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The Creeper A M Shine Main

"The Creeper" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Head of Zeus

the creeper a m shine poster large

Written by A.M. Shine
2022, 320 pages, Fiction
Released on 15th September 2022

Review:

If you have never come across Ireland’s A.M. Shine, then now is the perfect time to rectify that fact, as this guy is going to be huge. Shine follows his excellent debut The Watchers (2021) with a second novel which will do Ireland’s tourist industry absolutely no favours whatsoever! The author’s fascination with his country’s culture and landscapes once again shines through, drawing their dark atmosphere and eloquence from the Gothic literature of yesteryear, giving his work extra depth and context. Both The Watchers and The Creeper are very Irish and are inspired by folklore, history and mythology with very clever plots built around a blend of these ideas. However, both novels are about much more than fairies at the bottom of the garden and bring very modern twists to tales which would not have been out of place if they had been set 500+ years ago.

I read The Watchers and The Creeper within two months of each other and enjoyed picking up the similarities, but ultimately what impressed me most about his follow-up is how unique it is from its predecessor. Shine’s debut is great, but he truly ups the ante in this terrific sophomoric effort, which I devoured in two days. If Shine is out to identify a niche in the market for literary horror novels which have a strong sense of Irishness, then he has already cornered the market and it is hard to see him having any genuine rivals. Fellow Irishman John Connolly might have been writing his legendary supernatural detective Charlie Parker series since the late nineties, but as they are predominately set in Maine/USA they do not count and I do not recall Charlie ever visiting the Emerald Isle!

The Watchers features a young woman getting stranded in a remote forest cottage after her car breaks down and she realises there is something nasty in the woods watching the house where she finds herself trapped with three others. In The Watchers, the reader realises very quickly the creatures are real, however, in The Creeper, much of the horror comes from the superb use of ambiguity and you are never quite sure what is real (or not) right up until the killer ending, with some outstanding shrouding of the truth. However, AM Shine does not leave the reader guessing or frustrated like some authors might and instead delivers another wild finish.

The Creeper has a great hook partially revolving around a curse which around following a set of rules (I won’t divulge them); this partially reminded me of the brilliant film It Follows and dances around the idea that superstitions only survive if people still believe in them. Remember this is set in Ireland, a country totally full of ancient superstitions, religious and otherwise. In the early stages of the novel, cash-strapped history graduate (and jobless) Ben French and archaeologist Chloe Coogan (also just starting her career) are recruited by an academic to visit a remote Irish village and interview the locals. If Dr Alec Spalding is to be believed, this village has been isolated from the rest of Ireland for hundreds or years and is ripe for all sort of history, archaeological and anthropological studies. I initially found this part of the story hard to swallow, Ireland is not a big country, how could a community exist in isolation for so long? However, once you find out more about the place (and the curse), it becomes much more credible and easier to swallow.

Through their initial conversations with Spalding, the pair realise he has a deeper interest in the village of Tír Mallacht regarding their superstitions and in particular a shadowy figure he calls ‘The Creeper’. The novel is also seen from the point of view of Spalding, a very rational academic who lives in isolation and never goes out after dark. Why? He has much more knowledge of The Creeper than he reveals to Ben and Chloe, and why does anybody require their entire property to be locked down by metal shutters every night? Only an individual who is trying to stop someone or something gaining entry. Some terrific suspense sequences are developed around what Spalding is genuinely afraid of (and believes in) and it is nicely drip fed into the story. Also, the idea that fears which originate in superstitions can be passed down from generation to generation is also very convincing.

As with its predecessor, this novel has some sublime plot switches which really ramp up in the final 25%, including some intense sequences when Chloe and Ben realise what they are up against. The story really picks up the pace when the pair arrive at Tír Mallacht and meet the unfriendly locals who (like Spalding) also never go out at night, but to reveal any more of what goes on would head into spoiler territory, so you will have to make do with part of this very creepy rhythm about The Creeper sang to the pair by a mouthy little girl: “Three times you see him. Each night he comes closer...” To call the sequences in the village bleak would be an understatement, but they are equally riveting.

I really liked both Ben and Chloe and the reader is vividly sucked into their fraying psyches as they realised that in the modern world, where science can explain everything, monsters might really exist. The terror which comes with this switch in reality is beautifully pitched and wait until you get to the window scene! (You’ll know exactly what I mean should you read it.) There is an outstanding Blair Witch-inspired moment when they are camping near the village and they hear branches snapping and are certain there is somebody watching them outside. However, everything about this landscape is sodden, moody and threatening, all of which makes the novel more unnerving.

The Creeper is a terrific read and if you have not read AM Shine before, you have two great books to get your teeth into. The use of the supernatural, Irish local superstitions, curses and the clash with the modern world is absolutely perfectly pitched. Horror fiction is teeming with great boogiemen and ‘The Creeper’ ranks with the very best of them.

Grades:

Overall: fourstars Cover
Buy from Amazon US.
Cover
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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