Wednesday, 28 December 2011

December by Phil Rickman

There’s nothing like a good ghost story at Christmas, and my constant companion over the festive period was this very spooky tale by Phil Rickman. It centres on a group of musicians with psychic abilities, who were brought together by an unscrupulous record company to make a very special album. Their recording studio was at a haunted abbey in Wales, and the band had a terrifying experience there one night in 1980, which resulted in a death and the break-up of the group. Fourteen years later the old tapes of that recording are unearthed and the members of the group find themselves forced to revisit the experience that has haunted them ever since that fateful night.

This book began with a slightly confused telling of the events of the 1980 recording session, before fast-forwarding fourteen years to see where the characters had ended up and to begin the story proper. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy the book at first, but it was definitely worth sticking with it because everything became apparent as the book progressed and things began to get exciting. This was a tale full of secrets, and I loved the way revelations about plot and characters were regularly inserted to keep tension and interest high. The plot was great – twisting and turning brilliantly and pulling me along so I couldn’t wait to see how it would all turn out.

The ensemble cast of characters had real depth and their many flaws made them interesting and believable, and I really wanted them all to survive intact until the end of the book. But perhaps the best character in the novel is the abbey itself – a dark, malevolent ruin where ancient spirits seek to lure innocent people to their death. The atmosphere created is genuinely creepy and the action switches between different characters in their various sticky situations, ending each small section on a nail-biting cliffhanger that almost guarantees you won’t be putting the book down until you reach the end.

My only gripe with December is that it’s a little too long. There were several extraneous characters who added little to the overall plot, but increased the book’s length considerably, and there was an awful lot going on at times. If the book had focussed more on the core characters I think it would have been a sleeker, sharper novel altogether. Nevertheless, even as it stands I found it an engrossing read and would definitely recommend it for horror fans.

I’d never heard of Phil Rickman before, and only picked this up because it fitted well for a challenge, but I’m definitely going to try and find more of his books after reading this. Horror is a difficult genre to do well but this is great – four stars.

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