Last Rites by Shaun Hutson

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Last Rites by Shaun Hutson

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Category: Horror
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A suspicious village, and a teacher fleeing to the sanctuary of the posh boarding school outside it, combine in this typically visceral turn from Shaun Hutson. Not quite his best, but still a compelling read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: October 2009
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841497655

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A man gets viciously beaten up by unknown assailants in a North London street. Only afterwards do we discover anything about him - he is a teacher, with a dead daughter, an estranged wife, and after the assault a new-found urge to flee, and to move on to something and somewhere new. Meanwhile, in rural Buckinghamshire, odd things are happening. People are brutally killing and displaying animals, while unconnected teenagers with both long-term aims and immediate intentions, are suddenly and flippantly killing themselves.

To the credit of Shaun Hutson what builds up in his latest horror is a fine look at a city/country divide and a look at the state of the nation in Hutsonland. The city is horrid, noisy and rude. The country is a hotbed of freakishness, caused partly by nobody having much to do.

Such is the usual habit of Hutson, with his ability to take something mundane and turn it into wrenching horror. Most of his books can be defined very simply as 'the one where...'. Neither do they particularly go along typical horror lines - although in only the first thirty pages here I fully expect the willies to be put up the claustrophobic, the religious, those geared against bloody violence, swearing (the first 'dialogue' is the C-word), and cat lovers.

But to the detriment of our author, his common style causes some small problems here. Flashing from story to story so often, with the most basic characterisation, and a seeming allergy to chapters running over 1,000 words, does all make this slightly hard to engage with. We see cinematic glimpses of so much, and the death and violence are presented in such a matter of fact style, we find it harder to put ourselves into the story. It is only after half-way that his hero is searching through the unexpected and we get enjoyable frissons from learning truths along with him.

That said, the book still has Hutson's rip-roaring way through a set-up. There is so much going on here, we can only struggle to put everything together into a cogent, coherent plot as he does - and if it weren't for the blurb-writer giving FAR TOO MUCH away, we would be even more stuck on a nightmarish ride to where Huston wants to take us. Do as I do, and leave the covers til last.

Hutson will never be to everyone's taste, and I can only give qualified commendations for this volume as a result. I would have it his narrative drive and ease with which he gives us literally visceral thriller/horrors is to be lauded. If I had felt 'there' more often with regard to our teacher character here I would probably be a gibbering wreck, but I would have liked this a reasonable amount more. Still, for horror fans wanting surprises, and so much more daylight, energy and realism than the genre regularly gives them, this is a title to snap up.

I must thank Orbit's kind people for sending me a review copy.

For more of Shaun Hutson we can recommend Body Count and Epitaph.

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crucifiedhero said:

Another excellent review by the most astute and honest critic I have ever had the privilege of reading. Thank you, John Lloyd.