For the mourners at Justin Saxby’s funeral on the desolate coast of north Norfolk, there’s literally only one place to stay: The Half Man, a creepy old inn with a deadly secret. Vic, a low-ranking foot soldier from London’s gangland, has orders to find out what Saxby was hiding, or else… But easier said than done. For no sooner has Vic arrived at The Half Man than one of his fellow guests is decapitated right in front of him.
Everyone knows whodunit, but why? No-one at The Half Man is what they appear to be, and soon Vic will find himself fighting for his life in an imbroglio of hot dames, nosy cops, old magic, ancient rituals and quicksand. Lots of quicksand.
Title: The Half Man | Author: Anne Billson | Publisher: Self-published | Pub. Date: 19 April 2019 | Pages: 206 | ISBN: 9781718632936 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Triggers: Self harm | Rating: 4 out of 5 | Source: The author provided a copy for review consideration
The Half Man Review
‘The Half Man’ by Anne Billson is a hard book to review because it’s so unlike most other things out there. It’s a witty, baudy, surreal, head trip of a book that mixes occultism and East End gangsters together with the kind of humour and great sense of character that Anne Billson shows in all her books. It is also incredibly gory at times.
The book starts with a beautifully observed bit of stiff upper lip adventuring, with a British adventurer (think Indiana Jones played by Terry Thomas) infiltrating a European castle with his daughter and her fiancé. They’re searching for an arcane artefact which they find and take back to England. Years later, when the last of the trio dies, a bizarre cast of characters assemble at a weird country pub ‘The Half Man’, each of them trying to find the artefact for themselves. We have a sexy, shallow socialite, a rock star, a gangster, a gruff publican and more.
The set up feels a bit like the plot of one of those 60s or 70s movies that featured a superstar cast thrown together for spurious reasons. In fact, Billson explains in the postscript that the book did in fact start life as a screenplay. The backstory (as fun as it is) becomes kind of irrelevant as the colourful cast starts playing up and the events get weirder and weirder. The gangster, Vic, settles in as the main character, and his common sense view of world makes him an amusingly bewildered spectator as the story spins completely out of control. I don’t want to give anything away, because this is a book that needs to be enjoyed unspoiled. Let’s just say that it consistently surprised and delighted me with its utterly bizarre twists and turns. It’s not bizarro as such, but it’s definitely bloody odd. In the end it feels like a collaboration between ‘Evil Dead 2’ era Sam Raimi and surrealist Luis Bunuel.
Billson is an author that I think more people need to discover. Her books are consistently funny, imaginative and entertaining. They’re packed with pop culture references and her prose is lovely to read. ‘The Half Man’ is a great antidote to the formulaic nasties and creature features that make up so much of the genre nowadays.
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