"Mean Spirited" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Crystal Lake Publishing

mean spirited nick roberts poster large

Written by Nick Roberts
2024, 272 pages, Fiction
Released on 15th March 2024


For those of you who use Facebook, there is an incredibly popular page called Books of Horror, which has 46,000+ members, and every year the page runs an ‘Indie Brawl’. Whichever book (of 32 finalists) picks up the most votes in a complex knockout voting system is declared annual champion. At the time of writing this review, the 2024 Brawl is ongoing and astonishingly competitive, starting out with nearly 500 books, which was then whittled to 128, and then savagely cut to 32. This is serious stuff and just getting to the round of 32 is an incredible achievement, where those selected pick up serious exposure and new readers, before going head-to-head with another hopeful.

The reason I am telling you all this is that Nick Roberts won the 2023 Brawl with his 2022 novel The Exorcist’s House, which now has 4,000+ reviews on Amazon. These are remarkable statistics for an indie horror novel, which the Brawl undoubtedly helped promote. I did not review The Exorcist’s House, but read it because of its Brawl success, and did wonder slightly what the fuss was all about. It is a solid 3/5 to 3.5/5 horror novel which clearly knocked many folks out, which I thought could have been better.

However, in his latest novel, Nick goes through the gears and delivers an absolute beauty. Do not be surprised to see Mean Spirited running deep into the Brawl of 2025 should it be entered! Sometimes I feel like a somewhat jaded horror fan who can be difficult to please, scare or unsettle, but somehow Nick’s latest novel managed to creep under my skin. It has deeply unnerving imagery of dogs walking on their two hind legs, which gave me the shivers, and beautifully handles scenes which could be seen as routine in supernatural fiction. For example, the fear of something under the bed is as old as the hills, but there is a moment in Mean Spirited where a face quickly vanishes into the shadows under the bed, and the moment the father closes the bedroom door that had me jumping. Then there is the cuddly toy which nobody remembers buying…

Without going into spoiler territory, perhaps another reason Mean Spirited is so disturbing is because it turns on its head the idea a dog is our ever-reliable best friend. From very early on, it is clear that there is something wrong with Conehead. This dog is a lovely character, he is beautifully drawn, energetic and as convincing as any of the people in the story, but there is something off about him. But it is tricky to pinpoint exactly what it is; Nick Roberts plays on these nagging insecurities with great style. However, readers will still love Conehead, even if he gives you the shivers with his knowing and all-too-intelligent looks and stares. Yikes. There is a scene when Conehead and the young boy Mikey are jointly staring off into the middle distance as if in some kind of trance, looking at an invisible object, and these almost normal scenes cleverly put the reader on edge.

Mean Spirited is a superb full-blown supernatural horror novel and Nick Roberts lays his cards on the table in the prologue, when a young woman is murdered by an unseen force in her house. By chance, her former English teacher Matt Mathany finds out about her death and eventually ends up rehoming her dog Conehead. Matt’s ex-wife Lucy is a vet, and after she examines the dog and rehouses him for the night, there is a terrible incident in the surgery. Another dog chews off its two front legs, and a young employee is killed after being hit by a truck outside the premise.

Family dynamics also play a pivotal and convincing part in the story. Matt has a serious drinking problem, struggles to accept he is an alcoholic, and still loves his ex-wife who has moved on with a new partner. The guy is a mess, but loves his son Mikey, who in turn loves Conehead. Even though the novel is clearly supernatural, it is also deeply psychological and set in rural West Virginia where all of this author’s work is based. Matt has nobody to turn to, who would believe him anyway, and his ex-wife sees his a pathetic drunk. Matt has enough of his own demons without these new problems, with some of these haunting scenes being totally riveting.

The levels of escalation are outstanding and do not think for a moment this is a haunted house featuring just a few characters. Mean Spirited fans out beautifully, is gory, has an impressive body count and a significant number of both graphic and unsettling moments. For most of the narrative, I was genuinely on-the-hook in finding out how events might play out, especially in what the reveals might be regarding Conehead. Nick Roberts also delivers a classic finale; ridiculously over-the-top, with a totally killer final page, which cemented the maximum 5/5 stars.

I loved this book so much, I have already downloaded his earlier novel Anathema to my Kindle; Nick also has a short story collection, It Haunts the Mind, to check out. I cannot recommend Mean Spirited highly enough; it is a lean, mean, absolute belter of a page-turner, and has the perfect balance between scares, tension, sympathetic characters, gore and highly memorable set pieces. Even though I loved Conehead, I am still very glad to be a cat person.


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

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Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
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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