First published back in March of 2016, British author John Llewellyn Probert’s novella ‘Dead Shift’ formed the first offering from Horrific Tales Publishing’s premium novella line (a series of beautifully presented hardback novellas released from the incredibly well respected horror publishers).

DLS Synopsis:
The old man had chosen the place carefully.  It wasn’t just because the Northcote Park housing estate had been a place of misery, violence and deprivation for nearly forty years.  It was because of what the place had been before that.  Long before that.

His name was Arthur Lipscomb.  He’d spent many years studying and sacrificing his soul to acquire the necessary items which he now carried in the dirty canvas bag beneath his right arm.  With nothing left to live for - the cancer slowly eating away at his withering body - Lipscomb planned to unleash something truly awe-inspiring upon the world.  Something otherworldly that would change the world forever.

He’d selected this particular location with great care.  By the late 1990’s the housing project that had once been Appleton Court had been left abandoned, home only to the addicted and the utterly desperate.  Some two thousand years ago, another monolith had stood in its place.  That one had been made of blue stone, but had been no less blood-smeared, no less soaked in pain and misery, and no less feared by those who made obeisance to it.

That was why he had finally chosen Appleton Court as the place to perform the ritual.  Now as he made his way through the empty estate, he knew it had been the right choice to complete his task.  Every now and again, amongst the graffiti which adorned the decaying walls, he spotted the sigils that reassured him he was on the right path.

But when he finally came to perform the ritual, with his blood splashed in a circle across the dirty concrete floor, he’d been disturbed.  The process had already sapped the tired old man of all his energy.  And as he was carted off to the nearby hospital, he was given time to ponder what he’d started, and what he knew he must still somehow finish.

At Northcote Hospital Dr Richard Dearden was nearing the end of his shift when the old man arrived in.  Nothing about the old man seemed right.  In fact, when Dearden had run tests on his blood, they’d brought back some very strange results.  And then when he’d gone to check up on him, he found the room in complete disarray, and the homeless man gone.

However, what awaits Dr Dearden and the few colleagues left during the night shift is something far worse than any nightmare.  In the hospital Arthur Lipscomb had finally been able to finish his ritual.  And in doing so he had summoned an inter-dimensional entity into their world.  With everything around them metamorphosing into otherworldly horrors, it was now up to those few remaining members of staff to reverse what had been done before it was too late for them all…

DLS Review:
Let’s be honest - one thing the horror scene’s not short of is Lovecraftian fiction.  Quite frankly it’s pretty much two a penny these days.  And very often you find that those dishing up their own take on this particular style of cosmic horror mythos, end up trudging across the same old paths and offering up the same old tired homages to the great master.

As such, I can’t deny being just a tad apprehensive before commencing Probert’s undoubtedly Lovercraft inspired novella.  Thankfully, I needn’t have worried.  Because, although still very much in Lovercraftian-cum-Ashton Smith mythos territory, Probert’s offering is far from your run-of-the-mill cosmic horror cliché.  Instead, what you have with ‘Dead Shift’ is one hell of a beast of a novella, crammed full of strange nightmarish beasts, wonderfully-inspired otherworldly entities, and good old fashioned creeping horror.  Even with its relatively short page count Probert’s managed to cram in a whole host of gruesome delights – from his own blend of inter-dimensional fungal spores, to gigantic tentacled beasts, to resurrected corpses and all the ungodly permutations of horror in between.  It’s all in there – bursting at the seams of the tight page count and dying to be let out into our world.

In essence what you have is a plot about three tired NHS members of staff working the night shift who find that the hospital is metamorphosing into something strange and ungodly around them.  Massive tentacles start to grow from the walls, and a contagious fungus is working its way across the entire hospital.  Of course it’s all down to the bitter old homeless man who’s opened up a gateway for all of this to seep through.  It’s now up to the three remaining members of staff to somehow reverse the ritual before it’s too late.

Admittedly at first the whole plot seems reasonably formulaic.  Nevertheless, within the space of just a handful of pages Probert has you utterly hooked on the unravelling horror and chomping at the bit for the next part to play out.

The first thirty or so pages are very much about setting down the premise.  Here Probert lays down a purposeful air of mystery which he gradually chips away at until all is finally revealed and the horror is fully unleashed upon us.

One aspect that really makes the story is the wonderful characterisation that Probert’s managed to put into each and every one of the characters.  Via the three NHS workers that find themselves pitted against this inter-dimensional horror, we’re pulled headfirst into the desperate dilemma and instantly catapulted into the madness of this spiralling nightmare.  Probert compliments this further with effortlessly witty and masterfully delivered dialogue that adds a much needed element of light-hearted relief to the monstrous horror that’s permanently nipping at their heels.

Of course, if you’ve read any of Probert’s other work, you’d be expecting a careful sprinkling of dark humour across the length and breadth of the tale.  It’s there, and once again it works near-perfectly with the blood-chilling gruesomeness that the author throws into the mix time and again.

However the real strength in the story is with the sheer entertainment factor behind the whole thing.  Probert’s not gone for over embellishing any aspect of the tale.  There’s no overly clever twists to the plot or carefully thought through layering.  Instead it’s all about delivering cosmic horror in absolute bucket loads.  A mission that Probert’s more than succeeded in.

Okay, so the first quarter of the tale isn’t exactly the most fast-paced starts.  Instead there’s an almost systematic building up of momentum, which after just a short while, begins to tear its own path through the story – throwing out nightmarish visions of inter-dimensional beasties like there’s no tomorrow (and there very nearly isn’t).

This really is how modern Lovecraftian horror should be done.  It’s dark, it’s imaginative, it’s utterly compelling, and most of all its just damn entertaining.  From start to finish this is pure, unadulterated cosmic horror with its feet firmly embedded in fantastically imaginative but horrifyingly dark otherworldly weirdness.  And by Cthulu’s many tentacles is it a monstrously fun ride!

The novella runs for a total of 148 pages.

 © DLS Reviews

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