Last Daysby Adam Nevill
Last Days (winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Horror Novel of the Year) by Adam Nevill is a Blair Witch style novel in which a documentary film-maker undertakes the investigation of a dangerous cult—with creepy consequences
When guerrilla documentary maker, Kyle Freeman, is asked to shoot a film on the notorious cult known as the/p>/i>/i>
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Last Days (winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Horror Novel of the Year) by Adam Nevill is a Blair Witch style novel in which a documentary film-maker undertakes the investigation of a dangerous cult—with creepy consequences
When guerrilla documentary maker, Kyle Freeman, is asked to shoot a film on the notorious cult known as the Temple of the Last Days, it appears his prayers have been answered. The cult became a worldwide phenomenon in 1975 when there was a massacre including the death of its infamous leader, Sister Katherine. Kyle's brief is to explore the paranormal myths surrounding an organization that became a testament to paranoia, murderous rage, and occult rituals. The shoot's locations take him to the cult's first temple in London, an abandoned farm in France, and a derelict copper mine in the Arizonan desert where The Temple of the Last Days met its bloody end. But when he interviews those involved in the case, those who haven't broken silence in decades, a series of uncanny events plague the shoots. Troubling out-of-body experiences, nocturnal visitations, the sudden demise of their interviewees and the discovery of ghastly artifacts in their room make Kyle question what exactly it is the cult managed to awaken – and what is its interest in him?
“Fans of films about haunted places, otherworldly beings, and rituals gone terribly wrong will find this homage deliciously chilling.” Publishers Weekly
“Obsession and megalomania, sex and power make for a sophisticated, literate and well-crafted paranormal horror.” Kirkus Reviews
“This exceptional macabre tale stuns in its ability to inspire abject, primal terror. Readers will lose all hope of undisturbed, peaceful sleep. Highly recommended.” Library Journal (starred review)
Verdict Excellent, suspenseful, wicked fun. OCD readers will need to block off a couple days—and I mean days; don’t read this at night.
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By Adam Nevill
MacmillanCopyright © 2012 Adam Nevill
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BLOOMSBURY, LONDON. 30 MAY 2011
'Have you ever heard of Sister Katherine and The Temple of the Last Days?'
The smile vanished from Maximillian Solomon's eyes when he asked the question; a sign of self-seriousness, or a sudden scrutiny of Kyle's fitness for disclosure; something Kyle noticed about mind, body and spirit types who spoke about their interests with strangers. Ufologists and mediums were the same.
But even though Solomon's eyes hardened, the small tanned face of the CEO of Revelation Productions retained its default setting of being vaguely amused. With Kyle. Or maybe with everyone in the world except himself. The permanent half-smile was either convivial or mocking. It was hard to tell which with these people: the successful, the owners of things, the commissioners and controllers he'd dealt with as a film-maker.
'Yes,' Kyle said, and then his mind snatched at what he did know about Sister Katherine and The Temple of the Last Days. Fragments resembling instamatic polaroid photos: sun-bleached flashes of a scruffy, bearded man in handcuffs, walking from a police car and into a municipal building; aerial footage of what might have been a ranch or a farm in ... California? Snippets of imagery from something about the cult he'd seen on telly a long time ago. A documentary, or was it news footage?
He wasn't sure of the source of the impressions, but they were glimpses of things that suggested a notoriety that had evolved into the noir and the cultish. He knew that much; the group was perceived these days as dangerous and cool. A US Indie band called itself Sister Katherine in the eighties; some industrial band called itself The Temple of the Last Days in the next decade. And of course, he'd recognize the iconic portrait of Sister Katherine anywhere without knowing much about her life; it had been Andy Warholed on to T-shirts in Camden Market, alongside images of Jim Jones and Charles Manson, Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. A plump, heavily made-up face, its expression beatific, haloed by a purple nun's habit as her eyes searched the heavens. Mother Mary meets Revlon. An evil female cult leader reduced to sick joke gimmickry, lurid nostalgia, and bespoke infamy for disaffected youth. A woman who was killed by ... or did she commit suicide with her followers in America? He couldn't remember, but he knew the Temple had murdered people. Or was it each other? A film star? No, that was Manson's family. Same era because the Temple was a hippy death cult in the sixties. Or was it the seventies? 'The cult,' he said and tried not to look clueless. Too late, his eyes had gone vague and he'd frowned with confusion throughout his hazy recall.
Max seemed pleased with his ignorance. It would enable him to expound. 'An organization that began right here in London, in 1967.'
'Yes. In this city. Few are aware of that. But Sister Katherine was British. Her real name was Hermione Tirrill. She was born in Kent. Came from the remnants of a wealthy family. Her mother even had a title. She was a Baroness, and made sure little Katherine knew she was better than everyone. As did the boarding schools where she was educated until she was fourteen, when her father left his bankrupt family. And little Kathy and her mother were forced into the ignominy of poverty. She came down hard from a pile in the country to a council flat in Margate. Had to slum it in a second-hand school uniform. Down there with the rest of them. Must have been devastating for her, this plump little overachiever with funny teeth, while she watched her former peers become debutantes.'
Kyle shrugged. 'I don't know much—'
'She was a runaway at fifteen and never spoke to her mother again. There was some time in borstal for theft and assault, then prison in her twenties. She was arrested for solicitation, and then again for running a brothel. Embezzlement, forgery too. A petty criminal. We can read what we choose into this. But what we do know from the few that have ever gone on record about her formative years, is that Katherine never liked a level playing field. That's for sure. But she liked power. And status. Wanted back what had been taken from her.'
Kyle intuited a taint of bitterness in Max, but something else too: a grudging respect.
'But the Temple's origins are fascinating. It grew out of a cocktail of Scientology and apocalyptic millennial ideas, a mimicry of Christian sainthood, occult magic, Buddhism, a belief in reincarnation ... and various other things.' Max seemed to detach himself from Kyle then, and from the conversation and even the room, like an old man reminiscing fondly. 'It could have been so beautiful. Simple psych-therapy techniques, blended with medieval ideas of asceticism and piety. A life free of ego. These were the original values. All cloaked in mysticism for an aesthetic appeal.'
Breaking his reverie and now self-conscious about his digression, Max killed the half-smile. 'A well-intentioned concept quickly usurped by a female sociopath and criminal elements. In London it was known as The Last Gathering. It became The Temple of the Last Days in France, during a schism in 1969. At a farm in Normandy where they nearly starved to death. The remnants migrated to America, under the same management. Where they self-destructed in Arizona. 1975. That you will surely be familiar with?'
Kyle swallowed. 'I'm not that familiar with it.' He cleared his throat too aggressively. 'With them.'
'So I see.' Max said with a condescending inflection on the last two words.
Momentarily, Kyle felt dizzy with embarrassment, as if he were being asked a question at school that he had no answer for. An illogical reaction, because why would he know anything about them? Had he pretended to? They were hardly important. And Max Solomon had invited him by email to the production offices in Bloomsbury, for a meeting about a 'prospective collaboration' without stating anything specific about the proposal. He felt his face go hot. 'No disrespect intended, but why would I be?'
'From what I have enjoyed about your work, Kyle, I'd say you might want to be.' Max smiled. And commenced issuing the impression that he would ever be the unruffled and idly comfortable man, his success innate, entitled to prosperity and that all should know it. Signs recognizable to Kyle. And he instinctively disliked those who exhibited them. A class unto themselves; the money man, the film executive from the upper corporate tier, the self-important producer. Loved being close to the creative flame, stressed their own 'creativity' at every opportunity, and by doing so devalued the very word to house dust. But their aspiration to take ownership of another's work, he'd learned the hard way, was always reinforced by an underhand cleverness that you underestimated at your peril in this racket. They were the reason he had reduced himself to self-financed film-making, and a personal debt so colossal just thinking about it made it hard to breathe.
Earlier, he'd been collected from an impressive reception so brightly lit he'd spent the entire wait squinting. When shown into the CEO's office and Max had risen to greet him, his movements so light and graceful, the tiny man had reminded Kyle, uncomfortably and unkindly, of a small clever monkey with quick glittering eyes. A primate rising to its hind legs, dressed in Paul Smith.
The man was also tanned the colour of a sweet potato and his entire scalp was covered in a semi-transparent pelt of hair implants. He never understood why balding men paid so dearly for a procedure that only gave them thinning hair. The one time he'd been to Cannes, and the two visits he'd made to LA to talk to film agents, he'd found alien worlds full of men just like Max Solomon.
When the email arrived the night before to request the meeting, Kyle had broken an anxious evening of reading job ads online and immediately checked out the Revelation Productions website. Instantly, his heart and its vain hope that the meeting might lead to an opportunity to work again, and that he would earn enough money to stave off his impending insolvency, cooled with dismay. His disappointment grew incrementally the more he saw of the website, until it was total.
Revelation had published a book called The Message, which had sold 'Fifty Million Copies!' A strapline that filled most of the company's homepage. He'd seen the book around. It had changed the life of many female celebrities as well as being one of those books that every other woman had been reading on the London Underground for one summer. How long ago that summer was escaped him, but he'd never seen the book being read in public since.
As well as The Message, the company produced a massive backlist of books, DVDs, CDs and merchandise that had a contemporary, life-affirming, self-help USP attached. The company claimed their products were 'groundbreaking' and 'definitive' and 'revelatory'. But the brand struck Kyle as being very Californian, a bit vulgar, and dated lo-tech, magic-bullet-chicanery, while also fortifying his aversion to bad science blended with spiritual horseshit. But it had come to this; with the exception of porn, he'd dropped to the bottom of the film industry.
His documentary about the American Metal Core scene, Shredding, had been shown dozens of times on cable television, been a hit at festivals in 2006, and was still referred to as a cult classic in the music press; his film about witchcraft at a Scottish University, Coven, had got him into trouble for defamation, but it was also a film once shown on BBC2 to considerable acclaim; thirty thousand people had bought the DVD of his film about the European Black Metal scene, Reigning in Hell; and two hundred thousand people had downloaded his documentary, Blood Frenzy, about three missing British hikers who vanished in the Arctic Circle: all of this success was real. Not bullshit. He'd walked the walk. He had a real and enviable filmography. But the distributors for the first three films claimed he owed them money: fifteen grand. And he still carried another ten grand's worth of production debt from Coven like an anvil upon his increasingly rounded shoulders. In total, his last self-financed film and unpaid rent had left him thirty thousand pounds in debt on a variety of credit cards and loans. A day of fiscal reckoning was nigh. Its anticipation made him incapable of a single undisturbed moment of happiness. It had also stolen his ability to relax, which seemed more hideous than losing the ephemera of joy. Something, he noted, guaranteed by the likes of Revelation Productions. Happiness: they promised that in spades. So maybe he should hold out for a DVD on tantric sex.
'What makes you think I'd be interested in a cult?'
'I've seen your work. It has a refreshing openness. When dealing with the niche, the derided, the forgotten. And the unexplained. You're not an exploiter, Kyle. I like that. Or a sensationalist. You have an open mind, my friend. So I began to wonder if we could work together. I have become very curious about your approach. Your vision.'
Kyle resisted any show of being flattered, though he was. 'I make films with one agenda. To capture a subculture and to understand it. Or to tell a story honestly. As those who speak to me perceived the experience. I've only made films about things that interest me. Stories that fascinate me, that either no one has told or told well enough. Stuff the mainstream media avoids or just misunderstands. And I won't compromise what I think is the right approach to achieving this. If I can bypass the current Hollywood and film industry business model in the process, it's a massive bonus. Artistic compromise, idea theft, getting turned over by suits. Enough already. I'm done with all that.' He said this as a veiled warning. He'd been told it was unwise to show his bitterness in meetings with producers, that it was unprofessional. These days, he chose to ignore advice like that.
Max raised his trimmed eyebrows as high as he could, but the lower half of his face didn't budge. He'd had a facelift as well. The half-smile was starting to convince him it was, in fact, mocking.
Kyle tried to smother his rising irritation. But it was like trying to get the wrong size lid on a tin of red paint. His voice came out all tight. 'And my time is coming. For film-makers like me.' He felt silly for saying it, but was also revelling in how the film industry quaked at what digital technology was doing to their age-old monopoly. The least he could do was remind its representatives of this fact. 'Eventually I intend to be the media provider of my own work. For a specific audience. And it will never be any dumbed-down, censored crap put out by executive know-nothings, with their profit and loss sheets, their bottom lines, and their careers. I already finance, shoot and edit the films myself. Owning distribution is the next battle. That's where I stand.'
'I see.' Max looked at his tiny feminine fingers, spread them on his desk, studied his nails for a few seconds, while either frowning or fighting the half-smile; it was hard to tell with someone whose chin was probably once part of their forehead. 'Your film Blood Frenzy struck me as unequivocal in its acceptance of, shall we say, a paranormal aspect to that tragic story. What I took from the film was a strong suggestion that something very old, something that defied natural law, had been responsible for the disappearance of a significant number of people ... in a distant part of the world. Did you come to believe that?'
Here we go. 'We all want the truth, Max. I just tried to understand what happened. There's no way I will ever know what really happened up there. I don't think anyone ever will. But I got an authentic sense of the place the story came out of. People suggested things, without much prompting. I never tried to steer the interviews, or to emboss a theory on anything. My mind and my lens were wide open. The viewer is the interpreter. These days everyone wants a say. The world is a hanging jury. I give the audience the known facts and the fallible testimony of the interviewees. And to be honest, I had no idea what that film was going to suggest to me as I made it.'
'I see. Interesting.'
But did he see? While Kyle spoke, Max had been frowning as if he was not listening, but thinking instead of what he was going to say next. It annoyed him even more, if that were possible.
'I don't like polemic, Mr Solomon. Most audiences don't either. My trick is to choose a story that is so interesting, the audience has to get involved on some level. It's the most I can do as a director. I don't use stars or shoot well-known events, which is why I've given up on the system.' That word almost came out of his mouth on fire. He took a deep breath. 'So I find stories for the neglected mass of non-mainstream viewers. And there's an awful lot of us. I'm totally pull-based from word of mouth online. That's my constituency.'
'You make a living from this couture approach?'
Kyle paused for longer than he wished. 'Not yet. I was ripped off on the music films and Coven. So I made Blood Frenzy a non-product. I gave it away free from my website. Some indie record labels embedded ads on the page which covered some of my costs. I'm in arrears on the rest. But it's never been about money.'
He wondered whether he should just get up and leave. He couldn't even pretend he liked the man. And he'd be one of a dozen directors Max was currently feeling out for something tabloid. At least it wasn't over a lunch he was paying for; this was an actual production office. But he could already intuit he and Max were terminally different; if he couldn't trust his instincts after all he'd been through, then what else did he have to go on? Time to split.
But then Max had to go and say, 'I believe I have such a story. An extraordinary story. So cards on the table, Kyle. I want you to make a film for me.'
He fought hard to contain an eruption of excitement. A silence thickened about them. 'About the ...'
The half-smile withdrew entirely from Max's smooth face. 'Let me bring you up to speed, and then you can tell me if this is to your taste.' Max leaned back in the leather chair that dwarfed him. 'On 10 July 1975, the Phoenix Police Department removed fifteen people from an abandoned mine in the Sonora desert of Arizona. A few hours after Sister Katherine's Night of Ascent had taken place. The mine had been occupied by The Temple of the Last Days since 1972.
'Nine of these people were dead, including Sister Katherine. Six were found alive. Of the living, five were children. The infamous Manuel Gomez, aka Brother Belial, was the sixth. Katherine's favourite and her executioner. And Brother Belial was the only adult survivor of that night. I'm sure you've heard of him? He was killed in the recreation room of the Florence penitentiary before he could stand trial. By inmates unknown.
Excerpted from Last Days by Adam Nevill. Copyright © 2012 Adam Nevill. Excerpted by permission of Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
"Obsession and megalomania, sex and power make for a sophisticated, literate and well-crafted paranormal horror." —Kirkus Reviews
“This exceptional macabre tale stuns in its ability to inspire abject, primal terror. Readers will lose all hope of undisturbed, peaceful sleep. Highly recommended.” —Library Journal
Meet the Author
ADAM L. G. NEVILL was born in Birmingham, England, in 1969 and grew up in England and New Zealand. He is the author of Last Days (Winner of the British Fantasy Award) and The Ritual. He lives in Birmingham.
Adam L. G. Nevill was born in Birmingham, England, in 1969, and grew up in England and New Zealand. A graduate of the University of St Andrews Masters programme, he is the author of The Ritual and Banquet for the Damned, an original novel of supernatural horror inspired by M. R. James and the great tradition of the British weird tale. In his working life he has endured a variety of occupations, including from 2000 to 2004 both nightwatchman and day porter in the exclusive apartment buildings of west London.
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There is only one way to put this. This book sucked. It sucked to high heaven. It bored me nearly to death with every page. I honestly wondered if all of the good reviews were paid to say nice things about this crappy tome. Even as I write this, I think that might still be the case. With all that said, here are my issues with this crappy thing. The author has zero sense of pacing. This book moved at a snail’s pace for chapter upon chapter and then suddenly all kinds of things started to happen in the last quarter of it. The idea of this book is a good one, a filmmaker is hired to do a documentary about a cult from the seventies that committed mass suicide/murder and manages to stumble into paranormal activity that targets him. That sounds like it should be good right? It’s not. In every single city or location the characters visit the exact same things happen. Every person the characters interviewed said exactly the same thing. Approximately 300 pages was a repeat of what happened in the first 100 pages. I was bored to tears. The author’s descriptions were annoying and confusing. I didn’t understand what was going on most of the time. As an example, the author described the room in which the last scene takes place for 2 whole pages. The picture of it was fully formed in my head and it was a great description! But then all of a sudden he starts talking about a “large plastic tent” in the middle of the room that had never been mentioned before. Then just a few paragraphs later it’s described as a “plastic cube” that is solid enough that it requires beating it and shooting at it to dismantle it. But, I thought it was a tent? And why wasn’t this included in the initial room description if it’s so important? If it was a tent then why was it so hard to puncture? By the time I got to this question I had been pulled completely out of the story and just didn’t give a crap anymore. This happened so often that I was regularly confused and thought I had skipped over something accidentally. So I would go back and re-read that part and realize, no I hadn’t skipped over it, it was never addressed. Most stereotypical American characters ever! Let’s see, there was the sheriff who was a complete hillbilly. Cowboy hat and boots, spoke with a drawl, kept saying things like “ya’ll” and “ain’t”, could have walked right out of a western…but he’s from Arizona. Yeah, it confused me too. Or Jed, the gun toting, muscle bound Jesus freak who thinks he’s on a mission for God, is unstable and keeps pointing guns at his own friends. I mean, really? All we needed was an overweight, outspoken black woman and the stereotypes would have been a complete collection! It was ridiculous. Kyle was supremely unlikable. He spent most of the book mentally belittling and mocking the people he was interviewing for believing in this paranormal stuff. Then he went on to experience the paranormal stuff himself and freaked out, running around and screaming at everyone else to figure out a way to protect him. Shut up dirtbag! Nobody likes you! Just die already and quit your whining. I hated this guy so much. I was very disappointed that I hated the book this much. I heard this author compared to my favorite author and was excited to see if that comparison held true. It most certainly does not! This author has no sense of pacing, storytelling, or character building. I can’t, in good conscience recommend this book to anyone, it was awful.
The first half of the book is excellent. It is engrossing and scary and keeps you reading! However, the last 200 pages are a total let-down. After all of the build-up, the author races to the end, ruining all the suspense that had been built up. The end was a complete let-down. It ends very abruptly. Not sure if I would read another one of his books.
Last Days is, hands down, one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. Considering I read about 50 horror novels a year, that’s definitely saying something. This book has it all, from scary ghosts to shadowy forms burnt into walls to ancient evil ressurrected by a frightening cult. Kyle is a documentary film maker who has some cash issues. When he’s asked to make a documentary about a cult called “The Temple of the Last Days” that became famous in 1975 after a massacre leaded to the deaths of several members and their leader, Sister Katherine, he takes up the offer right away. Pay is great and the material sounds interesting, although the paranormal angle doesn’t entirely convince him. He travels to one of the cult’s houses in London where he meets with a former member. But when Kyle and his friend Dan go back for some more shots at night in the house, they feel the presence of someone else, someone who shouldn’t be there. They struggle to get out of the house, chased by an entity they’re not sure is entirely human. However, in the light of day, they dismiss the occurence and go back to gather their materials, convinced it was just a homeless guy or something. But their next journey takes them to the cult’s farmhouse in France, an abandoned lot in the middle of nowhere, and what they find there makes them chance their opinion right away. Something paranormal is going on with the cult. On that faithful night in 1975, they summoned something dark and vile, something that’s been threatening all cult members ever since… Kyle was an interesting main character, but he wasn’t the main drive. This book was primarily plot-driven, and characters weren’t that important. However, I liked Kyle. He was intelligent enough to recognize evil when it stood in front of him, yet he wasn’t paranoid enough to immediately jump to conclusions either. I thought he was rather brave, especially in the scenes in the farmhouse, which were my favorites. However, he too becomes more and more paranoid as the story progresses and went through a great deal of character development, realizing there are worse things than having to scramble for cash. The ending was a bit of a let-down however. It was so random and over the top, I would’ve preferred a smaller, less overwhelming ending. However, even with that taken into account, I thoroughly enjoyed this read. It was downright scary and even made me glance behind my back every once in a while. An excellent read for horror fans.
It's been a very long time since a book literally went to bed with me-- as in it kept me up at night. This was one of those books. I don't think that's happened since "original King" (IT, Salem's Lot, Pet Sematary). Definitely a book that stayed with me even when I wished it wouldn't (like in the dark). The one thing that struck me repeatedly through the entire book was Nevill's handle on setting. I had a clear visual of all these spooky unnerving places the entire time I read. The writing allowed for a very vivid mental movie of places I'd never have the nerve to go in person. That's quite a talent. Would definitely recommend to horror lovers. It goes on the shelf for keeps, seeing as I plan to read the entire book again one day. [review by Sommer Marsden]
Finally a complete novel instead of a padded to boredom "part one". Sick of stretched out series. Loved it.
The author Could have been less repetitious. The description of the gruesome, wall-staining monstrous creatures could have been described less often. Even though there was horror and fear in the novel, it took a long time to reach these points in the book. I was glad to finally reach the end of this novel, and now begin something new. The concept of evil the author used was, for myself, a new twist. and that was interesting. I gave it a three because: the author tended to drag out the story at times, yet he gets points for originality and fairly good character development.
Great book. Shoulda keep two bullets...one for the kid and one for himsef.
I brought this book by accident. I meant to read the sample first. I was very happy to discover it was well written and kept my attention. I was a litle upset at the ending, but I enjoyed the book
I was intrigued by the publisher blurb that adam was britains answer to stephen king. And while this author isn't at that level yet there is potential. Story was definitely worth the money. It lost one star for the cheesy hollywood ending, but with a plot so fantastically good there probably wasn't a satisfactory way to end it. Will definitely buy future titles released by this author. Waiting on b&n on this as amazon currently has a broader selection. Definitely gave me nightmares and could not read alone in the house.
This book was fantastic. The story was amazing and scary. Not my usual experience with horror. I can't say enough good things about it. Things that i hate about scary stories, film or book, were totally absent, while all the great things were in full force. My husband is going nuts because i can't stop talking about it. I can't wait to retread it. I liked it better the The Shining, which up to this point was my standard for all horror books. Engrossing, incredible, terrifying, and just definitively remarkable. If you don't like ghosts but want scary, you should read his other book The Ritual. Also amazing.