Book review: The Visitors by Catherine Burns

Horror fiction takes many forms. Good horror is an art form, one that requires considerable mastery and imagination. Psychological horror shades into dark fiction – bleak, gothic at times, often literary – and as ever, books can be hard to categorise. Catherine Burn’s The Visitors is one of those books.


I’m only sharing some of the blurb as I think the rest is a spoiler.

“Marion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother, John in a decaying Georgian townhouse on the edge of a northern seaside resort. A timid spinster in her fifties who still sleeps with teddy bears, Marion does her best to shut out the shocking secret that John keeps in the cellar.”

The Visitors is a grim read, more disturbing as the story unfolds, the narrative devoid of humour but not wit. The is novel driven by its backstory, and amounts to a acutely observed character study of the protagonist, Marion Zetland, as she observes her brother, John, and his deviant habits. Burns makes a study of dark passion, but not the brooding malevolence of a serial killer, more the banal evil referred to by Hannah Arendt, one laced with pathetic and inane self-justifications. For Miriam, a sad-sack of a woman in her fifties, is as drab, anxious and miserable as they come.

What ensues is a slow unfolding, a game of seek with no hiding, the reader allowed to peak first here, then there, as the narrator reveals Marion’s foibles, and those of her brother, their mother and father. The collective past of the Zetland family is not pleasant. And neither is Marion. She is impossible to like. She is irritating, repellant and frustrating. She has no willpower, no ambition, instead she is a hopeless figure stripped of her will, immobilised by indecision, her morality compromised by the voices in her head. Existing on a diet of biscuits and tinned food, she loses herself in imagination and fantasy, her escape from a lacklustre existence inside the only home she’s ever known.

Then there is the small matter of the visitors in the cellar.

What begin as justifications for Miriam’s inertia eventually turn into justifications for why she acts the way she does when she finally exercises her will. And it is only then that explanations of certain little mysteries emerge. Burns exercises perfect narrative control, in command of her plot and her characters at every turn, her premise a powerful one and demanding to execute. I can only imagine what it must have taken to write this book.

Not for everyone, but for those who do enjoy dark fiction, this novel is superb.



Stunning *****5 star review***** of The Cabin Sessions!

For once I am sharing a review of one of my own titles just in on Amazon. It isn’t every day an author receives such high praise.

The Cabin Sessions – for those who like their horror dark and psychological.

Talk about being blown away.
If you are in search of a stonking read with delicious descriptions – chilling horror (very psychological in places) and perfect prose then this is the book for you.
The horror was delivered with sophistication and stealth – so much so that when I wanted to pull back or run for cover I couldn’t.
The story telling is masterly and I would class this book – author, as a modern day classic.
Unique- individual- and unapologetic.
To me was as good as a holiday- I love that feeling you get when a read has reached every wanton corner of your psyche and cleaned up!
Thank you to the author for a truly defining read!” – Amazon reviewer Kathleen McCarthy

Thank you Kathleen, for making my day!

You can read more Amazon reviews here

Review: The Blood Red Experiment

My journey into dark fiction just keeps getting better. What is it that draws the reader into the realm of the macabre? I guess the answer to that is different for everyone, but for me, uppermost is the application of top-class literary skills.

“Inspired by the genius of Hitchcock and his films, latin luminaries such as Argento and Bava directed macabre murder-mystery thrillers, that combined the suspense with scenes of outrageous violence, stylish cinematography, and groovy soundtracks. This genre became known in their native Italy as giallo.

Giallo is Italian for yellow, inspired by the lurid covers of thrillers, in the way that pulp fiction was derived from the cheap wood pulp paper of the crime stories, or Film Noir came from the chiaroscuro of the German Expressionistic lighting.

We at TBRE want to bring gialli-inspired stories by some of the best crime writers on the scene today to a wider audience, giving birth to a new literary movement in crime writing, NeoGiallo, and drag this much maligned genre screaming and slashing its way into the 21st Century.”


My entry into NeoGiallo has been rewarded with this superb collection. Edited by Jason Michel and Craig Douglas, The Blood Red Experiment is a well laid out magazine with a healthy noir vibe. Many of the stories are first instalments of serialised works, a smart move on the part of the editors, as those stories are compelling and leave the reader wanting more, rendering The Blood Red Experiment a collectible, a must-have for any noir-loving fan.

The opening story, ‘Machine Factory’ by Richard Godwin, is about as confronting as it gets inside the mind of a psychopathic killer. Unrelenting, vivid and artistic in its execution, I am in admiration of the author for his ability to enter into the pathology of macabre glorification and can only hope the protagonist is not his ‘Mr Hyde’. Godwin display his literary talents in evocative descriptions:

“I will escape it and find otherness like a black widow spider clutching with unreal feet at the empty window pane of time.”

‘Machine Factory’ contains a satisfying twist, one that entices the reader to start back at the beginning.

Every story in The Blood Red Experiment is worth a mention. Mark Cooper’s intriguing ‘Quaenam in Illis’, the tale of an out-of-work linguist used by a mysterious group to decipher ancient writings, pulls the reader into a seedy Paris underworld. Kate Laity’s ‘Maddona of the Wasps’ is a rich and tantalising tale of erotic desire and gore, as a dominatrix uses her minion, a slave to his own lust. In ‘Didn’t Bleed Red,’ Tom Leins makes use of a reflexive giallo motif, as his private investigator protagonist comes face to face with a grotesquely overweight, red-faced man who calls himself The Auctioneer. Jack Bates displays impressive narrative control and provides an unexpected twist in his confronting tale, ‘Canvas of Flesh’. Then there’s James Shaffer’s chilling and tense ‘Blood of the Lamb’, a story in which even the light bleeds; and Kevin Berg’s sensual and literary ‘L Impermanenza Dell’Art’, a story that takes searching for inspiration in an art class to a whole new level.

The high literary standard that can be found in the dark-fiction genre never fails to please, and the standard of writing in The Blood Red Experiment is excellent. The authors are adept at creating evocative metaphors and captivating imagery, and display all the artistry of good prose, brought to bear on the gruesome side of life.  Dripping noir from every page crease, the hallmark of this issue is dark sensuality, the sort only good writing can achieve. Every author is engaged in a dance of seduction with the reader. The Blood Red Experiment is a privilege to read. My only critical remark is the shortage of women writers in the mix.

Grab your copy here


Review: And Then You Die by James H Longmore

I can’t describe what sort of taste was left in my mouth after reading James H Longmore’s …and Then You Die, a novel that marks my entry into the genre of bizarro, where absurdism and satire meet the weird and grotesque. If you find the concept of bizarro off-putting, then …and Then You Die  is not a book for you! But you’d be missing out on an extraordinarily visceral cultural experience.

“Following a drunken, hedonistic night out on the town in New Orleans, successful businesswoman and sexual deviant Claire Jepson accidentally soils herself in her expensive car. The resulting excrement comes to life as a terrifying, sardonic fecal spirit and not only dishes out a particularly gruesome death to Claire’s unfaithful, gold digging fiancé, but also thwarts a kidnap/murder plot by her employees and introduces Claire to a world of depraved pleasures beyond even her depraved imagination.

A year later, the errant spirit has spiraled wildly out of control with its insatiable appetite for perverted sex and human flesh and has destroyed both Claire’s business and life.

To her horror, Claire then discovers that the fecal spirit plans to consume her unborn child in order to attain immortality and she must return to the seedy underbelly of the Big Easy where her nightmare began in a heart-pounding race against time to confront the spirit’s creator; a high priest of a most ancient and deadly order, who is the only one who can put a stop to the spirit’s murderous intentions.

A wicked, fast-paced story laced with tongue-in-cheek, dark humor and which is at the same time incredibly erotic and stomach churning; definitely not one to be read whilst eating!”

Take heed of that last comment!

I consumed, no I devoured …and Then You Die, an off-the-wall tale laced with hilarity and an astonishing wit. Longmore does not mince his words, confronting the reader at every turn with the utterly detestable, lifting up the toilet lid on the excrement most prefer to flush away, and  bringing it to life in quasi-human form.

…and Then You Die is a sexy, earthy romp of the most deviant order. In protagonist Claire Jepson, a dot com businesswoman, Longmore makes a not so subtle comment on the debauched perversions of the moneyed classes. Through the protagonist’s initial accidental soiling, Longmore brings to life the shit pile. In an extraordinarily detailed expose, …and Then You Die goes on to explore in depth and in breadth every aspect of living shit.

Longmore’s pacing is excellent, the action never wanes, plot twists driving the tale into greater depths of degradation arriving on cue. The narrative contains a solid, four to the floor rhythm, a forward driving pulse that makes …and Then You Die a delight to read.  The author’s wit shines from every page, right down to his shit-in-the-bag entity that morphs into an antagonist with a voice like Russell Brand. Ever since Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, in which the main character wakes up to find he is a giant bug, authors have played with the grotesque in the paranormal. Longmore has penned a work of excellence, both in the quality of writing and in his ability to sustain a work that pivots on a single metaphor: shit.

…and Then You Die will appeal to lovers of dark comedy. Be warned! This is not a story for those with refined sensibilities easily offended by in-your-face revulsion. Think kinky and twisted Iain Banks.

You can find out more about James H Longmore here
Grab your copy here

Or find the novel through ALL good booksellers.



The Cabin Sessions book launch wrap up!

The launch of The Cabin Sessions proved to be a night beyond my wildest expectations!  The Alex Legg Memorial Foundation gave over the last Leggacy Sessions of the year, and I played host to a fine collection of musicians taking on the parts of various characters in my book.

Barbara Jeffrey and Jose Garcia as Rebekah and David Fisher.
Phil Lester and Neesy Smith as Joshua Thorne and Hannah Fisher
Dave Wolfe as Ed Smedley
Max Less and Annie Dixon as Philip Stone and Cynthia Morgan
Fred Hess (left) as Nathan Sandhurst and Brian Baker (right) as Juan Diaz, along with Stewart Kohinga and Lloyd Spiegel
Andy Cowan as Adam Banks

With thanks to Suzanne Diprose for her role as Delilah Makepeace, and for handing round the Christmas cake! And to Dave Diprose for his role as Alf Plum.

The night was made special by warm words of legendary Australian Bluesman ‘King of the Keys’ Andy Cowan in his official launch speech.

I came close to selling out of stock, which was a good thing as I was using a shopping trolley to cart the remaining books home with me by train!

A special thank you to all who came to my launch. Friends came from as far as Ballarat, St Andrews, and beyond the Black Spur to share the night with me. I’m still feeling the love. And my thanks to those who are messaging me with warm praise as they open their copy and discover for themselves why Andy Cowan phoned me the day before the launch and told me he absolutely loved The Cabin Sessions. 

My gratitude to the ALMF for their generous spirit, to all the musicians who performed, and to James Longmore at HellBound Books for making it all possible.

If you want to find out what the fuss is all about, visit any good online bookseller or grab a copy here.

Or use the contact page on this website for an author signed copy.

Click the link to read why the Alex Legg Memorial Foundation supported the launch and how instrumental, the late Alex Legg was in the creation of my book.



Review: Demons, Devils and Denizens of Hell: Vol 2

I’m thrilled to share my review of Demons, Devils and Denizens of Hell: Vol 2, and anthology of horror stories compiled by P. Mattern, edited by Ztina Marie and published by HellBound Books.

“Another anthology of otherworldy delights, tales of horror, dread and hellish inhabitants, – all lovingly compiled by award-winning author P. Mattern.

Our second journey into the darkest recesses of Satan’s pit has superlative tales of nefarious delight by: Andrew MacKay, Ryan Woods, PC3, Richard Raven, Dante Crossroad, Josh Schlossberg, Brianna M. Fenty, Paul Lubaczewski, Marcus Mattern, R.L. Chambers, Gerri R Grayson, John T. M. Herres, James Nichols, Feind Gottes, P. Mattern & Lynne Ligocki Gauthier, R.L.Chambers, Richard Alan Long, Jaap Boekestein, James H, Longmore, Savannah Morgan, DJ Shaw, Bill Evans, Sergio “ente per ente” Palumbo, Jay Michael Wright II, and the incomparable Stephanie Kelley.”

As a reader of short stories I’m hard to please. I’m looking for substance and depth. I want to know the author has thought long and hard about character, setting and life in general. I’m not interested so much in being shocked or horrified. I’m interested in how the author is pulling it off. I want to be impressed. Also, I want wit. I guess that makes me hard to please. Especially regarding an anthology, a book readers will delve into when the fancy takes them, sampling rather than reading from end to end.

I opened Demons, Devils and Denizens of Hell: Vol 2 not knowing what I was to be treated to, save each story was destined to be either revolting, terrifying or both. What I discovered was a delight. Demons, Devils and Denizens of Hell: Vol 2 brims with cracking reads; the hallmark of the volume, strong writing. From the thoroughly revolting, edge-of-seat horror-crime story ‘Duplicate Counterpart’ by John T.M. Herres, to the mysterious and compelling, and ultimately shocking ‘There Shall Be No Night’ by Josh Schlossberg, and beyond, there is much to savour between the covers of this anthology.

Each story is distinct. James H. Longmore’s ‘My Possession: An Introspective’, a presentation of the state of mind of a sales executive turned writer wrestling with his inner demon called Dave, provides incisive wit and dark hilarity. As does ‘Beauty is the Beast’ by Gerri R. Gray, her protagonist, Vanity de Milo, a macabre twist on the children’s fairy tale the story alludes to.

Quoting from ‘The Huntress’ by Savannah Morgan, gives a taste of the sort of writing to be found in the anthology:

“Guts and entrails fell out like gruesome chunky soft-serve ice cream from a dispenser on the fritz.”

No matter the genre, sentences like that make a reader like me tingle.

Feind Gottes foreshadows his dark tale, ‘Black Lodge’, with some powerful imagery:

“A simple black lodge in a forgotten wood where ghosts feared to haunt but memories were free to crush a man’s soul.”

Like the other stories in this anthology, Gotte’s tale grips to the very last sentence.

The authors of these dark tales have stretched their imaginations, brought to bear their wit and drawn on their many and varied insights into the human condition. Not only that, they’ve applied themselves to the task of writing, and writing well. The result is a must read.

Buy your copy here.

Check out more from HellBound Books here


Shopping List 2 – an outstanding horror collection


“HellBound Books Publishing brings you an outstanding collection of horror, dark, slippery things, and supernatural terror – all from the very best up and coming minds in the genre. We have given each and every one of our authors the opportunity to have their shopping lists read by you, the most wonderful reading public, and have the darkest corners of their creative psyche laid bare for all to see…

In all, 21 stories to chill the soul, tingle the spine and keep you awake in the cold, murky hours of the night…”

Mine is called ‘Ignominy’

About a year ago I signed up for a free online creative writing course as research for running my own. In those ten weeks participants were invited to write the bones of a short story. I came up with plain Jane on a train. Yeah, I guess I was feeling a bit cynical and detached as I was really just being a spy, but I jumped through the hoops and engaged anyway.


Then I tinkered with this Jane and her train journey, and the more I did, the darker the story became. The result is ‘Ignominy’, a dark tale about a train journey, describing where Jane has been, who she meets, and what happens as a result.

I ended up loving Jane so much I employed the same style in a novel-length work, which I am hoping will be published next year.

You can order a copy of this anthology, available in all formats, and enjoy all the other dark tales it contains here.

The anthology is also live on the HellBound Books Publishing app!