Woe unto the super rich, who indulge their fanciful dreams with childlike ambitions. Media magnate Alexander McIntyre has long held a curious interest in a surreal, Mary Celeste-like occurrence over a century and a half ago, and it is his dedicated decadent dalliance in such that forms the basis of F.G. Cottam’s supernatural shocker The Colony. (I apologise for the alliteration but I’ve been watching the Classic Doctor Who serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang and Mr Jago’s ways of speech have grown in me via an osmosis-like process).
The disappearance in 1852 of a colony of settlers on New Hope Island was ascribed to a number of possibilities: plague, boredom, murder, and even aliens, blamed for the disappearance of around 200 souls has become something of a legend. But slowly, and with assistance from well paid help, McIntyre is piecing together something of a relevatory tapestry regarding the goings on.
Key to this – and a plot device introduced very early on – evidence that’s been discovered by an investigator to McIntyre’s project. Without giving too much away, this early coup de théâtre really did not only send literal shivers down my spine, but freaked this thirty-something bloke out on thinking about it a few times subsequently. Especially in those dark, early hours of the morning.
So it is, with shocking evidence in hand, McIntyre’s flagship newspaper is to launch a fresh investigation into the goings on at New Hope, with various news media brought in to inject some life into the story. Precautionary measures have been taken, should things get a little stale for the various experts assembled on the island, but it’s not before long that pretty horrific stuff starts to go down.
And Cottam writes this horrific stuff most beautifully. For those who know my preferences and styles for supernatural horror, think the shock-punch of Adam Nevill, or hints of Campbell melded with deft touches of King when he’s at his most disciplined. Or a perfect example might be Jonathan Aycliff. Cottam’s stuff is as scary as Susan Hill’s – but whereas Hill delights in beautifully written short supernatural-terror yarns, Cottam’s pen uses a lots more ink to craft superlative tales. And to such a brilliant effect.
As this story of many characters – and it is a quite a cast of various professions, character-types and similar – unfolded, it was both magnetic in its ability to pull me back, but yet also to reverse polarity by repelling my senses of calm and serenity with terrible ideas of malign supernatural forces intent purely on laying down a smack of shock and horribleness. After scaring several shades out of their victim first (and literally other bodily fluids also), the entity in question didn’t fail to creep me out any the less in its future appearances.
I can find between my horror novel reads (for, dear reader, it’s not just horror that I read) sometimes a cloud of ennui wraps around me, and I worry that the next spookily themed book I read really won’t do much to raise my interests. There are quite a few books I read that don’t even make the site, simply as I lack motivation to review them. With Cottam I’ve no such feeling. Since reading The Colony I’ve actually read two more of his books in the past month alone (despite mad deadlines at work and a crazy Christmas-based activity list). Both of those were as enjoyable – and terrifying.
Let me be frank: this book is excellent. If you have even a passing interest in supernatural or horror fiction you should read it. Its narrative is constantly kept buoyant with an interesting cast, and the horrific is woven beautifully, with a macabre thread, between a page-turning and constantly flowing text of compulsive dread.