ANDREW GARVEY does a round-up of the first James Herbert Awards
When I originally decided to read and review all six shortlisted books for Pan Macmillan’s inaugural James Herbert Awards I was under two fairly major misapprehensions. Firstly, that the awards were specifically aimed at British authors and secondly, that I could actually get through them all before the awards were announced at the end of March.
Reading six books in two months shouldn’t be that difficult. Unless you’re easily distracted and I’m, erm, what was I saying? Oh yes, books…
It turns out that two of the books shortlisted for the £2000 prize named after one of Britain’s most legendary horror writers were from further afield. American author Josh Malerman and Canada’s Nick Cutter (better known under his real name Craig Davidson) were both nominated and not being British or Irish, aren’t really any of the Spooky Isles’ business.
Awkwardly, Cutter’s book, The Troop, went and won. It’s very, very good but if you want my review, you’ll have to check out my Goodreads version.
Of the four British nominees, all four come recommended. And all four are very different.
Kim Newman’s An English Ghost Story may be the weakest in terms of actual horror but as a rural ghost story in the tradition of Herbert’s own much-loved classic the Magic Cottage it’s an enjoyable and at times very creepy read.
The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley has earned some great reviews and is often compared (for many good reasons) to the Wicker Man. It’s a beautifully written and occasionally unsettling read but immensely slow-paced and oddly uninvolving.
Cuckoo Song may be aimed at the Young Adults market (teenagers, basically) and it’s difficult to write horror for that audience and have much credibility with older readers but Frances Hardinge manages it, producing an excellent book mixing a period setting (the 1920s) with some heavily fairy tale-tinged horror.
But the best of the four is M R Carey’s The Girl with all the Gifts. Saying new things about a post-apocalyptic zombiefied world isn’t easy. This book manages it. Scientifically plausible, stuffed with action, nastiness and gore, and a central character relationship that’s simply fantastic, this is one of the best horror novels I’ve read in many, many years.
So, apologies for the lateness of some of these reviews but please take a look at some of the nominated books. And next year I promise (note to editor: this is not an actual promise and should not really be treated as such) to go through the 2016 shortlist.
And do it on time.