First published in a trilogy volume back in April of 2014, British author Matt Shaw’s ‘Happy Ever After: Volume 2’ collected together the last three books from original ‘Happy Ever After’ stories, from the ‘Peter Chronicles’.

The three books contained within this collected edition are ‘Peter’ (2012), ‘All Good Things’ (2012) and ‘Once Upon A Time’ (2013) along with bonus details of Peter’s medical records.

These three 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.

Peter

It had been months since the whole Vanessa incident, and the memory of her still haunted him.  Peter couldn’t understand why she was still lurking at the forefront of his mind.  She was gone.  Just another girl who said she could never love him.  Another disappointment.  They were certainly stacking up.  As were the bodies.

Peter now saw himself as a changed man.  He even had a Facebook page where he actively communicated with others.  Well…girls.  He was surprised how easy it was to get chatting to these girls.  Especially considering the internet was full of weirdos, hiding behind their screens, pretending to be whoever they wanted to be.

He’d also gotten himself a part-time job answering the phones for an insurance company.  As well as raising a little extra money to pay the bills, it also helped him edge his way back into society.  It was something Peter deemed important.  To seem normal.  Someone who could be trusted.  Liked even.

The job didn’t pay well.  In fact, Peter found each month he was dipping into his inheritance.  He’d cut back on everything other than the bare necessities.  Although he wouldn’t cut back on the money he spent on Angela.  The gifts he bought her or the Skype calls she’d charge him for.

Speaking to Angela helped Peter move on from Vanessa.  He’d been doing so well at keeping his dark side hidden.  Keeping the evil within him at arm’s length.  So well at trying to live a normal life.  Easing himself back into the society which had never truly accepted him in the first place.

However, for Peter, the good times never last.  For Peter, it was only a matter of time before the monster within him came out and ruined it all…

So, after the vague conclusion in ‘A Fresh Start’ (2012), it was always going to be damn interesting to see where Shaw was going to take the Peter Chronicles next.  Of course, the first thing you’ll want to understand is what the hell really happened to Peter and/or Vanessa.  In the ‘His Name Was Peter’ (2017) omnibus, Shaw includes a short explanatory paragraph stating his thinking was Vanessa died after Peter slipped her too many drugs.  As you’ll learn early on in this next instalment, that’s not the explanation Shaw eventually went with.  In fact, Vanessa’s passing turns out to be far more brutal (quelle surprise).

Whatever your opinion of the ending of ‘A Fresh Start’ (2012), at the end of the day, it doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) detract from where Shaw has now taken the story.  In essence, we’re back to business as usual.  Peter’s appendages are fully intact and he’s got another decomposing corpse stinking up his garage.

In his head, everything that’s happened to all the women he’s killed has just been a series of unfortunate twists of fate.  Justifiable outcomes within one fucked-up sociopathic mind.  It’s an aspect of the series which Shaw has truly mastered.  Probably the scariest part of the books.  The way Peter’s mind works.  The way he reasons his deplorable and sadistic actions.

However, now our favourite antagonist sees himself as a changed man.  He’s now made the conscious decision to get himself back into society.  To take up a job, build up some trust, maybe even make some friends.  But his desire for a woman and that ‘Happy Ever After’ scenario is always there.  It’s that constant drive behind everything for him.

Interestingly, for the first time in these books, Peter is portrayed more than ever as a sad and pathetic character who should be pitied.  Obviously, we know what’s essentially at the root of his fucked-up serial killer urges.  We’ve witnessed the creation of this monster in those earlier instalments.  However, seeing how he’s so easily taken advantage of by a woman who’s after his money, adds a whole new layer to the tale.  It’s a degree of emotionally conflicting complexity which sits within the overall narrative perfectly.  It adds a layer of skin to the monster.  Makes him that little more human.  That little more real.  And because of that, that much more terrifying.

However, what stands out the most in this particular story is the incorporation of so many perfectly crafted twists.  So many times I sat there with the book in my hands, jaw agape at the next twist I’d completely not seen coming.  The execution of each is absolutely flawless.  The impact that much more jaw dropping because of this.

Once again, this offering contains some damn brutal scenes.  Peter is not a man you want to get on the bad side of.  Here we see the repercussions of such in all its visceral and blood-splattered glory.  In fact, the latter chapters would almost certainly sit on the ‘extreme horror’ shelving for which Shaw’s become a veritable veteran of now.

All in all this is quite simply another solid addition to the series.  Business as usual pretty much sums up this instalment.  But that’s meant in a good way.  It delivers more of what makes the series so damn entertaining.  Capitalises on its strengths and tentatively explores some new pathways in the mix.

Yes, this is damn good reading my sicko friends.

The novella runs for a total of 68 pages.

All Good Things

Peter Jenkins decided he wasn’t cut out for love.  He’d come to terms with the fact he’ll never find love and it would never find him.  So instead, he’d embrace his true nature.  From now on he’d fill his time more constructively.

He’d still seek out women on the internet.  Women like Angela.  But instead of searching for love, his intentions were now quite different.  He’d find these women and stop them from hurting men like him.  Stop them from preying on those who were hoping for someone to love.  Stop these rinsers for ruining more men’s lives.  Through his actions he hoped others might finally stand a chance of finding their true love instead of just being used.

Which is how Peter found Jade.  On the internet she hustled men for their money.  Played off their affections.  Played off their desperation.  At night she was a stripper at a nearby club.  She oozed sleaze and looked like a cheap tart.  Except she wasn’t a tart, nor was she cheap.  The dances she did were expensive and the gifts she tricked men into buying her didn’t come cheap.  She was everything Peter had come to loath in women.

Although now Peter had given up on searching for a companion, the empty void left Peter feeling lonely.  So, whenever Peter felt the need for company, he’d go out to the industrial estate where the hookers congregated, and he’d pull one away from their fucked-up lives, just for one night.  A night away from the misery of their chosen profession.  A night off.  And he’d show them not all men are evil.  Not all men wanted to take advantage of them.  And then he’d send them on their way.  Maybe in his own way he was saving these women.

Which is how Peter met Emma.  And in Emma, he began to see something else.  Something he’d given up on.  Someone who could finally offer him his happy ever after…

Here we have the final instalment.  The last book in the Peter Chronicles series.  If like me you’ve read them all in chronological order, one after the next, then you’ll feel you’ve come a long journey to get here.  Most importantly, you’ll feel you know the character of Peter Jenkins incredibly intimately.

This final book sees a defining point in Peter.  Throughout the previous books he’s been nothing short of a monster.  A psychotic sociopath who will do whatever it takes to find love.  Well…force his idea of love, rather than actually find it.  However, here we witness a monumental turning point.  Okay, so the guy’s still damn screwed in the head.  However, there’s something else under the darkness.  Something breaking the surface.  Dare I say a hint of fucking honest-to-god wholesome goodness to him.

Shaw has spent a long time painting the picture of a very human monster.  One who has his own perverse reasoning to justify his despicable actions…to take away some of the evil from behind his eyes.  Here the depth of the humanity within Peter Jenkins becomes the prime factor in the story.  Fucking hell, it’s verging on being a frigging love story rather than a fucked-up serial killer thriller.

To get here you’ve undoubtedly come so far with the story of Peter.  Vested so damn much into the character.  To see these beautifully human qualities now forming, is incredible.  How Shaw has somehow managed to fuck with you so damn much that a piece of your heart actually goes out to this guy.  The guy who’s abducted, raped and murdered so many women.  Just two books ago you’d never have expected you’d be feeling a sense of happiness at Peter finally finding something verging on actual love.  Something he’d pretty much given up on.

They say love finds you when you stop looking.  Well, that old adage has been amplified and distorted to monumental proportions here.  It feels like everything is finally coming together.  That there’s some sort of human hope in every dark soul.  To have achieved this with Peter is incredible.

Oh but of course there’s still plenty of messed up horror nestled within the tale.  Some truly gut-churning violence that explodes out of the page when the shit eventually hits the fan.  Furthermore, the twists Shaw throws in are just incredible.  Another prime example of how to absolutely nail some completely unpredictable twists from hell.

To be fair, the entire Peter Chronicles series has been absolutely superb.  Which instalment has been the best?  Honestly, it’s a tough one to call.  Especially as each offering feeds off the previous ones, as they really should.  The end result is that we’ve a lot of built up characterisation and history by the time we’ve come to this ninth book.  Nevertheless, what Shaw achieves in this final instalment is absolutely breath-taking.  Not for one second do you feel tired of the plot, the narrative or of Peter.  You’ve seen him gradually evolve to become this complex man dealing with such colossal inner turmoil.  There’s an emotional battleground being fought in his head, and you’re standing there in the thick of it all.

This is just such a good book to finish the series with.  A near-perfect finale, bringing everything full circle in the end.  Beautifully fitting.  I cannot recommend this book, or indeed the entire series, enough.  Just fucking superb reading.

The novella runs for a total of 117 pages.

Once Upon A Time

When Stephanie looked into the eyes of her twelve-year-old son, she saw the child she’d always wanted to look after and love.  She also saw something else.  When she looked into Michael’s face, she also saw the death he’d brought into the world with him. 

This was her life.  This was who she was now.  Stephanie.  Mother to a son who should never have called her his mother in the first place.

They lived together in the isolated house.  Just the two of them.  They didn’t need anyone else.  It would be too much of a risk.  Even after Fiona changed their names, it was too much of a risk.  If they knew what she’d done to keep Peter, what she’d sacrificed for his existence, they’d throw away the key.

Of course, Peter was none the wiser.  He had no idea of his real name.  Of who his real parents were.  Of who this woman claiming to be his mother really was.

Peter had no real memory of his father, other than the incident in the kitchen.  The memory which troubled him even to this day.  Only after Peter had stabbed the man in the back, was he told it had been his father.  Peter killing him had to be their secret, or the police would take him away from her and lock him up.

The next day Fiona had put Peter in a dress.  It was a way of making him more like a lady.  More like the child Fiona had always craved for.

What Peter had done had been a brave action from an otherwise meek boy; a boy who only wanted to save his mother from a bad man.  Now she wanted to save Peter from the memory turning him into a monster.  She would not allow her son to be a monster.  What she was doing – what she had done since it had first happened – she knew was the best way of keeping him safe from the evil lurking within him, and more importantly, keeping him close to her for as long as she possibly could.

Peter was dead.  Michael was born.  And Fiona wanted to turn him into someone else.  Someone without that killer instinct.  Someone who’d want to stay with her forever…

The whole story of Peter originally started with the novel ‘Happy Ever After’ (2008).  The ‘9 Months’ trilogy (i.e. the first three instalments in the series) were written and released later on, by way of a prequel trilogy.  ‘Once Upon A Time’ was a prequel to ‘G.S.O.H. Essential’ (2011), which itself was a prequel to ‘Happy Ever After’ (2008).  As you can see, the order in which the stories were written and released makes the ‘Star Wars’ sequence of releases seem simplistic.  However, when reading the stories in the (highly recommended) chronological order (rather than the original order they were written and released in), you get to observe and really appreciate the full evolution of Peter into the psychopathic monster he’ll one day become.

With this instalment we have an absolute critical slice into this formation of the man Peter will become.  We’re now twelve years on from the ‘9 Month’ trilogy, with Peter (renamed Michael to hide his real identity by his ‘mother’) close to becoming a teenager.  Peter has become a quiet, introverted child, dominated by his overbearing mother.  It’s that classic serial killer premise.  The ‘nature versus nurture’ argument, weighted heavily towards the side of nurture in this particular narrative.

At twelve Peter takes his first life.  In a moment of desperate panic, he thrusts a kitchen knife into the back of a man who’s strangling his dear old mother.  Of course, fruit-loop Fiona has Peter believe he’s just killed his own father, rather than the truth of the matter which is it’s one of the sleazy punters she has visiting the house for her ‘personal services’.

That key moment, seeing Peter kill a man, pushes Fiona further down the spiralling abyss of her madness.  She starts dressing Peter in dresses in an attempt to make him more ‘ladylike’.  His action figures and other toys are replaced with dolls and make-up kits.  It’s all incredibly creepy, especially as it’s told from the perspective of Peter, who’s innocent mind is understandably confused by everything that’s going on.

The small family unit Shaw paints with Fiona and Peter (aka Stephanie and Michael) is one which worsens and worsens.  The regular occurrence of male visitors to the house, the home-schooling Fiona does, the strange sexual undertones to everything, it’s all so gut-churningly fucked-up.  But that ain’t nothing.  It’s when Fiona starts allowing the men to have their way with Peter that the whole fucking thing plummets off a cliff edge.

If you’re not accustomed to the hardest of extreme horrors, or the very darkest of messed-up thrillers, then this is one to be very wary of.  This is brutal, uncompromising fiction at its darkest.  Utterly sick.  Emotionally proactive to the nth degree.  The sort of thing that’ll haunt you for a long old time afterwards.

Shaw doesn’t go into graphic detail on the repeated rape of poor young Peter (thank fuck for that).  However, the suffering he undergoes is painted in the darkest of hues.  I guess it’s the fact that his ‘mother’ – or rather the women portraying herself as his mother – allows these vile acts to go on.  She actively facilitates it.  A sort of Rose West without the contributing factor of a psychotic husband urging her along.

If you can stomach the heinous brutality of the story, then you’ll find it a damn solid piece of truly troubling horror fiction.  Shaw’s clearly no stranger to true crime serial killer cases.  The textbook signs of a “serial killer in the making” are all there.  The overbearing lunatic mother, the animal torture, the lure into sexual practices at a terrifying young age, and the distancing of the child from those of a same age.  They’re all the contributing factors to the gradual corruption of the poor, impressionable and heartbreakingly devoted young boy.

In this instalment, perhaps more than in most of the other books, Shaw really shows his undeniable skill at writing powerful and deeply unnerving fiction without the need to delve into graphic, visceral extremities.  His writing in this story is so furiously evocative, it gets into your head as well as ripping at your every one of your heartstrings.

But be warned.  This really is an incredibly tough read.  Do not take that warning lightly.

The novella runs for a total of 82 pages.

© DLS Reviews

Other ‘Peter Chronicles’ instalments:





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