First published back in July of 2014, ‘Burning House’ formed the debut novella from British author Daniel Marc Chant.

DLS Synopsis:
Newstead Haven was the sort of town that attracted the lower end of society.  Its residents scraping by each month.  Drugs, alcohol and illicit activities forming the mainstay of the day for most of the town’s population.  In one of the more run-down areas of Newstead Haven, an apartment building stretches up into the murky sky above.

As the majority of the residents settled down for the night, little did they know they would be waking up within a raging inferno.  A fire that would quickly become unlike any other.  The flames spreading with an unnatural speed.  The apartment building soon engulfed in a blistering inferno of hungry flames.

The team of firefighters answering the emergency call know there’s not much chance saving the building.  All they can do is hold the residents back and attempt to control the spread of the fire.

However, although muffled behind the sounds of the roaring flames, the firefighters realise they can just about make out the sound of a woman screaming, coming from deep within the burning building.  Knowing that the survivor won’t have a chance of making it out alive on their own, Captain Vincent Hunt informs his team that they have no choice, they’re going in.

Inside the building the air is thick with smoke.  Wearing their breathing apparatus and flameproof clothing, the firefighters work their way from room to room, desperately trying to locate the lone survivor. 

But the rescue team are not alone in the building.  As they tirelessly search the numerous rooms and corridors, the first hints of movement in the vicinity start to emerge.  Monstrous figures, with huge hulking heads and glowing red eyes are spotted along the warren like passageways.  Captain Hunt blames the smoke.  No such survivors could possibly be roaming the corridors.

With the walls and ceilings crashing down around them, the firefighters are about to leave empty handed when they realise the building has a basement.  With time running out for the survivor, the brave firefighters take one last look out of the apartment’s front, before descending the cold stone steps, down into the apartment block’s dark underbelly.

Here, in the smoke filled gloom of the building’s vast basement, the team of firefighters will come face to face with a bloodthirsty evil, hell-bent on ritualistic murder.  Here, in the cloying fog of darkness, Captain Hunt’s team of firefighters will now find they’ll be fighting for their very lives…

DLS Review:
In the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, with the real life horror of the tragedy that took place just some two weeks ago, reading the first twenty or so pages of Daniel Marc Chant’s debut novella ‘Burning House’ felt harrowingly poignant.  The book had been sitting on my ‘To Be Read’ pile for some time, and just happened to reach the top of the toppling pile at this particular time.  And in the wake of such a heart-wrenching disaster, I have to admit when reading those opening pages, it was hard not to become transported into what must have been an unspeakably terrifying ordeal.

The tale kick starts with a short prologue in which Chant lays down a Peter Saxon meets Guy N Smith style of ritualistic Hammer horror.  Here we have the vague background to the apartment’s dark past.  The prologue’s short, sweet, and slightly clichéd, but successfully establishes the building’s connection with the Dark Arts whilst properly setting the mood for the raging horror to come.

It’s in the following chapters where we’re thrust into one of the apartments on the very top floor of the building.  It’s here where the terrifying real-life-horror kicks in.  Although clearly written a number of years prior to the Grenfell Tower disaster, in these pages Chant’s managed to capture an essence of the confusion, panic, urgency and utter horror of such an ordeal.  The madness of the residents’ escape from the burning building only lasts for a chapter or two, but my god is it one hell of an early gut-punch to unload, laying the reader out cold on the pavement from the sheer recoil of such a heart-pounding and gut-wrenching display of terror.

With the apartment building raging away in the background, we’re introduced to the firefighters who will form the collective protagonists to the tale.  Although, when I say ‘introduced’, if I’m honest there’s very little in the way of providing the reader with anything more than a handful of surnames at this stage.

It’s when the team go into the building searching for the elusive survivor that the whole dynamic of the tale changes.  Within a matter of a few pages, we’re dragged out of a truly terrifying real-life-horror scenario and tossed into an honest-to-god 80s slasher movie, somewhat akin to William Lustig’s ‘Maniac Cop’ (1988).

The ensuing cat-and-mouse horror quickly becomes a mainstay for the rest of the tale.  We’ve already got it in mind that there’s something decidedly wrong with the building.  Indeed, the prologue established the connection with ritualistic sacrifice and the Dark Arts.  It may be all aflame right now, but that’s not going to stop Chant from unleashing all hell, with a bombardment of visceral and in-your-face shapeshifting supernatural horror.

Don’t go expecting ghostly or flimsy spectral beings floating about the burning corridors.  Chant’s gone for a much more physical and blood-hungry threat here.  There’s substance to these bastards.  They’re meaty and real and want to dismember anyone that crosses their path.

Of course the horror to come is much worse down in the basement.  It always is.  But when our crew of firefighters go down into the gloom of the building’s basement, the dynamic of the tale takes another sizeable shift.  Upstairs we had 80s slasher movie horror.  Don’t get me wrong, that feast’s still on the table.  However, down here in the dark and dank basement, with its cold stone floor and strangely swirling walls, Chant injects in a whole new Lovecraftian element.

This is where the madness and unrelenting horror jumps up a good few notches.  Expect nothing short of a constant stream of heart-pounding and adrenaline-pumping horror, with the firefighters not knowing what the fuck is going on.  One by one they’re picked off ‘Predator’ (1988) style.  It’s got all those clichés in there.  The splitting up of the team, the arguments and furious accusations.  You know the score here.  Chant’s gotten out the ‘How To Write Horror’ rulebook and followed its advice to the letter.

Unfortunately, by this stage you’ve pretty much realised that the novella has succumbed to some of the classic pitfalls of a debut from an indie author.  The relatively sizeable cast of characters are all mere cardboard cut-outs with name badges.  There’s little to no characterisation given to any of them – not even the character of Ellie McNeil, who we soon realise, will become the principal protagonist, somewhat akin to Sarah Carter character from ‘The Descent’ (2005).

Dialogue is flat and missing any individuality.  Each word spoken just as a device to continue telling the story, rather than applying any character believability.  It’s a textbook flaw that debuts of this nature often suffer from.  It’s also certainly not something that will wreck a tale, but nevertheless one which will lessen the impact of the ordeals suffered by the characters.

Similarly, the reader is thrust out of the tale time and again by a scattering of almost crippling typos.  Again, not the end of the world, but one that does ultimately detract from the tale.

However, it must be said that, despite its obvious flaws – all of which I’m sure Chant now recognises and has since overcome – the novella is still one damn entertaining read.  It’s fast-paced and gritty.  There’s so much horror unloaded into its pages that nowhere feels safe.  It’s a homage to 80s slasher horror movies, a respectful nod to the late master that is Lovecraft, and a rip-roaring blood-drenched tale of its own.

If like me you just love horror…if you can’t think of anything better than sitting down at the end of an evening and throwing on a cheesy 80s B-Movie with plenty of guts and grime…then you’re going to get a kick out of this novella.  Trust me; it’s got it all in there.

The novella runs for a total of 134 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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