BOOK REVIEW: The Well

The Well by Peter Labrow (ISBN: 978-1446764381)

The wonderful thing about Twitter, other than finding out exactly what Justin Beiber had for breakfast this morning, is that you get to stumble upon books and authors which you wouldn’t normally come across.

The e-book market, especially with the popularity of Kindle, is a great avenue for burgeoning genre writers and a place you can pick up some good reads quite cheaply; although quality does vary dramatically.

Now I cannot remember what prompted me to follow Peter Labrow but his well mannered, self-promotion on Twitter made me decide to try his debut novel The Well.

The Well is a contemporary horror story set in the North West of England. It is based on a simple, yet effective premise. How would you survive if you were trapped down an abandoned well in the middle of nowhere with limited food and drink?

Teenage step-siblings Becca and Matt fall down the titular shaft whilst their parents are away for a romantic weekend together. Planning to have a clandestine weekend of their own, (they’re brother and sister by marriage not blood!), the two teenagers take a back route home to avoid being spotted by friends who think Becca is grounded for the weekend. An ill-fated kiss on the edge of the abandoned well sees the wannabe lovers tumble to the bottom.

To add spice to the story (and this is horror after all) the well is haunted, but I won’t say too much more to save spoiling the unfolding story. Suffice to say the spirit within doesn’t do much to make life easier for Becca and Matt.

The story is revealed over seven days with each chapter entitled Friday, Saturday, Sunday and so on which gives a nice pacing to the book and builds the tension as you know you are getting close to the finale. Whilst the crux of the story is about the teenagers down the well and their survival in the dark and stagnant conditions, the real tale is about the people above ground and the reaction to the disappearance of the pair.

Labrow explores a lot of emotions and some taboo subjects within his writing. Guilt is a strong theme and, in particular, how the parents relationship is affected by the disappearance of their children. They are each conflicted by the tensions

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between their parental responsibilities and their need for each other. For me, there is a bit too much inner commentary about the feelings of the Jim and Sarah as they deal with the situation and, whilst they were solid individual characters, I’m not sure if they really worked as a couple because of it.

The gutsiest writing of the piece centres around the school caretaker, an ex-squaddie with a collection of photos of juveniles, and a desire to take his obsession to the next level. He becomes a suspect in the disappearances and Labrow shows some very mature writing in tackling the issue of paedophilia. It does make for uncomfortable reading, as you would expect, but it is extremely well handled and I imagine it must have been difficult to write.

For me, the haunting side of the book doesn’t work as well as it should. An ancient curse (mixed with modern day psychics) is there to provide the main threat in The Well itself but it becomes muddled towards the end, and wraps a bit conveniently with certain aspects not truly resolved. Ironically, given that this is billed as a horror story, I think that less focus on the malevolent spirit would have made the story much stronger, as it distracted from the more personal horror of the other storylines.

In summation, this is a good debut novel which does well with a limited location, and never feels like it’s dragging. Less focus on the mythos and more on the psychological would have given it an extra point. As it is…

3/5

GS Reviewer: Phil Ambler

You can follow me on Twitter @Phlambler and listen to me discuss books on Scrolls, the podcast for literary geekdom, here on the Geek Syndicate Network.

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