Dead Ground by Chris Amies (book review).

It is excellent that there are a range of small press publishers producing good looking books. It is a shame that this one didn’t have a better proof-reader as the number of errors that crept in reached way above the acceptable. I also wonder how much of the manuscript the cover artist saw before producing the cover. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good piece of art even if a bit crowded. The aircraft evokes the 1930s when the story is set but the characters arrived at the South Pacific island where it is set by boat, having left the aircraft in New Zealand.


The style of writing that Amies adopts for this novel fits nicely with the time period and would not be out of place alongside authors contemporary with the time. The novel tells of the events occur when an archaeological expedition arrives on the island of Koiha. This out of the way place has a chequered history, the inhabitants having disappeared once and the place later being repopulated by people from other parts of the South Pacific. The original occupants left behind huge and fierce some stone statues and a sealed temple. It is the latter that Cosima Garton, the leader of the expedition, intends to open and explore despite warnings that this would be a bad thing to do. Allan Delmar is focused on the disappearance of the original inhabitants and is prepared to listen to the warnings. As a result, he is told he is no longer a part of the team. That gives him time to explore the writings of the local poet, Tolu Marangi, and, despite his murder the day after the archaeologists arrive, to make the acquaintance of his daughter.

Once work starts on the excavations, events begin to occur in rapid succession that makes Allan believe that there is definitely something to the legends of the islands and he is soon proved right.

If this book had been written in the 1930s, when this kind of horror fiction was new, it would probably have been received with great acclaim and turned into a black-&-white movie. The problem a twenty-first century reader has is that themes are so now familiar that the plotline can be predicted even if the details are original. To be effective, the story needs something really unexpected to happen to push it towards cutting edge horror rather than an echo of the past. Admittedly, as the planet is becoming almost completely mapped, stories like this are difficult to set in the present day. It needed an extra dimension.

The other issue I have with the book is that everything happens over a very short period so there is no space for a thoughtful development of characters and exploration to diverse philosophies. I had hoped to like this more but at best it can be described as worthy.

Pauline Morgan.

August 2013

(pub: Monico/Clarion. 240 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-90916-3226-2)

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