First published back in May of 2015, ‘Minstrel’s Bargain’ formed the debut novel for British author Richard Ayre.

DLS Synopsis:
It was 1988 and twenty-nine year old reporter for the Newcastle-based ‘Heavy Metal Headlines’ rock magazine, Phil Sturgess, has just flown back in from doing an interview to find he’s been given the job of reporting on the Methuselah concert that night.  However, it turns out that the Los Angeles based support band, Minstrel’s Bargain, are the ones to steal the show, whilst the headlining act suffer from a combination of bad fortune and malfunctioning hardware.

Before the gig Sturgess had heard good things about Minstrel’s Bargain.  However, after witnessing their first UK show, the reporter knew that the band were truly something else.  From coming over to the UK as an unknown newcomer to the scene, the band had instantly won over the crowd, and by half the way through their songs, the crowd were singing along to the choruses as if they’d known them all their lives.  This band were good.  In fact, as Sturgess was beginning to realise, they were better than good – they had the potential to become the biggest band the world had ever seen.

However, immediately following the concert that went so well for Minstrel’s Bargain and so appallingly bad for Methuselah, the media start to report upon a string of horrific acts of violence – all somehow connected to the concert.

First Methuselah’s tour manager Eddie Hall goes on a rampage in the Holiday Inn where the band were staying – killing the Methuselah lead singer along with the groupies who were with him.  The very same night, twenty-four year old Brian Jones and his girlfriend Sally Armstrong attack each other after returning home from the ill-fated Methuselah concert.  Both survived the ordeal, however both sustained major injuries from the attack.  And these would prove to be just the first such attacks.  Before long, people all around the world would start carrying out vicious and seemingly random attacks.  Each and every one of them done with the same mindless smile plastered across their faces.

And whilst all this madness is going on, Phil Sturgess is having his own problems.  At the concert he could have sworn the lead singer from Minstrel’s Bargain, an imposing man named Kick Bizarre, had singled him out and winked at him with shinning silver eyes that were sunken in pits of pure black.  And it was not only Kick Bizarre that the reporter had seen with these strange silver eyes.  There was a tramp who seemed to be stalking him.  A tramp who’s eyes shinned with the same silver.  A tramp who called him ‘The Traveller’.

None of it made sense to Sturgess.  And whilst he questioned his own sanity hell, the world around him seemed to be losing theirs…


DLS Review:
If I’m honest, upon receiving the book I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Richard Ayre’s debut ‘Minstrel’s Bargain’.  The cover looks somewhat amateurish and devoid of inspiration.  Hopes weren’t exactly high as the first pages were turned.

However, despite a moderately slow start, all my concerns were wiped away as I found what we have with ‘Minstrel’s Bargain’ is nothing short of a blood-drenched pulp horror fest that flings you back into the over-the-top splatter era of the 1980’s.  In fact what Ayre offers up is something akin to a Shaun Hutson meets Guy N Smith meets William Holloway story – with a touch of James Herbert’s ‘The Fog’ (1975) or indeed ‘The Dark’ (1980) thrown in there for good measure.  Oh yes indeed, Ayre delivers some pretty gory delights within these horror-fuelled pages.

So ok, the first hundred or so pages are reasonably slow-paced compared to the rest of the novel.  It’s a gradual affair of establishing the characters and setting the scene – that of Newcastle in the 1980’s.  Here, as you’d expect, Ayre spends a great deal of time fleshing out the principal protagonist of Phil Sturgess.  And to be fair, he’s done a pretty damn good job of it.  However, outside of the reporter, characterisation is much more threadbare – with almost all of the secondary characters little more than names with inter-connecting roles to play in the grand scheme of things.

However the main appeal of the tale is by-far-and-away in the constant barrage of pulp horror violence on show.  From around a quarter of the way into the tale the reader is assaulted with almost a constant barrage of sadistic violence and bloodshed.  The population’s going crazy and turning on each other.  And Ayre’s not afraid to get into the gritty details of the violence, to deliver a blow-by-blow account of the graphic scenes of violence.

There’s a scene in an ice rink whereby the skaters suddenly turn on each other and the resulting carnage is like something ripped out of an early James Herbert novel.  There are individual attacks which have the grim grittiness of a Guy N Smith scene.  One after the next, chapter after chapter, Ayre delivers a constant stream of graphic violence that seems to escalate as each page is turned.

But it’s with the run up to the grand finale as the tale hurtles to a close where Ayre really comes into his own.  From a bloodbath of frenzied pulp horror madness, Ayre starts to inject in a whole creepy-ass William Holloway style of darkness – taking the story down much more eerie and godforsaken avenues.  Nightmarish images of hell and barbaric acts of torture replace the stream ‘above-the-ground’ violence.  Everything comes around on itself, the threads of the story start to tie together, and the tension hits new highs.

I can’t stress enough – if you like your horror straight from the 80s with a no-holds-barred approach to violence – then you’re going to love this novel.  It’s pumping with maniacal adrenaline, it’s got more momentum behind it than an out-of-control locomotive, and it doesn’t pull any punches whatsoever when it comes to the graphic details.

Expect a gradually mounting horror.  Expect bucket loads of bloodshed.  And expect things to get pretty damn nasty.

This is entertainment.  I can’t wait to see what Richard Ayre brings us next…

The novel runs for a total of 399 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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