Last year, I had the pleasure of receiving an advance copy of Darren Dash's latest novel, Sunburn. With only the author's vague description, 'Bigfoot in Bulgaria' to prepare me, I eagerly jumped in with both feet, completely unaware of the sheer chaos waiting in the wings.
I discovered early on that this book has a serious case of one-more-chapter-itis. Sunburn is the kind of story that makes you want to read on into the night, despite having to get up early for work the next day. Reading away my precious sleeping hours, I had no idea how tense I had become until my phone pinged and I jumped out of my skin.
The elements of classic horror are very much present here, and at the core of every horror theme is the simple struggle for life. Darren Dash isn't afraid to go in hard with this or tread where other are afraid to go, with moments of dark humour providing light, albeit brief relief which I often caught myself smiling to. There is an underlying edge of something sinister building throughout the book. The tension increases like a slowly boiling kettle -- you know early in that at some point, it's going to reach boiling point. But not before its time.
My love of horror stems back to my childhood. Barely a teenager, I would sit alone in the dark, watching films that thrilled and tortured me in equal measure. There was something about that raw mix of adrenaline and fear that always kept me coming back for more. Sunburn gave me that same thrill, with Mr Dash taking no prisoners in this dark and compelling tale.
I immediately felt attached to the main characters, each interesting in their own way but very different from the other. The story also flows nicely, each transition feeling smooth and unhurried, yet pulling me ever onward. I often find when reading a good book, my attention splits at some point or other. Half my attention will be focused on the chapter I'm reading, the other half hovering somewhere near the end, mithering over how current events will effect the final outcome. But Sunburn held me firmly in the moment, demanding my full attention right to the very last page. Then, just when you begin to think you're safe, unholy bloody mayhem ensues.
Every now and again we gain insight into a primal mind, the mind of a somewhat sentient beast. What I found fascinating are the ethical questions that sprung to mind while reading from this unique point of view. Can a beast be seen as evil for carrying out basic instincts? Is is close enough to the human being to be compared to our murderers, killing for pleasure? Personally, I found myself fluctuating between the two throughout the book. However, by the time I reached the final quarter, there was no doubt in my mind about the beasts true colours.
The ending comes full circle in a satisfying, bitter sweet way that feels complete and not left dangling for the sake of it. Overall, I really enjoyed Sunburn and look forward to reading many more Darren Dash books to come. Just don't expect a gentle ride!
You can buy the book in physical or ebook format from your Amazon of choice. Enjoy!
Author of bite-sized stories, with debut novel Crimson Touch out 2019.