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Mike Dineen

Rating: ****

When writer, Joanna Smith, receives a message from her estranged twin sister, Amanda, concerning their missing mother, she knows she will have to return to Squall’s Edge, the small-town she left years earlier, and to the family house built on land known as ‘Violet Stone’ which includes an abandoned salt mine. Jo only plans on staying one night but it’s not that easy to escape her past or the clutches of Violet Stone…

Latcher is a real treat of a horror with a nastily original concept at its core. The beginning set in the salt mine in the early 1980s is imaginative and intriguing. The collapsed mine is the perfect backdrop to what unfolds; the lack of oxygen adding an additional layer of panic. It’s well-written and certainly grabs reader attention.

Then the story begins from Jo’s point of view as Amanda contacts her. From the outset, there is a sense of creeping anxiety and unnerving dread that, as the novel progresses, becomes quite uncomfortable. Amanda veers between the sinister and the pathetic. The tension between the twins is palpably disconcerting with nuggets of backstory being dropped to the reader during their early, uncomfortably terse exchanges.

Once Jo and Amanda begin their journey through the forest to Violet Stone, the fear levels are ratcheted up; this is good old-fashioned, edge of seat horror. The gloomy atmospheric forest alive with strange noises, shadows and figures is utilised to skin-crawling effect and the scenes in the eerie old miner’s cottage are chillingly realistic. The prose is literal and sensory, heightening the fear running through the narrative which, at this stage, is fear of the unknown for both the reader and Jo. The action is fast-paced and fairly relentless. Latcher certainly showcases Mr Dineen as a versatile and accomplished writer.

Once the house is reached, the horror takes a distinctly primeval, visceral turn and, on the whole, it still works effectively. Personally, I did find this part of the novel a little over-engineered and a touch too subjective. Notwithstanding, the plotline does cleverly make you begin to question Jo’s mental state, and possibly doubt her reliability, which never quite left me.

By this stage, Latcher has evolved from a linear horror gore-fest to a petrifying descent into horrendous family dynamics, consequent mental illness and the secrets of the salt mine that should have remained buried within it. It’s incredibly disturbing and Jo is unflinching as she struggles not only to survive, but to outwit the horror within.

Throughout, Jo ably carries the novel. She is little frustrating at times, and there are a few decisions made that stretch credibility but the force of her reasoning and personality overcome these leaps. I do think Nick and Emily could have been utilised more; especially Nick. The brief interlude where the reader learns of his childhood was quite affecting and could have been expanded upon.

Occasionally as the reader is hurtled towards the conclusion, the tight construct of both plot and prose threatens to derail; it’s as if everything gets thrown at them but it just about maintains stability and the creepily controlled epilogue certainly made me want to read further.

Latcher is a first-rate psychological horror with some seriously nerve-shredding moments. Highly recommended.

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