by Damir Salkovic

Published by Grinning Skull Press, August 4, 2021

Review by The Horror Zine Staff Reviewer Heather Miller

Always Beside You

Buy the book HERE

Based on the cover art and synopsis of Damir Salkovic's ALWAYS BESIDE YOU, you might think you were about to read a ghost story, perhaps with Gothic underpinnings and a bit of Victorian occultism.  Reading the book, however, you will quickly realize that what you're actually delving into is a cosmic-horror thriller.

There are many characters and storylines to follow, but they all point toward one place.  Everyone, for one reason or another, is trying to get to Boston, to an old abandoned subway tunnel, to the place where it all began.  Nate Carver is an empty shell of a man, not really living but simply existing, until a dream and then a bizarre message from a filthy stranger dredge up memories best left forgotten and send him on a journey to find his lost love, Cathy Deveraux.  Cathy spends her days and nights in a psychic research facility masquerading as a psychiatric hospital, unaware (or is she?) that the experiments the doctors are performing on her are loosening her hold on the dark force she's kept at bay for years.  Detective Alec Palmer, so close to retirement, is haunted by a closed case that closed a little too easily, a case involving a criminally insane man who has just escaped imprisonment only to kill himself.

Added to these we have the surviving members of the unwary cult that, years ago, called forth the powerful force which hangs over the entire story, orchestrating everything.  Nate must find Cathy, and in doing so will discover Ellie, the daughter he never knew he had.  Cathy will sacrifice everything to get her daughter to safety.  Nate and Ellie will go on the run.  Detective Palmer and a few other officers (some upright, some not) will be hot on their trail.  Everything will come to a head in the dark, dirty subway tunnel where the doorway for a cruel cosmic god was cracked open thirty years ago, where promises were made and then broken.

As cosmic horror goes, the book follows right along with every trope you could ever want, without stepping on Lovecraft's toes by mentioning any of his Elder Gods by name.  There are countless paragraphs devoted to the fever dream that is exposure to the cosmos -- drifting through the vacuum of space, darkness and stars, streaks of light, a thousand eyes watching you, a great amorphous wall of flesh, a blinding green light.  The story, however, shies away from getting overly philosophical and focuses instead on the personal impact on the lives of those involved directly and indirectly with the calling of the gods.

With this many characters it's hard to get attached to any, and many of them end up dead just as you start to feel sorry for them, but my favorite character of all is Detective Palmer, who is really just a good guy who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and has spent years haunted by the things he was exposed to.  He's a good cop and also a good man but even he has to fight to keep from succumbing to the alluring pull of cosmic power.

There are times when the story feels a bit slow, bogged down by perhaps one too many pages devoted to the trippy experiences the characters have while under the sway of the dark power.  The last third of the book, however, picks up the pace and moves things along to a conclusion which is at once inevitable and yet oddly unsatisfying -- which I say as a positive thing, as good cosmic horror does tend to leave the reader with more questions than answers and a strange emptiness within.

All in all, this is a solid addition for your cosmic horror shelf.  Oh, and don't let that cute little girl on the cover fool you.  She's a real piece of work, that one.