Published by PS Publishing on July 2018
Genres: Dark Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Noir, Psychological Horror, Suspense, Thriller, Weird Tales
Stephen Gregory uses the medieval castle and town walls of Caernarfon as the backdrop for his latest dark and disturbing novel.
When David Kewish suffers an excruciating accident on his eighteenth birthday, the whole of his summer is blighted... and when a fledgling black-backed gull comes tapping at his front door in the middle of the night, and the town is besieged by flocks of gulls, it is this bird which fuels the tension of the story and increases the friction between the characters.
PLAGUE OF GULLS, by Stephen Gregory, is the fourth novel I have read by him, to date. Each book I’ve come across has involved a bird of some sort in the plot, and I’ve noticed how well these blend into his tales. The connection between these creatures that are still so “mysterious” to man–as opposed to your more “typical” dogs or cats–work so suitably when dealing with psychological horror.
“Only a bird, but a bullying presence in my room. A wild creature, with a gleam in its eyes . . . “
The story begins with David Kewish. The tragedies this eighteen year-old has been through lately would have given even the most unusually optimistic person a reason to be gloomy. His father recently dead, a new stepfather, Kenny, that he has no affection for, and a mother that left them both to do nursing charity work overseas.
“. . . the music seemed to curl up and wither and die like Dad had done . . . “
For his eighteenth birthday, David gets himself a new guitar–a passion he used to indulge in before his father passed–and minutes later suffers an especially horrible, grisly accident.
Shortly thereafter, a baby gull–now his gull–takes up residence with him.
“. . . It’s neither here nor there, but everywhere . . . “
Stephen Gregory masterfully creates characters that instantly feel real to the reader. David is a sulky, morose man at this point, but through the events and thoughts that are described, it becomes easy to see why. In fact, the very idea of his disposition being any other way would come across as unrealistic.
“. . . I realize how like him I am, and how silly and stubborn I am too.”
The overall tone of this novel is one of loss and changes. Yet Gregory infuses enough comedic moments that it propels the story along in a fluid manner. The comic interludes throughout really emphasize the constant metamorphosis that is taking place not only in David’s mind and world, but in the town as a whole. Coincidentally, at the time David’s gull “adopts” him, the area is besieged by some unusual and unfortunate events perpetrated by the winged creatures.
“. . . Black-backs . . . the biggest and meanest gulls in the world.”
“. . . The pesky chicks are always hungry, demanding more and more to guzzle into their bulging bellies. Won’t they ever be satisfied? . . . “
One of the things I really enjoyed about this story was how well the events related to both our main character, and the mindset of the village, on a larger scale. While the introduction of “his” gull coincides with his own rash of individual bad luck, incidents and depression, the plague of gulls seem to symbolize misfortunes and horrible occurrences, happening to the entire village. This reminded me very much of Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, to some degree, albeit on a minor scale in comparison.
“The past is a cold place . . . “
Overall, I am extremely impressed with Stephen Gregory’s writing style, and how he is able to convey these emotions so fluidly into the reader’s imagination. Once I entered the sombre world of David Kewish’s changing life, I was instantly captivated by each new page and turn of events. Even with the added comic relief, I’d have to say that this was a mentally “heavy” tale, yet one that I was sorry to have end. This book has that special staying power, and these characters and situations will remain with the reader long after the story is completed.