Last Days by Adam Nevill is a paranormal/horror/mystery novel in its first U.S. release (available February 26, 2013).
Kyle is a documentary filmmaker on the verge—of bankruptcy, of giving up, of desperation. When eccentric billionaire Max Solomon offers him a dream opportunity on a silver platter, he can’t help but agree to the job. The shooting locations have already been chosen, the expenses paid, the interviews arranged. What’s more, this project has all the hallmarks of being Kyle’s big break.
The subject: The Temple of the Last Days, an infamous cult that self-destructed in the Arizona desert back in the early 1970s. The cult’s leader, Sister Katherine, claimed that she knew the secret to immortality. That she could read thoughts. That she had summoned “presences”…
But she died more than thirty years ago, taking most of her followers with her. Her claims were nothing but the ravings of a madwoman. There couldn’t possibly be any truth in the paranormal angle Max wants covered in the documentary.
Unfortunately for Kyle and his cameraman Dan, the past has a way of coming back to bite.
Adam Nevill has already been compared to the likes of Stephen King and Jonathan Maberry. I would add another comparison: to Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, the co-authors of the Special Agent Pendergast series. Nevill knows how to do his research and make his story resonate with authenticity, how to leaven the surreal horror with grounded reality. The technical aspects of filmmaking, allusions to other notorious cults, and historical details make this a meaty read even as it ricochets you through the horror.
We follow the unfolding madness through Kyle’s eyes, and he’s a very real but flawed narrator—I hesitate to use the word “hero.” The documentary becomes an obsession for him, drawing him past the point of no return despite his friend Dan’s worried warnings. There’s a fire-eaten quality to Kyle, so desperate to make his mark and keep himself from drowning in debt and obscurity.
While totally fictional, the cult being profiled is no less terrifying than the Manson Family. As Kyle digs deeper into its history, we are pulled into a world of abuse and paranormal torment all the more sickening for its elements of reality.
Nevill does a great job of drawing out the tension, ratcheting it up for moments of sickening horror before sinking down to necessary, but still uncomfortable, lulls. Sister Katherine’s “old friends” are masterfully introduced, playing off of fears of invasion, body horror, and demonic possession.
A door slammed shut, behind them, upstairs. Maybe in the penthouse. Through the maelstrom of their panting, their banging feet and beating hearts, Kyle also heard a skitter, like a dog’s frantic claws upon a wooden floor as it tried to get up. He became too afraid to look back again, in case something now moved behind them.
A sudden rush of air from above dropped through the middle of the stairwell they rounded like frightened children. Fell like a long hiss and preceded what Kyle thought was the grunt of a pig…
I’m made of pretty stern stuff when it comes to horror, but I’ll admit that there were times when I had to get up and turn on more lights. And beyond the horror, there’s a great and complex mystery that unfolds relating to the cult’s foundation, its influences, and the true nature of Sister Katherine.
This is some potent stuff, with a globetrotting pace as Kyle and Dan journey from London, to France, to America in search of the truth. It quickly becomes apparent that nobody is safe and death—old and new—waits around every bend.
The ending may surprise, leading to a conclusion that is hard to predict, which is just another mark in Adam Nevill’s favor. It can be difficult to set up a story that feels familiar and yet still pulls off the unexpected. I recommend checking Last Days out with a bevy of lamps, long before bedtime.
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. You can find her at Livejournal.com under the handle “zombres.”
Read all posts by Angie Barry at Criminal Element.