First published back in April of 2015, British author David Owain Hughes’s novel-cum-short story collection ‘White Walls And Straitjackets’ offered up a tale following a psychotic serial killing couple, which weaves together a collection of short stories to form a fuller tale of twisted horror.

The novel was later followed-up with the sequel ‘Escapees And Fevered Minds’ (2018).

DLS Synopsis:
White Walls And Straitjackets - 49 Pages (spread over the length of the book)
Crystal and Harry weren’t too happy about the recent reviews they’d received from certain critics of the South Wales media.  However they’d gotten their revenge.  Now they had to put some miles between themselves and their victims.  They had to make themselves scarce.  Get themselves to Porthcawl where they could start over again.  Although first, Crystal wanted to visit her sister, who she hadn’t seen since she was put away at Castell Hirwaun – a hospital for the criminally insane – almost eight years ago.  Although the journey to the hospital will prove far from free of trouble.  Wherever the two end up, their craving for murder will always come to fruition.  Although whilst on the drive, Harry discovers a book in the stolen van’s glove compartment.  A book containing stories that seem to be getting a tad too close to home for comfort…

T.M.M. - 8 Pages
With his ear pressed tight to the thin slats of the walk-in wardrobe, Shelby waited patiently for Silvia Croft to return home.  This was the longest he’d let one of his chosen victims live for, and he was just itching to cut her into tiny little pieces.  He’d already dumped her parents’ corpses in the cubby-hole under the stairs, stacking them neatly in one corner before covering the bodies with coats.  He’d carved his pseudonym into their cooling flesh before he’d done so: T.M.M. along with a flattening music note which he always etched into his victims’ necks.  It was all going perfectly to plan, until the slag turned up with her punk boyfriend.  Still, the rampant sex the two were enjoying, mere metres from where Shelby was hiding, was a good appetiser for the main course yet to come…

The Quiet Room - 9 Pages
He endured the same rigmarole every morning.  Roger would stick the needle full of happy juice deep within his arm, making him buck and coy away in misery; the serum feeling thick as it flowed through his veins.  The nurses and doctors said he had amnesia.  They also called him Mr Stevenson, but he couldn’t remember his first name.  He knew they told the new arrivals he was dangerous.  That they had to keep a close eye on him at all times.  They said he’d slaughtered his own family with a chainsaw.  If only they actually listened.  If only they knew the truth…

Mr Tickles - 5 Pages
His enormous seventeen stone frame stood at six-foot-five.  As ever, the white, black and red make-up which he wore hid his crow’s-feet and tramlines; his joyless face was masked by his joyful camouflage.  On his head a dirty green, curly wig was topped off by a bowler hat.  His teeth were yellow, abused by many years of smoking; a number filed to points.  People couldn’t tell whether Mr. Tickles was altogether human or not.  This thought made him smile.  When he looked in mirrors he liked to look for the person he’d once been, before Mr. Tickles had taken over.  To see if he was there anymore; the scared patient who’d run away from the hospital to join the Circus of Fear.  But he wasn’t there – he never was…

Santa Klaws - 8 Pages
It was that time of the year again when Santa Klaws took to the night sky, riding his sled pulled by his faithful hell-deer.  These were very special reindeer.  Genghis, Attila, Stalin, Saddam, Vlad, Pol and the lead deer – Adolf.  Their old souls had been replaced by those of the people they bore the names of – handpicked spirits, by Lucifer himself, from the deepest chambers of his domain.  Now, as Santa Klaws stood atop a silent house in the Rhondda Valley, with another child bundled up in his giant sack, he felt more than confident that this year he could pick his brother off with his built-for-Arctic-Warfare-rifle, if he should see him on one of the neighbouring roofs.  After all, there’s only room for one Santa…

Lips - 15 Pages
Cynthia Holden had been an easy kill.  Crystal had waited patiently in the woman’s Newport home where she lived alone, before pouncing.  The next critic, Donald Hardy, hadn’t been quite so easy.  He’d slated Harry and her performance within the entertainment magazine he wrote for.  Crystal found she had to use her seductive charm on him before moving in for the kill.  The same applied to the newspaper critic Walter Dipkiss.  But now that the three of them had met with her wrath Harry was happy.  It was what Harry wanted.  And Crystal would do anything for Harry…

Canvas - 9 Pages
Sid had always wanted a tattoo, but his mother had never allowed it.  Painting the skin was a sin, she’d used to say.  But now he was twenty-three, had his own flat and his own income, Sid felt that he was finally his own man.  And today he’d get what he’d always wanted.  Today he’d get a tattoo done at Glaring Graffiti in Cardiff.  A tattoo parlour hidden away down a dark alleyway that he’d only discovered by chance.  A tattoo parlour where the most unlikely of tattooists applied his ancient trade…

Stitch - 15 Pages
Norm was off out to meet Stephanie at the Ivor Hael pub in Llwynypia.  It would be their sixth date and things were going well between them.  In fact, he was pretty sure tonight she’d end up coming back to his.  Which meant he’d need Angharad to make herself scarce.  When he mentioned he was off out, she’d told him to wheel her through to the spareroom.  Of course, she’d taunted him about what she’d do when she was fit and well.  The men she’d have back with her.  Sneered at him for not fucking her himself.  But he knew it was just the tablets talking.  Besides, tonight he had Stephanie to look forward to.  Stephanie and her shapely legs…

Hob’s - 9 Pages
Hob’s Café was a small time joint situated on the old road between Hirwaun and Neath which doubled as a bar.  It wasn’t the best place to work, especially the late shifts, but at least it was a job, and a way of getting a little income.  Although for Jessica it was only ever meant to be a stop-gap job.  Yet here she still was, behind the counter at just after midnight, serving whatever dregs of life came through the café’s door.  Luckily her shift was almost over.  Jessica couldn’t wait to finish up and get out of there…

The Works - 10 Pages
Geraint, had just missed his daughter, Jessica, as she left Hob’s Café after her shift.  He had been hoping to give her a lift home, but fate had played against him that night.  As he left, Geraint noted a man who’d just arrived, slapping down a crisp twenty-pound-note and requesting ‘The Works’.  And sure enough, within a few minutes of paying, the man was being escorted down behind the kitchens, and into a plush toilet, where he was to receive his thirty minutes worth.  Where he was going to get what he paid for…

02.00 AM - 19 Pages
Steve always got a thrill from scaring himself.  A touch of fear really got his blood going.  Got him excited.  Which is why he started his late night runs.  His alarm would go off at 2am.  He’d grab his digital camera and then hit the roads, searching out the areas that provided the best scare factor.  Tonight he planned to start off with the old hospital overlooking the small town of Llwynypia, before heading to the old abattoir in Treorchy, stopping off at the woodman’s house en route.  He’d heard stories about these spots and read about the murders.  The idea chilled Steve.  In a good way…

Newspaper Clippings:
The book contains fictional excerpts from local newspapers detailing two grisly murders.
  • Son Slays Three On Family Picnic In Woods – 2 Pages
  • Whacko Woodsman Jailed For Slayings – 3 Pages
Castell Hirwaun - Confidential Patient Assessment Forms:
The book also contains reproductions of medical records for the following patients:
  • Miss Samantha Saunders (Crystal’s sister who supposedly burned down a local chapel)
  • Unknown patient name (aka Santa Klaws) (multiple personality disorder)
  • David Owain Hughes (sex addict)
  • Norm Nathanial Jenkins (Ed Gein style psychotic)
  • Philip Stevenson (reportedly murdered his entire family during a woodland picnic)
  • Carl Rafferty (aka Mr. Tickles) (psychotic clown currently at large)
A History On White Walls And Straitjackets – 2 Pages
Author David Owain Hughes tells us about the struggles he encountered getting the book published, the original concept behind the delivery of the stories, and how this was modified for its eventual publication.

White Walls And Straitjackets – Comic Artwork:
Also included in the book is the comic artwork which was originally intended to be inserted into the main body of the novel.
  • T.M.M. (Comic Artwork) – 13 Pages
  • Santa Klaws (Comic Artwork) – 11 Pages
  • Hob’s (Comic Artwork) – 11 Pages
DLS Review:
This was an ambitious project for author David Owain Hughes.  In essence, what we have is a collection of short stories which start to intertwine with each other, until gradually the tales merge with that of the two principal antihero characters, who are in effect, pretty much the book’s narrators.

To that end it’s a novel that attempts to break the fourth wall, bringing to life the tale’s characters, whilst inserting the book itself into the unfolding story.  Whether this has been achieved successfully is ultimately your decision. Although there’s no escaping the fact that at times the tale’s construction can feel somewhat clumsy in its final execution.  But it’s never enough to detract from the pure entertainment of the stories.

As David himself will tell you, ‘White Walls And Straitjackets’ is undoubtedly where the author first found his literary voice.  We’re talking about that sleazy, wholly unpretentious and intimately open voice that we’ve come to recognise much better in Hughes’ latter offerings.  A voice that delivers a sort of Richard Laymon-esque quality to it, where it’s not so much about the way in which the story’s told as it is about the openness of what is being said.  Perhaps akin to a pervert’s sordid confession, spilt across a tale that starts to feel less fictional and more like a deviant wetdream.

That said, if you’re expecting the same sort of sexual perversions and explicit fetishes as the likes of Hughes’ ‘Wind-Up Toy’ (2016) series, then you’re likely to be a tad disappointed.  There’s still plenty of seediness in it, but far more toned down, and definitely less plot defining.  Instead what you have is a tale that focuses more on an interweaving of horror-infused substories, which culminate into a fuller picture of multiple damaged mental psyches.

The continuous linking story, involving Crystal and Harry, comes across as something you could imagine the likes of Rob Zombie dreaming up.  A sort of ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ (2005) serial killer roadtrip that pulls all of the substories together with a repeated bookending device, that’s utilised upon each one.

There’s plenty to like, if not love, about the novel.  It’s bold and brass and gets your blood pumping with the sheer pacing and quick-fire developments within each of the story nuggets.  Hughes launches into each of these miniature stories with an absolute gusto for delivering the horrorlific goodies.  His perverted streak oozes into each with the same amount of vigour, always allowing the course of the storylines to plummet into grubbier depths at the earliest opportunity.

The relationship between Crystal and Harry echoes much of what we later see in the ‘Wind-up Toy’ (2016) books.  There’s an obvious sexual sub/dom characteristic to their messed up relationship.  Again, feeling like the writing is cosying up to Zombie’s ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ (2005) ethos.  It’s an undoubted key strength to the writing – a not-giving-a-shit attitude to what readers will think of the writer – that not only drags you in, but is refreshing in its fucked-up honesty.

That said, the novel’s not without its flaws.  You can’t help but feel that Hughes is finding his feet with his writing in the course of the book.  An experimentation that although full of energy and enthusiasm for the genre, also repeatedly stumbles on its own shoelaces.  The roving perspective that Hughes utilises is sketchy and almost uncontrolled.  The stories will often flip between the characters without even a break in the writing, disconnecting the reader for a heartbeat as you readjust without any given notice of the shift.

There’s also a fair number of typos that derail the reader from the story, knocking you out of what’s occurring by a simple oversight in editing.  This can be more frustrating than anything, as Hughes’ writing ability clearly has more than enough merits to it.

Furthermore, as detailed in his short afterword, the original concept was to have two or three of the stories delivered in pictorial comic format, with bold comic strip artwork telling the tales.  This is spoken about in other stories, referencing the artwork as Harry reads and regurgitates the stories to Crystal.  Unfortunately, altering the format to have all the tales in purely written format, even with the comic artwork appearing at the end of the book (as bonus material), comes across as quite disjointed, with Harry’s mentions of the artwork pushing the construction of the tale back behind that fourth wall.

However, when the novel comes hurtling to is eventual conclusion, if indeed you can say it actually concludes, Hughes manages to pull it all together with some almost masterfully executed twists that put the stories firmly back onto terra firma.

As I said previously, there’s a hell of a lot to like about the novel.  Its entertainment factor alone is enough to get you grinning from ear to ear as you pore over the pages, delving into the seediness of Hughes’ imagination (or more like the depraved git’s fantasies).  In that way it’s classic David Owain Hughes.  A novel that just spills its guts all over its naked, blood and cum splattered torso.  For this reviewer at least though, it’s where Hughes goes from here, now that he’s found his feet and his unashamed voice, where the journey really gets interesting.

The novel runs for a total of 205 pages.

© DLS Reviews



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