The Cold Heart of Summer

reviewed by Chris Hall for DLS Reviews

First published back in June of 2013, British author Joseph Freemanís novel ĎThe Cold Heart Of Summerí offered up a thick slab of British cosmic horror.

DLS Synopsis:
The sleepy coastal town of Blackwood harboured a centuries old secret.  Within the thick forests that bordered the town, under pale of the moon an ancient cult performed strange and dark rituals - worshipping the unknown forces from the dark starry skies above them.

Even to the present day, many of the Blackwoodís residents continued with the ancient ways of this near forgotten witchcraft.  Overlooking the town, the lord of the manor - Edmund Longthrone Ė hosted secretive midsummer parties for those who continued to practice such dark obsessions.

Since heíd left Blackwood, Jerry Marshall had forgotten the strange ways of his once hometown.  However, with news of his fatherís death, Jerry returned to the quiet coastal town to pay his respects and sort out his late fatherís estate.  Although ever since arriving back after all those years of being away, Marshall felt more than a little uneasy with the place.  More than could simply be put down to his fatherís passing.

Meanwhile another seemingly new face had arrived into Blackwood.  In the past seven years Alyssa Halstead had only visited her father twice.  But she had kept in touch the best should could.  However, after she was repeatedly unable to reach her father over the phone, Alyssa decided to make the journey to Blackwood to find out what has happened to him.

But something strange seems to be happening in Blackwood.  Jerry fails to believe that his father, even if he was unpopular within the small community, would have taken his own life.  With the funeral over, and everything else taken care of, Jerry has one last task he wants to accomplish before he returns to London.  Somewhere in Blackwood was the answer to the mystery of why his father had ended his life.

His fatherís erratic papers and scrawled notes hadnít helped.  It was increasingly evident that the old man had become obsessed with local myths and folklore.  Threaded throughout these notes Jerry had unearthed numerous references to the moon.  But how had it led to his fatherís untimely demise?  Was there a connection to be found in it all?  Was there something more to his fatherís obsession with these age-old legends and a long dead occult?

With the midsummer full moon approaching, strange happenings had started to take place all around Blackwood.  Both Jerry and Alyssa canít help but feel the tension in the air.  Thereís something wrong with the town.  Something rooted in the past.  Something that the moon seems to be drawing out.  The tides appear to be turning.  And as the silvery light of the moon shines down on Blackwood, the two new faces in town are beginning to realise that summer has never felt so coldÖ

DLS Review:
The first thing that jumps out at you when you pick up a copy of Freemanís ĎThe Cold Heart Of Summerí is the influence that master horror writer James Herbert has clearly had on the author.  The cover artwork, the clean crisp font work used, it looks exactly like a Herbert novel, in the most deeply respectful of ways.  Even down to the stylised ĎJFí on the inside of the cover Ė a clear homage to the late author.

But itís when you start reading the tale that the influence truly becomes apparent.  Herbert wrote in an exquisitely British way.  His writing flowed with a depth of poetically descriptive charm; conjuring up lucid images of the locale and the characters that visited his haunting tales.  That same, wonderful detail to the surroundings, that same want for a fuller image of the environment and everything within it, is plain to see across every page of Freemanís tale.

The outcome isnít exactly a fast-paced thrill-seeker of a read.  Itís carefully plotted, with time spent immersing the reader in the storyís setting whilst weaving the characters into this lovingly established backdrop.  But of course, itís through the characters where the reader becomes fully ensnared into the storyís spiralling plot.  These wonderfully fleshed-out and intricately detailed lives that converge into a tight and compelling story.

Thereís undeniably a chill that permeates the entire story.  It creeps out from the darkened woodwork of this shadowy setting.  Its tendrils reaching out for you as you follow the quiet footsteps of those around Blackwood.  What starts off with strange ghostly presences - glimpsed one minute, then gone the next - gradually escalates with a firm-footed urgency.

Of course not all the residents of this sleepy town are oddball occultists worshipping dark forces from outer space.  Within Blackwood you have relatively normal folk who have been turning a blind eye to what their senses are screaming out at them.  Youíve got a social worker who sees a grotesquely deformed baby, one which seems to whisper to its ex-druggie mother, whenever she visits the down beaten young woman.  Oh yes, in here you have some of the creepiest shit youíre likely to read for a long time.

In essence, what you have with ĎThe Cold Heart Of Summerí is a slow burning chiller that gradually, scene-by-scene, slithers its way under your skin in order to reach for those deeply embedded nerve endings that feel the chill the longest.  The further you get in the novel, the bleaker everything seems to become.  Like a blanket of oppression smothering everything in sight, the gloomy darkness of the story quietly descends around you, until you feel trapped in an environment where it seems thereís a mysterious hostility everywhere you turn.

Thereís a hell of a lot to like about this novel.  It pulls you in and keeps you snuggly in its cold embrace.  The characterisation undoubtedly makes the novel.  However, itís those final gut-wrenching few chapters where Freeman really seals the deal.  The uncompromising gloom of it all is a bastard of a gut-punch.  When those peripheral edges of the mystery that surrounded everything start to fall away, when the first whispers of an understanding begin to rise out of the dark earth, thatís when youíll feel the coldness smothering you.  Thatís when the nightmares will kick in.  Thatís when Freemanís well and truly gotten you good.

For those who love James Herbertís work.  For those who have reread ĎThe Ghosts Of Sleathí (1994) more times than you care to admit.  This oneís for you.

The novel runs for a total of 293 pages.



 Cold Heart of Summer - Joseph Freeman

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