by Adam Nevill
Review by John Berlyne
Pan Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780330514965
Date: 07 May 2010 List Price £7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
Certainly one of my most eager awaited titles of the year, Adam Neville's Apartment 16 is a book that was hotly contested when it is submitted to publishers by his agent. Pan Macmillan won the auction and will publish this spine-tingling ghost story this coming May. It's hard to believe that it's six years since I reviewed Neville's super-creepy M.R. Jamesean spook story Banquet For The Damned - it's a book that has certainly stayed with me in the intervening time - does this new novel live up to quality of its predecessor? Well, I've reviewed it this issue, so nip back to the front page and follow the relevant link to find out.
" Some doors are better left closed... In Barrington House, an upmarket block in London, there is an empty apartment. No one goes in, no one comes out. And it's been that way for fifty years. Until the night watchman hears a disturbance after midnight and investigates. What he experiences is enough to change his life forever.
A young American woman, Apryl, arrives at Barrington House. She's been left an apartment by her mysterious Great Aunt Lillian who died in strange circumstances. Rumours claim Lillian was mad. But her diary suggests she was implicated in a horrific and inexplicable event decades ago.
Determined to learn something of this eccentric woman, Apryl begins to unravel the hidden story of Barrington House. She discovers that a transforming, evil force still inhabits the building. And the doorway to Apartment 16 is a gateway to something altogether more terrifying... "
Since I reviewed Adam Neville's Banquet for the Damned back in 2004, the market for works of 'conventional horror' (and as I write this phrase, I wonder what I mean by it!) seems to have opened up. Publishers are now actively looking for scary books (very much evidence by a strong publisher contingent at the recent World Horror Convention in Brighton, UK) and when they find them, they're making efforts to market them properly and readers, I believe, are responding appropriately, (evidence by an increase in sales of such novels).
It helps that a new generation of highly talented authors has emerged over the past ten years, headed perhaps by Joe Hill – living proof that in some cases at least, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. It is also interesting to note that the boundaries between genre territories are becoming looser, prompted by the continued reinterpretation of what constitutes fantasy (urban, dark, romantic, Gothic, etc) and correspondingly the boundaries between genre and mainstream are becoming ever more fluid. In general, readers are far more receptive than they used to be about stories with something other at the heart – for this we have much to thank Dan Brown for. The upshot of all this is that now is perhaps the most fertile time for the horror genre that we've seen for some years, certainly on this side of the Atlantic. And thus it's a good time for writers like Adam Neville, who with Apartment 16 graduates with honours into the 'Big League'.
As with Banquet for the Damned, Neville offers a nicely conventional setting for this new novel – at least on the surface. Barrington House is a posh apartment block in London's very exclusive Knightsbridge – a locale which has Harrods as its local convenience store! It's all old money and manicured gardens, with many of the residents having been there for decades. Into this genteel setting steps Apryl, a young American woman who has been left an apartment in Barrington House by a deceased great aunt she never met. Here to claim her inheritance, Apryl's plan is to clear the place out and get it sold as soon as possible.
As we learn this, Neville introduces us to Seth, a young man working as a night porter at Barrington House. A struggling artist alone in the big city, Seth is pretty down-at-heel and this is not helped by the unsettling night time noises he hears coming from apartment 16, a flat that he knows to be vacant – in fact, it's been vacant for half a century.
Living in the flat of her late relative, Apryl cannot help but get insight in her aunt's life – and a strange life it was indeed. The old lady was clearly eccentric if not bonkers, and it becomes apparent that her life (and death, it would seem) were very much bound up with events that took place in number 16. Apryl discovers the apartment was once inhabited by Felix Hessen, a lesser-known but nonetheless, controversial artist whose notoriety – such as it was – largely revolved around unseemly subject matter, unwholesome practices, suspect politics, and rumoured dabbling in some very Dark Arts indeed. Hardly the ideal neighbour. And the more Apryl discovers about Hassen, the more unsavoury things become.
Meanwhile whatever it was that Seth encountered in Apartment 16 is now haunting him - literally - manifesting itself as a threatening hooded figure that stalks his dreams and is stepping more frequently into his waking hours. Slowly this terror begins to unhinge him from reality.
In Apartment 16, Adam Neville deftly runs these two plot lines together – Apryl's search for information about Hessen and her aunt is a helter-skelter descent into darkness, a darkness where Seth inevitably waits, having been dragged there himself. The power of the novel comes from Neville's skill in winding out the tension and terror at a perfect pace and he does this so brilliantly that it is hard to fault the glorious construction he employs. Neville seeds Apartment 16 throughout with reflected glimpses of terror - horrors caught only in the corner of one's eye - and result a deliciously unsettling and skin-crawling read, one filled with an ever-increasing sense of dread and an incessant and insistent pull towards the darkness. Highly recommended.