First published back in March of 1995, ‘Nailed By The Heart’ formed the debut novel for British horror author Simon Clark.
Having become sick of working in a wholly unsatisfying job, Chris Stainforth decides to take the pluge and invest all of their money into a make-or-break dream-come-true venture. And so, together with his wife, Ruth, and their six-year-old son, David, they move down to the tiny coastal village of Out-Butterwick where they’ve purchased an old nineteenth century sea-fort which they plan to convert into a hotel.
Upon arriving, the Stainforth’s set about the goliath task of renovating the old sea-fort. But the arrival of the Stainforth’s in Out-Butterwick and their proposed refurbishment project, doesn’t go down well with the local community. It’s not that the people of Out-Butterwick are in any way unfriendly or unwelcoming. Far from it in fact. However, behind the smiles and the warm welcome, the residents of Out-Butterwick are deeply concerned about the Stainforth’s presence there.
For the giant sea-fort, with its twenty-foot-high stone walls, was built on a large igneous rock known as Manshead. And here, on this massive lump of stone, with the sea crashing against its sides, curring it off from the mainland when the tide comes in, a lingering memory of the ancient rituals that had been performed there still remains. And it’s is here, that a power that is older than humankind is stirring; the time of its return drawing nearer by the day.
The people of Out-Butterwick know it is coming. They can feel the growing surge of energy. But as they scan the horizon, out to sea, they know that there will be others who will want to drink from this power being unleashed on Manshead. Others that the American, Mark Faust, remembers well from his voyage on the Mary-Anne all those years ago. Others who had boarded the ship, and begun to slaughter the crew. But Mark had gotten away, and in the process he had sunk the ship; drowning the blood-thirsty terrorists just off the shores of Out-Butterwick.
But now those very same brutal and blood-thirsty warriors were back. Resurrected and closing in on the village. They long for the energy that this ancient god is bestowing on the area. And they will stop at nothing to drink from the power. For they are the Saf Dar: The breakers of the line…
‘Nailed By The Heart’ starts off at a reasonably reserved pace; gradually plodding along whilst setting down the fundamental elements that make up the backdrop for the tale. And indeed, it takes a good quarter of the novel before the inevitable horror really starts to kick in. And when it does, the sudden revelation of the sheer visceral brutality of the horror hits the reader like a recklessly swung sledgehammer to the face.
What at first appears to be quite a quietly set horror story suddenly leaps into a fast escalating situation of nightmarish horror. When the moment is right, and the reader is suitably at ease with the characters, then Clark jumps right in with a sudden splurge of gut-wrenching horror – unleashing disturbingly-imaginative scenes of maddening mutation amongst the resurrected dead.
Suddenly the Saf Dar are everywhere and slaughtering everyone they come across, all done whilst maintaining a strangely menacing slowness. With Out-Butterwick now under siege from these resurrected muscle-bound warriors, Clark doesn’t hang around before he’s flung all of the village’s residents behind the twenty-foot stone walls of the sea-fort.
It’s at this point in the novel, around the half-way mark, that the tension and suspense begins to creep upwards. The twenty or so people cowering behind the walls of the sea-fort have a finite supply of food and water. And outside the Saf Dar are waiting; picking off anyone who attempts to venture outside the safety of the sea-fort.
Okay, so the whole plot is brought about in a pretty hokey fashion. So many aspects are amusingly far-fetched, with only a mild attempt at justifying any of the glaringly outlandish points. But the novel’s not about making the reader truly believe in this crazy turn in events. It’s about allowing the suspension of disbelief in order to bring in a storyline of exciting terror, tension and bloodshed. And with these qualities alone the novel is a success.
However, it must be said that the main let-down for the tale is the noticeably inconsistent and somewhat hesitant pacing. From the slow and quite drawn-out first quarter of the novel, it suddenly jumps into a burst of manic action, which churns along for a short while before it begins to die off again. Only after a sudden influx of energy is brought back in to the novel does it begin to regain its feet and commence its mounting gallop towards the monumental ending that is sure to follow.
Throughout the length of the tale Clark throws in a number of purposefully dropped hints pointing to the meaning behind what is going on. Indeed, key words and phrases keep reappearing – bringing together a particular direction for the course of the story. And slowly but surely, Clark guides the frantic tale towards a wonderfully dramatic finale, where everything comes to an almighty head to finish off what has been on the whole quite an entertaining piece of pulpish horror.
The novel runs for a total of 294 pages.
© DLS Reviews