Tartarus Press is becoming one of the most diverse as well as the most accomplished and fastidious independent UK presses devoted to horror and dark fiction, and The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley is absolutely off their ordinary beat and all the more striking for it. Instead of the society and theatrical pieces of Reggie Oliver, or the decadent horrors of Mark Samuels, we have the grim, bleak realm of poor man’s English Roman Catholicism, and a chilling coastal setting in the remote Lancastrian preserve of the title – “a dangerous place. A wild and useless lenght of English coastline. A dead mouth of a bay that filled and emptied twice a day.” This savage and – by the end – literally God-forsaken place is where the narrator’s mother, Mummer, brings him as a child, with his mentally handicapped brother Andrew (Hanny), for a retreat in the hope of a miracle cure. “There was something special about The Loney. To Mummer, Saint Anne’s shrine was second only to Lourdes,” the narrator explains. “She was convinced that there and only there would Hanny stand any chance of being cured.”
And her prayers are answered – but in an appallingly different way to what anyone could have expected. The slow unveiling of that denouement, as the simple, ritualistic, and sometimes cruel and abusive faith of the small party of pilgrims is tested by its apparent total antithesis, is the substance of the book. The forbidding seems cut out for tragedy from the start. “Things lived at The Loney as they ought to live. The wind, the rain, the sea were all in their raw states, always freshly born and feral. Nature got on with itself. Its processes of death and replenishment happened without anyone noticing.” And savage processes they are: “there was such an inevitability about The Loney’s cruelty.” However, Hurley spends just as much time on the characters and their interactions, and their limitations, petty jealousies, weaknesses, desperation, and even diction are all lovingly but unsparingly rendered. Such intense, thickly layered detail of place and people almost seems out of place in a supernatural horror novel, but supernatural horror it is, and one of the strengths of the book is the way it subtly escalates to the truly uncanny without any break in mood or conviction: most of its length succeeds just as pure visceral psychological horror. By comparison, Children of the Corn and The Omen – and I choose those with reason – seem created by and for nine-year-olds.
Hurley has written a dark, disturbing and completely convincing piece of modern Gothic that delivers on all kinds of levels. It won’t scare you so much as plunge you into devastating doubt and distrust of your fellow man – as well as inducing a pathological desire to avoid certain stretches of north-western English coastline. Tartarus Press has produced The Loney to its usual high standard, and the ebook, which can be downloaded directly from the publisher’s site, is almost unbelievably cheap considering its quality. Recommended.