Conrad Williams is the author of seven novels, four novellas and a collection of short stories. One was the winner of the August Derleth award for Best Novel (British Fantasy Awards 2010), while The Unblemished won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel in 2007 (he beat the shortlisted Stephen King on both occasions). He won the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer in 1993, and another British Fantasy Award for Best Novella (The Scalding Rooms) in 2008. He recently wrote an exclusive piece for HorrorTalk, listing his top six London genre books.
Finishing Touches by Thomas Tessier
Finishing Touches is a terrific and terrifying novel about an American doctor, Tom Sutherland, who by chance encounters Roger Nordhagen, a plastic surgeon, in a central London pub. Nordhagen takes Sutherland under his wing and introduces him to his PA, the enigmatic and beautiful Lina, with whom he begins a torrid affair. Nordhagen has an agenda, beyond befriending a like mind. He needs a successor to his 'work', which goes on in the bowels of his London office... This is a brilliant horror novel about beauty and desire, the dangerous territory of fantasy and they way we become inured to atrocity. The fact it was written by an American serves to layer the book with a strange sense of dislocation.
The Course of the Heart by M John Harrison
An absolute masterpiece and one of my favourite books. It concerns three friends who, during their student days, are involved in some kind of ambiguous group ritual. In the present, their lives are unravelling through ill health, problematic marriage, the suggestion of reality being invaded by what was meant to be an invented realm. Harrison's use of language is frequently inventive and challenging. His characters, both mundane and magical, are believable. He writes about weather and scenery equally well, and has a great ear for dialogue. It's when he writes about the things at the edges of comprehension – the things in the corner of your eye, the liminal – that you realise you are in the presence of a writer like no other.
Spider by Patrick McGrath
Devastating and moody, this is a novel set in a post-war London that is smoky, sooty and Dickensian. The novel follows Dennis Cleg, aka Spider, a man recently released from a mental asylum who is confused by the contemporary city and spends much of his time wrapped up in the past, though there lies the seat of all his problems. The novel is filled with ghosts and memories and Spider's uncertain narrative, partly written down in a journal; nothing is reliable. It's a grimy, sly novel; a beautifully constructed web, and it contains a fiendish revelation.
Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
A wonderfully creepy novel. In 18th century London Nicholas Dyer is charged with the task of building churches. This he does with a diabolical plan in mind, hidden from his superior, Christopher Wren, for whom he has nothing but contempt. In the present day, detective Hawksmoor (blissfully unaware of his architect namesake) is investigating a spate of murders in the locations of those very same churches. This is a novel about demons and profane patterns and psychogeography: the city as a living, breathing palimpsest. The sections narrated by Dyer are a hoot, written in the rich cadence of their time.
He Died with His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond
Blistering introduction to the anonymous Detective Sergeant in the first of the Factory novels. Bleak, darkly poetic and unnerving, it charts the investigation of the violent murder of Charles Staniland, an alcoholic of the underclass who committed his life – such as it was – to a series of audio tapes. The DS pores over these and pieces together the dismantling of a human being via a series of philosophical and, at times, quite poignant recordings. The DS's unusual and instinctive empathy leads him to follow the victim's footsteps a little too closely, until he begins to mirror the descent that Staniland himself suffered.
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
Perhaps an odd choice, but I found it a deeply unsettling and claustrophobic read, a bleak study of unrequited love, obsession and jealousy underpinned by the domineering presence of God and His perceived cruelties. The tone is set on the first page, which is littered with the word 'hate'. The novel takes place during the Blitz and provides a harrowing portrait of wartime London. During an assignation with his lover Sarah, writer Maurice Bendrix is almost killed by a bomb. Shortly after, she goes back to her husband, Henry, and Bendrix becomes consumed by the need to find out why she left him.
We'd like to thank Conrad Williams for taking time out of his busy schedule to share this with us! His latest novel, Dust and Desire, is now out from Titan Books, and you can buy it by clicking on one of the links below!
PI Joel Sorrell is approached by the mysterious Kara Geenan, who is desperate to find her missing brother. Joel takes on the case but almost immediately, an attempt is made on his life. The body count increases. And then Kara vanishes too... as those close to Joel are sucked into his nightmare, he realizes he must track down the killer if he is to halt a grisly masterplan – even if it means sacrificing his own life.
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