Reviewed by Chris Limb
A writer has locked himself away in a remote cottage to finish the eagerly awaited final book in the popular Jade Nexus trilogy before the imminent deadline.
It’s not easy.
The existing ending just doesn’t satisfy him, there’s an impatient agent on the end of the broadband connection, an opportunistic burglar after the blu-ray player, an attractive new neighbour in the cottage across the way, the memory of a life-changing tragedy in his recent past and, most worryingly of all, the eponymous Beast he has shut up in the basement…
The novella starts by plunging us straight into its climax for a few short moments before pulling back in order to allow us to get there by the more traditional route. This is a clever device, which is only one of many this tale has at its disposal to keep us on the edge of our seats. This is a story that demands to be read in one sitting; from the very beginning the reader begins to suspect that things are not what they seem and the slow drip-feed of background information builds up a momentum that is impossible to stop.
At first it might appear to be a tale of procrastination – just how many other tasks will the central character take on in order to avoid getting down to the important business of finishing the novel before the deadline? For anyone who has ever struggled with writing there will be many familiar scenarios here. However it soon become horrifying clear that the Beast is no mere metaphor but very real indeed and that the character whose mind we currently occupy contains more hidden depths than may at first be apparent.
The twists, turns and reversals of fortune are all genuinely shocking and as such have no place in this review, suffice to say that the surprises don’t let up until the very end. It is very rare for a book to so successfully leave the readers with no idea of the true shape of the narrative until its very close when it all is thrown into sharp horrifying relief.
This is a plot that has been cunningly constructed and trimmed to within an inch of its life, leaving not an inch of flab. The author writes in the present tense – giving the story a sense of immediacy and peril – without it seeming intrusive or artificial as can sometimes be the case in less experienced hands. The protagonist’s voice, whilst heavy with despair and desperation is also dry and humorous, giving the tale something of the atmosphere of the horror short stories of Michael Marshall Smith.
The suspense is palpable and almost cinematic at times, the descriptions of some scenes painting themselves on the mind’s eye with HD clarity. This is a taut tale of the some of the worst excesses of human paranoia that will leave its mark on the reader long after they have finished the last page.