“Welcome to The Gulp, where nothing is as it seems.”
Moody – Dark – Gorey – engaging – Supernatural
Synopsis – Strange things happen in The Gulp. The residents have grown used to it. The isolated Australian harbour town of Gulpepper is not like other places. Some maps don’t even show it. And only outsiders use the full name. Everyone who lives there calls it The Gulp. The place has a habit of swallowing people.
A truck driver thinks the stories about The Gulp are made up to scare him. Until he gets there. Teenage siblings try to cover up the death of their mother, but their plans go drastically awry. A rock band invite four backpackers to a party at their house, where things get dangerously out of hand. A young man loses a drug shipment and his boss gives him 48 hours to make good on his mistake. Under the blinking eye of the old lighthouse, a rock fisher makes the strangest catch of his life.
Five novellas. Five descents into darkness.
Alan Baxter has a way with words. He builds up the tension, layer by layer, until it has you on the edge of your seat, biting your nails. In The Gulp, he has merged all the typical small town characteristics you see in Australia, added a decent dose of his twisted yet incredibly realistic characters, thrown in a very large dash of the supernatural and happily flings shocking gore onto the page throughout. Add to that the format, novellas that as a whole tell a bigger story, and Baxter brings you something incredible. A book that leaves you satisfied but also hoping he is currently writing the next book.
I’m not really a horror reader, it tends to freak me out, but there is something about the way Baxter creates these amazing, realistic characters that drags me in. I find I connect with them, their hopes and dreams, and then he just puts them in some really fucked up situations.
There is gore and violence, a lot of gore, but while some things may of made me gag and cringe, I don’t think it was like slasher gore which is way to much for me. The violence doesn’t pull any punches, no one is safe. It’s abrupt, it’s gruesome and it sometimes seems like it comes out of nowhere. I liked that the horror vibes also came from creating eerie characters and situations, so you never really knew what you were going to get.
The novella format was awesome. Each story built the Gulp and by the end you have this fantastic overview of just what the Gulp is like, who inhabits the town and a sense of what’s coming. From the first story I was trying to work out the links and how it was going to end up and I was surprised. Characters that were mentioned briefly in the first story would become fully fleshed out in another story yet they were never a main character, which was cool. There were easter eggs throughout and it was cool when you finally had the lightbulb moment and got the link.
Like any book with a collection of novellas within you will end up having favourites, but what I loved about this is that all the stories were great, there was zero filler. My personal favourites were Mother In Bloom, I found the family dynamic and the kids relationship completely captivating. And 48 to Go, which had me glued to the page, I think it was the most violent of all the stories, but I couldn’t look away. In both of these stories the characters just end up deeper and deeper in the shit and the lengths they have to go to is bloody insane. But it also brings up the question of how far is to far? Once you have committed one crime, does it make the next easier? What exactly would you be willing to do to survive?
I highly recommend this fantastic, very Australian story. The Australian slang is a masterpiece in itself, the characters are dynamic and the overall story arc will have you turning the pages, possibly smashing through it in one sitting. Like always Baxter doesn’t pull any punches, he takes the story exactly were it needs to go.
Finally I wanted to mention the cover. It is absolutely perfect for this book. I love the 80’s horror vibe. The cover art is by Halinka Orszulok, I’ve linked her website, and Alan Baxter did the cover design.