The Apparition Phase by Will Maclean

Now this is a novel that’s really got to me.

Windmill Books, 2021, ISBN 978-1786091017

If you are a fan of 1970s ghost stories you will devour it. I read one chapter each evening, trying to make it last, to savour each delicious morsel. And it’s haunted me ever since. The works of M.R. James, the true life 1972 Philip Experiment, the Stone Tape theory – all the paranormal joy of the decade is encapsulated in this book.

Twins Tim and Abi are obsessed with the macabre, and decide upon conducting a bizarre experiment – to invent a ghost, and try to convince one other person that it’s real. The person they select for this trickery is isolated and pathetic schoolmate Janice. Their plan works like a dream – but then Janice turns the tables, in quite a shocking and disturbing way.

Years later, Tim finds himself embroiled in another experiment – to contact a ghost in a haunted house, alongside paranormal researchers and students. Again, nothing is quite as it seems, and the plot unfolds slowly, taking its time to get under your skin. This story is all about feeling. It builds and builds with a sublime sense of dread, sticky unease. And finally explodes, with a last line…. oh, the most perfect last line, one that will gnaw away at your consciousness for evermore.

Maclean perfectly channels the mastery of fear just like his inspiration M.R. James. The characters are wonderfully deep and messed up. The plot meanders making it difficult to predict (what a joy for a seasoned horror fan), and ultimately delivers a fantastic twist. The writing style draws you in and holds you close. It’s definitely one I will re-read, and likely find new detail, new twists.

Perfect.

Fellside by M.R. Carey

I’ve been waiting forever for this to come out in paperback and I devoured it in two evenings! A shame that it was over so soon, but wow, what an experience.

Carey’s word-of-mouth bestseller, The Girl With All The Gifts, is about to released as a film (please read the book first!) and definitely has ranked him as one of my favourite, must-read authors in the horror genre. Fellside initially feels so different to The Girl, but the same strengths are there – vivid, corporeal characters who you really care for, a strong plot that won’t let you go, and a perceptive, subtle subversion of the genre. Fellside

Jess Moulson is a nice person with a bad, bad habit. It leaves her amnesiac, with half her face burnt off, and one of Britain’s most notorious female criminals, sentenced to Fellside, a grim women’s prison in Yorkshire. Devastated by what she’s done, she goes on hunger strike, wanting to end it all – but the ghost of a young boy won’t let her die. He needs her to find out the truth about his death- which means delving into the minds of her fellow inmates. Cue surreal sequences in the other world, which could be dreams, the afterlife, insanity, or even hell. But unknown to Jess, the staff and inmates of Fellside have their own vested interests in whether she lives or dies, and she’s caught in a violent web of corruption and manipulation; trapped between two worlds, Jess must fight for survival in both.

Like Miss Justineau in The Girl, Jess is a very sympathetic character, and her journey really hooked me in to the narrative. The thing about Jess is that she just wants to keep her head down, not to get involved; but both before and during her incarceration, she is no bystander. The conflict between selfishness and doing the right thing is very finely observed and this is the recognisable flaw that makes her such an empathic and real character. Carey’s are all strong female characters (the cast in Fellside is largely female!) and a delight to meet, even those who are truly evil like Harriet Grace, the lifer who controls Goodall block and directs the violence. And the male characters are similarly believable – like the Sergeant in The Girl, whose story evolves from villain to hero, deliciously vile prison officer Devlin (the Devil) and poor lost Dr Salazar (Sally) have their own tragic and poignant trajectories which grip you. tgwatg

The supernatural elements in some ways form the subplot of Fellside, and can almost be a matter of interpretation; is the other place to be taken at face value, or is this the effect of drug addiction, or mass delusion? The psychology of incarceration is at the forefront, and this is where it differs from The Girl With All The Gifts, which is very firmly in established horror territory; Fellside is much more internal, a state of mind.

I loved it – compelling drama, characters that punch their way off the page, a touch of genuine spookiness and twists and turns that will floor you as effectively as Big Carol herself.

Rating: ****

Orbit Books, 2016, ISBN 9780356503608

The Girl With All The Gifts – Official Trailer