Sunday, 25 July 2010

More Reviews - Rio Youers - Old Man Scratch

Johnny Gregson's dreams of a quiet retirement with his wife in their new country home are quickly ended when he encounters his new next door neighbour, Scratch Clayton. Scratch is a cantankerous grumpy old man who seems to take pleasure from turning the lives of the incomers into an absolute hell.

Nothing he does is illegal as such. And little is violent, even though Scratch, despite his age, is still an imposing and intimidating figure. But his actions build insidiously making it seem as though Scratch's every pore oozes hatred.

At the same time Johnny is beginning to notice that something is not quite right about the bend in the road hear their houses. Being a blind corner, road kill is commonplace. At least once every week Johnny finds himself dragging the remains of another creature to the roadside from in front of his driveway. But he notices that shortly after he does so, the bodies disappear. Not in the kind of way you would expect carrion eaters to gradually eat away at the rotting remains, but totally - as though they were never there.

This is not an out and out horror story. In many ways it is a simple story of the struggle between two old men who just plain don't get on. And in that it might remind you of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon's typical on-screen, antagonistic relationship. But there is a strong undercurrent of something not quite right running under the surface.

This short tale (the book clocks in at just 57 pages) is wonderfully atmospheric. It relies on spookiness rather out and out gore for its horror credentials and when its violent scenes do arrive, they are short and not overdone for shock value. It's good that this is so too. This book is all about mood. Having a few pages of overly descriptive gore would have spoiled the effect.

Its length may worry some though. Twelve pounds (roughly twenty dollars) for less than sixty pages? It's a hefty asking price. And being honest its content may also be a sticking point. This does not have your traditional novel format. Compared to mainstream this may feel incomplete, lacking the resolution many seek in their fiction. If you have read the Twilight novels and want to read other dark fiction trust me, you don't want to start here.

But thank the heavens it doesn't conform to the so-called norm. Imagine how bland that would make the world. Go on, give your reading muscles something more than just the next vampire romance novel.

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