Below - by Kev Harrison
Updated: Jan 7, 2022
Before I begin, I wish to state that the following opinions are all my own and are probably baseless, and I do not wish to get sued. I am merely presenting facts and stating a possible interpretation of the data.
Kev Harrison’s latest novella comes about a month after I finished his reworking of the Baba Yaga myth in his book “The Balance”, which I loved (5 stars), in which a group of people murder their friendly neighborhood witch. Just saying.
People may say that the book was not really about that scene, but I’m pointing you to that fact - Killing an innocent person and getting away with it. You might even say they cooked her. Burnt alive. Finger-lickin' good. Sorry. I digress.
I was pretty excited to hear about the release of this bad boy, especially with the outstanding cover by Kealan Patrick Burke and the Elderlemon team. So, what’s the premise of Below?
The story follows the travels of Nick Jones and his fellow explorers, Jess and Sofia, as they explore an abandoned mine shaft, the shaft where his grandfather died 60 years ago after a cave-in. Nick wishes to confront his fears and bring his grandfather's tale to light, finally resting his grandfather’s ghost and confronting his own fears (he is claustrophobic, an expedition to a mine shaft is the ultimate test of that). Upon entering the shaft, they immediately find bones (a hand) and begin to find handwritten notes from a journal, messages from his grandfather outlining his last days in the collapsed mineshaft. So, we have a juxtaposition of the dangers of the present (the mineshaft is unstable, and there is evidence of tampering with the support structures newly installed), with the trio exploring further and further into the mineshaft, whilst we also read of his grandfather’s experiences all that time ago, and the emotional horror that brings into the story.
It’s a great setup, I think the concept here is really sound, I love stories that mix time zones, where the past intrudes on the present, it’s a perfect way to introduce new horrors into the story, and that’s what Harrison does as we discover more and more pages from the journal (in order, luckily! Almost like a killer wanting his work to be discovered. Like say, a tweet referencing an absent wife… Just sayin’...). Kev gives the reader breaks, to absorb the new information, the trio retreating to the surface (or England, in other real-life examples (just sayin’)) after every new reveal, where we have Nick dealing with the emotional content of those letters, as the disturbing revelations the letters bring paint a picture of the encroaching madness and depravity of his Grandfather. Add to that Nick’s own claustrophobia, and it has a crippling effect on the MC...
Nick is somewhat reduced to a subsidiary role, the two stronger female leads take all of the affirmative action, overcome all of the obstacles thrown at them, and cope with Nick’s emotional breakdown. I applaud, however, the strong female roles and a more emotional male lead, Sofia and Jess are allowed to shine, and it’s a refreshing change to the “man in charge” type of storytelling. Kev is really challenging male readers' expectations here, and that’s a great thing. We are already off-kilter.
The pace of the book throws the reader onward. It’s one of those books where there is enough hanging at the end of each chapter that you want to read the next one, on and on, until somehow you have finished the book and are reading the “about the author” page and wondering if he researched home-made beef jerky by making himself some. Is this the real reason Kev has gone to England? Is there presently a manhunt going on in Portugal? Do we actually believe that his wife is still alive? There were 89 planned and successful homicides in Portugal in 2019, and in 2020, certain authors on Twitter kept on tweeting about eating ribs and how to best run away (from crime scenes, one assumes) …
What? Sorry. Sorry. Got a little distracted there. Back to the book.
Regardless of my worries about any person that knows Kev personally, the book is gripping. It’s a quick read, so pace and voice are good. I was hoping for more body horror – Kev’s description of a broken ankle in The Balance was fantastic, and the treatment of that injury was likewise horrific to read – but apart from something at the end, this sticks mainly to psychological horror, and is conducted in an almost Hitchcockian manner – implied threat, situational horror, emotional horror. Something that Kev does really well. It’s not as folky as Kev’s previous works, but that isn’t a problem here, the story drives us through, and we are just along for the ride.
This was a 4 ⭐ read for me, Kev’s pacing and story structure here showing how much his craft is coming more and more into the fray. If his next book is about author-reviewers going missing, you will know I was onto something.
You can buy "Below" by clicking on the Amazon store appropriate to you.
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