Spiffing: A Cosmic Horror Novella
Red Cape Publishing
Sometimes the most rewarding way to find quality titles to review for this blog is simply to work my way through the Kindle listings for the various genres, and look at the posts in the many genre fan groups that I belong to on Facebook. That way, I’m immersed in a huge number of titles across a multitude of genres and subgenres, and can see if any stand out for one reason or another. Such was the case with Tim Mendees’ latest release, the intriguingly (and amusingly) named Spiffing: A Cosmic Horror Novella which first came to my attention in the Kindle listings for upcoming horror releases, and then again repeatedly in various horror genre Facebook groups I’ve joined over the years. It just goes to show that while advertising your title through social media can be difficult, laborious and often without result, there are times when it pays off. The title caught my eye with its allusions to P.G. Wodehouse and his famous comic character, Bertie Wooster, a favourite of mine; and the attractive and well-designed cover with its stark, monochrome image of a country manor house and eye-catching font sealed the deal for me. It also helped enormously that the title was on Kindle Unlimited, a boon for a reviewer on a strict budget. My attention caught by title and cover-art, and retained by a back-cover blurb that promised drunken and debauched aristocrats accidentally unleashing cosmic forces beyond their control, I decided to download the novella and see what Mendees had to offer.
It’s late evening on the grounds of Chycoose Manor, the ancestral home of the Lexington-Brown family, and currently the abode of Bertie Lexington-Brown and his elderly man-servant Simpkins. The rest of the servants have been dismissed for the night, and the only residents are Simpkins, Bertie, and the letters friends: for it is Bertie’s birthday, and as per tradition, that calls for a night of drunken debauchery. But this night, Bertie plans to really push the boat out and make it a night to remember, though initially this simply appears to mean providing his guests with an unending supply of alcohol and hard drugs while a raucous band plays the Charleston. Before long, however, the drunkenness and debauchery-ness are interrupted by Bertie’s wife, Sylvia, staggering down the stairs and collapsing in a dead faint. Something horrific has apparently happened to Bertie in his study, but the rapidly-sobering guests only find smoke, strange smells, and an odd, tar-like substance where his wife claims Bertie’s body was a few moments ago. It soon becomes clear that Bertie – reprobate, bone-idle lay-about and general disappointment to his family – had more than a hobbyist’s interest in Egyptology, and had been dabbling in the more arcane and occult corners of the subject. That in turn leads to the discovery of an ancient sarcophagus that Bertie had been planning to introduce to his guests; and the strange beetles that suddenly begin to appear throughout the house. As the guests squabble with each other and play out the results of their various dysfunctional relationships, splitting off into small groups to investigate different parts of the ancient manor and look for Bertie, things begin to go wrong. Strange noises abound, secret passages are found in the walls, disturbing blood stains appear, and eventually guests start to disappear without trace. Soon the remaining guests are in a race against time to uncover just what Bertie was meddling with, and to see if they can escape its clutches and flee from the manor before it’s too late.
I will readily admit that I thought I knew exactly what I was going to read when I started working through Spiffing, only for Mendees to deftly and thoroughly disorient me about half-way through the novella. There’s only been a handful of authors who have been able to do that to me, especially after years of working my way through the horror genre, which I think bodes very well for the author indeed. Spiffing starts off as something that appears to be a light-hearted and quick-witted blend of Wodehouse and Lovecraft, pitting a collection of thoroughly sozzled and fundamentally unprepared gaggle of upper-class buffoons against the sinister and immensely powerful powers of the Outer Gods unleashed by Bertie and his ignorant meddling. More focused on scaling the class ladder and retaining their standing in the rapidly-shifting complexities of Bertie’s social circle, none of the guests at Bertie’s little shindig appear to even have the slightest clue what’s going on at the party, or the unnatural forces that have been unleashed. If that had been the whole narrative, then it would still have been a thoroughly good read, a Scooby Doo-esque set of chase scenes as sanity-shredding entities chased down the guests down corridors and between rooms. But as the story progresses, Mendees begins to skilfully mix in some genuinely unsettling elements alongside the humour and social commentary; he presents us with an intriguing and well-developed blend of quiet horror, occult horror and a few other subgenres, including a death scene involving a bottle of Chanel No. 5 that had even this jaded reviewer wincing in shock and surprise in equal measures at the sparse, brutal prose utilised. As a result, Spiffing becomes something truly engaging and impressive as it works its way towards its imaginative and rather surprising ending, including a rather intriguing twist on the entire concept introduced about two-thirds of the way into the story, and which puts the entire narrative into a very different – and even more unsettling – light.
Vividly written, thoroughly imaginative and with a superb atmosphere of quiet horror that runs throughout the entire narrative, Spiffing is an absolutely incredible novella by Mendees, doubly so considering that this appears to be his first long-form piece of horror fiction that I can see on my search through the Kindle listings. Populated with a delightfully diverse cast of thoroughly unlikeable cads, bounders and other thoroughly disreputable sorts that Mendees then revels in killing off in a variety of inventive ways; and blending comedic horror, quiet horror and cosmic horror in ways that I haven’t encountered before, transitioning elegantly and seamlessly between each of the subgenres, Spiffing: A Cosmic Horror Novella has been one of the highlights of 2021 for me as a horror fiction reviewer. It’s a novella that has deeply impressed me, both as reader and reviewer, and marks out Tim Mendees as a highly talented and imaginative author that is someone to watch in the horror genre. I shall be singing its praises wherever I discuss horror fiction, both online and in person, and I suspect this will not be the last we see of Mendees; if Red Cape Publishing have any sense, they will be commissioning more fiction from him as soon as possible, and other publishers would be foolish if they were not also courting him. I’ll be keeping a close eye out for Tim Mendees’ future works, and I suspect soon that a great many other readers and reviewers will be doing the same.