Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Last Days, by Adam Nevill

St. Martin's Griffin, 2013
531 pp
trade paper ed.

(read in February)

 When I read horror, I tend to be happiest with short stories or novellas, but after reading Adam Nevill's  Banquet For the Damned, I know he is a writer I can trust to keep that fear factor going, no matter how many pages he needs to tell his story.  Here, he's integrated seriously creepy, sustained hair-raising horror with a story about a particularly bizarre apocalyptic cult, and the result is one very intense tale that kept me on the edge throughout.

Kyle Freeman is an independent guerrilla film-maker (think Paranormal Activity) who has sold a few projects but still has yet to hit the big time.  He's behind in his rent, owes money here and there, and as the story begins, he's been contacted by Max Solomon, CEO of Revelation Productions  to film a documentary.  The subject Max proposes is the strange apocalyptic cult known as The Temple of Last Days, which got its start in London but met its end in a horrific bloodbath in an abandoned copper mine in the Arizona desert. As Max explains,  the cult was
"A well-intentioned concept quickly usurped by a female sociopath and criminal elements. In London it was known as The Last Gathering. It became The Temple of the Last Days in France, during a schism in 1969.  At a farm in Normandy where they nearly starved to death. The remnants migrated to America, under the same management.  Where they self-destructed in Arizona. 1975."
While the Temple of the Last Days has already been the subject of four documentaries and four feature films, Max wants something different.  He wants Kyle to go beyond the work of  mainstream film-makers. His interests lie in trying to discover whether Last Days' leader, Sister Katherine, was able to "achieve something extraordinary" in the group's "mystical and occult interests," and wants to explore the "paranormal aspects of the organization."   Max has already made arrangements for Kyle to speak to a handful of survivors of the cult, everything is paid for, strings have been pulled, and Kyle will receive enough money to keep him afloat. He is also going to have complete creative control, a film-maker's dream.  Enlisting the help of his friend Dan, the two start their project in the original cult headquarters in London and soon come to realize that they've taken on much more than they bargained for.

Nevill is a master of atmosphere, edge and full-on dread in this story, leaving me with a case of the willies the entire way through. Centering his book around this disturbing cult was genius, and he paced his story perfectly.  The way he depicts the inner workings of this group is grim enough to begin with, but he unleashes the terror of it all piece by piece, steadily ratcheting up the shock so that as you're reading, you start to wonder how things could get any worse -- but they do. And all along, he contemplates the question of why people would be compelled to not only join this group, but even more, why they would stay in the face of such unspeakable horrors.  It's also obvious that he's put in a lot of time researching his subject -- this is no fly-by-night re-imagining.  The only thing I disliked in this otherwise deliciously-eerie  novel is his choice to include a gun-happy character at the end who came across as caricaturish, ruining the spell that held me throughout the novel, but thankfully his appearance is rather brief. 

There's much more I could say but my advice is to go get a copy, curl up under your covers and read it in the dark of night. Super book -- recommended to readers who like their horror on a more cerebral level.

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