All small towns have their secrets, but they rarely come as dark and dingy as those rising from the waters of Greystone Lake, the backdrop for this woozy psychological thriller. When Nate McHale, a family man with a shady past, returns home for the funeral of a high school classmate, spiralling events draw him to the heart of a murder mystery decades in the making. What begins as a slow-footed exploration of curdled nostalgia soon ratchets into a tense and bloody stand-off, like David Fincher remaking Stand by Me.
Duffy is a fine writer with a knack for the well-sculpted cliffhanger. His shabby resort town, with its crab shacks, dive bars and rickety, half-ruined pier, is a rich setting with tonnes of potential. Duffy takes time laying his pieces and intertwines the past and present-day to tense effect. The opening chapters, as Nate is reacquainted with the people and places of his youth, offer a perfect balance of menace and nostalgia. True, the small-town setting and slow-leaked local mythology all carry the tang of Stephen King, but Duffy makes the style his own and draws his reader close.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed as the novel shed its softer skin and headed for more reliable genre territory. As the book sped along to its busy ending, double-crosses and hidden agendas seemed to pile up and, in particular, one encounter in a sound-proofed basement felt as though it had been drafted in from the films of Eli Roth. Though some of the beats come straight from the ‘spooky thriller’ playbook and Duffy’s prose purples when the drama hits its wildest peaks, this is a lively and compelling read, a page-turner with genuine soul. Duffy, on only his second novel, may still be limbering up.
The Storm King is published by Ballantine Books and is available to purchase here.
Brendan Duffy is an editor and the author of The Storm King and House of Echoes. In 2015, he was featured in Refinery29’s “21 New Authors You Need to Know”. He lives in New York, where he is at work on his next novel.
Reviewed by Nick Garrard
The SHALLOW CREEK Short Story Competition
Mallum Colt, proprietor of Colt’s Curiosity Shop, invites authors to explore the sinister shadows and crooked streets of his once splendid town of Shallow Creek.
Guests are gifted a Shallow Creek visitor pack consisting of a map of Shallow Creek, a character profile, a specific location, and an item of interest.
These items shall act as a source of inspiration as Mallum Colt guides his guests through Shallow Creek and reveals the secrets and stories of a town bereft of sleep.
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Twenty-four short stories, exclusive afterwords, interviews, artwork, and more.
From Trumpocalypse to Brexit Britain, brick by brick the walls are closing in. But don’t despair. Bulldoze the borders. Conquer freedom, not fear. EXIT EARTH explores all life – past, present, or future – on, or off – this beautiful, yet fragile, world of ours. Final embraces beneath a sky of flames. Tears of joy aboard a sinking ship. Laughter in a lonely land. Dystopian or utopian, realist or fantasy, horror or sci-fi, EXIT EARTH is yours to conquer.
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