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Dead Five’s Pass by Colin Barnes

When a new cave is discovered in the Rocky Mountains, no one considered the terrible consequences that would follow.

A volunteer mountain rescuer dealing with the loss of a child, the break-up of a relationship and the grief of a rescue gone wrong, Carise Culey isn’t sure she’s the right person for the job when she receives an emergency call. A climber is missing, presumed dead, and his girlfriend is found bloodied, beaten and catatonic with fear.

Carise soon realizes the discovery of the cave is worse than anyone could have imagined and learns of another group of teenagers already on their way there. With the onset of harsh winter weather, and the threat of an unknown evil, she reaches out to her ex-boyfriend and fellow rescue volunteer, Marcel, for help.

The two must travel to the cave to save the kids, themselves, and perhaps all of humanity… 

I recently read Colin Barnes latest novella, Dead Five’s Pass, and it’s a checklist of everything that gives me a bad case of the heebie-jeebies and the screaming habdabs. It’s got a bit of just about everything that makes my flesh crawl – ancient many-tentacled evil, primal darkness, moments of unexpected violence, claustrophobic spaces, fear of the unknown and even heights. He’s only gone and bundled all these elements together in one convenient location, it’s a veritable who’s who of my various neuroses.

When we first meet Carise she’s broken, slowly coming apart at the seams. She’s crawled into a bottle and is quite happy to stay there for as long as possible. She’s kidding herself though, somewhere deep inside there’s still a spark of the old Carise and she’s seeking redemption. She wants to try to undo past mistakes and reconnect with the world. As the plot unfolds, we get to discover that there are vast reserves of strength that exist within her. They power her forward with a grim, steely determination.

The relationship between Carise and Marcel is well realised. You immediately pick up on the history and depth of feeling that exists between the two. This is a couple who are used to relying on one another and it’s interesting to see how traumatic events have stretched that trust to it’s limit. Both have tried to move on, but when circumstances bring them back together again, all the old feelings resurface.  I think the best horror occurs when ordinary people are forced into extraordinary circumstances. Carise and Marcel are just ordinary people, trying to get by, but the force beneath Dead Five’s Pass has other ideas in mind.

Barnes also injects some pitch black humor into the mix. It’s what I like to call the “don’t go to into the cellar” syndrome. Certain characters just can’t help but make bonehead decisions can they? The good news is that they get exactly the sort off send off they deserve. Like when you’re watching a good horror movie and you spot the levels of stupidity displayed by certain characters, it never fails to amaze. Admittedly, as a rule, these do tend to be the most expendable members of the cast. Shall we spend a few hours hiking out of the area, baring in mind we’ve just discovered a horribly mutilated corpse, or shall we go into the exceptionally creepy cave just over there. You know the one, that one over there where the trail of blood is coming from.

I’ve been thinking about this and I reckon if we got The Descent and Cliffhanger together, locked them a cupboard with a bottle of wine and some suitably appropriate mood music then Dead Fives Pass would be the resulting offspring. Creepy, action packed and thoroughly entertaining, I enjoyed it immensely. Barnes knows exactly what elements are required to craft a good yarn and it shows on every page.

I can only conclude from reading this novella that Mr. Barnes has psychic powers and can see directly into the dark innermost recesses of my brain. He then chooses to write his horror based on what he finds there. I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly apologise to him now. I’m sorry Colin, I know it’s not pleasant in there, I can only hope you found plenty of useful ideas.

Dead Five’s Pass is published by Dark Fuse and is available from 16th February 2014.

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