First published back in February of 1991, ‘Stitch’ formed British author Mark Morris’ second full length novel to see publication, following on from the author’s well-received debut ‘Toady’ (1989).
When twenty-three year old Daniel Latcher, a shy psychology student at Maybury University, is recognised in the local pub by a complete stranger because of a short story he had published in ‘Fear’ magazine, he had absolutely no idea how this supposed chance meeting would affect his life. Over the next hour, without Latcher realising it, Peregrine Stitch extracted as many details about the student’s life as he could. And then, to Latcher’s growing annoyance, he bald-headed loner tagged along with him to the cinema. The man just couldn’t take a hint, and Latcher was just too polite to refuse this annoying man’s company. But later on the night would finally end with his new unwanted companion overstretching the boundaries of friendship just a little too far.
With summer break now over, the students were beginning to return to the university campus, ready for the autumn term. But when Catriona returns to Maybury, she finds that her relationship with Daniel Latcher has taken a sudden turn for the worse. He no longer seems even remotely interested in her. His mind constantly on other things.
Meanwhile twenty-five year old Ian Raven has tuned up in Maybury to start at the university as a mature student. He quickly makes friends with fellow freshers Stephanie Peele and Annie O’Donnell. With both Ian and Annie studying on the same English Literature course, their friendship quickly blossoms. However, Annie soon becomes deeply concerned when her roommate Stephanie starts to get involved with a strange cult calling themselves ‘The Crack’.
Performing seemingly unbelievable illusions in front of his adorning flock, Daniel Latcher, the now confident and charismatic leader of ‘The Crack’ soon has his followers utterly consumed with his powerfully suggestive preaching. And after attending one of the strange meetings where Latcher performed a number of his illusions, Annie knew that there was no way that she was going to be sucked in to this bizarre new cult. Furthermore, she knew that she had to get her friend Stephanie out of it before Latcher and his cabal swallowed her up entirely.
Stephanie decides to seek help and support from Ian and his fellow student friend Neil Gardener. Together the trio begin to look further into Dan Latcher’s strangely persuasive cult. And what they find is far more terrifying than they would ever have imagined.
Meanwhile, Maybury campus is reeling from the news that a knife-wielding killer is active in the vicinity. All of a sudden, nowhere seems safe. And for Ian and Annie, the maddening hell that they are about to uncover will thrust them and those around them into horrific and threatening danger.
And Mr Stitch is ready and waiting for them…
‘Stitch’ is certainly a strange read, stitching together (as it were) the lives of an interesting array of characters, for which most are young students from Maybury University, and weaving together a story of a powerful evil force that embodies the followers of the addictive cult – ‘The Crack’.
The tale appears to take a vast amount of inspiration from Clive Barker’s short story ‘Dread’ which was included within ‘Books Of Blood: Volume Two’ (1984). Indeed, the character of Daniel Latcher quickly becomes an almost carbon-copy of Quaid – their powerful characteristics and controlling personalities utilised to their full effect in both stories.
Indeed, there is something very ‘Charles Manson’ about the way the plot of ‘Stitch’ starts out within the first third of the tale. The brainwashing and controlling of vulnerable young students is a very real and often sensitive avenue to explore in dark speculative fiction such as this. It certainly happens in real life, and can bring about absolutely devastating results. And with purposefully incorporating this corruptible aspect into his tale, Morris has instantly hit the reader square in the face with a thoroughly sinister eventuality that feels all-too-chillingly-real.
Interestingly, at first Morris plays down the general levels of nastiness in the tale. The threat is always waiting, lurking, and on the edge of pouncing. Even when Latcher succumbs to the dominating evil of Peregrine Stitch in those very first few pages, the horror is brief, cut-off in a deliberate cliff-hanger, and without any degree of vividly descriptive horror attached. However, this all helps with building up a firm base of mounting tension towards the gradually unveiling horror that is engulfing the students of Maybury.
Whether intentional or not, Peregrine Stitch comes across as a sort of ‘Pennywise the Clown’ character. He’s twisted and freakish, with the chilling capability to transform his flesh as if from within a terrifying nightmare. Furthermore, Morris puts a great amount of weight into fleshing out a particularly interwoven and important backstory for this twisted antagonist. The end result is a more complex and involved threat to really get the reader engaged when the shit hits the proverbial fan.
One of the great things about the tale is that there’s no clear-cut and simplistic traits behind any of the characters. Whether they’re particularly good or not, everyone’s corruptible in the novel. Anyone can fall foul of an overpowering force. And there’s always some reason for someone turning out the way they have. It’s not necessarily an excuse, but more a symptom of the complexities of life.
The tale does move along at a reasonable rate, chugging along with a wealth of character interaction, solid dialogue, and plenty of twists and turns to the storyline scattered about to keep the reader guessing. Okay, so it’s not the most exciting or enthralling of reads. It’s more of a brisk walk that an all-out sprint. But in carefully laying down the storyline, Morris was instead able to put a greater degree of emphasis on the oppressive atmosphere that keeps on growing, along with an ever-building tension and a mystery that stays just out of reach.
With the story edging towards its final conclusion, Morris suddenly ramps up the levels of action and terror, making the story jump out of the relatively safe rut that it had been plodding along within thus far. This surprising burst of energy so late on in the tale initially feels a little out of place, but soon just carries the reader along with its new lease of life, creating a final whirlwind of horror to ultimately sign the tale off with.
The novel runs for a total of 423 pages.
© DLS Reviews