Review: Beast in the Basement / Author: Jason Arnopp / Publisher: Retribution Books / Release Date: Out Now (Download Only)
Journalist and screenwriter Jason Arnopp (he recently scripted UK supernatural DVD movie Stormhouse) turns his attention to prose horror in this effective and affecting page-turning debut novella. Beast in the Basement may evoke Lovecraft with its lurid title but the tone and subject matter is very definitely Misery-era Stephen King in its tale of a small cast of characters caught up in a life-or-death struggle in a remote and isolated location.
Beast in the Basement is a tough call as it’s difficult to summarise, let alone review, without blowing the game-changing, head-turning twist which makes it an entirely different story to the one we thought we were reading. A tormented writer is holed up in a country cottage struggling to finish the manuscript of the third in a trilogy of novels chronicling the adventures of children’s hero Jade Nexus. But the writer is tormented by his work; he’s just not happy with the ending of his book and he’s suffering intermittent spells of writer’s block. But there are distractions in the form of a terrible recent family tragedy, an attractive divorcee who has moved into the nearby cottage, a pesky night-time burglar… and the Beast locked up in the basement. But what kind of slavering monster lurks in the darkness and what retribution will it wreak if it escapes?
It’s a clever, intimate and sometimes oppressive tale and Arnopp takes us deep into the dark recesses of his lead character’s tormented mind as he rushes from pitiful hopelessness to elation via an unhealthy dose of desperation. The reader remains intrigued by the presence of the Beast and the writer’s efforts to keep it at bay and we’re driven to find out just what it is and why it’s kept under lock and key. The answers, when they come, just aren’t what we might be expecting and what seemed like a stifling claustrophobic monster horror story becomes something else entirely.
This is a more than decent first effort from Arnopp. His writing is tight and snappy, terse sentences and paragraphs driving his urgent, edgy narrative although there are a couple of slightly schlocky descriptive passages and a bit of clunky penny-dreadful dialogue. But it’s a good story which rattles along, doesn’t outstay its welcome and acquits itself nicely with a decent twist and a satisfying, perhaps even cautionary, denouement. Now let’s see what Mr. Arnopp can do with something more long-form.