(2012) Adam Nevill, Macmillan, £12.99, trdpbk, 531pp, ISBN 978-0-230-75776-9
Suffering from large debts, documentary film-maker Kyle Freeman, has a meeting with Maximillian Solomon, CEO of Revelation Productions. He gives him a generous offer to make a film on the cult, The Temple of the Last Days. Started by Sister Katherine in the 1960ís, it ended with a mass suicide in 1975 in Arizona. Now some of the survivors, are willing to talk. Solomon has pre-arranged the shooting schedule, so Dan just has to bring his cameraman Dan and his editor known as Finger Mouse on board. But as Kyle and Dan begin recording, they capture strange figures and sounds on film. Kyle suffers terrifying dreams. There are strange impressions found on walls. As the filming continues, Dan is faced with the possibility that Sister Katherine may have raised something that has not been dispelled.
In the acknowledgements pages, Nevill admits to the influence of found footage horror films such as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. For the first half of the narrative, the story plays with the idea of the sounds and glimpses that cannot be explained. This is balanced with the accounts of the cult and the night of the murders. Neville does build up the atmosphere and gives a sense of plausibility to the stories about the Temple of the Last Days. The supernatural side plays into the details emerging of the murders committed by the cult. However, the narrative starts to lose confidence with itself. At this point, some of the information in this review might be considered to be partial spoilers. This stops after the next two paragraphs, for those who want to avoid this. The prose begins stressing how scary the events are instead of letting themselves speak for themselves. Kyle has to go out of the country to see a painting in Belgium to convey information, which could have already been established in the narrative.
At this stage, Sister Katherine was already established as a terrible figure without having to add connections to something that happened over four hundred years ago. In describing Kyle entering a flat where the inhabitant might be dead, there is a paragraph that describes the destruction of Star Wars toys that, to me felt that it was going into bathos.
The story continues with another character giving a presentation on their laptop, for a general history on the place where the cult was founded. Then there is more information given that could have been established earlier, considering that the lead character was making a documentary film. This leads the narrative to involve another journey overseas where the climax feels as if it has come from a different story, involving a new character having to be introduced at the last minute. Apparently when you are being pursued by supernatural forces, they canít appear on aeroplanes. The ending also undercuts the menace of the apparitions, by turning them into standard zombies to be shot at. It also gives the impression that things have been simultaneously more complicated and less interesting.
Last Days is a book that starts interestingly and keeps up the tension for over half the story. Then the narrative for me started to suffer, because it felt as if the author began to lose confidence in what he was writing. It couldnít just have the basis of a cult that had made contact with something, it has to have links with older events and the leader has to have a plan that is now just about to come into play. The difficulty is that all of this disrupts the flow of the narrative. The found footage horror films that Nevill mentions, had limited locations and casts, with hauntings that were small-scale and familiar. By having to keep travelling to get information and the back-story needing to be more elaborate, the potential of the story is diluted.
A difficulty that I have, is that Nevillís novel before this, The Ritual had basically the same problem for me. An unnerving beginning with disturbing and suspenseful sequences as the narrative progresses. Then at approximately half-way through, the narrative is taken in another direction, giving explanations that lessen the impact of what you have read about. The dark forces are given explanations that diminish their power.
As it stands, Last Days has good moments and a sense of dread in places. But it ultimately does not live up to the potential that it had, in my view. It does keep you turning the pages; I just feel that it could be greater if it followed the principle of 'less is more'. As it is, the novel is probably more for readers who enjoyed Nevillís previous works, than for new ones.
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