Dead Leaves by Andrew David Barker
To Scott, Paul and Mark, horror films are everything.
The year is 1983, the boom of the video revolution, and Scott Bradley is seventeen, unemployed and on the dole. Drifting through life, he and his friends love nothing more than to sit around drinking, talking about girls, and watching horror movies.
But things are about to change.
As the ‘video nasty’ media storm descends, their desire to find a copy of the ultimate horror film – The Evil Dead – is going to lead them to the most significant days of their young lives. As the law tightens and their way of life comes under threat from all quarters, they come to learn what truly matters to them – and what doesn’t.
A heartfelt story of friendship, loyalty and youthful rebellion, Dead Leaves is a darkly funny and brutally honest depiction of aimless life in a Midland town, and perfectly captures the impact those first few years of video had on a generation.
Last year I read The Electric by Andrew David Barker and thoroughly enjoyed the eerie, beautiful prose in his reimagining of the classic haunted house story. I enjoyed it so much in fact, I awarded it my favourite read of 2014. Hardly a surprise then that when I was offered the opportunity to read the author’s next book I jumped at the chance.
I’m old enough to remember the furore that surrounded the rise of the video nasty back in the early eighties. There didn’t seem a day that went by when there wasn’t a new story in the press or on the news. Dead Leaves uses the controversy surrounding these films as its jumping off point. Three young teens stuck in the dark heart of Derby will do whatever it takes to see The Evil Dead.
The writing effortlessly taps into that strange limbo of existence that all teenagers experience. No longer children but not quite adults yet, Scott, Paul and Mark feel trapped within the confines of their lives. It seems like everything is conspiring against them to ensure that they can’t do what they want or make any decisions for themselves. Unsurprisingly, their default reaction is an act of rebellion. For horror nuts like these three, The Evil Dead is the ultimate prize; the promise of escape from the monotony of their day to day lives.
Barker proves two things with this new novel – (1) The Electric was not a fluke (2) He really knows his characters inside and out. Scott, along with his family and friends, are perfectly realised. Their actions and reactions hit all the emotive notes you could hope for. There is a wonderful sense of familiarity in Barker’s writing. A host of memories were triggered and came flooding back as I read further. Though I spent my formative years in an entirely different part of the UK, the skilled narrative cuts through any sort of geographical boundary. If you’ve ever been a teen, and I suspect most of you either are or have been, then you’ll pick up on the common themes of the angst and trauma that comes from that difficult period in your life.
As I eluded to earlier on, I’m a veritable ancient now, but I still remember the glorious sense of anticipation that came with the potentially illicit. As I recall my dalliance with video nasties also included The Evil Dead. It’s kind of ironic, I look back at it now and realise far more controversial movies have come since those days. I’d imagine a modern teen would view the original Evil Dead with nothing so much as a mild curiosity. They certainly wouldn’t be horrified. Perhaps though, that is kind of the whole point of the exercise; every generation has to push the boundaries of their predecessors and find their own Evil Dead.
On completing Dead Leaves I have come to the only sensible conclusion. The author is breaking into my house in the dead of night on a regular basis and harvesting my dreams. I found myself nodding along with so many of his observations this can be the only possible explanation. All joking aside, this novel is most definitely on a par with The Electric. If you get the opportunity, I strongly advise that you read it.
Dead Leaves is published by Boo Books and is available from 16th October. Check out their website for further details. Highly recommended.