This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
26.11.20 / Crime & Mystery / Orion Books / Hardback / 384pp / 978-1409189930
Target Audience: Readers who like elaborate mysteries combined with spine-tingling horror.
About Letters From The Dead
1905. A year after ‘the affair’ in Dinas Powys, Thomas Bexley has become a drunkard and recluse, haunted by terrible visions of the dead. But when news of a spate of extraordinary kidnappings reaches him, Thomas is shocked to learn that his dear friend and former mentor, Professor Elijah Hawthorn, is the lead suspect.
Discovering a plea for help from Hawthorn claiming to have unearthed a gruesome conspiracy at the heart of the Metropolitan Police, Thomas embarks on a journey to prove Hawthorn’s innocence.
But wherever Thomas goes, he is followed by the dead, and as the mystery of Hawthorn’s disappearance deepens, so too does Thomas’s apparent insanity…
How can Thomas be certain of the truth when he can’t trust anybody around him, not even himself…?
Letters From The Dead Review
Sam Hurcom’s Letters From The Dead is equal parts frantic, unhinged crime mystery and atmospheric, claustrophobic horror fiction that left me chilled to my core. This novel was a hell of a ride. I’ve read many novels that escalate to that point which leads you to an unbearable, need-to-know-the-truth, can’t-stand-how-uneasy-I-feel-just-reading-a-book state of mind, but Letters From The Dead captured those feelings in their purest form. SH balances this chaos with a duo of compelling characters that I could really root for at every turn, even at the books deepest, most conflicting moments.
I love stories set around the time of the new age of forensic sciences. LFTD is set in 1905 when criminalistics were becoming serious and investigations began utilizing the newest forms of evidence gathering. It is fascinating to see how policing evolved from rudimentary tools to high tech instruments that changed the landscape of criminal investigations for many generations to come.
Thomas Bexley is a forensic photographer who worked closely with the Metropolitan Police. After his last case (detailed in the first novel which I am yet to read) Thomas became an alcoholic recluse as a result of being riddled with visions of dead spectres that haunt him relentlessly. Thomas is drawn out of that perpetual hell when his mentor (and father figure) Elijah Hawthorne is accused of being the Wraith Of London. The Wraith is seen as a phantom Jack The Ripper but much more fearsome, kidnapping it’s victims in the night and never leaving a hint of a body.
The Met believe Thomas knows more than he lets on, but in truth, Thomas knows nothing. Retracing his steps garners him a clue of Elijah’s whereabouts. Thomas decides to follow the lead, despite his inability to function due to alcoholism as well as his crumbling grip on his sanity at the hands of the horrors that plague him. His efforts are both compelled and frustrated by the arrival of Beatrice, a sibling of one of the Wraith’s victims, who insists that she accompany him to discover the truth behind her sister’s demise.
Thomas and Beatrice travel to Elijah’s last known location and begin to investigate what Elijah was up to in the last 8 months and who could possibly want to frame him. Thomas’ mind is quickly unravelling but he is determined to exonerate Elijah and find out who exactly this Wraith of London truly is. Letters From The Dead is an exceptionally well orchestrated mystery, populated with some of the best supernatural horror scenes I have experienced in some time.
When I mentioned atmospheric earlier, I meant it to the fullest extent. Sam Hurcom has done a fantastic job of conjuring the sense of sight, smell, sound and feel of a whole range of locations. Every setting from a deserted manor house off the coast of Scotland and an abandoned lighthouse to the gritty streets of London and beyond were brought to life in all their charm, splendour and nastiness. SH’s descriptive detail was on the mark consistently and it was both amazing and nauseating. I mean every place Thomas found himself was crafted in all its glory including prison cells, opium dens and city streets.
Thomas Bexley is definitely a compelling lead. His psyche is in pieces because of what he had already experienced and that was at the beginning of this novel. SH’s piles on the pressure and it does not stop, both alive and dead. The severity of his condition and the case at hand just kept intensifying until I could stand no more. Thomas is an unreliable narrator to say the least. Manic, paranoid though incredibly clever, it is hard to tell if he is truly seeing these horrendous visions or if they are perhaps manifestations of post traumatic stress or a full blown mental breakdown. I really thought a lot of his character and I hope that his story is far from over.
Beatrice was another interesting character who I felt got another superb arc in this story, one that felt her own and substantial as well. Beatrice does initially come across as a bit of a pain-in-the-neck but she becomes almost vital as the narrative gets deeper and darker. I also hope to see her again if there is a part three to this series. Letters From The Dead is easily readable as a standalone, though I really want to read the first novel now.
There is a lot in this story for many types of reader. Though it is not for those looking for an easy going, PG thriller. There are horrors awaiting inside this book that spooked even me, someone who has been reading horror fiction for 20 years. Hideous entities that stalk, plead and threaten Thomas at every turn. There are also lashings of misdirection, chaos, claustrophobic storytelling and outright brutality. But that said, it is also a meaningful narrative that utilizes its story, characters and setting to engage the reader in witty, bittersweet and memorable moments and it took me on a heck of a journey. Highly recommended.
About Sam Hurcom
Sam Hurcom was born in Dinas Powys, South Wales in 1991. He studied Philosophy at Cardiff University, attaining both an undergraduate and master’s degree. He has since had several short stories published, and has written and illustrated a number of children’s books. Sam currently lives in the village he was raised in, close to the woodlands that have always inspired his writing. A SHADOW ON THE LENS is Sam’s debut novel.