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      Howard Jackson: Choke Bay.       

Red Rattle Books     £ 7.99.
         

Choke Bay is the first horror novel by Howard Jackson.  It is his fifth book to be published by Red Rattle Books.  His previous work of fiction was the collection of horror short stories Nightmares Ahead.  After that exceptional debut expectations have been high.  Choke Bay does not disappoint. The novel is stunning, a marvellous mixture of supernatural horror and unrequited love. It somehow disturbs and dries the throat. 

 Choke Bay is a Yorkshire village.  Most people have left, and the empty cottages are rented to tourists in the summer. The landscape is cosy but desolate and it provides a marvellous background to the strange events that have happened in the past and the confrontations that will occur before the novel is finished.  Spencer Calbeck returns to Choke Bay.  Lauren, the girl that he loves, is engaged to another man. The father of Spencer killed two women when Spencer was a child.  The women were the mother of Spencer and the mother of Lauren.  Traumatised by the event, Lauren and Spencer saw the same psychiatrist.   Rather than be disappointed in love Spencer joined the Army and left Choke Bay and Lauren. On his return to Choke Bay Spencer is reminded of what happened in the past.  His neighbours may be interested in his future but the ghosts that appear in Choke Bay have warnings for Spencer and Lauren.

 Choke Bay is written with restraint and precise prose.  The landscape and village life are clear in the imagination of the reader but, although always present, they are not overstressed by the author.  The restrained prose suits the passive Spencer Calbeck whose future has always been marked by others.  Fate is important to the lives of Spencer and Lauren but what makes Choke Bay a fine read is how the author convinces us that even modest victims can challenge fate and seek rewards and fulfilment.  This defiant perspective is what gives the book its heart and makes it so enjoyable.  Nightmares Ahead impressed because of its invention and surprises. Choke Bay also has these qualities but it is a novel and there is also added emphasis and sympathy for Spencer, Lauren and the few people left in the village. 

Romance requires faith and horror needs an imagination. Choke Bay is blessed with both these qualities.  The people of Choke Bay may live in a picturesque setting but they have to endure in the modern world.  They work and earn enough to continue but their relief comes from diversions rather than dreams.  Two women, though, have been murdered, and the ghosts from the past insist that day-to-day normality, no matter how modest, will have to be challenged.  Inevitably, there is a climax and it is well done and satisfying.  The final twist is a real surprise.  Despite the modern setting and the spare writing Choke Bay manages to evoke two classics of Victorian literature.  Fans of The Innocents and Wuthering Heights will enjoy how Choke Bay delves into the impact of horror and violence on two children and explains what unrequited love can mean for those who have to persist.   

 By Irene Keith.