First published in this complete trilogy volume back in April of 2012, British author Matt Shaw’s ‘Happy Ever After: The Trilogy’ collected together all three of the original ‘Happy Ever After’ stories from the ‘Peter Chronicles’.

The ‘Happy Ever After’ books were later re-released within the ‘His Name Was Peter’ (2017) complete collection, which compiled all the ‘Peter chronicles’ stories – apart from the short story ‘Before Vanessa’ (2019) – into one complete volume.

This particular collection includes a short two page introduction from Shaw entitled ‘Writing The Trilogy’ in which he (quelle surprise) talks about the writing of the original trilogy as well as the response it received.

Happy Ever After

For the past four weeks the girl had been assisting Peter with his internet banking.  At first he thought she was quite rude.  But over the next few meetings, Peter had grown fond of her.  He’d realised she was probably just reacting to the all the hassle she received from the endless lines of customers.  She was prettier than the other dates he’d had.  A brunette with a smile that lit up her face.  She could very well be then one.  Peter certainly hoped so.  It would be a shame to kill her.  Besides, the garage was getting full.

Since their first meeting, Peter had been preparing his mother’s old farm.  Bricking up the windows and doors.  Making it secure.  Ready for her arrival.

Peter was excited by the prospect of what was to come.  The time the two of them would share together.  He had to get it just right.  Their time together would be precious.  Time for their love to blossom.  Time for her to become totally his, and his alone.

And when she got there.  When she woke up in their house for the first time.  Peter knew she’d realise the lengths he gone to just for her.  The sacrifices he’d made.  It was all for her.

Then he’d ask the all-important question.  The question which would map out the rest of their lives together.  If there was no one else, just her and him, for the rest of their lives…could she ever love him?

For twenty-nine-year-old Vanessa, her answer to the question was simple.  She’d do whatever she could to survive.  Whatever it took to get through this and get away from this madman.  Her answer was “yes”…

So, this is where it all began.  This was the first book Shaw penned in his ‘Peter Chronicles’ series.  In the chronology of the series, it actually slots in as the sixth instalment (although the ‘Before Vanessa’ (2019) chapbook would actually slot in just before this book), with Peter now a thirty-two-year-old man with one fucked-up vision of creating a ‘Happy Ever After’ scenario of him and the not-so-lucky girl he chooses to fulfil the part of his partner.

Here we see so many of the details from the various (latter written) prequels, now coming into play within the story.  Things like the PVC red dress, the microwave meals, the stripped bare house, and of course the recent demise of Susie.  These were all written as small details within the formation of this novel.  Small details to flesh out the fuller painting of the original tale.  However, through their incorporation within the latter penned prequels, they now hold that much more weight.  That much more meaning.

How Shaw has carefully worked backwards, taking these intricacies and weaving them into those ‘chronologically earlier’ instalments is nothing short of ingenious.  It’s done so flawlessly, so incredibly neatly, that the progression of the story is pretty much perfect.  Seriously, not a hair is out of place.

As with all the books in the series, the narrative is delivered through the eyes of these two principal characters living the story.  The whole thing is built from their dialogue and thought processes.  And through that, Shaw is able to create a tale which feels intimate, personal, and hauntingly real.

This particular book is undoubtedly the ‘key instalment’ in the whole series.  Not just because it was the first to be written, and therefore formed the basis for the plot, the concrete platform from which the others were then built upon.  Rather, this book delivers the absolute essence of the whole series.  It shows us Peter in all his terrifying but entirely human wretchedness.  Its story is the fundamental backbone of the entire series.  The crucial episode which everything had been penned towards.  Thankfully, it doesn’t disappoint one fucking bit.

The idea behind the tale is as terrifying as it is inspired.  A psychologically disturbed male who abducts a young woman, so he can create a fucked-up fairy-tale existence for the two of them, as forced lovers spending the rest of their lives together.  A sort of Matt Shaw does ‘Misery’ (1987) affair – only a great deal darker.

The delivery of the story is done in a sort of piecemeal format.  Only as the novel progresses do we learn the lengths Peter has gone to in order to create this ‘Happy Ever After’ scenario for him and his victim – Vanessa.  As the chapters progress, so we learn more and more about how terrifyingly psychotic he is.  How far his delusion extends.  How twisted his sociopathic mind is.

Again, as with the other books in the series, the real standout strength in the tale is with the delivery of Peter’s perspective.  Observing how his mind works, how he rationalises his decisions, and justifies even the most messed-up actions.

I should warn you that this is extreme horror.  It’s very much a Matt Shaw offering.  So, expect all those trademark moments that’ll churn your gut.  We’re talking violence, rape, graphic scenes of visceral gore and a wee appearance of our old friend cannibalism.

If you’ve enjoyed any of Shaw’s other offerings, then this is definitely one you’ll want to pick up.  Although, to get the most out of the tale, it’s best to read the books in chronological order, so via the omnibus ‘His Name Was Peter’ (2017), which is only missing the ‘Before Vanessa’ (2019) short story.  That way you get to understand more of what’s behind the villain of the piece.  You get to know Peter that much better.  And because of that, this fucked-up story becomes that much darker.

The novel runs for a total of 96 pages.

G.S.O.H. Essential

Finding the right partner to settle down with wasn’t easy.  Internet dating wasn’t a good fit for Peter.  Nor was meeting someone of the opposite sex at a bar or club.  No, the place where Peter found it best to meet a potential new partner was at the local supermarket.

Peter had been single for a little while and felt ready to get back on the saddle.  Recent dates hadn’t gone too well.  Peter was good-looking, charismatic and charming.  He ought to be able to find the perfect partner for himself without too much difficulty.  At least that’s how he saw it.

He’d gone to the local supermarket, to pick up a few things, as well as to see who he might bump into, when he spotted Susie.  She was one of the cashiers.  Young, attractive, with a beautiful, happy smile.  As soon as he saw her, Peter knew she was the one he’d been searching for.  His perfect partner.  And he’d do whatever it took to get her.

When the young, well-groomed and quite handsome man started up a conversation at her checkout, Susie couldn’t help but smile.  He was chatty, charming and seemed genuinely interested in her.  Which is why she agreed straight off to swap numbers and for him to cook for her at her house.

Although when it came to the date, Susie found Peter not really to be the right fit for her.  He was friendly and polite and everything.  There was just something a little odd about him.  Something a little off.  Besides, it was probably too soon for her, after breaking up with Sam.  She knew Sam had been bad for her, but she still had feelings for him.

So afterwards she sent Peter a quick text message saying she’d just like to be friends.  Plain and simple.  They’d only had the one date, so he couldn’t possibly take the text badly…

Now then, it’s time to meet Peter as a young adult for the first time.  In the previous instalments to the ‘Peter Chronicles’, we’ve seen his life from conception all the way to that of a young fifteen-year-old boy.  We’ve witnessed the hardship, the gut-churningly vile acts forced upon him.  The stuff which would undoubtedly have messed with his mind.  Corrupted and warped every inch of his psyche.  It’s been a painful and incredibly sad journey to this point.  The question on your lips would of course be, what sort of man would all these heinous actions upon him have created?  The answer is slowly fed to you, spoonful by spoonful, in this incredibly sinister next instalment.

In essence what we have is a story that starts off somewhat akin to Bret Easton Ellis’ ‘American Psycho’ (1991).  Peter, now a young man in his early thirties, has a lot going for him.  Somehow, he’s managed to develop some charisma, he’s able to portray a certain degree of charm and light-hearted wit.  He’s certainly not a broken individual, as one would expect. Well, not broken in the sense of someone who can’t function in society.  Although Shaw never really mentions if Peter’s managed to hold down any jobs, or anything like that (at this stage anyway).  Furthermore, the years since he was fifteen and lost his mother, aren’t detailed at all, other than Shaw vaguely eluding to a significant female from his recent past.

The opening chapters may have you thinking the tale is going to echo Ellis’ aforementioned darkly comical serial killer classic, however, it’s not long before you realise we’re being taken along an entirely different path.  Well, not entirely different.  Peter is one fucked up, sociopathic lunatic who’s able to put up a mask of charisma and charm.  However, where Bateman was a success, where Bateman generally had it all and took whatever he wanted, poor old Peter doesn’t boast a similar successful life.

The entire story is told from two perspectives – that of Peter and that of the supermarket checkout girl Susie.  The ‘Peter’ chapters are really where the story buzzes with an energy, an irrepressible intrigue that pulls you in seemingly effortlessly.  Shaw has managed to create this entirely believable persona in Peter.  A character who becomes real.  A character with a completely fucked up vision of the world.  And you take front seat in his head.

There are so many wonderfully inspired details in this story; intricate little details to Peter which consolidate the unique character he is.  The microwave meals.  His obsessively frugal nature.  His perception of people, of how they interact, their motivations and how he perceives how they must think.  It’s incredibly well thought through.  Unnervingly realistic.  Like you’re reading something akin to Ted Bundy’s diary.

The ‘Susie’ chapters allow us to put our feet back onto terra firma.  It grounds us from the escalating madness and lets us see things with far more clarity.  This ‘saner’ perspective cleverly accentuates Peter’s delusions.  Establishes a carefully delivered juxtaposition to the fucked-up view of what’s developing.

This is a novel that once again shows the incredible versatility of the author.  How he can get into the head of his characters and reproduce the thought patterns in such a believable way.  At times its truly unnerving.  But there’s always an undercurrent of black comedy to it.  Quirky mannerisms and outrageous thought patterns, which you can help but chuckle at in a slightly guilty way.

I absolutely loved this instalment.  Here we see Shaw beginning to bring it all together.  It truly feels like a monster in the making.  A psychotic serial killer, who’s beginning to explore his devious pathway.  And the most disturbing part about it, is how it just feels so normal from behind Peter’s eyes.  It just comes so naturally.  Makes logical sense.

I’ll end this review with a small segment that sums the novel up so perfectly.  Possibly one of the best quotes from a serial killer novel, that for me, encapsulates the tale so perfectly:

“I’ll find someone else after a suitable grieving period.  I wonder, what is a suitable grieving period?  Couple of hours?  Longer?  Shorter?  I’ll need to Google it after I’ve cleared the mess up.”

Genius!

The novel runs for a total of 132 pages.
A Fresh Start

Vanessa was trapped in Peter’s house.  She was also totally alone now, other than Peter’s blood-splattered motionless corpse and the other bodies decomposing in his garage.  She’d explored the entirety of the house for any way to escape, but despite her best attempts, her searches had been to no avail.

She persisted with the plastic cutlery, scratching away at the cement between the brickwork that blocked the front entrance.  However, the disposable utensils did little to carve away an escape route.  Despite having a kitchen packed to the ceiling with provisions, Vanessa was beginning to realise her chances of getting away were looking increasingly slim.

Her ankle was also worsening.  The joint having swollen to worrying proportions.  Moving around the house was proving difficult.  Whenever she put even the slightest pressure on her damaged foot, crippling pain would shoot up her leg.

The situation was taking its toll on the already emotionally drained young woman.  Making matters worse, she couldn’t shake off the sound of her once abductor’s taunting voice.  Wherever she went, whatever she did, the voice of Peter would be there.  Declaring his love.  Persuading her that her attempts to leave were futile.

Vanessa was on the verge of giving up.  Her determination to escape was dissolving with each passing hour.  Not that she was able to keep track of time.  Locked away in the house, days merged together.  Time seemed to stand still.

And all the time, Peter was there.  Telling her to give up.  Telling her to stay with him forever…

DLS Review:
So, here we have the final book in the original ‘Happy Ever After’ trilogy.  It’s the one that garnered split opinions from much of Shaw’s fanbase.  All because of ‘that ending’.  I’ll get onto that in a minute, but first, let’s talk about the rest of the story.

The tale begins exactly from where ‘Happy Ever After’ (2008) left off.  Poor Vanessa is now alone in the house and her sanity is slipping by the second.  We saw the first signs of this at the end of the first book.  Those haunting last few paragraphs that probably sent shivers cascading down your spine.

Vanessa’s fragile mental state is very much the focus of this instalment.  Indeed, the whole tale is focussed solely upon Vanessa now that Peter’s dead.  So instead of the tale being delivered from a dual perspective, which they pretty much all have so far, this book has Vanessa, front and centre of it all.

It’s a deeply claustrophobic tale.  One which is spent for the large part, trapped within the confines of this bricked-up house.  For this, Shaw absolutely knows how to ramp up the tension and feeling of overwhelming desperation.  It’s all told from Vanessa’s perspective, and with this, Shaw capitalises on every single one of her heightened emotions.  The effect is one of near suffocation.  You can’t help but live the fear, the desperation that ties your guts into knots with each failed attempt at finding an escape.

What’s worse, what troubles you more, is probably our poor protagonist’s fledging sanity.  The constant appearance of Peter, whether as a voice in her head, or a hallucinatory vision of her dead abductor, piles on the horror of the situation further.  And it’s when Vanessa starts to see sense in Peter’s words – when the inner turmoil, the conflict in her mind, starts to slip in favour of Peter’s reasoning – that’s when your blood turns to ice.

There’s much more to the novel that all this.  However, to cover any further elements in the narrative would be to spoil some of the heart-in-mouth moments to come for those who haven’t read the tale yet.  But needless to say, Shaw has a hell of a lot more up his sleeve in this book than what’s covered in this review.  Scenes that will shock you as much as send your mind spiralling into a maelstrom of conflicting chaos.

Out of all the instalments in the series thus far, this is the story which focuses upon the psychological impact of a traumatic event.  This is where we witness a slipping sanity in real time.  Where paranoia becomes a foe equal to, if not greater than, a more flesh and bone threat.  Oh yes, it’ll fuck you up good and proper.

And then we have ‘that ending’.  The twist ending that puzzles as much as it divides the readers.  Of course, there’ll be no spoilers lurking in this review.  Although I am able to say where I stand on it…and honestly, that’s with a feeling of slight disappointment.  I see what Shaw was trying to achieve.  It’s a clever idea for a twist ending.  One which encapsulates the overall essence of the novel.  But at the same time, I couldn’t help but want more from the ending.  I needed something stronger, something with tighter links holding the structure of the last couple of books together.  For me personally, an alternative ending – if Shaw was to ever revisit and pen such – would be incredibly welcome.  Something I can wholeheartedly imagine many readers would echo my thirst for and fully embrace.

The novel runs for a total of 76 pages.

The collection runs for a total of 294 pages.

© DLS Reviews

Other ‘Peter Chronicles’ instalments:





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