Saturday 31 October 2020

Book Review: Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog

Book Review: Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog

Review by Casey Douglass

Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog

I first saw Piers Warren’s Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog on a display table in my local Waterstones. I’ve always found tales of supernatural black dogs to be interesting, and a book with a story set in Norfolk, the county that I also live in, seemed to hold a double attraction for me. Strangely, I didn’t buy the book that day, but it stayed in my mind enough that I eventually picked it up from the Kindle store.

After a prologue in which the origin of the narrative’s own devil dog is revealed, we meet the protagonist of the tale Harry Lambert. Harry is a wildlife photographer trying to shake off calamity. His best friend is dead and his wife has deserted him. It’s with a down-trodden soul he takes himself off to Blakeney on the North Norfolk coast. He hopes that a bit of sea air and a different pace to life might give him the time he needs to rest and recuperate. Like any good horror story though, he’d have almost certainly had a far more relaxing time if he’d just stayed at home.

Harry has a booking at Tern Cottage B&B, a homely place run by Linda and Frank. Harry is touched by how at home they make him feel, and is charmed by the village itself. He gradually meets more of the residents of Blakeney, and when accompanying Frank on a fishing trip, he first hears the term “Shuck”. Frank laughingly calls a friend’s dog his “Shuck”. Frank then fills the puzzled Harry in on the legend of the ghost dog. Harry soon finds that not everyone is as open to discussing the creature however.

The story darkens further as it progresses. Blood is found on the beach, seals are being attacked by something strange, and superstition rises in the locals. Harry moves out of the B&B into a more secluded building further along the coast. The isolation this brings begins to play on his mind and he starts to see and hear strange things. The one thing that seems to give him some solace is Anna, the daughter of the wildlife warden and a woman he becomes increasingly close to as events begin to take their toll on the community.

The author handles the issue of Black Shuck itself very well. It isn’t just a standard “ghost hound” story, and there is extra variety in the phenomena that surrounds the dog and its activities. An example is the way that the dog doesn't just seem to portend the death of someone close to the witness, but actively kills or attacks at times. The bleakness of the coast and the harsh weather also lends an interesting backdrop to events. At times, the characters are as much fighting against the elements as against the dog, once they begin to understand what is going on at least.

There are some wonderfully creepy moments in the story too, things that had me scratching my head as again, they didn't seem to fit with the “whole ghost dog thing”. You begin to wonder what else is going on, but the links do become clearer later on. The climax of the book is suitably chaotic for the characters. The story, which has been slowly building with the odd moment of threat or revelation, hits the final act with a flurry of dangers. The author manages to mix claustrophobia, the elements, and the supernatural, in a “what could go wrong, will go wrong” kind of way, and I enjoyed that very much.

I enjoyed reading Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog. It was a story set in a location that mixed peace and bleakness with warm humans and supernatural upset. I liked how these different elements fused together into a narrative that really suited the antagonist’s theme. It was also very pleasant to see places that I am familiar with named in a story. It’s rare for me to come across this local kind of feeling, the last time was in an anthology that happened to include a tale set in The Fens. You don’t need to be familiar with Norfolk to enjoy the book, but for me, it added an extra level of enjoyment. If you like slow-build supernatural horror, you should check out Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog. Then if you are really brave, go for a long walk, alone, on a bleak windswept shore.

Book Title: Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog

Book Author: Piers Warren

Publisher: Wildeye

Published: 2011

ISBN: 978-1905843015

Price: £5.83 (paperback) / £3.99 (Kindle) on as of 30 Oct 2020)