Posts Tagged ‘historical horror’

Today’s post on The Horror Bookshelf comes from C.M. Saunders, who is currently promoting his new novel Sker House, which is available now through DeadPixel Publications. I am excited to have Saunders on the site as I loved his novella Out of Time (review) and his riveting story of psychological horror “The Elementals and I” that appeared in Grey Matter Press’ Dark Visions – Volume Two. Saunders’ post takes a look at the practice of “wrecking” and the role it played in the history of the real-life Sker House. I love history, so I really enjoyed this post and learned a lot about the practice of wrecking, which is something I didn’t even know about. Wrecking plays a significant role in the novel and I look forward to reading how Saunders’ incorporates it into what sounds like a truly creepy haunted house story!

The Wreckers 

By C.M. Saunders, author of Sker House

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Every country has elements of its history it would rather forget. A black mark against Wales would be the unsavoury practice of ‘wrecking,’ deliberately luring passing ships to their doom, which was rife during the 17th and 18th Centuries. In fairness, it didn’t just happen in Wales. It was prevalent in most, of not all, coastal areas of Britain, and probably elsewhere in the world. However, one location in Wales that will be forever linked with wreckers is Sker House, a large, isolated mansion in Kenfig, Glamorgan.

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During the Industrial Revolution, the Bristol Channel, the stretch of water Sker House overlooked, was one of the busiest waterways in the world, carrying a steady stream of vessels between Britain and the Continent. It was also one of the most perilous. As well as the strong currents and ever-shifting hidden sandbanks, the submerged bank of rocks known as Sker Point could literally tear ships to pieces. At that time, smuggling and looting were considered legitimate (if not lawful) enterprises, and shipwrecks were so common in the area that they were seldom investigated in any depth. Local landowners routinely claimed ‘Right of the Wreck’, whereby they were legally free to salvage whatever ‘lost’ cargo happened to wash up on their property. This is why some less scrupulous locals were said to engage in wrecking, which they usually achieved by tying lanterns to cattle or grazing sheep and leading them along the seafront at night. From a distance, especially to unfamiliar eyes in bad weather, the lights would look like those of ships lying safely at anchor. The captain would steer a course for the lights, only to run his ship aground. A cautionary tale often told is that of the Welsh wrecker who helped lure a passing ship onto rocks, killing everyone on board. While he busied himself looting the ship’s cargo, the bodies of the unfortunate passengers and crew were brought ashore for burial. Only then did the wrecker see the body of his own son who was returning home unexpectedly after a long voyage.

A pivotal event not just in the history of Sker, but in the practice of wrecking as a whole, occurred on December 17th 1753, when the French merchant ship Le Vainqueur was en route from Portugal when she struck Sker Point. It is generally held that then-owner of Sker House Isaac Williams and his cohorts were responsible for its untimely demise on Sker Point. No sooner had the ship hit the rocks, impoverished locals and respected nobility alike descended on the wreck like vultures and plundered it for all it was worth, stealing her cargo of fruit, rifling the bodies of dead sailors, and even setting fire to what was left of the ship in order to recover the iron nails that had once held it together.

Due to the delicate diplomatic relations between Britain and France at the time, the fate of Le Vainqueur was treated as a serious international incident. In the aftermath, no less than 17 people were arrested, including Isaac Williams himself, who was at the time an influential local magistrate. When questioned, he claimed to have stored goods from the wreck found in the cellar of Sker House there for safekeeping. Remarkably, he never went to trial, but his reputation was tainted forever and he died a ruined man. Of those who did go to trial, one wasn’t so lucky and was hanged by the Crown to set an example to others. In the years since wrecking was abolished, countless witnesses claim to have seen ghostly ships off Sker. Also frequently spotted is a solitary light hovering over Sker Point. Locally, this is taken to be a prelude to bad weather, but is eerily reminiscent of the Canwyll Corph, a well-known Welsh portent of death.

And that’s not all, whether connected to wrecking or not, over the years Sker House has gained a reputation for being one of the most haunted locations in Wales. It’s most famous ghost is the Maid of Sker, Isaac Williams’s daughter, who he allegedly imprisoned at the house until she agreed to marry the man of his choosing. Local legend insists that she never left. There have also been numerous reports of shadow figures, poltergeist activity, strange howls, and a crushing sensation of dread felt by visitors.

LINKS

C.M. Saunders’ Official Website

DeadPixel Publications Official Website

 Purchase Sker House on Amazon 

Sker House Synopsis

Dale and Lucy are two students with a fascination in the supernatural. One weekend, they travel to Sker House, South Wales, a private residence with a macabre history which has recently been converted into a seaside inn. They plan to write an article for their university magazine about a supposed haunting, but when they arrive, they meet a landlord who seems to have a lot to hide. Soon, it becomes apparent that all is not well at Sker House. An air of oppression hangs over it, while misery, tragedy and ill-fortune are commonplace. Gradually, it becomes clear that the true depth of the mystery goes far beyond a mere historical haunting. This is a place where bad things happen, and evil lurks.

Little by little Dale and Lucy fall under Sker’s dark spell, and as they begin to unravel the mysteries of the past, they realize that nothing stays buried forever.

Welcome to Sker House, a place where past and present collide.

About C.M. Saunders

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New Tredegar-born C.M. Saunders began writing in 1997, his early fiction appearing in several small-press titles. Following the publication of his first book, Into the Dragon’s Lair – A Supernatural History of Wales (2003), he worked extensively in the freelance market, contributing to over 50 international publications including Fortean Times, Loaded, Record Collector, Forever Sports and Nuts. In addition, he has written several novellas and had over thirty short stories published in various magazines, ezines and anthologies. He taught English and creative writing in China for five years, before settling in London where he works as a writer and editor in the sport, fitness and men’s lifestyle sectors. His latest release is the fact-based novel Sker House on DeadPixel Publications and he is represented by Media Bitch literary agency.

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sentinels

BOOK INFO

Length: 264 Pages

Publisher: Samhain Horror

Release Date: November 3, 2015

Review copy provided in exchange for an honest review as part of the Sentinels Blog Tour

My first introduction to Matt Manochio’s work was reading The Dark Servant on his blog tour last year. Manochio took the legend of Krampus  – the terrifying beast that serves as a dark foil to Santa Claus – and crafted a super fun read that was full of adrenaline fueled scenes and dark humor. Reading The Dark Servant, it was clear that Manochio was a talented author and I was excited to see what he would come up with next. So when I was approached to join the blog tour for his follow up novel Sentinels, I jumped at the chance.

Sentinels is a supernatural historical horror story set in Reconstruction-era South Carolina. It opens with a pretty intense scene as a rag-tag group of criminals led by Lyle and his friends Brendan and Franklin attempting to kill former slave Toby Jenkins in order to steal the deed for the massive farm he inherited from Charlie Stanhope for the nefarious land baron Thomas Diggs. As they encircle the property, they are attacked by mysterious, shadowy figures and barely escape with their lives.

Noah Chandler is a brand new sheriff’s deputy and was raised in South Carolina but fought for the North after attending Harvard for his law degree. He witnessed his brother die on the battlefield as they fought against each other, an event that still weighs heavy on his conscience. Despite his allegiances during the war, he moves back to his hometown of Henderson after the war in an effort to assist the Reconstruction efforts he deeply believes in. Noah finds himself quickly thrust into a bloody and bizarre situation in his first few days on the job when seven Ku Klux Klan members and two northern soldiers are found savagely murdered outside of a nearby plantation. Noah and the other sheriffs find little evidence and have no idea who would have committed the horrible crimes considering the victims belonged to two opposing groups. It isn’t until Noah talks to one of the survivors, Robert Culliver, that he gets any information at all. Culliver states that it wasn’t men that massacred those men, but wraiths. He said that they moved with precision and that even when they were shot by the soldiers trying to defend themselves, they didn’t bleed like normal men.

Noah chalks up Culliver’s ravings about supernatural entities to the shock of witnessing such a brutal attack and the injuries he sustained. Surely wraiths couldn’t be responsible for killing those men, even if the circumstances surrounding their deaths were a bit bizarre. It isn’t until Culliver is murdered in his heavily guarded jail cell and Noah witnesses a series of unexplained events in the attack that he begins to suspect that there may be some truth to Culliver’s claims. As Noah begins to investigate the attacks, he and his family are plunged into danger and he learns the startling truth about the wraiths.

I am a bit of a history nut, so I loved Manochio’s decision to use the period of Reconstruction as the setting for Sentinels. Lately, I have read a lot of horror books that take place in modern times, so it was refreshing to read a novel with a more historical setting. Manochio gives an unflinching look at the horrors of slavery and the violence that plagued the country during the Civil War and after it was over. There is one particular scene where Toby details his childhood to Noah while they are sharing drinks in the town’s tavern that is particularly gut wrenching. Even though it is clear early on Toby is somehow connected to the brutal attacks carried out by the mysterious figures that plunge Henderson into chaos, it is this scene that makes the reader feel a connection to Toby.

I loved the wraiths Manochio conjures up in the novel and they are definitely creepy! I don’t want to spoil their appearance, but there is a scene toward the end of the novel that had an old school horror feel too it that I enjoyed. While I thought the wraiths were a cool and interesting choice as a horror monster, I felt their history was a bit rushed and ambiguous. Manochio does provide some back story on the wraiths and how they were unleashed on the town of Henderson, but I feel it would have been more effective if it was handled in bits and pieces instead of having it all explained toward the end of the novel.

Manochio does a great job of bringing most of his main characters to life and giving them distinct personalities from the arrogant aristocrat Thomas Diggs to the often mocked criminal Franklin. Noah’s wife Natalie and widower Doreen Culliver seem to be one dimensional early on, but as the novel progresses they become much more complex and one scene late in the novel proves they are total badasses.  Although most of the characters are well developed, there are a few secondary characters that fall flat and get lost in the action. I also loved how Manochio managed to blur the lines between good and evil throughout Sentinels. There are a few characters throughout the novel that stay firmly on one side of the spectrum, but some of them are a lot harder to label. There are characters who start off as good but are forced to do bad things out of necessity and some who are seen as evil only to go against all odds and finally do the right thing.

There are some nice twists and surprises thrown into Sentinels that I didn’t see coming while reading, but after finishing the novel, I realized there were clues to some of the mysteries all along. I love those sort of little surprises and they definitely added to my enjoyment of the novel. Despite a few minor style choices that didn’t work for me, Sentinels is a highly entertaining read that I would definitely recommend to horror fans and particularly those who enjoy historical horror. I am a big fan of both of Manochio’s works and I am looking forward to reading his upcoming novella, Twelfth Krampus Night, which is a medieval tale featuring the infamous Krampus and the equally terrifying Frau Perchta. Twelfth Krampus Night comes right in time for the holidays, hitting shelves on December 1st from Samhain Horror.

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Matt Manochio’s Official Website

Samhain Horror’s Official Website

Purchase Sentinels: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Samhain Horror or your favorite bookstore!

Sentinels tour graphic (1)

Use these hashtags to help spread the word about Sentinels! – #Sentinels  #history #historicalhorror

Sentinels Synopsis

These are no ordinary killers.

They don’t distinguish between good and evil. They just kill. South Carolina’s a ruthless place after the Civil War. And when Sheriff’s Deputy Noah Chandler finds seven Ku Klux Klansmen and two Northern soldiers massacred along a road, he cannot imagine who would murder these two diametrically opposed forces.

When a surviving Klansman babbles about wraiths, and is later murdered inside a heavily guarded jail cell, Noah realizes something sinister stalks his town. He believes a freed slave who’s trying to protect his farm from a merciless land baron can help unmask the killers. Soon Noah will have to personally confront the things good men must do to protect their loved ones from evil.

Praise for Matt Manochio

“Matt Manochio is a natural born storyteller.” – Joe McKinney, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Savage Dead

“A real page turner. Matt Manochio has gained a fan in me!” – David L. Golemon, New York Times bestselling author of the Event Group Thriller series, on The Dark Servant

“Beautifully crafted and expertly plotted. A clockwork mechanism of terror! Highly recommended!” – Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of Shattered, on The Dark Servant

About Matt Manochio

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Matt Manochio was born in 1975 in New Jersey and graduated from The University of Delaware in 1997 with a history/journalism degree.

He spent the majority of his 13-year newspaper career at the Daily Record in Morris County, New Jersey, where he won multiple New Jersey Press Association Awards for his reporting. He wrote about one of his passions, rock ‘n’ roll giants AC/DC, for USA Today and considers that the highlight of his journalism career.

He left newspapers in 2011 for safer employment, and currently lives in New Jersey with his son.