Ghostly Terrors … Another little teaser from my forthcoming ‘Rat Tales.’
Jacobs Manor had an unusual array of occupants even before its latest arrivals to the family, all long since dead of course. Like many a country house, it too had its fair share of wildlife lurking in the cellars, the walls, and every other nook and cranny where nature’s smallest and darkest creatures take refuge: spiders, mice, cockroaches, and of course the usual complement of rats scurrying about its dark corners. It had been many years though since it had any human occupants in residence, at least not living ones.
The ghostly residents looked on with eager curiosity as the removal van pulled up outside the main entrance. They had suspected for a while they might be getting new arrivals with all the recent building and renovation work that had been going on. For the most part, they had let the workmen go about their business unhindered. Specialising as they did in renovating such places, they were all past being troubled by the occasional wailing, creaking floorboards, or harmless apparitions that were an integral part of these old houses, especially ones with a history to rival of that of Jacobs Manor. Nonetheless, they had sworn they would never set foot in the place again for any future work. They weren’t sure if the place was truly haunted or just infested with stubborn vermin. It didn’t matter how many rats they got rid of with the usual traps and poisons, a couple of times when their work had carried on into the early evening, several of them had reported seeing a small spectral like creature scurrying across their path or leaping at them, seemingly from thin air. But work was work, and so they had kept their fears and sightings quiet from the manor’s new owners.
It was good having humans in the manor again. The presence of warm breathing living flesh seemed to inject new ghostly vitality into the manor’s spectral occupants. It was never their wish to scare or harass their living housemates and so most humans got used to them. All except the rat that was. The rat hated living humans and was none too fond of its fellow spectres either; the rat took as much delight in scaring and tormenting them as it did any human dwellers of the manor. Whilst the spectres were immune to any human interference, they were vulnerable to those of their own kind; the rat horrified them much the same way a living rat repulses living humans. What made it worse, there was no way of killing or getting rid of it the way the living dealt with their own vermin. For centuries, both they and living occupants of the manor had had to put up with the spite driven vengeful ghostly rat … several of the latter had literally been terrified to death at the sight of gleaming white teeth and claws hovering about their face at all hours of the night. It was those that the rat now shared the manor with in the same unearthly spectral realm.
The Earl of Dewsbury, the original owner and builder of the Manor back in the 16th century had been a practitioner of the sciences and black arts as well being a brutal sadist. Had he been born in modern times, psychologists would have had him earmarked a future serial killer with his liking for tormenting small animals. One of his victims had been a small black rat. The Earl had caught it and several others in one of his trapping cages. The contrast of its jet-black fur and almost fluorescent white teeth gave it a chillingly demonic look which fascinated the Earl. He noticed too the jet-black rat had killed the other occupants in the cage in order to live off their flesh. This particular rat clearly harboured a savagery to rival his own. The Earl’s vivid imagination and fascination with the black arts led him to wonder if indeed the rat was possessed of some demon … he was determined to know. What followed was all sorts of experimentation the Earl believed to be sophisticated science and black magic. It was mostly nonsense of course, but amid all the potions and spells, the Early had unwittingly trapped the rat in that spectral realm between the living and the dead. It was not a place meant for animal souls except those who were so intertwined with their human master’s they couldn’t be separated. But that’s where the rat found itself, not that it was complaining; it knew it would never die in the way others of its kind did after just a few years. It had learnt too to enjoy and even revel in the endless torment it could inflict on both the ghostly and the living alike. And so it went on down the centuries. It dismayed the other spectres of the manor the number of living the ghostly rat had driven from what could have been a lovely stately home for all of them, enjoying peaceful co-existence. They hoped it might be different this time, that the rat had wearied of its spiteful nature and would allow the humans to live in peace with it.
The rat had also watched the new arrivals with interest. It was especially pleased to see they had a cat. If there was one thing the rat hated more than any other, alive or dead, it was cats. It remembered several past experiences from when it was alive. The rat shuddered at how they had toyed with it in their playful ‘cat and mouse’ games, almost killing it several times with their fur and skin ripping claws when cornered.
Jack and Sarah, the young couple who had bought and renovated the manor had brought Jack’s mother to live them. She was a sweet old lady and would make a fantastic babysitter for the child they were expecting. She was also devoted to looking after the family cat, Molly. The two were inseparable …
“That’s right, Molly, you come and sit on mummy’s lap,” the old lady urged the ageing cat. Molly purred and nestled into her usual comfy position. Her mistress gently rocked in her chair, stroking the generous amount of fur the cat still possessed despite its frequent moulting in its twilight years.
Seeing the lavish care and love the human was doting on the mangy looking flea ridden cat was all the more reason to hate it, the rat decided. And the old human too. It was going to take great pleasure in tormenting them both, knowing it was safe from the earthly harm it had once been vulnerable to from such wretched creatures. And then it would turn its attention to the other two humans.
Molly was busy amusing herself chasing the many little mice and even some of the rats that made a home of the old disused cellar areas of the manor. She was of little danger to them now she was no longer as agile as she once was, Still, it was in her nature to play the part of the hunter even if all her food did come from the very best suppliers before being lovingly prepared by her mistress. It was during this latest ‘cat and mouse’ game the ghostly rat made its first appearance. It had shrieked its unearthly hiss in Molly’s ear just before appearing to leap across her path. Molly had been startled by it and instinctively swiped her paw at the apparition. She was delighted to see she had caught it full on only to be instantly disappointed to see the rat vanish. Time and time again the ghostly rat would appear and disappear into thin air, leaving the sound of its high-pitched shrieks ringing in her ears. Molly was getting on and the rat was easily nimble enough to avoid her but seemed to delight in showing off just how invulnerable it was to Molly’s attacks. It was a constant annoyance that its body was impervious to her swiping paws. There were times when she could hardly contain her frustration, seeing her claws harmlessly pass through the rat’s spectral form. It was like the rat was playing its own rat and cat game with her instead of the other way around.
The rat decided it had had enough of tormenting Molly directly, knowing it would distress the creature even more by tormenting her mistress instead. Night after night the rat would hover above the old lady’s face, knowing that its fang-like teeth would be the first thing she saw when waking up. It had only taken a few such sightings to reduce her to a nervous wreck.
Not wanting to worry her son and daughter-in-law, especially not in her ‘condition,’ the old lady hadn’t told them about the waking nightmares she was having. Molly knew of course; she had seen the rat hovering above her beloved mistress, powerless to help or protect the old lady. The ageing cat was slowly growing to hate that spiteful vicious little rat; normally she would only tease and play with such little creatures but this one, she would have gladly torn it to shreds if only her claws had something solid they could tear into.
A month had gone by and the old lady had resorted to taking tranquillisers and medication to sleep as often as she could, anything to shield her from the rat’s appearances. The rat was patient though. It would watch for hours at a time, waiting for the exact moment the sleeping pills wore off, hoping to catch the old lady whilst in that dreamy state between slumber and consciousness.
It was all too much for her, and so she died. A sudden and massive heart attack had sent the old lady ‘to her final peace’ as the doctor had put it, trying to cushion the blow to Jack and Sarah, the young new owners of the manor, still blissfully unaware of its other residents.
It was heart-breaking for them that she hadn’t lived just a little longer. They knew just how much she had wanted to hold her first grandchild, but it wasn’t to be … and nor was there to be any ‘final peace’ if the rat had its way …
Molly was desolate at the loss of her mistress, rarely moving from beside the bed in which she had slept. So depressed was Molly, she was even indifferent to the rat resuming its tormenting appearances, much to the other creature’s annoyance.
Jack and Sarah tried to the care for the old cat the best they could, knowing that Molly was too old to survive long if she didn’t eat or drink something. Three days later, Molly died too. The vet assured Jack and Sarah that there was nothing more they could have done for Molly, how it was not uncommon for a pet to die soon after the passing of a beloved owner.
The ghostly rat was pleased to have dispatched the two of them so soon following their arrival at the manor. It was even more pleased to sense the old lady’s returning as the newest spectral resident of the manor. She wasn’t there yet but was getting closer, slowly drifting her way to the other side of life’s curtain; it would then have all eternity to plague her for long as it amused the human-hating little rat.
Night-time was descending and the manor house rat was looking forward to again tormenting the now dead cat loving human the closer she got to their spectral realm. The rat knew she would be at her most vulnerable when she arrived, confused and afraid while coming to terms with her new state of existence.
The old lady crossed that curtain, first to the room in which she had died, and in which she had last held her beloved Molly. The rat lay in wait, ready to pounce once again – it wasn’t just the living that could be terrified by such appearances.
The old lady started to appear, gently swaying in her rocking chair. The rat was confused at how serene she appeared, like she was content – it was not the fearful and unhappy state in which most humans crossed over, the rat observed. No matter though, the rat decided as it prepared to make its presence known again, readying itself to leap out at her.
The rat never made that leap. It was Molly instead who leapt from the old lady’s lap. Molly too had crossed over with her beloved owner, and now with all the speed and vitality of her youth. That was why the old lady hadn’t looked afraid or confused as the rat had expected. She had her beloved Molly back. And this time, the cat was able to protect her mistress. This time her retracted spectral claws were able to rip through the rat’s body, splattering the floors and walls with the ectoplasm equivalent of the rat’s blood. It couldn’t kill the rat of course, it was already dead, they both were. But this inability to die was something the vicious little rat would regret for as long as Molly chose to hunt and torment it. Molly remembered the rat’s spiteful nature while she was alive. It was the rat that had frightened her mistress to death
In life, Molly’s greatest joy, apart from basking in human attention, had been the playful and gentle teasing of tiny animals, particularly rodents of any kind. She was looking forward to enjoying that pleasure once more. But it wouldn’t be the gentle playful teasing of before, not with the ghostly one that had plagued them both in their final days … she had all eternity to truly hunt and inflict her vengeance on her mistress’s ghostly terror.
Jack and Sarah were to live long and happy lives in the manor. The ‘other’ residents too were at last free of the rat’s torments. It hadn’t gone though; it was as much trapped in the manor as they all were, but it was far too busy trying to elude and escape Molly’s nightly hunting of it to give any thought to being the spectral pest it once was.
Anne Francis Scott is a Readers’ Favorite award finalist author in paranormal fiction. She has a fascination for haunted houses, ancient cemeteries, and ghostly mysteries with a twist–passions that fuel her writing, giving her the chance to take readers to an otherworldly place and leave them there for a while. She hopes that journey is a good one…
To read more about why Anne travels down the haunted trail, see link below:
At the bottom of that page, you’ll find the recording of her interview with Real Paranormal Activity – The Podcast, where she talks (okay, maybe rambles a little) about some of her personal paranormal experiences.
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Lost Girl captures perfectly the sense of eeriness of a big old and deserted house stuck out in the backwoods of nowhere. The central character, Alison, has had a troubled past and is still fragile from personal loss and recent events, and has moved there from the city for a fresh start and to find solitude and peace and quiet for her work as a sculptor.
I’m not totally swayed by notions of the paranormal and was therefore glad not to have had to suspend my disbelief right from the offset. The story starts off quite sedately, giving the reader some insights into Alison’s character and situation. From then on though, the author slowly builds the tension and sense of unease with lots of little-unexplained things, some of which she tries to write off as her imagination. There are too many pieces to the puzzle for it all to be coincidence though and she soon suspects there’s a lot of history in her new house, much of it connected directly to her, but how or why is a mystery.
I also enjoyed that the paranormal aspects of the story were intertwined with living people and more earthly bound motives, events, and mystery, which for me, made this chilling story all the more credible, allowing me to put aside any initial scepticism I have about the paranormal. Although there was an element of horror too, it wasn’t overdone; the strength and quality of Lost Girl come more from the sense of atmosphere and genuine fear it creates as the story progresses rather than adding unnecessary blood and gore, though what there was of that blended seamlessly into the overall story. Writing-wise, there was good dialogue and characterisation throughout but without padding out the peripheral characters, all of which played their part in adding to the overall picture.
Lost Girl is an excellent stand-alone story but clearly leaves enough doubt and speculation at the end to provide a solid foundation for book two in what will eventually be a trilogy. Book Two has now been added to my reading list, and if its anywhere near as good as the first, then I’ll definitely be adding book three when it comes out.
See HERE for Anne Francis Amazon author page
Gordon Bickerstaff was born and raised in Glasgow, spending his student years in Edinburgh. On summer vacations, he learned plumbing, garden maintenance, and cut the grass in the Meadows.
*If he ran the lawnmower over your toes, he says … “sorry.”
He learned some biochemistry and taught it for a while before retiring to write fiction. He lives with his wife in Scotland, where in his own words … “corrupt academics, mystery, murder and intrigue exists mostly in my mind.”
Gordon Bickerstaff writes the Gavin Shawlens series of thrillers: Deadly Secrets, Everything To Lose, The Black Fox, Toxic Minds and Tabula Rasa. They feature special investigators Zoe and Gavin. More will come in due course.
In addition to the above, Gordon is a valued member and contributor to the IASD writing group and an avid supporter of other authors.
Gordon’s social media:
Deadly Secrets is the first in an ongoing book series numbering five to date. It’s a fast-paced thriller that blends lots of blood and gory violence with an intriguing story. It kicks off with the central character, Gavin Shawlens, being called to the suspicious death of a dog being housed at some kennels. The case is a mystery to him, and the story quickly takes a different direction before he makes the connection
I won’t give any of the plot away but will say it has all the elements that, say, a Michael Crichton fan would expect in a book: a secret government investigatory organisation, the accidental discovery of a ‘flawed’ process for a revolutionary new food ingredient, various international parties willing to stop at nothing to get their hands on, and political and corporate intrigue. Alongside the main story, there’s also some gruesome nasty side-lines of a corporate mogul’s business that could almost warrant a whole new book in their own right. There’s a fair sprinkling of science and biochemistry littered throughout to give the main story credibility, but not so much as to leave the average reader overwhelmed or baffled by it all, with lots of easy to read analogies to clarify things.
It was good to have a central character/hero type character that wasn’t the stereotypical action man, but one with all the more usual frailties and fears that most of us might feel in the same situation. There were lots of unexpected twists and turns in the characters’ personal lives that fitted the story perfectly but all totally believable.
The ending is clearly designed to intrigue the reader as to future stories, leaving hints of unfinished business which I’ll be reading up on in the near future. Great book!
See here for Gordon Bickerstaff’s Amazon author page and other books …
Story no: 87 – First draft of another of my little under 1000 words flash fiction tasters – Just one from one of my upcoming short story collections …
Never-ending turn-off …
It had been a long drive and Mason Garvey was tired. The rain and poor visibility had meant he had had to concentrate harder on the road than that for his more usual leisurely driving trips, adding even more to the fatigue he was feeling. He really should have stopped and parked in a lay-by or one of the motorway services. Instead, he thought it better to simply increase his speed and carry on driving through the night; the thought of splashing out on some dingy hotel room or spending an uncomfortable night in his truck in a lay-by didn’t appeal as much as his own nice warm comfy bed. He was especially anxious to get home too for some much-needed sleep. He wanted to enjoy the celebrations on the eve of the end of the millennium the following day.
Just another two hours and he would be home if he didn’t drop below 70 mph. That might have been okay if he was still on the motorway but he wasn’t. He was on a country road with lots of twists and turns and overhanging foliage. The rain was coming down harder, and there was only the glare of his headlights to see by.
The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing. We can learn so much from it, much like experience. Sadly, it wasn’t much use to Mason Garvey or going to change what had happened.
It was just a fraction of second between taking the corner too fast and ploughing into the motor-cyclist whose body and bike were now lying sprawled some twenty feet away from his 4 tonne Bedford lorry. Mason reached for his phone, ready to dial 999 … and then he stopped himself … he needed to think, clear his head.
He’d been driving too fast. He’d been drinking. The motorcyclist had had right of way. Did he really want to risk a lengthy prison sentence? And for what? For hitting someone he didn’t know during a momentary lapse of concentration, someone stupid enough to be riding a motorbike on the road at night and in the rain? Already Mason was rationalising a decision that suited him best.
He looked around his truck for signs of damage. It was pretty old, already sporting its fair share of bumps and scrapes, ideal camouflage for a few additional bumps and scratches to the paintwork the accident might have caused. He looked too at his road atlas; he was no longer bothered about getting home in any reasonable time, just getting there via a route that avoided for as long as possible any likely CCTV or other monitoring equipment. There appeared to be a turn-off a few miles ahead. He got back in his truck to continue his journey, not even bothering to check on the motorcyclist to see if he might still be alive?
The accident seemed to have given him a second wind fatigue wise. A few minutes later he spotted the turn-off. He’d reached it quicker than expected but didn’t give it much thought. The turn-off looked more like a dis-used track than the ‘B’ road indicated on the map. He wasn’t complaining – it would lessen even more the likelihood of anyone spotting and remembering his truck. He continued down the old road. It was a real test of his driving skills, navigating the meandering stony and uneven single track. The trees and foliage appeared to close in on him the further he went, though never quite enough to halt his progress.
It was over an hour before the road appeared to widen again. He’d feared that he had got himself lost, already sure this wasn’t the ‘B’ road he had meant to take. Seeing the turn-off coming to an end, he increased his speed, anxious to leave the somewhat eerie road he was on …
It was just a fraction of second between taking the corner too fast and ploughing into the motor-cyclist whose body and bike were now lying sprawled some twenty feet away from his 4 tonne Bedford lorry. Mason reached for his phone, ready to dial 999 … and then he stopped himself … he needed to think, clear his head.
Mason Garvey got out of his truck, already regretful of trying to get home in such a hurry. He wished too he hadn’t stayed on for those last few drinks with his mates. There was something familiar about the scene but he was still dazed by the shock of what had happened and put it from his mind. But whatever his state of shock, he had enough of his wits about to know there was no way he going to do a lengthy stretch in prison for some bozo he didn’t know.
He was in luck. According to his map, there was a turn-off just a few miles away that would take him most of the way home without re-joining the motorway. He reached it quicker than he thought … it was an eerie looking road. Mason wondered if it was the same one on the map? He didn’t care. It was leading away from the dead motorcyclist, and that was all he cared about.
The Rhondda Gazette
‘… A motorcyclist was killed in a hit and run collision late last night or possibly the early hours of the morning. The man believed to be the other driver was found unconscious a few miles away having driven his lorry into a tree along a dis-used farm track, presumably in an attempt to avoid discovery and prosecution. Forensics confirmed the unconscious man’s lorry to be the vehicle to have hit and killed the motorcyclist …’
Mason Garvey remains in a coma to this day. He remains trapped in his own mind and body, perpetually reliving the events of that rainy night, each time remembering and interpreting them a little differently … all except the ending, that remains the same. That remains his punishment.
Having already read and reviewed Darkly Wood by Max Power (my favourite book back of 2014), along with several other of this author’s books, I was delighted to see that he had written a sequel, Darkly Wood II.
As well as being an author, Max Power is a prolific book reviewer/blogger, and a valued contributor to the Indie Author Support and Discussion Fb group. Further information on Max Power and his writing can be found at the following social media below and via other links at the end of this blog post … and speaking of blog sites, when you’ve finished all the author’s novels, and are eagerly awaiting the next (I’ve still one more book to go), his blog site provides an equally entertaining collection of his other writings to fill the gap.
On YouTube – Max Power
On Fb – @maxpowerbooks
On Twitter – @maxpowerbooks1
Darkly Wood II – Available in both eBook & print editions …
This chilling sequel to Darkly Wood brings us back to the mysterious wood perched above the sleepy village of Cranby. The mystery returns with love and terror walking hand and hand through the seemingly innocent paths of the place that has generated many fearful tales. This time however, there is an even more sinister presence. Much time has passed since Daisy escaped the terror of the wood and on the surface little has changed. But behind the tree line, a new danger lurks. Fans of the original will be taken to darker depths and first-time readers will discover the true art of storytelling from the mind of the award-winning author Max Power. Heart-stopping, fast paced, unrelenting danger lies waiting for you between the pages. Sometimes love is all you have. Sometimes, love is not enough. Darkness is coming …
The woman who never wore shoes
By Max Power
Having read and enjoyed the author’s first book in this series I was looking forward to reading the sequel. I must confess I had some doubts that it simply wouldn’t have the same impact second time around given that some of the mystery of Darkly Wood would already have been revealed to readers of the first book.
I’m happy to say that Darkly Wood II is every bit as creepy and mysterious, and even better than Book One; Max Power doesn’t just write stories, he literally sculptures every word and sentence with the consummate skill of a Michael Angelo, bringing to life the image in the reader’s mind like the subtle brush strokes of the classical artist adding that indefinable something extra that creates a masterpiece.
Like its prequel, Darkly Wood II embodies many different themes i.e. bloody and horrific murder, tragic romance, unrequited love, mysterious disappearances, the paranormal, and a host of others. Likewise, the format is similar to the first book in that it reads much like a book of short stories, all tied together by the central theme of the mysterious Darkly Wood. This time, however, there is more of a central character and story in the form of the ‘evil personified’ Wormhole, a man (or monster?) every bit as mysterious as Darkly Wood itself, anchoring everything together in a more coherent manner.
Readers of the first book will immediately see that that events have in their way come full circle, with two new generations of characters following on from Book One. Holly Coppertop, the granddaughter of Daisy May from the first book, having read the mysterious Tales of Darkly Wood finds herself similarly trapped and imperilled by it. Can Daisy May draw on her own experience and nightmares of that place to save her granddaughter and her daughter, Rose? And will she have to sacrifice herself to do so? But apart from this one nod to a chronological timeline, Darkly Wood, its characters and their stories, all appear to exist in their own particular corner of time and space, detached from the real world.
The many twists and turns here are only matched by the equally rich array of fascinating characters. Who could not be intrigued to know the background and stories of the other equally enigmatically named cast? Charlie Callous Colson, Blenerhorn Mastiff Wormhole, Matthew Squelby, and Cathecus Flincher are but a few of the new characters to wet the appetite. And lastly, there’s Darkly Wood’s strange metamorphosis of two of them into the ‘beast boy’ Woody twins?
Whilst this book is hardly lacking in blood and gore, its strength, readability, and sheer enjoyment stem from the author’s unrivalled ability to weave a complex array of gruesome and creepy tales and folklore into something far greater than the sum of its parts – it’s like the stories of Hansel and Gretel have been given an Edgar Allan Poe make-over to form one super sublime myriad of horror.
A must-read for any fan of the classical and psychological horror genres. Can’t wait to for book three in this captivating series!
See also my review below for the first book in the Darkly Wood series …
By Max Power
This is a book that embodies horror, romance, and the paranormal in a way I’ve rarely seen. With a good opening narrative, right from the start the author conjures up an atmospheric sense of creepiness and the macabre reminiscent of a latter-day Edgar Allan Poe or Dennis Wheatley, so much so that one can almost imagine Christopher Lee or Vincent Price playing the part of one of the characters, particularly that of Lord Terrence Darkly.
Initially we learn of the mystery and horror of Darkly Wood by way of the central character, Daisy May Coppertop, reading through a copy of a book of tales about Darkly Wood – a book within a book so to speak but at that point that’s all they are, just stories, but certainly nothing to be alarmed about, at least not yet.
What starts off as Daisy and Benjamin, intrigued by the apparent sight of a strange looking boy in the distance, taking a seemingly innocent and pleasant walk along the edge of a nearby woodland soon turns into a dark and fear filled battle not just to escape its clutches but simply to survive. Faced with ever-increasing danger and a sense of time running out for them, the bond between Daisy, and Benjamin, her new found friend from the local village, grows into something much more than simple friendship or first love.
The writing technique is both clever and imaginative, using descriptive narrative to set the tone and atmosphere early on, using the opportunity to inform the reader of many nuggets of information that come into play later in the book, gradually introducing just the right balance of dialogue and action. The numerous but short chapters make for a very readable style of writing, and by way of the different tales of the book within the book, the author keeps the story alive and fresh throughout. In books such as this the author often requires the reader’s implicit consent to suspend their disbelief, but here the reader is left in no doubt whatsoever as to the mystery and horror of the wood; in one of the chapters the author cleverly demonstrates the ‘other worldliness’ of the wood when in one particular tale, someone trying to find their way out of the wood tries using their field craft skills to escape only to find all the laws of nature and physics don’t seem to apply in the heart of Darkly Wood. As the story progresses the seemingly unrelated tales of the wood draw closer to form an intricate pattern; surprises and shocks keep the reader entranced, drawing you in just as Daisy and Benjamin are drawn further and further into Darkly Wood. Filled with twists and turns and new revelations at every juncture, an amazing and diverse array of characters, and a conclusion as eerie and unexpected as anyone could imagine, this is definitely one of my favourite reads of 2014.
Please visit Max Power’s Amazon Author page for more info about all the author’s work …
Max Power on the IASD … click pic below for link …
Mark Heathcote is an American veteran of the North Korean war, having served just short of 400 patrols of the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea, a sort of no-mans land much like the bandit country of Northern Ireland during ‘The Troubles.’
I discovered these two books quite by chance from a comment on one of my previous review blogs. From what I understand, the author is working on a third book, a spin-off From Defcon 4, and there is a possible documentary being discussed based on Call Sign: Purple Three, both of which I’m looking forward to …
Although these two books were written several years ago, the current situation with North Korea and its leadership ensures the subject matter of both books remains topical; whilst there have been steps of late to bring a lasting peace to the area, given the bravado and king-sized egos of the two ‘leaders’ in question, as well as the possible consequences should hostilities escalate there, this still remains a dangerous and volatile part of the world.
See also: Twitter: Mark Heathco @dmzpatrolleader
Defcon 4 Korea:
Land of the Morning Calm
More a novella than a novel, this is a short but enjoyable read that packs in a lot of content. Set during the mid 80’s this was very much the cold war of North-East Asia during the very real tensions that existed between the American backed South Korea and the Chinese backed forces of the North, and given the current state of affairs between the USA and that part of the world, a story that indeed echoes the continuation of that conflict.
The heart of the story centres around the activities of an American front-line infantry unit along the North-South Korean border and their frequent encounters with their North Korean counterparts. Inter-spaced with these firefights we witness the saving of some North Korean refugees fleeing to safety, and through their rescue learn more of the seedier side of such conflicts, the human trafficking, the spying and ruthless exploitation of the most vulnerable; related to this we also hear a little about secretly dug tunnels along the border in aid of such activities, drawing parallels with the more widely known Vietnam conflict.
The author has clearly blended fact and fiction based on his own experience and service during the time; not having served in the American military or in that part of the world myself I can’t really vouch for the authenticity of the events or the ground fighting descriptions but from a purely reader’s perspective they were fast paced, well written and entertaining, and the author’s decision to write in the first person gave the writing an added pace and intimacy. There’s a lot of American military terminology and abbreviations just as there is with any military force whatever the country but the author does, for the most part, make clear their meaning, and in those instances where he doesn’t the context in which it/they are used makes it easy enough to guess without having to resort to the glossary at the end.
As a British veteran, I can appreciate the author’s view of this being a ‘forgotten war’ in much the same way many British veterans who served tours in Northern Ireland resent their service being largely forgotten, overshadowed as it were by more recent conflicts.
If I had but one gripe I would suggest the author should either make the eBook version freely available via Amazon KU or reduce the price somewhat given that it’s currently almost the same price as that of the paperback version (which is also only available via third-party sellers on Amazon which might be a bit off-putting for some people).
Overall, an enjoyable little read that should appeal to fans of military-themed action/conflict stories, and I’m looking forward to reading the author’s other, book Call Sign: Purple Three.
Call Sign: Purple Three
Patrolling the US Sector of the Korean DMZ
As I said in my review of the author’s previous book, Defcon 4, the Korean war and the Cold War type conflict along the Demilitarised Zone, or DMZ, between the North and South is a largely forgotten one, and little known or understood by most of the world. In this respect, it is much like the conflict between the British Army and the IRA terrorists during ‘The Troubles’ at the same time.
Just as Russian tanks and personnel vastly out-numbered their NATO counterparts in Germany and the rest of Western Europe during the Cold War, North Korean forces also out-numbered the American and South Korean forces in the ration of 12 to 1, making for a frightening prospect should they decide to invade, a very real possibility at the time. As well as the military situation on the ground, the author also highlights the psychological and propaganda aspect of the war, mentioning the regular blasting of North Korean music along the border for the American patrols to hear. Not only did they face the threat of full-scale invasion on a day to day basis, but had to be constantly alert to infiltration and tunnelling from the North to the South. Despite the cessation of open hostility, lives were lost on a regular basis, and those on patrol were most at risk, both from the North Koreans and hidden mines.
This is a book written very much with the military or veteran reader in mind. The author has spared no effort in his attention to technical and operational detail. I’m also pleased to say, included are dozens of photographs that supplement the vivid picture the author has created, detailing what it was like for the infantry patrols of the time, in this case, the mid-80s. Although heavy on description and minute detail, it is written in the first-person and is interspaced with lots of excellent dialogue between Sgt. Heathco (the author) and other military personnel he served with. This gives much of the book an easy to read conversational style, providing context to much of the military description. As you would expect, some of this dialogue might appear raw to the point of crudity for anyone who hasn’t served, like when Sgt. Heathco is explaining the toilet arrangments for some men on their first patrol. Through this and some of the regular conversation, the author brings emphasis to the human and personal side of the conflict rather than just an ‘account’ of it.
Although a well deserved 5 stars, for the benefit of the civilian reader, or indeed non-American military, I would have preferred a glossary of American military acronyms and terminology at the beginning rather than the end of the book. I would also have prefered the excellent photographs to have been evenly spread throughout rather than all being placed roughly in the middle. But these really are minor considerations. Overall this is an exceptionally well-written book with an authenticity that could only come from someone who has lived every moment of what they’re writing – a poignant and fascinating insight into just what it meant to be on a real patrol along and in the DMZ.
*Further to when I read the first of Mark Heathco’s books, both the eBook and paperback versions are now available directly via Amazon.
Glenn McGoldrick is another author I discovered via twitter when he posted a link to one of his free short stories, Breaking Spirits. Never one to pass up an opportunity to discover another short story writer, and for free, I downloaded said story. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed it, I saw he had two more free shorts on offer. They too proved equally enjoyable – I shall definitely be purchasing and reviewing his other stories in the near future …
Glenn McGoldrick is from the North East of England, and where he still calls home. English was his favourite lesson during his school days and always enjoyed writing stories.
Then he grew up (kind of) and worked in Casinos for twenty years, spending fifteen of those years travelling on cruise ships and got to see plenty of great places!
He has been writing dark short stories for five years and has a number of books on Amazon.
He is an avid reader, particularly enjoying James Lee Burke, Robert B Parker and Lawrence Block. When not busy writing, he enjoys music, movies, beach walks and beer.
The following three stories are all FREE to download on Amazon!!!
A Dark Teeside short story
Despite its short length, a hell of a lot happens in this story. The author doesn’t waste time with flowery description or unnecessary scene setting, every sentence and indeed every word is used to maximum effect to drive the story forward to its perfect ending. It’s a simple story and it’s easy to see the general direction it’s going quite early on but that doesn’t diminish its impact one iota as you get the feeling the author wants you to see the whole picture right from the start.
An absolutely super little story. With such a short story it’s difficult to say much without spoiling it but suffice to say, within the space of just 13 pages there’s murder, revenge, karma and even an add sort of feel-good factor to it. Will definitely be checking out more of this author’s work!
A Dark Teeside short story
As in the last story I read by this author, the scene-setting and characterisation are among the best I’ve read; Glenn McGoldrick uses every word to perfection, placing the reader firmly at the centre of events. Once again, its impossible to say too much here without giving too much away, other than how thoroughly enjoyable it was. Despite reading a lot of short ‘twist in the tale’ type stories, I must admit I couldn’t really guess where this one was going, and even at its conclusion, the ending is incredibly subtle.
In the story, we see a snapshot of the life of a somewhat unlikeable, rather pathetic young man – a man making no effort to get a job, a failed relationship behind him with hints of something more sinister than the usual reasons for break-ups, and a thief to boot. As I’ve said, the ending is very subtle, not the usual ‘wow, I didn’t see that coming’ sort I’ve come to expect, and yet, it made me think about the different directions this story could take were it to continue … another fine and intriguing effort.
A Dark Teeside short story
Another super short but captivating little tale. The author’s clever use of imagery i.e. the ‘three dead flies’ for the missing years, was a touch of genius, bringing home the cold reality of the unfolding story. The thoughts and reflections of the past, memories captured in old photos, and a host of other nice little touches make you believe in the characters. Unlike the author’s other stories I’ve read to date, there’s no what I would call a ‘twist in the tale’ here. If anything, the ending what could be read as the start of a new chapter or a glimmer of hope at the end of a sad tale? Almost like leaving a longer story hanging in mid-air, again leaving it to the reader’s imagination as to how it might progress … So pleased I’ve discovered this series of super stories!
See here for Glenn McGoldrick’s Amazon Author page for all his other collected works
Sharon Brownlie was born in Malta in 1962. Her parents were in the Armed Forces and she spent her childhood travelling all around the world. As a mature student, she graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a Master of Arts Hons degree in History and a PGCE. Sharon spent some years working in Adult Education. Sharon Brownlie is also another valued member and prolific contributor to the wider Indie Author community, and I’m proud to say, an equally valued member of my own IASD writing group.
In addition to her writing, Sharon Brownlie is a talented and successful print and eBook cover designer, as well as offering a number of other related highly competitive author services, including formatting, proof-reading, and copy editing.
Amazon description – Betrayal (Book1)
What makes a woman kill? An upbringing marred by rejection and hurt when you are let down by the ones you love and a society that is supposed to protect you? As a teenager, that rejection lures Helen King into the world of drugs and prostitution.
Now, as an adult, Helen is spiralling out of control. Old wounds are surfacing; can she face her demons without the drugs? Will revenge help release her from her past? Beating her addiction is her only chance at a new life. But, an encounter with a former school teacher opens up old wounds that had been festering deep within her. While quitting drugs, another craving takes its place. A desire for revenge: payback for those who’d betrayed her.
Plagued with bitterness, Helen heads to Edinburgh to begin her killing spree.
Police are mystified when her first victim is found. A second death convinces them it’s the same killer. Can they connect Helen to the crimes? How many more will die before she is stopped?
What an awesome book! As a fan of police procedural and murder stories, I can honestly say this is one of the best I’ve read in the genre in a very long time. While some books try to intrigue and tease the reader into reading beyond that all-important first chapter, Sharon Brownlie grabs you by the throat from the very first line, commanding your attention to the last.
The writing was crisp and sharp, always propelling the story forward or helping set the scene in the reader’s mind. I liked too that there were strong female characters on both sides of the law, which gave the story an additionally interesting slant. The portrayal of the seedy underbelly of Edinburgh, namely the drugs and prostitution, and the equally seedy characters that inhabit such a world was utterly convincing.
This is a story of bloody revenge taken to the nth degree. The main character, Helen King, is as loathsome, ruthless, and manipulative an individual as you would never want to meet outside the pages of a book, and yet her background and motivation allow the reader to, if not condone, at least understand and sympathise with her, even more so when she finally shows a few glimmers of humanity. Likewise, with the other characters – the author doesn’t strive to make the reader actually like or empathise with them, concentrating instead on portraying them as realistically as possible within a totally engaging story. A couple of traumatic incidents and a chance meeting of sorts are the catalyst for Helen’s transformation from an abused and cruelly exploited young girl and woman into a ruthless killer. Driven by her vivid dreams of revenge on those people she perceives as having let her down when she was a child, she’s consumed by a need to make them pay for their ‘betrayal’ of her. The author doesn’t exaggerate the violence in the book i.e. it’s not as graphic or detailed as you might expect given the theme of the book, but yet the author still manages to conjure a clear image of it in the reader’s imagination. The investigations into her activities are authentic and well constructed but without bogging the reader down with every precise detail or overuse of police terminology. As you would expect, there are several police officers involved in the investigation, though of course, the story focuses on those leading it, and the author brings them to life with little snippets of background information and all the varied character traits you would encounter in the real world. In addition to the story being told, these characters could easily warrant further crime thrillers in their own right.
It’s impossible for me to overpraise this book; anyone who’s ever read and enjoyed Lynda La Plante’s ‘Prime Suspect’ series (or seen the tv adaptation) will be in for a real treat with this one. My favourite crime book this year.
Amazon description – The Consequences (Book2)
A year has passed since the arrest of serial killer, Helen King. She has languished in jail awaiting her fate. Her wait is over and her day of reckoning has arrived. It is time for her to face the consequences of her crimes.
Will Helen go quietly? Has she laid her ghosts to rest?
The Consequences (Book2)
The second of this two-part series is really more a short novella than a full-length novel, but every word of it helps bring closure to the first part. In this second part, The Consequences, we learn more of the detail of Helen’s tragic young life in her own heartfelt words, and through that, the reader is finally able to empathise more with Helen, and this time truly understand her compulsion to exact revenge on all those who had failed in their duty of care towards her at an age when she needed it most. We also see a softer, more human side emerging in DS Brennan and DI Ellington, two of the female detectives responsible for bringing her to justice. Although a relatively short read, it was for me, the perfect length epilogue – any longer and it would have come across as needless ‘padding.’ I sincerely hope for more of the same from this splendidly talented author.
Click Here for Sharon Brownlie’s Amazon author page:
Damascus Redemption is Welsh author Richard Pendry’s debut novel, though he has previously written and published an excellent short story, The Last Patrol, in aid of the Semper Fi Fund U.S. military charity. I discovered this author quite by chance via Twitter.
Richard is an ex-member of the Parachute Regiment who became involved in the secretive world of the private security industry in post-Gulf War II, Iraq. Since then, he has worked in Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and many other hostile environments, continually at the tip of the spear as the intelligence services fight the Global War on Terror. In addition to his past and post-military careers, Richard C. Pendry is forging a new additional career in writing.
(462 print pages) – Mason has lost his family, his friends and his reputation, but can he find his redemption? Unable to cope with the loss of his family, Mason turns his back on his life in the SAS. Years later, he is enticed into the cut-throat security industry in Iraq by an old comrade. He soon finds himself under fire. His team is attacked – most are killed and two are taken hostage. Mason takes the fall.
In this Middle East based military action thriller, Richard Pendry has created an array of characters that really does include the good, the bad, and the ugly, along with a rich and colourful mix in between. Behind the macho image of ex SAS and another assorted military, the author portrays each with all the faults and traits of people who have lived real lives, haunted by their various pasts.
Likewise with the non-military characters, each tells his own tale, contributing to the overall story rather than simply filling a role essential to some plot. Central to them all though is Mason, an ex SAS man who resigned from the job and life he loved following the tragic death of his wife and daughter. But life goes on, bills need to be paid, and so he’s eventually tempted by a lucrative security training job in the Middle East. Needless to say, events don’t follow the neat path they’re meant to, and in an effort to prevent the deaths of the men he was meant to train, instead, he leads them in what is practically a hastily and an ill-conceived suicide mission.
Amid the drama and military and political tensions following the Gulf Wars and the efforts of the oil companies and the security companies they employ to restore Iraqi oil production, intertwined is a completely different story being told; an eminent historian’s quest to solve a centuries-old historical and religious secret reaching back to the time of the Crusades and even far beyond helps bring to life the ancient and bloody history of the cradle of civilisation and Christianity, along with treating the reader to a tale worthy and reminiscent of a Dan Brown novel.
Just as it did in his previous story, Richard Pendry’s own military background and first-hand experience of the Middle East shines through in his writing; experiences aside though, once again the author also demonstrates a real talent for crafting an imaginative and well-told multi-stranded story, along with meticulous research and attention to detail.
For those who are already fans of the military genre or may have served in the armed forces, this is a highly enjoyable and captivating read, and I would say an intelligently written one too. For others who may be reading a military adventure thriller for the first time, I would be hard-pressed to think of a better introduction to the genre.
Not only is the military action authentic and exciting, the author creates a genuine sense of place and atmosphere from beginning to end. Unlike many other writers in this genre, the author here writes equally well and authentically when portraying Arabic and non-military characters, real people the reader can easily identify with. In any such book as this, there will always be some degree of military terminology, but the author skillfully allows the context and wider story to make their meanings obvious. There are a few occasions when some of the ‘army speak’ isn’t immediately apparent to the non-military reader, but this in no way detracts from the overall enjoyment of the story any more than perhaps any of us might not recall the exact meaning of a particular word when reading – a more than acceptable trade-off against lots of contrived and unnatural explanatory prose in my opinion.
If you’ve ever read and enjoyed, say, a Chris Ryan, Andy McNab novel, or even the likes of Dan Brown, I can highly recommend Richard Pendry as a welcome addition to those lofty ranks. Overall, a fantastic story from beginning to end, with an absolute cracker of a conclusion. An easy and well-deserved five stars!
Click Here for Amazon Link to Damascus Redemption
See Here for Richard C. Pendry’s Amazon Author page: