First published in February of 2017, extreme horror author Matt Shaw’s collaborative novel ‘The Devil’s Guests’ offered up chapters from a host of guest authors, who each introduced their own characters into a fictional hotel, where Shaw’s psychopathic antagonist would kill them off.
For once the date seemed to be going quite well. In fact, Duncan Bradshaw liked this girl more than any of the other girls he’d met so far on the dating site. What’s more Christie Silvers seemed to be enjoying herself too. A meal at an expensive restaurant was undoubtedly a good first move. And now it looked like she was actually going to come back with him. Not to his house where his ex-wife was still living. No, he’d take his date back to the hotel he was staying at. The Grande Hotel with the distinctly odd manager – Henry.
But The Grande Hotel was no normal inner city hotel. For starters the turnover of staff was quite frankly mindboggling. And they were always foreign. Always carefully chosen by the manager so that they couldn’t be traced back to the hotel. So that they were always dispensable.
That’s because in the age-old building, with its many rooms and winding corridors, Henry was able to fulfil his sadistic compulsions.
From his office he could monitor the comings and goings of his meagre staff and guests. Hidden cameras situated all around the hotel gave him a constant view to every angle of the hotel. Peep holes and secret corridors gave him access to each one of the rooms. Elaborate death traps and hidden torture chambers gave Henry everything he needed to play out his every twisted fantasy.
For Henry was a desperately sick man. He fed on the pain and suffering of others. Within the walls of his hotel Henry was able to pick off his victims, one by one. His staff were given strict instructions of where they could and could not go. Should they overstretch these clear boundaries – then they were shown the cellar. And that was somewhere no one other than Henry wanted to go.
The guests also afforded him a constant stream of potential playthings. Once the hotel doors were locked at night, once the guests’ rooms were secured and no one was able to wonder the corridors, Henry was able to have his fun.
Of course he missed some of them. Agata had been a hard worker. One of the many Polish workers to come through the hotel doors and work the reception desk. She’d been with Henry the longest. She’d not overstretched those all-important boundaries. But all good things must come to an end. And in Agata’s case it had proven to be one delightfully painful end.
But that was just the way things go at The Grande Hotel…
The concept behind this book is one bastard of an ambitious one - creating a novel by stitching together chapters that have been penned by a host of different authors. Indeed, it’s a damn brave project to take on. There are so many aspects that could make it fail. So many inherent difficulties to overcome. It’s therefore no surprise that compiler and lead author Matt Shaw has a bit of a groan within his short foreword about the hardship he endured whilst putting the beast together.
In essence what you have with ‘The Devils Guests’ is a series of mini-stories, all of which Shaw has painstakingly interwoven in order to hopefully form a novel that’s the product of thirteen different authors. Each author bringing their own unique take on the overriding plot. Each adding their own twisted element to the overall premise.
Okay, so even before reading the short blurb on the back of the book you know to expect some pretty extreme horror. First off it’s a Matt Shaw project. It’s got the bastard’s name emblazoned all over it. If that doesn’t signal grit, grime and hard-hitting horror then I don’t know what will. But along with Matt you’ve also got a whole host of very well-known horror names in genre, all contributing to this monstrously dark tale.
Shaw kick starts this mammoth collaboration with the opening sequence, whereby we meet Duncan Bradshaw (a nice nod towards a fellow author) who’s wining and dining his internet date. The mood is set, and the first introduction to The Grande Hotel is laid out. Of course from here it’s just a downward spiral into violence, depravity, torture and gut-wrenching sadism courtesy of Shaw’s handpicked mob of hardboiled authors.
US author Wade H. Garrett gets the ball well-and-truly rolling with the first slab of perverted torture porn. Yeah, we’re quickly introduced to the type of fucked-up monster that our anti-hero antagonist – Hotel Manager Henry is. Garrett’s not one to beat around the bush with this sort of stuff too. There’s absolutely no blushing here – just straight down into the nasty stuff, with barely a second given to the reader before they’re flung headfirst into the messed-up filth.
After a few bridging chapters from Shaw, British author Sam West joins the fight with another brutally uncompromising chapter of cold-hearted torture porn. Indeed, West’s contribution has that whole ‘Hostel’ (2005) vibe going for it; with our two hapless employees – Polish born Maja and Slovakian Adam – thrown into the lion’s den. With West’s chapter the tone of the patchwork tale takes a much more brutally ‘real’ tone to it – shifting away from the fucked up black comedy that Garrett laced his offering with, and instead opting for more of a ‘Jack Ketchum’ style grittiness.
Of course it’s only a short walk from here to the sort of dirt-encrusted depravity that US author Ryan Harding has ready for us. So far (not including Shaw himself) we’ve been treated to three properly uncompromising extreme horror authors. In fact, by the time Harding steps into the ring, we’re only a good sixty-five pages in, but already the atmosphere’s thick with the stench of blood, guts, shit, spunk and bile. Inevitably the torture and serial killer inspired depravity continues in a similar vein to the delightfully coarse notes that the previous contributors have been splattering the pages with.
With the tone of the collaboratory tale now wallowing somewhere south of the gutter, US author Armand Rosamilia joins the ranks to really mix things up a bit. So far we’ve been dished up a platter of splatter from a host of authors who are clearly more than willing to push the boundaries of any sort of taste. Rosamilia however brings in something different. It makes for a welcome gasp of fetid air as we rise up from the blood encrusted offal that has until now become our bed for the night. Rosamilia instead applies a new angle to the premise. A change in circumstances and a way of exploring our deviant antagonist that little more. Snuggled in amongst the visceral wreckage, Rosamilia’s offering feels like a beacon of simmering darkness amongst the almost overwhelming atrocities. And credit where credit’s dues - his offering is a very well position story in the patchwork of cruelty.
Speaking of cruelty – next up is the man behind the book himself – Matt Shaw. Now, as you begin Shaw’s main offering, you can’t help but wonder if he’s s going to try to push things that little bit further. After all, Shaw’s sitting at the dinner table, sharing a meal with some of the nastiest and most hard-hitting extreme horror authors currently out there. And of course this little black spot on the literary world known as ‘extreme horror’ is Shaw’s home turf. It’s territory he undoubtedly feels most at home within. And now he’s welcomed others into this home, to join him in a cannibalistic feast of his serving. The question is – what will Shaw offer up within such company? Will he push things that much further? Can he? The answer is – he can and he most certainly will. With his chapter Shaw’s plummeted to new depths of barbaric horrific torture porn depravity. It’s gut-churning, utterly uncompromising and damn sickening (yeah, I was a tad repulsed by this chapter). Again, we’ve got that whole ‘Hostel’ (2005) vibe going on. Mix in the worst scenes from Ketchum’s ‘The Girl Next Door’ (1989), bring a blowtorch into the equation, and then let rip with the worst shit your diseased mind can conjure up. For reviewing purposes I write notes on novels as I churn through them. For Shaw’s offering my notes are simple but say it all…“Shaw - you nasty nasty bastard”.
So, how do you follow that? Well, in short you don’t. After his gut-punch of a chapter, Shaw takes the story away from the battlefield of viciousness and opens up a whole new side to the novel’s construction. Here we have snippets from the worlds of other guests as they descend upon the hotel. Irish author Kealan Patrick Burke’s the first story to be slotted into the second half of the book. It’s a story that, like with Armand Rosamilia’s earlier offering, takes us into less viscerally dependent turf. Indeed, his story bears many resemblances to Rosamilia’s contribution – but nevertheless has its own intricacies and distasteful notes to ruin the reader’s lunch with.
Bastard of Brutality – Shane McKenzie comes steaming in next with a story that has pretty much nothing to do with the overall premise. Yeah it ends with the slightest of connections to Henry’s hotel from Hell. But to be honest, it’s a pretty weakass attempt at shoehorning in a story. Nevertheless – McKenzie’s offering is a fucking beast! Instantly captivating and brutally urgent. McKenzie’s got a way of stripping away the bullshit and just getting straight to the festering guts of the matter. And that’s exactly what you’ve got here.
Similarly, British author David Moody’s offering has the nose of a “slightly-tweaked-for-inclusion” offering about it. Not that this really detracts from an otherwise damn compelling (and in this case nerve-chilling) read. You’ve got to wonder what it is about men of the cloth that puts so many of us so ill at ease? Oh yeah – it’s probably their incessant desire to molest youngsters! For better or for worse it’s an avenue that Moody takes us down with his short little chapter that carefully burrows deep under your skin.
US author Jeff Strand is next in line. Here the entire vibe of the novel is turned on its head with a light-hearted, comical and ever-so-fundamentally down-to-earth story. The relief of getting away from the unrelenting grime in itself is much needed. The story is also incredibly entertaining, and just so easy and enjoyable to read. Yeah, Strand’s messed with the formula. And because of it, he’s somehow made the whole thing that much better.
Of course, the light relief was only ever going to be for the briefest of stints. Next up British author Gary McMahon shoulder barges his way into the thick of it with his own cold and bleak-as-hell chapter that throws the reader back into the torturous realm of violence and oppressive hostility. McMahon makes sure you’re not completely desensitised to brutality, as he chugs another couple of pints of cruelty down, to ensure the fucked-up party’s still in full swing.
Now then, what ‘The Devil’s Guest’ hasn’t offered up yet is a chapter that knocks you for six via an almighty twist. So to sort that out we have British author Jasper Bark, delivering a vengeance fuelled story with a cunning and carefully executed narrative. It clever and well-crafted and slaps you hard in the face when the reality comes crashing down on the top of your throbbing skull.
After a handful of pages from Shaw (which again are more of a bridging vice than anything else), the tor de force of uncompromising horror that is Wrath James White joins the sweat-drenched party, showing us how you can beat the reader into submission without needing to slice and dice a single soul. It’s a hard-hitting, hard-boiled, hard-as-fucking-nails read. Hurt, pain and uncontrollable pent-up anger are the main dish of the day here. And it’s served on a bed of bloodied and bruised bitterness. Trust me, you’ll feel like you’ve just done ten rounds in the ring after this one.
US author Mark Tufo’s the last hellborn misfit to swing the blood-dripping axe of bad taste at your wheezing chest. So far it’s been one long fucked-up trek through so many weird and downright disturbing minds. Torture, perversion and gore have been the recurring trophies on the mantelpiece throughout the length of this collaborated tale. And as if to consolidate that thought – to crystallise those key elements into one final chapter – Tufo rolls up his sleeves, and gets to work with a vigour that cements in place the guttural ethos of the entire novel. It’s the right way to end the whole thing off with. In fact, it was probably the only way it could have been done.
So there you have it. Matt Shaw’s ambitious collaboration novel ‘The Devil’s Guests’. It’s certainly one mind-melting bastard of a read. So much murder, mayhem and depravity is unveiled within its pages. So much cruelty and perversion. Questions of comeuppance are tentatively raised like saplings breaking through cracks on an alleyways grime-stained pavement. But ultimately it’s the chaotic storm of uncontrollable madness that sweeps you away again and again.
It was always going to be an ambitious project to take on. And somehow Shaw’s managed to pull off an entirely readable novel from it all. Although, as you work your way through the fucked-up maelstrom, you can’t help but feel that the stories haven’t really glued together all that well. It’s certainly not seamless. The blood dripping splits in the flesh of the story are more obvious than mere chapter breaks. In fact, the whole thing feels more like an anthology with a common theme running through it than a standalone novel.
To that end it has to be said that the novel sadly didn’t manage to become greater than the sum of its parts. In its pages are a whole host of mind-numbing escapades into a vast realm of brutal extremity. And, even though the final outcome may not have been the standalone ‘novel’ that Shaw initially envisioned, it still achieves so damn much.
Ultimately ‘The Devil’s Guests’ is like a groggy stagger down a dark alleyway, in which you cross paths with more vicious fuckers than are probably waiting for you in Hell itself. It’s an ever-changing, relentless nightmare sequence, that’s on constant repeat. It’s a barrage of pain and torture. And after each author has chewed your tender flesh, they spit you straight into the gaping mouth of the next evil bastard down the line…
The collaborative novel runs for a total of 190 pages.
© DLS Reviews