Thursday, 24 September 2015

Recommendation: Dead Leaves by Andrew David Barker

Dead Leaves is a new novella from Andrew David Barker, whose story of a haunted cinema, The Electric, turned a lot of heads last year (including mine).

The two books have a number of similarities, both being coming of age tales and both having a cinematic connection. But Dead Leaves is a darker and in some ways more cynical tale; it is set in Derby during the time of the early 80s 'video nasty' scare. Scott, Paul and Mark have finished school and are adrift, on the dole, the only options for employment seemingly the same dead end jobs they've seen their parents suffer with. All three of them love horror films but there's one none of them have seen: so they resolve to seek out the ultimate video nasty, the ultimate horror film: a VHS copy of The Evil Dead.

Their pursuit of this MacGuffin drives the story; as in The Electric, this is a story which underneath the plot is about friendship and growing up - the dynamics of the changing relationship between the three protagonists are expertly portrayed by Barker. But the portrayal of young adulthood is less idealistic than in his previous book, in part due to the grimmer backdrop of mindless tabloid censorship and the realities of Thatcher's Britain. Friendship feels more fragile, something which can be torn apart by an adult world that doesn't care for such things. This added grit, along with the shorter length and tighter focus, means that for me Dead Leaves more than equals The Electric. Which is saying something.

But there's hope and optimism too; their search for The Evil Dead allows the three friends to project their own meaning and values onto a world they seem to have no place in. A love letter to the horror genre and what it means to people, without being a horror story itself, Dead Leaves is, in short, absolutely fantastic.

You can preorder it from Boo Books, including a special limited edition in a VHS style case.

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