“A sudden stench of decay filled the room in one tremendous gust. And into his mind grew an image, so clear, so crisp, of a flock of lifeless birds, their dusty wings at rest on dry bodies, before a lake of fetid water, greened with flotsam. Upon the shore an indistinct figure wrapped in tatty cloth raised it face to see him.” Such is the imagery of Adam Nevill in his novel Last Days. The dichotomy of repulsion-fascination is played up to fine advantage in the book. Nevill has the goods to be the “next big thing” in horror. The author has concocted a 500-plus page tale of enormous appeal, which falters a bit through its ambitiousness. When weaving an intricate tapestry, it’s important that all the threads interlace neatly. Last Days possesses brilliant passages, but the plot revelations that occur about 100 pages before its culmination are rather convoluted. Many names from different eras are tossed about, and one feels a trifle in need of a spread sheet to keep track of who’s who. That said, the majority of Last Days‘ narrative is stunning.

Last Days‘ premise is highly intriguing: Kyle Freeman, a guerilla film maker, is financially strapped. When he gets an offer from movie producer Max Solomon to make a documentary focusing on the final days of the notorious cult known as The Last Gathering, Freeman is easily wooed aboard the enterprise. Still, Kyle adamantly states his artistic standards, and Max readily agrees to them; a metaphorical Faustian bargain is struck.

As Freeman and a team of two tech guys journey from London to Normandy, Antwerp, the Arizona desert, Seattle, and San Diego, they become embroiled in the cult’s bloody history. Through interviews and exploring sites related to infamous cult founder Sister Katherine, the lads fall prey to the chilling residue of her power. The leader’s concluding days, which culminated in a massacre, lead to shocking disclosures concerning the film project itself. Max Solomon’s investment goes beyond mere fascination with the sensational subject matter. Towering over the sinister scenario is the nefarious Sister Katherine. Possessing an evil charisma on a par with Charles Manson, she’s a fascinating and fear-provoking presence. There’s much more to her than ego-driven maniacal manipulations of her minions: Katherine’s agenda, although linear, is huge in scope.

While author Nevill is adept at characterization, his biggest strength is creating atmosphere. Sounds, odors and disconcerting visuals permeate Last Days. Here’s an example of Nevill’s skillful evocating of senses: “The smell came next: burned-out house, wet with water from a fire engine’s hose, dead pigeons ripened by the sun, poisoned rats going soft under floorboards, a sewer pipe’s mouth agape.”

Lending verisimilitude to the work is this ambience-packed description of Antwerp: “Cobbled lanes fed off the vast square into a labyrinth of medieval shadows, dark glass, iron balconies, walls blanketed by ivy, turrets and flags. The cathedral flung its ecclesiastical claws at the heavens while the town at its foot promised to whisper and enchant amongst its alleys and canopied cafes.” Nevill’s enrapturing prose engrosses and ensnares.

Last Days is an interesting story that is invigorated by its author’s gift for depiction, and its sensory detail proves palatable and compelling. Adam Nevill, who has received stellar reviews for previous genre novels Apartment 16, Banquet for the Damned, and The Ritual, again comes on strong, and is leaving a profound mark on horror fiction.

– By Sheila M. Merritt