I’ve finally got round to reading the first two collections of short stories by leading UK horror author Adam LG Nevill: Some Will Not Sleep and the more recent Hasty For The Dark. The collections seem to be in chronological order, allowing the reader to chart the rise of Nevill’s star as a writer, from his first collected story ‘Where Angels Come In’ to his later, well-anthologized tales.
I remember first reading ‘Where Angels Come In’ in one of the Mammoth Books of Horror that are so sadly missed nowadays. Standards in those Jones anthologies were high back then, but Nevill’s work still stood out. Despite its dusting of M R James references the story is the opposite of dull pastiche, and is actually quite action-packed. It’s held up well over the years.
Nevill’s output in the rest of the book is admirably diverse; the deservedly popular ‘Pig Thing’ is straight-up woodland creature horror, though with an unusual setting that saw it included in an Exotic Gothic anthology. The gripping ‘Yellow Teeth’ is part psychological torment and part exploration of the divine. ‘Doll Horror’ is a savage piece of couldn’t-be-more-dystopian future horror, and ‘What God Hath Wrought’ is a champion bit of weird west terror.
The thing linking all these stories is quality, scares that are actually scary, and also a preoccupation with fairness, whether between individuals, sections of society or humans and the environment. In fact, politics and the growing divide (well, yawning chasm) between the rich and the poor in the United Kingdom (and elsewhere) seems to preoccupy Nevill more and more, and he’s not averse to handing out lashings to those figures in society who deserve it. My favourite of the stories I hadn’t read, ‘The Age of Entitlement’, is a story of this kind although it also works as an examination of a parasitic personal relationship between friends. That it’s not a colossal downer is a testament to the writer’s sense of humour.
Social justice is an even more obvious theme in Hasty For The Dark. Here the horrors tend to be more embedded in everyday life, instead of being full-on fantastical. While I am generally a supporter of what Christopher Fowler called the “Campaign For Real Fear”, the unremitting vibe of worn-and-dirty urban grimness of the first few stories depressed the hell out of me, although (or perhaps because!) the writing is as good as ever and very believable. ‘The Angels of London’ is especially effective, with its already-unbearable abusive landlord/tenant dynamics buoyed up by threats of a more supernatural nature.
The relative homogeneity of tone in the first third of the book does also serve to make what comes after, ‘The Days of Our Lives’, even more enjoyable. One thing Nevill does possibly better than anyone working in the genre today is barking religious cults, and this story is pitch-black but also absolutely hilarious. Not since the heady days of I’m Alan Partridge has the potential of the humble Travelodge for comedy and horror been so successfully mined. This oddly romantic piece – in which a hapless man is seduced by the acolyte of an occult movement that is at once bizarrely sadistic and breathtakingly banal – is like a cross between Nighty-Night and The Night Porter, and you need it in your life right now.
None of the subsequent stories can top this almost-untoppable pinnacle of achievement, though as a Devonian I commend the surreal vistas of marine horror on show in ‘Call The Name’, in which global warming has called up something nasty in the Torbay area – an entity which also has its share of weird cultists! (As HG Wells’ ‘The Sea Raiders’ was also set in the region I vote the whole of Devon’s south coast be rebranded “Dagon Country”.) This story actually seems to be a continuation of the shorter ‘Hippocampus’, which I have seen anthologized on its own, but which definitely benefits from appearing alongside the second story. You certainly don’t need to be from the West Country to enjoy these.
Things are rounded up with another bracing Mark Samuels-adjacent assault on capitalism, ‘White Light, White Heat’, and the intriguing ‘Little Black Lamb’, which offers more occult rituals, possession and BDSM, though not necessarily in the way you’d expect. One thing is certain, however: older women characters have a lot more fun in Nevill’s books than they do in most horror fiction! I can barely wait for the menopause now.
Nevill has also done a third book which is a mixed bag of writings, though I haven’t got round to that yet, as I am currently saving up to buy his new novel The Reddening, also set in Devon.