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28th November 2022

The Creeper review: A chilling second novel by A.M. Shine

Shocking and gruesome, this gothic horror nightmare has just the right amount of scares but suffers from some poor character development towards the end
The Creeper review: A chilling second novel by A.M. Shine
Photo: Toby Young @ The Mancunion

A being known only as The Creeper. A mysterious research job. A secluded town full of secrets.

It isn’t exactly the most original start to a horror story, but just a few chapters in you’ll realise the second novel of Irish author A.M. Shine is a wholly unique tale.

Ben is a depressed retail worker. He is contacted by the elusive Dr Sparling about a research task. Ben, along with his colleague Chloe, are to go to the hauntingly named Tir Mallacht (Irish for “Cursed land”). The town has supposedly been uncontacted since the 1800s, with the group investigating local superstition.

Ben and Chloe soon realise there is more to this than mere stories.

There’s a lot to like here. The entire book is dripping with atmosphere and claustrophobia, so much so that the descriptions of Tir Mallacht made my skin crawl. Set in the Irish countryside, there’s a sense of isolation seldom achieved in other books of the genre. When Ben and Chloe are in the village, the reader feels as though they are there too, as trapped and isolated as the characters.

Shine does a wonderful job of setting the scene for us and his idea is an intriguing one; could a society exist in the modern world that remains untouched and undisturbed for hundreds of years? Although it sounds faintly ridiculous at first, and I admit, as a reader I was very sceptical. Shine pulls it off with astonishing conviction, leaving us in no doubt such a society could exist.

The pace of the novel is a marvel in itself. I found myself tearing through five or six chapters a sitting without realising it. Shine crafts his mystery to have the flow of even the best thrillers, all wrapped up in a horror setting. What more could you ask for?

And about the horror; the first reveal of the titular creeper is genuinely one of the scariest things I have ever read. The reader is left constantly on edge as to when he will next appear. Shine’s use of the three times you see him rule is brilliant; we are told a character can only see the creeper three times before they meet with their doom. This gives the novel a brutal sense of tension as we know there can only be a limited number of sightings before the inevitable.

It’s not only the creeper that has the capacity for chills. Shine provides a nice addition to the ‘spooky child’ trope of modern horror with terrifying effect.

Perhaps the scariest element of his narrative is the character’s gradual realisation that they are in danger. It’s truly unnerving as a reader to see Ben and Chloe go from a fairly laissez faire attitude to their situation to the gradual terror they feel towards the middle of the book.

Although excellent, The Creeper is not perfect. I would have liked for Shine to make more use of the setting. Beyond some vague references, there is no clear indication we are in Ireland, and I think that is a real shame considering the rich cultural and social background that Shine has to write with.

Another shortcoming is in the main characters. Whilst Chloe is very likeable and charming, the same cannot be said for Ben. He is generally very gloomy and self-pitying. I disliked him to the extent that the tension of some of the later chapters was lessened by my indifference towards him.

Having said that, overall this is an outstanding book. Shine writes with a beautifully descriptive style which is a joy to read for any die-hard horror fan like me, although I’m sure this will appeal to novices of the genre. Despite only a vague sense of location and some poor character development, this is well worth reading and I personally can’t wait to follow this young author’s career.

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