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Book review - The Gulp by Alan Baxter

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been blindsided.

Reviewing Alan Baxter’s “The Gulp” was always going to be dangerous. The man’s written copious amounts of books. It’s the first thing you see when you try to stalk him on Twitter. Aside from his cross-armed, self-confident stance, there’s a row of horrifically good-looking horror books backing him up. Then you read the small print and know this man needs no backup. He is a martial artist, dog-loving, ninja crochet master that could kill you just with his beard. Hell, he’s even funny. And then he goes and writes his damn book “The Gulp” and the talent almost leaks out over your hands making you feel like you just got slimed. It’s disgusting, dammit.

I gleefully snatched up the opportunity to read an ARC of Alan’s, lovingly suggested by THE Mother herself, and didn’t catch a whiff of their nefarious plan.

See I’ve done the math, Alan.

21 books.

21 times, say, 5-10 euros. Let’s call it 10, because we’ll be wanting the paperbacks of course, not just the kindle versions. That’s 210 euros, Alan. To start with. That’s not even counting all of the hardbacks and signed limited editions I am going to have to buy now I have read you. Finally.

I know. I know. I’m late to the game. It’s now too late for me.

But I can still save the others. The ones that don’t know how damn addictive your voice is.

Do not buy this book. It will make all the other books you read this year feel smaller, slightly shabby. Whatever you do, don’t read the 5 short stories just lurking behind the wonderfully vintage cover, with its alluring fake crease, cunningly added to make the whole thing look damn spectacular, like you knew we would find that attractive. Dammit.

I refuse to review this book, it’ll only make you more fans.

My lips are sealed. I’m not going to tell you about Out on a Rim, because that’s where he draws you in, gets you just loving his casual voice, until he smacks you round the face with body horror so visceral it made me squirm on my sofa (that’s also something you don’t want to see), Carter’s eating of the eyes a throwback to The Corinthian, in my mind, but way, way rawer. It’s a solid opener, straight-up great storytelling. It makes you already start planning the damn order of his other books, makes you think “Hmm, Roo sounds like the best way to spend my money”. I LOATHE MY FAN-BOY SELF.

The absolute nastiness of Mother in bloom (MIB) made it my favourite of the bunch, just wonderful storytelling, the humour and ickiness of it all! Don’t do it. You really don’t want to read my favourite line of the book: “She’d spent all day with her head buzzing about who they could give to the white thing in the bed” – I mean – Who the hell can write that line and garner a horrified laugh from their reader? A ninja dog twitterer, that’s who. I even coincidentally read about single-cell amoeba’s in the arctic circle, which are eating crabs, whilst reading this short, literally on the same day, and knew, just knew, that it wasn’t chance, or fate.

The damn man’s a Prophet.

The band plays on sets everything up, of course. After becoming addicted by MIB, the apparent normalness of his second short “ The Band Plays on” establishes Baxter as at the top of his game. The loving detail to the music was the draw, the attention to the experience – not the horror – the enticement – that was really well done. We understand the hypnotic effect. We are as captured as the Mc’s – The fantastic throwaway of calling the head of the house “Bram”. The balls of it. Just fantastic. You gotta hate the talented git.

The third one you really, really don’t want to read, 48 To Go, shows the genius in a wonderful scene where a smack to the face breaks a neck, has you laughing at something so horrific, you are totally unprepared for the actual raw body horror that follows shortly thereafter. He makes you laugh then almost constrict your own guts in body shock, the writing is so bleak. Just fantastic. I saw a lot of people that have read the book claim this as their favourite short, the sheer absurdity of hamsters on spits is – well – genius isn’t too far off the mark.

Ahem. You don’t want to read about hamsters on spits, do you? Absolutely not. That sounds irreverent. Right?

Rock fisher ties all the threads together – if anything the similarities to Mother in Bloom was almost too much for me to appreciate as much as the others, an egg replacing fungus? But it does what is needed to make the book feel complete and lay the groundwork for a series.

Because that’s the inevitable conclusion.

Baxter laces the entire book with recurrent characters, to whom some of which we learn, by happenstance, their stories. It’s those themes, glimpses of weirdness, that make this book for me. I wish, in a way, that not as many would have been explained. It is wonderful to find out why a house has a garden dedicated to hamsters, but it would have also been wonderful to have wondered – and marvelled in the thought process behind the detail, but not find out until subsequent books. There are stories here that we will find out about later.

Yeah. All pretence aside, this was great. I raced through this book in an evening and a half, I barely made notes on my phone, I didn’t want the spell to end. This was the highlight of my weekend.

Take my money. Alan. Just don’t gloat.

5 stars and more.

I received a copy of the ARC of The Gulp as a review copy, courtesy of Alan Baxter and Mother Horror and 13th Dragon Books. This did not, however, influence my begrudging fanboy respect of the book, and will not really make a difference to the stupid amount of money I am now going to have to spend to catch up on all his other stuff.



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