Nailed by The Heart - Simon Clark

(No Series)

The Stainforth family--Chris, Ruth and their young son, David--move into the ancient sea-fort in a nice little coastal town to begin a new life, to start fresh. At the time it seems like the perfect place to do it, so quiet, so secluded. But they have no way of knowing that they've moved into what was once a sacred site of an old religion. And that the old god is not dead--only waiting. Already the god's dark power has begun to spread, changing and polluting all that it touches. A hideous evil pervades the small town. Soon the dead no longer stay dead. When the power awakens the rotting crew of a ship that sank decades earlier, a nightmare of bloodshed and violence begins for the Stainforths, a nightmare that can end only with the ultimate sacrifice--death.

Nailed by the Heart is the first Simon Clark book published in the U.S. This English writer impressed me with Strangers and since then I have been picking up his novels whenever I find them. He can be a bit hit and miss and the main thing that suffers with his writing, from the three books I’ve read, is that sometimes plot holes can be ignored and things don’t always sum up well, but he gives his all in dishing out the goods in the horror genre. Here the plot is outlandish and fun, different enough to work for sure, and in the end almost everything is answered, yet a little mystery is left to let the imagination roam.

The novel is set in a small New England town where a close family ­ Chris, Ruth, and their six year old son David ­ have bought an old sea fort to convert into an inn for the tourist force that’s about to take grip of the town. Immediately they’re captivated by the place and its residents, feeling they’re welcomed with open arms. What they don’t know, though, is that the town is aware of an old religion around the fort that never quite died out, one where an ancient god is about to resurface. By the middle of the book, everyone is packed together trying to fight away forces of unrelenting terror ­ pale, sadistic warriors that live in the sea and have now come to claim the power of the gods for themselves.

The plot is nothing rehashed and familiar, but instead is actually different and refreshing. The sea is used in horror lots of ways, but usually not quite like this. Having the small coast serve as a smorgasbord for undead killers and blood thirsty gods always makes unsettling reading. It starts strong and ends just as harshly, keeping the pace going. All characters are well written and enjoyable, where one cares what happens to them, especially the family with the sweet, endearing boy that doesn’t annoy. It’s filled with strange little clues of things to come, all ominous symbols of terror just beneath the surface, things the reader can’t possibly understand but that will all be explained eventually. By the center of the book, everyone is gathered together to try and fight the superhuman force, losing the battle every step of the way, with the outcome of losing equaling something much more horrible than just losing their lives.

Clark seems to love writing about end of the world scenarios, and his writing style is professional, eerie and unique. The atmosphere is fresh at times, you can almost breath in the New England air, but creepy as hell at other parts, with the white faced beings representing a mind-numbing threat. Clark does the wise thing by keeping the assailants mysterious and slow, even to the characters in the novel, and by only letting small smudges of information leak out about it, rather than immediate revelations. He also doesn’t focus only on the villains, but also on the god, the fort, the symbolism of dreams, the family structure, the hostility of differences between the townsmen, and of course growing friction erupting from claustrophobic surroundings. These always work together wonderfully to produce a powerful situation where one roots for the survivors more than anything else.

When violence does occur, it’s brutal and terrible, with the body count on the medium side. This book didn’t need more corpses, but it never shied away from the horrible encounters either. Suspense is greatly build in select scenes, with the characters portraying the right amount of terror, emotion, and grief. The end has a neat little twist that made me smile, wrapping up the book in an almost perfect way. The book combines mythology, religion, superstition, and modern day survival skills with a glowing result. If I had to say something bad about it, I’d say that sometimes a few things seemed forced along the way, but nothing that hurts the plot enough to bring it down a star. If you want to read a truly strange, wonderfully eerie creation, Nailed by the Heart is it.