Maniac Gods by Rich Hawkins
Review by Tony Jones
Rich Hawkins caught my eye a couple of years ago with the superb King Carrion and his latest release Maniac Gods is better and possibly even bleaker. It is currently available on Kindle Unlimited in both the UK and USA and is an outstanding introduction to an author who has developed his own brand of British apocalyptic horror soaking in grime, rain, dark streets, threat and hopelessness. This novella, which is a tense two hour read, packs much into its heart-breaking story and like most of the author’s fiction is set in and around the part of south England known as the ‘Black Country’. So, expect driving rain, wind-swept landscapes and monsters. Welcome to England folks!
The novella opens with Albie Samways receiving both a confusing and worrying phone call from his ex-wife Kathleen, although he can distinctly hear her familiar voice, she sounds eerily distant repeating: “It is open. It is all open in the thin places, and there is nothing to be done…” The whining and guttural sounds coming down the telephone line put Albie on edge, the warning bells go off and he gets in his car, making the long journey from Somerset to Hampshire. He is certain something is wrong.
Upon arrival it looks like the apocalypse began earlier in the day. He sees weird monster like creatures snaking in and out of the mist and the town seems to be deserted. Becoming disorientated and frightened he is unable to locate his wife and daughter Milly and is sure he is being stalked. Chancing upon the local church he once visited as a parishioner, the priest lets Albie hide inside before slitting his own throat, claiming the world was ending. Although most people are either dead or unaccounted for, for some unknown reason Albie is spared, when it seems he is an easy target for the other-worldly creatures. The reasons are revealed later.
All the action described above takes place in the early stages of Maniac Gods with the majority of the story taking place five years after what the media and military named ‘The Incident’. With his ex-wife and daughter gone, presumed dead, Albie is a broken man, living in a bedsit, with no money and an alcohol problem which he uses to dull the pain and memories. The theme of parent and child has been explored in previous works by Hawkins and his writing never becomes sugary or saccharine, nailing the parental bond perfectly. To say any more about the plot would spoil it but rest assured Albie will soon be fighting for his life.
Rich Hawkins is superb at creating what we might call ‘working class heroes’, characters railing against whichever supernatural situation they are up against. Albie Samways is one of his finest creations, and considering Albie is given virtually no back-story that’s a fine achievement. What we know for sure is that Albie is bent but not completely broken when given a chance at redemption. Unable to deal or come to terms with the unthinkable event which took his daughter he disappears into the vodka bottle. Hell, this guy barely has enough cash to catch the train. However, when a chink of light appears in the story Albie grabs it with both hands and you’ll be rooting for him all the way, maybe even shouting his name from the roof-tops. The pain and loss of losing his daughter Millie is so real the reader can taste his pain.
The novella took an impressive twist half way through, and for the most part you’re never quite sure whether this truly is a miracle and this was one of the strongest aspects of the novella. Rich Hawkins always puts his leading characters through the wringer, so one thing is for sure, you know Albie has more pain waiting for his around the corner. The scenes on the run were beautifully handled, but ultimately there was nowhere for him to go and there is an overpowering sense of hopelessness as he struggles on.
I thought Maniac Gods had enough plot to stretch into a longer piece of fiction. For example, we are given hints and glimpses of another realm called ‘the Thin Places’ which sounded really freaky, which could also have been explored further as its vividly described and the reader is a tad teased. I would certainly have liked to read more about it.
The monster/supernatural sequences were of the highest quality, and some of the Lovecraftian type deities introduced into the story and which lurk in dimensions close to ours, particularly, ‘The Flayed’ as they stalked Albie and his family were fine creations. Maniac Gods was an excellent moody and atmospheric novella which is a fine introduction to the work of Rich Hawkins. Existing fans will also be delighted with this stellar addition to his impressive body of work.