First published back in October of 1989, British horror author Shaun Hutson’s novel ‘Nemesis’ carried on with the over-the-top splatterpunk template that had become somewhat of a trademark for the author now.
Whilst the Luftwaffe were dropping their bombs upon London in August of 1940, biologist George Lawrenson was deep underground in the subterranean Headquarters, seventy feet beneath the pavement of Whitehall. For the last fifteen years, Lawrenson had dedicated his life to Project Genesis. And now he was presenting his work to Winston Churchill for the first time. But Churchill didn’t like what he saw in the report. Genetic and biological experimentation to breed a super-army capable of untold violence and destruction. Churchill couldn’t have his name against such outlandish experimentation. And so he instructs the Home Office to warn Lawrenson to cease with the project. But the biologist is far from over with Project Genesis. And even after the biologist’s untimely death, his wife, Margaret Lawrenson, keeps his work alive – giving birth to George Lawrenson’s offspring alone and undetected.
Decades later and eighteen-year-old Gary Sinclair finds himself stranded when his motorbike breaks down five miles outside of the small town of Hinkston. It’s the middle of the night and Gary can see a long walk ahead of him. But all that changes when he comes across a car that’s been left running in the middle of the road. Realising that he might just have been saved a long walk through the night, Gary approaches the car; trying the doors as he walks around the vehicle. And that’s when he’s brutally attacked by a knife-wielding assailant; his still warm corpse bundled into the rear compartment before the car continues on with its journey.
Meanwhile, in Clapham, sixteen-year-old Caroline Fearns is baby-sitting John and Susan Hacket’s four-year-old daughter, Lisa. But the night is to be the young teenagers last when the thugs, Peter Walton and Ronald Mills, break into the Hacket’s house and force Caroline to strip for them at knifepoint before raping and killing her. And then their attention moves on to Lisa Hacket.
Later that night, when twenty-five-year-old Susan Hacket arrives back home after visiting her sick father in hospital, her life collapses before her eyes as she is confronted by the flickering blue blur of police lights outside her property and the covered corpses of Caroline Fearns and her daughter being carted out. However, for thirty-year-old English teacher John Hacket, the guilt and remorse at being out when their daughter and her babysitter were murdered is even worse. Instead of working late, as he had told his wife he was doing, John Hacket had been with twenty-two-year-old Nikki Reeves who he had been having an affair with for the past three months.
And so, over the following painful days, John understandably backs off from the affair. However, Nikki refuses to just let her new lover go quite so easily, and so writes to Susan Hacket telling her of the intimate affair. Having just gone through the devastating trauma of her daughter’s funeral, the revelation of the affair pushes Susan too far for her to be able to cope with where she is, and so she decides to go to Hinkston to stay with her sister, Julie Clayton and their family for a while.
Meanwhile, Hinkston has been suffering its own troubles. The local gravedigger, thirty-nine-year-old Bob Tucker, has noticed a spate of vandalism in Hinkston cemetery over the last three weeks. However, a spot of vandalism soon becomes the least of his worries when he finds himself being viciously attacked with a spade by an unknown assassin. A horrific and unprovoked attack that sees Tucker dead before his body hits the ground.
And it’s not long before local farmer, Brian Devlin, is attacked and killed with a pitchfork in his own property. But the string of violence and murder in Hinkston doesn’t end there. Twenty-six-year-old Stephen Jennings is next in line; his body mutilated beyond recognition by a frenzied Paula Kirkham.
With the recent surge of murders unbeknown to her, Susan Hacket attempts to rebuild her severely damaged marriage by offering John the chance at a fresh start with her in Hinkston. A position as assistant headmaster at the local school has opened up which seems perfect for John to go for.
And the well-respected Dr Edward Curtis’ clinic specialising in fertility is located nearby, offering the Hacket’s a hope of another child. A hope that is soon to spiral into a horrifying nightmare...
Oh yes this is as crazy as it sounds. Hutson’s gone all-out to take the levels of splatterpunk and over-the-top horror to the furthest extents. And good god does the novel deliver the violence and bloodshed in absolute bucket-loads.
Hutson starts out with a number of brief plot establishing chapters, laying down snippets of the wacko- biologist, George Lawrenson’s scary genetic experimentation in creating a super-army to fight the war with. The novel proceeds to jump back and forth between 1940 and the modern day (some fifty years later), until Lawrenson is finally silenced for good.
From here on it’s pretty much chapter-to-chapter death and mutilation, interspersed with the collapse and then gradual attempted re-build of the Hacket’s marriage. During this first half of the book, characters are merely introduced to become victims of violence, with chapter after chapter detailing some horrific murder or other. And there’s one common link between them all – that little town of Hinkston.
As you’d no doubt expect from not only a Shaun Hutson novel, but also one that’s so geared to cramming in the excessive violence and gore, the characterisation is on the whole pretty darn weak. Even the principal characters of the Hacket’s are cliché-ridden stock characters, cut out from the back of a cereal packet and jammed into a tale that has little time for anything other than violence, deceit, bloodshed and outlandish sexual seduction.
Like with so many of Hutson’s novels, it’s those jaw-dropping memorable scenes of pure splatterpunk that bring about that lasting quality to the tale. At times it seems like all the rest is mere padding. From a nipple-eating-baby to extreme violence and mutilation during some steamy copulation – Hutson has a clear idea of what he wants out of the novel and he just gets to work jamming in the scenes that make ‘Nemesis’ the crazy piece of horror fiction that it is.
The last quarter of the tale culminates with an incredibly predicable supposed ‘twist’ alongside some hilariously farfetched notions of how far you can push a reader before they just have to say “come on Shaun…this is just get too bloody ridiculous, even for you”.
However, as much fun as the tale is, it’s still inherently flawed by the lack of any real impact in the gross-out scenes. No one really gives two hoots about anyone in the novel. They’re all clearly just there to act out their individual roles. And with this unattached and emotion-free basis, the scenes of violence lack any considerable punch (pardon the pun). And as such, the novel ends up coming across as if it tries too hard to be the next gross-out splatterpunk novel, and whilst its eyes are glued to the goal, it misses out on the vital elements that give the moments of extreme violence that all-important oomph.
The novel runs for a total of 349 pages.
© DLS Reviews