A new Facebook friend of mine asked me recently to have a read of his new novel and provide a little review of it if I wouldn't mind - of course I said I could oblige, for two very important reasons. Firstly it was a free copy of the book I was sent to read. I'm not saying that I'm cheap, but it meant I could quite happily provide an opinion knowing the experience hadn't cost me a penny (OK, maybe I'm slightly on the cheap side). Secondly, well after all, it makes a change to be asked and entrusted to provide ones opinion on a piece of work rather then me deciding to force my musings on the unsuspecting world.
So it was with a keen sense of anticipation that I began Michael Mulvihill's horror story. The story is set in modern day Siberia and the protagonist, Tobias is a caretaker looking after a small area of land for a major Oil company. He's a sympathetic and likable character who has fallen on hard times in the Russia that is now very different (and not always for the best) from the days of the Soviet Union. Times are hard, crime is rife and the people seem to have lost their identity and protection that the old controlling system seemed to offer
As in any self-respecting horror story the world we find ourselves in becomes instantly authentic. The reader is immediately sucked into Tobias' weary boredom with his job and general dissatisfaction with his life which very quickly turns into an ever increasing sense of paranoia and foreboding. We are under no illusions that things are not what they seem in Tobias's world. The scene, for example, where the mysterious white hand appears and tortures Tobias within the first couple of chapters is genuinely unsettling. I won't go into to many details of what Tobias' experiences are (delusion or not as the case may be) at the White hands, er, hand. Lets just say the brain investigation is suitably deliciously detailed, whether you like your human brain raw or fried……
Slowly it becomes apparent to us that the piece of land that Tobias is looking after only happens to be a recently opened gateway to hell which is about to spew forth all manner of dastardly and satanic forces into the deliciously named 'Vodka Valley' and its local residents. So thats a bit annoying then. Not that this is a straightforward by-the-numbers forces of evil take-over of the planet. Things aren't helped for the devil's cause as there is a continuing battle of wills and priories by the various 'evil factions'. The continuing attempts at one-upmanship between Asmodeus, demon leader of dark forces, and Ethagoria Nebsonia, master of the Siberian Vampires are a joy to read. It seems that its not only us humans who have problems with disagreeing factions stopping us, or in this case, the devil, getting things done.
Siberian Hellhole is horror story yes, there are some genuinely explicit scenes of pure Horror contained therein. However, it is far more than that. The characters are extremely well structured and each have a rich, textured tapestry that instills feeling of immediate dislike or empathy, depending on the individual concerned. In the case of the devil, you could say both feelings are instilled. The blossoming relationship between Tobias and his love interest Lyuba is both believable and authentic. For me, the character of Affanasi, the owner of the Chekov bar and his transformation to a fully fledged vampire is extremely well written and poignantly believable.
It is also an intelligent horror story containing elements as difference as Perestroika, philosophy, the power of religious faith and the ultimate battle of good over evil. Michael also draws upon his own background as a psychologist in some passages that draw upon detailed analysis of the human condition. Overall, it is a satisfying and thought provoking horror story of the battle between the forces of hell and a reassurance of a populations spirituality.
Michael Mulvihill is a Dublin based was a long-time contributor to BLACK PETALS e-zine. This includes his issue #61 poems: A Love Story Beautiful, Capitalism’s Modern Architecture of Love, Red Brick, The Securocrats, and Toxic Addiction (+ the poems, Fatigued, O Mother, and Spike-Inverted Hearts for BP #58; “The Cleaner and the Collector” tale & all 6 BP #56 poems; BP #50’s story, “The Soul Scrubber”, and as featured vampire poet with A Vampire’s Dilemma: Love, Becoming a Vampire, Vampire Insomnia, and Vampiric War in The Kodori Valley; BP #49 poems, I, the Vampire, The Reluctant Vampire of Tbilisi, Vampire Observations, and Vampire Psychoanalysis). The 30ish author published a short story, “Ethagoria Nebsonia,” in BP in 1998 and had a poem, “The Bombing,” in The Kingdom News about a domestic tragedy in Ireland. Rest in peace and rise again, thou sweet and terrible soul!