Followers of occult history will know that our reality and the worlds of the supernatural and paranormal have always been conjoined, sometimes in major ways and sometimes in minor. From the magical cones of power which (if you believe in them) stopped the Armada and ended Hitler’s WW2 plans for a British invasion to the rumour that, during the same war, British PM Winston Churchill assembled a secretive X-Files-style department to counter the Nazi menace (a bureau that allegedly numbered Aleister Crowley, Dennis Wheatley and Ian Fleming among its operatives), for centuries there has been a ‘hiding in plain sight’ war in the shadows between the forces of darkness and the forces of light.
Where fiction is concerned, some authors have tackled the subject more successfully than others. Wheatley had a go at it with his hero the Duke de Richleau in The Devil Rides Out (a book that would probably have disappeared into obscurity if Hammer Films hadn’t adapted it into one of their most popular movies), Mike Mignola’s Hellboy took the concept into comic books and, much more recently, Syd Moore touched upon it in her fantastic novel Strange Magic. Now it’s Nick Setchfield’s turn and what he’s entertainingly concocted lies somewhere between Wheatley and Fleming with some Clive Barker-ish nastiness scattered throughout. It’s a powerful recipe that’s extremely well-written and hugely enjoyable, although readers who are familiar with the genre won’t be surprised by the globe-trotting set-pieces and demonic twists and turns.
It’s 1963 and British Intelligence agent Christopher Winter is on a quest to obtain a powerful occult secret before it falls into the wrong nation’s hands (don’t worry if that sounds like a Raiders of the Lost Ark rip because Raiders was effectively inspired by Otto Rahn’s real-life quest for the Holy Grail, so Setchfield is cannily drawing on a rich vein of inspiration). En route he teams up with the deadly femme fatale Karina Lazarova and together they race across Europe to locate the unholy power before the Russians get there first. But the Russians are the least of Winter’s problems because, between demon possession, runes bloodily inscribed on the body, photographs in which he doesn’t have a face, and monsters who assume the features of people Winter knew (and loved) who are now long since dead, our hero is about to discover that the war in the dark even rages within daylight.
Okay, so The War in the Dark won’t win any prizes for originality (if we’re entirely honest, it’s basically a more stylish reboot of The Devil Rides Out - Wheatley’s version, not the film) but horror is one of the few genres where clichés and tropes work in a writer’s favour, especially if they’re talented enough to keep the prose fresh and exciting. Nick Setchfield is one of those writers. It’s a terrific adventure, and let’s hope there’s more like this to come.
THE WAR IN THE DARK / AUTHOR: NICK SETCHFIELD / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: JULY 17TH