Banquet for the Damned is Adam Nevill’s debut novel (under his own name, that is – he’s penned a hefty other nine volumes in a different genre under pseudonym) and this work is a welcome addition to the supernatural literary canon. As with the book which followed it, Apartment 16, Nevill crafts a dark and moody world, dripping gothic fantastic and dreadful scenery, with an unkempt and uneasy atmosphere running in parallel which sets the reader comfortably ill-at-ease.
From the off he creates a world in which we, his readers, are often shaken and shocked, but in which our attention follows along on this ride, unbroken. Make no mistake, it’s an at times harrowing ride, but the rich language and skill with which Nevill writes means you’re getting more than your money’s worth out of the whole experience.
Following the troubled break-up of their band and the accompanying cavalcade of emotional scattershot, musicians Dante and Tom decide to ditch their home town of Birmingham. Thus the pair pack up their belongings and hop into the beloved ‘War Wagon’ to aim for fresh pastures.
They’re headed for the quaint town of St. Andrews in Scotland where Dante has lined up some research work to be undertaken for maverick Professor Coldwell of the university there, as well as having secured lodgings within the confines of this bustling student centre.
Coldwell is the author of a spiritualist tract published decades before, Banquet for the Damned, which has become something of a revered and underground cult work in a few select, though now mostly underground, cliques. Dante has plans to adapt the book into a concept album from which he and Tom can hopefully bounce back fresh and energised into their respected music scene.
As you can probably guess from the tone of this sentence, such things are not destined to be. Whether through Coldwell’s enigmatic and beautiful assistant Beth, whose motives may (or may not) be of the ulterior variety, or his colleagues who seem set on inhibiting the research project from the off, people all around seem keen on preventing progress for the best friends. But that’s not all.
There’s something lurking in the shadows in St. Andrews. In the nooks and crannies of this ancient place something is exerting otherworldly influence and committing foul transgressions. And its power and malign influence are spreading. Before the unlikely duo even set foot in town, dark and tragic circumstances have begun to unfold there, and it’s not long before the eager enthusiasm with which they’ve embarked on the project becomes something of a damp squib in light of ever ominous circumstances.
They’re not alone in the misgivings that begin to form surrounding the project and the man heading its charge. Others too have doubts about the purpose, and sanity, of the once charismatic Coldwell. And as the dangers that appear at the periphery begin to manifest, it’s soon not a question of if, but when, the unknown horrors will begin to manifest.
At times in Banquet for the Damned, peppered throughout, but particularly in the scenes toward this novel’s conclusion, there is a sense of the dazed, the hypnotic, and that which is never fully realised but nonetheless remains awful in its inception.
This skill of Nevill’s is similarly felt in Apartment 16, and is one of the reasons the book accomplishes its goal as a horror novel. Excuse the circa-1970s patois, but it is dope, and it is also very scary.
With a tone as unique as it is compelling, and an author ever ready to take his readers to creepy new heights, this is a enjoyable supernatural read indeed. A two book deal with Macmillan is testament to Nevill’s footing in the horror literature annals. That Nevill’s father read him the works of M. R. James as a child is a good thing too, if this is the result of such influence. For we need more books like Banquet for the Damned, and more authors like Nevill.