lose control of the plotline and characters. But Smythe kept firm control of his wicked protagonists, which had me turning the pages wondering what could possibly happen next.
That said, I would recommend that Smythe gets a good editor for his next book. There are some places where the writing is a bit uneven and there are too many typos – complement instead of compliment, for instance, and a scattering of oddly placed question marks. On the plus side, the book is well produced to a high quality and as I’ve mentioned, the cover is outstanding.
But, once a train of events is unleashed in this genre and starts gathering momentum, the biggie has to be – does the ending pack a sufficient punch to make the investment of time and effort in reading the book worth it? Apart from being rather too squeamish, this is one of the reasons why this isn’t my favourite genre – too many times all the tension and fear fizzles out… Or turns into something so preposterously grotesque, there is no sense of horror left. To be genuinely chilling, there has to be a sense of everyday as the action descends into ever greater chaos – something that Smythe has understood. The ending was completely satisfying, while leaving the reader slightly off balance. This interesting debut novel definitely marks Smythe as one to watch.