Book Review – Captives by Shaun Hutson


CaptivesMy Horror heritage as an intro…

I used to read a lot of horror and a good portion of that was Shaun Hutson books. This is because I used to be scared of the dark and the 15 year old me decided to take the problem head on by turning a love of fantasy into q quite an intense period of reading horror. Many, many classic films and books later and hey presto; I barely bat an eyelid if I see a witch decapitate one of the neighbours. This does happen in the particular part of rural England that I call home! Anyway, my horror days are a long way behind me. After Phantasm, Hellraiser and Scanners all did their jobs I decided that  horror can get quite repetitive (or it was in the early 90′s.) Either that or I over consumed? I went right through acclimatisation and into boredom! These days I have a nostalgic love for horror and that is what I was expecting to tap into when Captives by Shaun Hutson came up on my TBR.

That beautiful slug of back story simply served to bring us to the point when I started reading Captives. I hadn’t read “proper” horror for a while;

  • Dracula didn’t count as it wasn’t written in the last hundred years
  • I read The Fog back at the start of my book blogging journey didn’t really cut the mustard.
  • The Woman in Black did a good job, but that was a different genre.

I have done quite a bit of thinking about what makes us frightened recently for a story I would like to write. There is a definite separation between the gore of a horror book’s and the ghost story’s jump/scare. Even a jump/scare is not the frightful thing; it’s the build up that gets you. It’s your back to an open space, finding out something safe is not, the teeth snapping at your heals. But I digress (as per usual,) we are here to talk about Horror…

The Captives review

Dating is good

I dove into Captives with a surprising amount of enthusiasm. The first thing I noticed was a lot of references that dated the text. People were tearing around in Sierras and Cortinas. The Police gave chase in Rovers. It was all very much of a specific time. All of the references to money also take you back. Not that I would know, but apparently it cost £60 for a wank in a seedy club and “a couple of pound coins” for some new stockings!! Lastly, technology is not there. No one knows who is calling them on the phone!

At the start this did not sit well with me, but dating is good for this book! I started off feeling that the references got in the way, that they detracted from the story. By the end I found it gave the book a perfectly acceptable stage that forgave it some of its roughness. A grand backdrop to a horror; Psycho murder in Ashes to Ashes. Southern Comfort, hookers and fast cars. Murders and gangsters. Blood, dark coppery blood. Blood.

Writing, Grammar and editing

My notes on this subject start with “Trashy writing and grammar.” On finishing the book I don’t think that this is completely fair. Essentially if a good slug more editing had taken place, this could have been a well polished book (couldn’t they all,) but that editing didn’t happen and although the book is not as strong because of it, I think it fits the genre quite well. I suppose I got what I needed from the book. 

There are various examples of poor editing, or missed editing. The book has two speeds. The stuff that links horror sections together and the turbo charged horror itself. These could have been blended more subtly, and dare I say it, a little less gore would have rounded the whole book off. BUT, I fall into my own trap of correctness. If this book was wonderfully crafted, if it stopped to allow you to take the last gory step yourself it would not be horror and it would not be Shaun Hutson. You are forced to look at every single detail. Head forced round firmly to stop you from looking away.

“Oh no, Shaun isn’t going to take us there is he?”

“Yes he is. Definitely he is. That’s the point, didn’t you know that?”

Shaun clips speech to keep it snappy, this is good, especially with edgy, hard characters. Unfortunately there is too much description to back it up, too much internal retrospective. The book could have been tightened greatly if the two types of writing had been reversed. Some dramatic dialogue to replace padded background thought. *note to self, go and re-edit your book. It is full of this!*

To bring the writing review up to the macro level, there are some story devices that just don’t make sense. Two police men just go and dig up a body at night without any reference to that being a bad idea. The alternative, more realistic, solution of doing it the official way would have been just as compelling. Later in the book the chief of Police doesn’t want to exhume bodies because of the trouble it would cause if the police were correct in their theory of what was going on! On the other hand, this could be an accurate observation of the state of policing in the 70’s. No idea!!

This slightly random trend follows through to the book’s characters. They occasionally act out of, well, character. This issue should also have been resolved in the edit. Jim Scott, the main character, goes from a beginning as a gentle giant, quite mild mannered and caring to suddenly become very violent in a short space of time. This violence is required for the plot, so the change should have been blended better or the earlier parts of the book just plain changed.

You know what you get and get what you know

Captives is horror kitsch. Maybe Horror is the kitsch of genres? It is unapologetic, content in its own existence. This is true for other horror I have read, not just Shaun Hutson and there is nothing wrong it. A little honesty does us all good. 

So what are you getting when you pick up a horror book? What do you expect?  Realism shot through with too much violence. A good story augmented with blood and guts and pain and vindictiveness and graphic descriptions of horrid things. If that’s what you expect, then you will like Shaun Hutson as I did all those years ago, and you will like Captives.

On a specific point that is important to horror, Shaun does a very good job at describing the physiology of violence. He resorts to the medical names for things so that in some cases I needed to look up exactly what he was talking about. Once research had been done, I was treated to a wonderfully close up description of exactly how bodies can come apart. One of Shaun’s favourites in the book is the effects of being stabbed in the head and what that does to the inside of one’s mouth!! Tongues are cleaved, teeth are scraped by blades or cut out completely. Within the genre: This is excellent 🙂

Given that I have referred to physiology of the human form, I must correct a common misconception that horror books manage to reveal very well. For your information, human beings are all just bags of blood and gore with bones made of chalk. The slightest touch oozes blood or cracks bones, or just plain makes you pop gore everywhere!


My love of the genre carried me through, I read this book very quickly and enjoyed it. I hope that you get a duality from my review though? It is obvious that there are some pretty serious issues with this book. Issues that would have sunk others, but the good ship Captives still sails the literary seas. The story and the writing is good enough at what it does to concentrate on the important aspects of horror and leave the rest of the text alone. It is unashamed of what it is. Be bold, be proud, be horror!

Captives is compelling. This is a word that I used to describe Lieutenant Hotshot recently too. I use it in a totally different way for Captives. This is the adult horror that I refer to in the Hotshot review. It is allowed to be many things other books are not; you know to expect a concentration on gratuitous violence before you even open the cover. You get what you expect and no excuses if you’re surprised!

In conclusion, two wrongs do sometimes make a right. This is not the best book Hutson has written by as long shot, but I whizzed through it and liked it for what it was, even if it could have really benefited from a good edit. Maybe I’m noticing the editorial requirements of books I read the more as I get into writing myself??

Rating 7/10


Book Review – Magician’s Gambit by David Eddings

2015-04-04 08.55.45Right, no messing about in this review. This is a good book. It is the 3 part of The Belgariad Quintet and comes after  Pawn of Prophecy and Queen of Sorcery. Read those reviews, then continue the reviews a bit more for this book! I am still very much engaged with this story and really want to get onto the 4th book soon. Just not got much more to add at the moment. 🙂

Rating: 7/10

Book Review – The Story of O by Pauline Réage

It has taken me all week to get round to writing then submit this review. (don’t you just love the day job huh!) I had the review idea worked out pretty quickly, but I had to wait for the weekend to whip it into shape. I sometimes get strapped for ideas, but I know that I am bound by The Rules to write a review of all the books that I read.

I wanted to write a review of The Story of O that contains piercing insight, a review that would go down in the anals of history as one of the best. After all, the book is branded as one of the most important works of erotic fiction ever written. Unfortunately, I knew from the first moment I opened the book that a full review would be a bit too racy for most people. There are things being forced, whipped and buggered all over the place! But this is a very well written book: the prose is clean and flows very well. It was the frankness of the story which dominates that prose which took me by surprise. It’s very hard to write a sensible review on this subject, I was strapped for ideas so I decided to crop this review down to the bare minimum and just subtly marked the odd word here or there to hint at the contents of the book…

I could wax on for ages about this book, but to conclude, does The Story of O deliver? Corset does 🙂

Rating: 7/10

Book Review – Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings

2015-04-04 08.55.19Here is a quick book review of Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings. I’m keeping it short because I’ve recently read Pawn of Prophecy; the first of the series and this really is a continuation. I’m also progressing at fair pace with The Year of Reading Dangerously. I wouldn’t say quickly, as I have been side tracked with my book list, and I have been continually tweeting about various aspects of #tyord. Andy Miller hoped that the book would speak to me. It has and it is. Anyhoo, I really enjoyed Queen of Prophecy. I’m not going to rate it as highly as The Pawn of Prophecy, but it is none the less a very competent sequel.

This instalment of the quintet is more your quintessential fantasy travel diary than the last book. As you know, I liked David Eddings writing style, so the book remained readably even thought little of any import happened for most of it. In amongst the travel, bedding down, the feeling of being followed and the occasional intrusion of a king or a Grolim: tension built nicely. I spent quite a bit of the book wondering why it was called the Queen of Sorcery, hoping that I would find out. Suffice to say that the build up is worth it and Aunt Pol really is a queen of her particular art.

This second book sees the main character Garion in a more grown up role. There is a bit more sexual content in this book, but it is kept relevant to the characters wo fand is in no way too much for the target audience i.e. teenagers and not middle aged men… It is actually quite subtly written sexual tension and I thought it was perfectly balanced and well done.

There are a few further issues that I had with the book and I will end with them in a list; because that is easier and quicker than proper writing and I want a cup of tea:-

  1. In the first book, it annoyed me that names are sometimes very similar. By page 5 my whinge was usable again: Grolim = evil priests, The gorim of the ulgos = good. I’m pretty sure that these were mentioned in the first book as well, but I noticed it in this one, so that’s where my whinge is being applied.
  2. I struggled slightly with in the first book too. Even though David Eddings is capable of writing in empathy of the thoughts and actions of a young teenager, there is a very polar interaction with Garion from a lot of the other cast members.Everyone had treated Garion like a 10 year old until right at the end if the book when everyone switches their views and he is suddenly meant to be able to function as an adult, taking responsibility for actions that he was essentially forbidden to do a matter of pages before! This may be dodgy writing, or if the benefit of the doubt is given, it may be that these things are written from the perspective of Garion?
  3. To add to the slightly clunky “it wasn’t done on purpose” argument above:-
    • Poll is too prim
    • Garion is slightly too moody and not quite clever enough to see what is going on, but he is very well written as a teenager, confused in a confusing world.
    • Ce’Nedra is too volatile and flips from happy, playful and sexy to upset and offended too quickly.

In conclusion. I liked it. It has some flaws, but they are acceptable as the build up, story and characters are able to carry you through 🙂

Rating: 7/10