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David Langford, SFX
“Conrad Williams’ novel of a world beneath our own positions itself somewhere on the spectrum between Iain Sinclair and China Miéville, but moves off smartly at an oblique angle to both. Williams may be in the process of developing a new genre, a kind of matter-of-fact Gothic which can draw conclusions about the contemporary heart by rifling its dustbins. Readable, rebarbative and frightening.”
M John Harrison
“Williams describes the capital with hallucinatory clarity and inserts numerous photorealistic close-ups of abandoned objects and random violence. On to this detailed topography he superimposes an alternative network spotted with nodes of intense surrealism.”
Laurence Phelan, Independent on Sunday
“Williams creates existentialist horror with hallucinatory imagery and prose that is as muscular as it is tender, and laced at times with quite extraordinary beauty. To paraphrase one potent image, this will stud your brain with little cloves of madness.”
Nicholas Royle, City Life (Book of the week)
“This is a book which effortlessly slips sideways from horror to psychological thriller to fantasy to urban social comedy to neo-noir; Williams is utterly in love with all of these genres and part of the point of ‘London Revenant’ is to stuff as many of them together as possible. The book moves from moments of lyricism to moments of utter disgust with little clashing of gears. Williams is obsessed with what things feel like, whether they are extremes of erotic pleasure or viciously inflicted pain. If ‘London Revenant’ has deep fault lines within it, they come mostly from a surplus of virtuosity.”
Roz Kaveney, Time Out
“His writing is almost visionary at times, illuminating sights, moods, emotions, moments that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. The prose is absolutely gorgeous, the imagery truly memorable and dreamlike, and the plot moves along very nicely indeed. All in all, this is a pretty special novel… Williams has an eye for the lonely, the sad, the wan beauty that shines within moments of extreme horror like an oil slick rainbow. Buy it today, and starting reading a modern master of the genre.”
Gary McMahon, laurahird.com
It’s so late, it’s early.
It’s so late, it’s early. It feels the tunnels radiating out like veins teased from Its body. Further along this platform stands an athletic man in trainers, jeans and a T-shirt upon which the words Foo Fighters are neatly stencilled. There’s a woman reading the Evening Standard, the toe of her left foot tapping against the painted kerb at the platform edge. She wears glossy black clothes; her legs are thin, her trousers tight around her buttocks. A courier bag filled with box files hangs heavily on her shoulder, as if it were some kind of penance. She looks like a tired raven. The last train to Upminster is a minute away. On the opposite platform, a couple are clinched, kissing each other greedily. There are no other people around.
It strolls down the platform and buys a Crunchie bar from the vending machine although It won’t eat it. It can’t abide the sickly sweet taste of Topside food, everything sugared and salted to hide how unpalatable it all is. How mass market. Its guts churn at the thought of the greasy junk that passed Its lips in the past. Those memories will help It now, the rage at the way It was forced to eat that rubbish, that shit. E numbers and monosodium glutamate and xanthum gum and riboflavinoids and disodium guanylate – whatever that is – and fuck it, and fuck it all.
The woman has turned to glance at It before returning to her newspaper, and It feels happy that it was just a glance. Because doesn’t that mean It’s still got some normal in It? It still blends in. Maybe It looks like a guy wending his weary way home from a building site, pock-marked with plaster dust and paint, the grime from a day’s solid graft. But It really ought to be invisible for this. It can’t afford to make these errors. It can’t afford to be caught. Next time the world must be blind to It. Not even a glance. As if It were a ghost.
It assesses the way she is standing, the spread of weight, the lie of her fulcrum, her natural balance and poise. She weighs maybe a hundred and twenty pounds. She’s on the back foot. That big bag of homework will need to be compensated for. Further. you can see, without trying too hard, how she would look naked. A bit of a belly on her; slim in the hip and thigh; breasts high, but slowly going to seed. Rounded shoulders. Too much time making eyes at the VDU. Emails and spreadsheets. It can imagine her in the morning, after the shower, sizing herself up in the mirror. After tonight, well, she won’t ever wish for her youth back again.
From here, you can smell the woman’s perfume despite the charred persistence of diesel fumes. Foo Fighters is rubbing his eyes and trying to focus on a paperback. Across the track, the kiss continues: he’s holding on to the shivering meat of her thigh as though she were about to come apart in his hand. Her fingers flutter at his groin for a second. It wonders if he can taste any of the rubbish she will have eaten for dinner.
The breeze quickens.
In the moment before the grime-streaked snout of the train powers into the station, the lick of preceding blue light across the tunnel walls becomes almost liquid as time thickens and masses at Its shoulders. It becomes incandescent. Like the silent flight of black holes around It, Its focus diminishes until only she remains fixed within. The deliberate fold of her newspaper, the movement of her hand as she flicks an errant strand of hair from her eye, the shift of weight from one foot to another. The drop and tilt of her hips – all scorched on to Its retina as surely as if It were staring at messages written in the sun. In two steps, It is upon her. The way she stiffens tells It she’s aware of something even though It’s moved silently but anyway, she’s too soft, too slow, too late now. One hand at the small of her back to counter her instinct to retreat; one at the dip between her shoulder blades: Its movement is fluid and inexorable. Her head flies back, her hair whipping Its hand as she disappears over the edge. The scream could have come from her, the witnesses, the train as it tried to abort its charge. No, the scream is coming from It as It flees through the tunnel marked NO EXIT. Foo Fighters, if he’s pursuing, is not as lithe as he looks; more likely he’s staring down at the rails in shock or trying to help. Its hand plucks a blade from the pocket of Its jacket and It slows down. Its heartbeat is steady. It went well.
It makes Its way quickly to the interlocking service tunnels, donning Its bicycle mask to protect It against the grime. Home is a long walk from here but It’s done it before on dry runs for this very day.
Next time, there’ll be more choice. It plunges into the infernal Circle Line, praying to God that she’ll be all right.
© Conrad Williams