Sunday, 1 May 2022

My Year in Books 2022: April

Time for my monthly round-up of the books I read for fun in April. It's a little longer than my previous two posts, but it is a bit of a mixed bag this time. I did read one really good one this month though!

In case you're interested, here are my posts from the year so far: January, February, March

Black Mountain by Simon Bestwick (2021)

The first book on this month’s list was originally published as an eBook serial in eleven parts, but later rereleased as a collected paperback edition. I read the collected novel-length version, so that’s what this review is based on. Black Mountain is a horror story about an area of North Wales known as the ‘Bala Triangle’, which surrounds Mynydd Du (the eponymous Black Mountain). Over the years a series of strange occurrences have taken place in the Bala Triangle, suggesting something very old and very bad resides there. But that’s not really what hooked me in with this one. The way the story is told is very much the selling point of this one. The book begins with Rob Markland, a horror author, who stumbles on an odd little story about a place called Hafen Deg on an urban explorers site (and the initial description of Hafen Deg really hooked me in). From there, Markland discovers a couple of articles by a writer called Russell Ware, also a one-time horror author, who had done some investigation into strange events at Hafen Deg and the surrounding area, but who died before his work could be completed. The nested, unreliable narrations, incorporating a variety of supporting sources, are utterly compelling, leading the reader through a maze of unsettling vignettes that take in everything from religious history, farming, mining, archaeological research, an executive holiday village, and the perils of trying to open a B and B in a cursed landscape. Loved this one.

The Apparition Phase by Will Maclean (2020)

I have to admit, I really thought this next one would be right up my street. And, in some ways, it was. The story begins in the early 1970s, with twins Abi and Tim deciding to fake a ghost photograph in the attic of their suburban home. Proud of their creepy creation, they choose a suitable target – a girl from their school who they believe will be a good candidate for being duped by their fake photo – but then things go horribly wrong. Their target reacts in an unexpectedly dramatic manner, and then Abi goes missing. A few years later, Tim is introduced to a group of paranormal researchers who are investigating a supposedly haunted manor house called Yarlings in Suffolk, and various demons begin to surface. While I did enjoy the set-up and the initial setting of the story, I struggled a bit with where it went. The ghost-hunters in the mansion seemed to belong to a very different story to the fake ghost photograph, and I found the book a bit fragmented. (There is something that tentatively unites the two narrative strands, of course, but I won’t say what that is, as I think it would constitute a spoiler!) And while I’m more than happy with open and opaque endings, this one suffers for its lack of resolutions. None of the storylines (the fake photo, the missing sister, the incidents in Yarlings) reach a satisfying conclusion, which was a bit disappointing, and the book’s ending is somewhat abrupt.

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse (2021)

I’m at a bit of a loss what to say about this one, as I’m genuinely struggling to say anything positive (and I don’t like these mini-reviews just to rip books to pieces). I bought this one from the supermarket, because the setting sounded intriguing. The blurb promised a murder mystery in a former sanatorium, now a luxury hotel, in the Swiss alps. An avalanche cuts the hotel off, and there’s a killer on the loose. While not the most original premise, it certainly sounded like something I might like. Unfortunately, the execution was surprisingly poor, given the huge marketing push the book has had. The central character is an apparently ‘rising star’ detective, who is taking extended leave after nearly being killed by a suspect. She’s at the hotel for her brother’s engagement party, but she intends to use the time to confront him about the death of their younger sibling twenty years previously. I’m afraid to say that this character is one of the most woefully inept detective I’ve ever read. She makes no headway with her unofficial investigation into the series of gruesome murders that take place while she’s at the hotel, and she puts herself pointlessly in danger on several occasions. She also takes a long time to recognize the meagre clues presented. Combined with a surprising (for the genre) lack of secondary characters/suspects, and very poor writing and editing (including continuity errors, unclear prose and a distractingly choppy style), this one was an utter let-down.

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