Scott-Norton blends the inexplicable otherness of the occult with the grimy deceits of modern urban life to create a paranormal horror thriller that evokes the dread of a classic ghost story without the archness that can allow the modern mind a comforting distance.
This novel is the second in Scott-Norton’s Dark Corners series. Reading this text might cause post-cognition.
Unable to fully explain even to himself how he survived a fall from the roof of Ravenmeols or where he really was for several days after, Seth has holed up at Malc’s place. However, his refusal to provide details of events only damages his already sketchy reputation with both the police and Malc’s wife further. And erodes the bond that had formed with the other survivor, Judy. With the events of Ravenmeols having silenced the psychic talent from which he made a living, news that his uncle bequeathed him a house and an income seems like the lifeline he needs. But accepting the legacy also means accepting his uncle’s collection of the occult; the collection for which a dangerous cult is prepared to murder.
Where the previous volume was a classic haunted house narrative, with the characters trapped with the threat, this is a paranormal detective story, granting the characters greater opportunity for both rest and preparation but also stripping them of the pressing need to involve themselves. Thus, the side of humanity, those who agree utterly that the cult must be stopped, are riven by disagreements over the right approach and—most importantly—whether Seth should be involved or distance himself from a paranormal struggle that has almost destroyed him once already.
This openness also strengthens the sense of paranoia: without the imminent threat and limited options that forced those trapped in Ravenmeols to work together, people are both more inclined to put their own interests ahead of the group and to worry about the motivations of others. The readers awareness of this is heightened by their knowledge that Seth definitely is concealing information from others.
Scott-Norton applies the same pieces-but-not-the-whole to the mystical and occult aspects of the plot: items and places display phenomena or provide feelings, but there are no explanations of how magic works or evidences that the pervasive Western narrative of good vs. evil is anything more than a comforting lie about a world undercut by hostile metaphysics.
The prose supports this sense of human life as ringed by shadowy horrors: while Scott-Norton’s Southport might contain well-maintained and cheerful neighbourhoods and modern electric lights, this book visits only the damp basements of cheaper facilities, houses more attended by mildew than cleaners, unpaved tracks, and other sites of civilisation’s imperfect grip.
While this novel does have a complete major arc and does provide answers to some minor matters from the previous book, there are broader questions that remain unresolved; thus, although it will not leave readers hanging, those who are interested more in Scott-Norton’s specific world rather than his skilful evocation of paranormal horror are likely to want more.
Seth continues to be a sympathetic character. His decisions are poorer than most readers are likely to believe they would make, but he is clearly traumatised by his experiences, making the failures seem plausible rather than distancing. Similarly, his reaction to both the mundane and metaphysical damages he has suffered are imperfect actions rather than moping or bemoaning.
Judy provides a different yet equally sympathetic viewpoint on both post-paranormal stress reactions and the plot. With a daughter and no involvement in the occult prior to Ravenmeols, she both strives for and is more suited to a return to mundane life. However, her drive to protect that life is neither an all-consuming rejection of involvement in the paranormal nor an obsession to do whatever it takes; thus she wavers between taking action against the cult’s plans and arguing it is too dangerous, rather than collapsing into the stereotypes of counterproductive obstacle or Sarah Connor–like warrior.
The supporting cast share this complexity of motive and action, both creating a sense of a world populated by real people and sustaining the sense of uncertainty that fuels the dread.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel greatly. I recommend it to readers seeking modern paranormal horror that fully leverages the fear of the unknown.
I received a free copy from the author with a request for a fair review.