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In The Shadow Of The Phosphorus Dawn Rob True Main

"In the Shadow of the Phosphorous Dawn" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Influx Press

in the shadow of the phosphorus dawn rob true poster large

Written by Rob True
2021, 180 pages, Fiction
Released on 3 June 2021


Influx Press is currently in a league of their own for releasing challenging and unclassifiable fiction, with Rob True’s bleakest of debuts In the Shadow of the Phosphorous Dawn ramping that reputation up to eleven. In the acknowledgments the author thanks Gary Budden, editor at Influx Press, who is not averse himself to penning head-scratching fiction, and there are certainly similarities to his own fragmented non-linear style. I’ve read a fair bit of Budden, and I am sure he would have been proud to have written this hallucinogenic bad trip himself.

Amazingly, the author blurb notes that True left school with no qualifications (born in 1971) and was barely literate. Around the age of forty, he began to write stories, with his wife teaching him the art of using paragraphs. Hats off to Mrs. True and well done to Rob for writing such a distinctive debut novel, following his earlier publications in The Arsonist Magazine, Open Pen, Low Light Magazine, Occulum and others. He has a very distinctive and original voice, which stylistically uses very short sentences in his unique exploration of lowlife scum in nameless drug-fuelled crumbling English inner-city estates.

If legendary Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh had just released In the Shadow of the Phosphorous Dawn, this novel would have been undoubtedly heralded as a triumphant return to form for the great Scot. Sadly, for an unknown author it will garner a fraction of the attention and praise it probably deserves. Like most releases from Influx Press, this is a very acquired taste which does not follow the fiction writing rulebook, with a standard beginning, middle and end. Alternatively, it gives multiple snapshots of a broken drug user, drifting in and out of hallucinations, receiving and dishing out savage beatings in equal measures, and is possibly trying to solve a series of gruesome murders. Or maybe it is about something else entirely? I’m not sure if central character Carl even knows himself as we drift in and out of his stream of consciousness with the shadow men lurking in periphery vision.

How can you describe a novel in which the broken inner voice is more significant than the plot?  As already mentioned, a taste of early Irvine Welsh, mixed with a combination of William Burroughs and cult Scottish author Chris Kelso might sum it up. I have a feeling Kelso and Rob True would get on, as the Scot uses a similar razorblade and violence combination in his vicious Dregs Trilogy. In fact, Carl, the main character in In the Shadow of the Phosphorous Dawn, would have fitted right into Kelso’s brutal series.

The novel opens with Carl struggling to recover from the death of his brother and is attempting to leave behind a life of drugs, petty crime and street life. However, a series of brutal gangland killings which perplex both the police and the various lowlifes means that Carl is sucked back into the scene by his old boss Gary to trying and uncover the culprit. In his attempts to go clean, he has been working as a private investigator, with most of his income coming from using surveillance equipment to bug offices, homes and cars. Mick wants Carl to use his devices to listen in on rival gang chats, others on the local scene, and drug users to pick up potentially useful street intel.

There is not much more to say about the plot except enjoy the emotional roller coaster and that you might need a shower when the book is finished. It is a brutal downward spiral involving waves of pain and blackouts, and thankfully at 180-pages, it wraps up before the heightening paranoia becomes repetitive. I enjoy books set in broken-down inner-city schemes, which are either soaked in violence or the threat is never far away; some of this reminded me of living in south Tottenham (North London) in the 1990s where the atmosphere in pubs could turn from jovial to threatening in a few moments. Carl haunts drinking establishments where it is commonplace to glass somebody for looking at you in the wrong way, where inflicting pain is part of the job. You are unlikely to come across a rawer and more visceral debut than In the Shadow of the Phosphorous Dawn with the reader piggybacking upon Carl’s journey into psychosis, with his seemingly endless supply of bugs and the nonsensical chatter which comes from them and the toxic relationship he has with his on/off girlfriend Anna. A murderer lurks in the background and as the plot blends elements of crime with psychedelic horror, paranoia comes tapping as shadow men lurk on the edges of Carl’s vision as he staggers further down the tunnel into darkness.

Rob True has given us a debut which does not play by the literary rulebook and the end result is an intoxicating blend of horror, thriller, crime and a stagger through both the broken-down inner-city landscapes and the inner-workings of Carl’s tortured head. I do not know which of the two is more dangerous. But keep telling yourself “It is only fiction; it is only fiction.” As debuts go, this is a knockout.


Overall: 5 Star Rating Cover
Buy from Amazon US.
Buy from Amazon UK.

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About The Author
Tony Jones
Author: Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer - UK
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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