Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Last Days

by Adam Nevill


There's an awful lot of horror about in which the authors' main aim isn't to scare the wits out of readers and keep them scared until the very end. Adam Nevill's Last Days is one of the other kind, the sort that may actually induce nightmares in jaded horror fans.

Kyle Freeman is a hard-up film-maker who gets offered an expenses paid opportunity to make a documentary about a 70s cult. He jumps at the chance to clear his debts and make his name, and he sees a lot of potential in the story of The Temple of the Last Days. The group began with high ideals and lots of hippy rituals, but ended in betrayal and blood in Arizona several years later. At first it seems like a tragic case of manipulation and abuse orchestrated by the group's egotistical and hypocritical leader, Katherine. But as Kyle and his friend Dan start filming and doing interviews they become aware of presences. But malevolent presences also became aware of Kyle, and they are particularly active in the dark, leaving smells of corruption and strange stains on the walls. Initially Kyle is excited by the authenticity of the story, but what he uncovers is increasingly disturbing, until he questions whether he dares to finish the film at all.

Last Days builds up tension inexorably. It helps that the subject of Kyle's documentary is horrific in a purely human way, because it's a criminal cult which engages in mind games and the mistreatment of its members. This echoes a few genuine cults (not to mention the behaviour of certain dictatorships), so it's hard not to feel a powerful sense of revulsion. The occult goings-on intensify the horror, but the stage is already well and truly set. This is an effectively scary novel. The only thing missing is a few light moments to put us off our guard, like the scene in Alien when we think there's an alien lurking, but it turns out to be a cat. Instead of a rise and fall of tension, Adam Nevill is content to have it keep rising without any let-up. Sometimes it's uncomfortable to keep reading, but there's no doubt this works as horror.

I was less sure about the main characters. Kyle and Dan are cipherish, everyday blokes who come across as a bit wet. Their interviewees are mostly older victims and other people who had contact with the cult, and these are often larger-than-life characters. There's a tendency towards the stereotypical, such as when we meet Jed, the mean special forces guy they team up with later on. One of the most interesting characters is Max, who knows more than he lets on. He's an enigma, and we don't know until the end how much or little of a villain he is.

The main likeable aspect about Kyle is his guilt over getting his friend involved. He has the choice between safety or making money, he thinks, but he feels bad for selfishly making that decision for someone else.

The ending is abrupt, with little space wasted on wrapping up the story. It doesn't need much either. But then, this novel is more about terrifying people than it is about ponderous reflection.

27th November 2013

Book Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Books

  Male Protagonist  
  Not For The Squeamish  

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4 star rating

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