Saturday, 18 February 2017

Little Heaven by Nick Cutter

This is the second of this author’s novels that I’ve read (the first being his excellent book, The Deep) and once again I’m impressed. Nick Cutter has been compared to Stephen King, not least by the great man himself, and it’s not hard to see why; a definite King vibe runs through this novel, from the general scepticism of religious fanaticism, to the mounting air of menace that builds and builds to nerve-shredding heights. But equally, some of King’s faults can be found here, not least the text’s length and the corresponding suspicion that it would have been a better book had some prose been cut.

The plot revolves around a bunch of gunslingers – the book description calls them mercenaries, but really, they’re more like gangsters – are employed by a woman to accompany her to a remote religious community. She’s concerned that her nephew has been taken there against his will by his deadbeat dad and she wants their help should she need to bust him out. Seeing this as an easy gig, the mercenaries/gangsters agree and go along for the ride. This being a horror novel of course, things don’t turn out so easy.

Nick Cutter is a great writer, a brilliant wordsmith, and undoubtedly this novel is a great read. The author really imbues the religious community with a sense of the sinister and one just knows that this isn’t going to be some paradise. He also imbues a real sense of terror to the characters’ first encounter with the supernatural element of the story. That scene I suggest you read during daylight hours, or at least with the light on.

This leads me to my first criticism of Little Heaven. Now to be fair, this might be because horror isn’t my preferred gene. My first choice of read is crime/thriller, horror coming a distant second. So, this might be a tad unfair of me. But I kept finding the supernatural/horror elements getting in the way. The author does such a good job of portraying the religious cult, it’s charismatic and crazy leader, that I kind of wanted him to write a book about a Jim Jones/Jonestown death cult, a study in a madman leading his followers to disaster. But of course, that’s not the focus of the novel – though it does form a strand of the story – and the horror is what the author is all about.

To be fair to Nick Cutter, the supernatural elements are all handled effectively. As I indicate above, many scenes are really scary, the sort of thing that may well give you nightmares. If horror is your thing, if you’re a fan of Stephen King, then this is a book you should read. Until the end that is. And that leads to my second criticism. The ending.

Now I must stop you here because I can’t discuss this without delivering a major spoiler. No, seriously, MAJOR SPOILER COMING! Seriously people! Stop. Reading. Now. SPOILER ALERT!

Ok. Can’t say I didn’t warn you. The main threat to the characters in this novel are ancient demons. The main demon, the big baddie, lives in people it kind of captures. Like a parasite, it feeds on their souls until there is nothing left. So far, so horror affair. But these demons can be killed, right? With just weapons. And throughout the book, the mercenary/gunmen kill demons. That’s Ok, too. Now at the very end, one of the gunmen’s daughter is captured by the main demon. He travels into its lair with his buddies and he has a bomb secreted with him. He makes a deal with the demon: let my daughter go and you can have me. The demon says ok and lets the daughter go. The gunman tells his buddies to take his little girl away. As she escapes, he blows up the tunnel, trapping himself and the demon. So, the demon can have him but can’t escape and prey on anyone else.  But why? Why not run off with his daughter and blow up the tunnel, trapping the demon alone? There is literally no sense in this ending. The demon is unable to move fast, it’s like a little slug thing. He could have killed it, trapped it, anything. The only sense in this ending is to hold it open for a potential sequel (and indeed, the other mercenaries/gunmen discuss going back for him at the end). Other than that, it makes no sense whatsoever. And that annoys me.

All in all, this is a good book. A little too long, would rather there was more on the cult (but to be fair, that reflects my own reading tastes). My biggest complaint is the ending, which to me at least, made little sense. But if you like Stephen King, you could do a lot worse than read this.

4 out of 5 stars.

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