Book review: No One Gets Out Alive by Adam Nevill

Number 82 Edgehill Road… it might sound an innocuous address but behind the walls of this damp, crumbling house on the sink side of Birmingham is a story to haunt your dreams.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 6th November 2014, 9:00 am
No One Gets Out Alive by Adam Nevill
No One Gets Out Alive by Adam Nevill

And if you reckoned you had read your darkest spine-chiller this year, think again because the new master of horror has saved his best, boldest and blackest tale for 2014’s dying days.

Over the last ten years, Adam Nevill has been steadily making a name for himself with a series of intelligent, well-crafted thrillers like Banquet for the Damned, Apartment 16, The Ritual, Last Days and House of Small Shadows.

But No One Gets Out Alive is his masterpiece, a cleverly controlled, seriously scary, menacing and atmospheric journey into the abyss… a nail-biting suspense story written under the shadow of ancient evils and offering a disturbing glimpse of human beings at their very worst.

Within the walls of 82 Edgehill Road are two brutish men – sleazy, calculating landlord Knacker McGuire and his hostile cousin Fergal – and into their orbit steps Stephanie Booth, a lonely teenage girl whose life has been ‘compromised by poverty.’

Thrown out of her home by a psychotic stepmother and forced to take low-paid, temporary jobs, Stephanie knows this house with its filthy, depressing rooms is not where she wants to be but the price is right and she’s desperate to get a roof over her head.

But even in a rented room that is the last resort of those ‘who were only one more misfortune away from homelessness,’ Stephanie finds the place fills her with an acute anguish and sense of abandonment, ‘a hopelessness fully realised.’

And it’s not only the eerie atmosphere of the vast, neglected house, or the disturbing attitude of landlord Knacker McGuire that makes her uneasy. The nights are filled with strange whispers behind the fireplace, scratching beneath the floor, footsteps in the dark and a young woman weeping in a nearby room. Are they real, evidence of paranormal activity or the products of her troubled mind?

The arrival of Knacker’s intimidating cousin Fergal sends Stephanie’s fears into overdrive but this is merely a beginning, a gateway to horrors beyond Stephanie’s worst nightmares. And in a house where only she appears to hear the screams, is she destined never to leave it?

No One Gets Out Alive is a slow-build, suffocating story which becomes addictive from the first page. Nevill has the good writer’s magic touch which enables him to make the ordinary seem extraordinarily sinister and a single sound the conveyor of a multitude of insubstantial terrors.

McGuire’s house, with its cold corridors, dusty dirtiness and claustrophobic rooms, is a nightmare place familiar to fans of the horror genre but what takes place within its four walls is a dark secret beyond most imaginings.

Knacker and Fergal must be two of the darkest creations in horror fiction, one a cruel, manipulative misogynist and the other a greasy, aggressive powerhouse of pent-up hatred and rage.

Stephanie, meanwhile, is a young woman trapped outside normal life, looking in at other people’s reality as she drifts around on the margins, and her terrifying and authentically tragic story is played out amongst an unforgettable cast of leading characters.

Written with an almost elegiac elegance, and a profound insight into the life of those on the miserable fringes of society, this is a gripping, gruesome bone-chiller with resonant themes, a supernatural edge and an overwhelming sense of malevolence.

Read it if you dare… but preferably not during the hours of darkness!

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)