by MJ Mars

Published by Wicked House Publishing (February 20, 2023)

Review by The Horror Zine Staff Reviewer Jonathan Chapman

Buy the book HERE


The Suffering

Review by Jonathan Chapman

When you pick up a book by a new author you have never read before, it's always a question of what flavor you will get. Every author is a unique taste palette of flavors and relations and styles that you may never have experienced before. So it was with great anticipation that I picked up The Suffering, by MJ Mars, a British author writing about a haunted house, seances and young people sharing a space like a haunted version of Friends. 

The Suffering is about Kyle Birbeck, who is the owner of Brackenby House. It is an old mansion his distant relatives owned, where one particular relative held a seance that brought forth five ghosts of particularly vile characters, who in a night of terror wipe out all but one member of the seance before being banished to the walls of the home. Since 1876, they remained imprisoned until Kyle and his friends, taking the history as a myth, hold a seance of their own, unwittingly releasing the ghosts to again terrorize the living. 

The first thing, though, is getting the beginning sorted out. The opening is a lot of a lot: the history of the house, the introduction of the cast of characters, the people who were killed in the past in that house, and the ghost beings who killed them. The story is a lot to digest at a fast clip and one can feel lost at first. But after about page twenty-three, Ms. Mars slows it down and starts some serious character building and it is all worth the effort. All that stage setting in the beginning starts to work. You get to know the "friends" in the house, their eccentricities and how they interact with each other and the beings haunting them. I still have a "man crush" on Tad, for example, because he is so artfully drawn. Around page forty, Ms. Mars' flavor begins to really be evident. 

And that flavor is quirky. That is not a distraction from the scary, creepy nature of the book. Not at all. Rather, it is a welcome "taste" to the soup. The work is sprinkled with fun moments that do not detract from the creep factor. Lines like "Her shoulders bobbed up and down as she tried not to laugh" bring things to life. Or, in the same scene, as they are holding a seance and calling for the ghost of Jarvis Rice. A bad smell permeates the room and Lance, the more libertine member of the group, leans forward and says, "Jarvis is that you? Jarvis...did you fart?"  Or the funniest line in the book, "I guess he didn't talk about sewage." (I won't explain that - you'll have to read it)

Without giving away the plot, I will say that after Kyle, the main character, gets back from a visit to South America, things begin to go wrong in the house as the spirits assert themselves. Each has a particular twist, like Po, the murderous giant. They each attach themselves to one of the house mates and begin to manifest. The slow beat of the unfolding action builds. I found page 204 especially edge of the seat. Pool scenes and water are always terrifying, though this is one of many action scenes. At 318 pages, too much happens to reflect on it all. 

A distraction I had was that Ms. Mars writes in a very visual manner. For example, page 206 shows Pete, one of the key characters," sitting on the steps with his hands around his knees. A light rain began to fall, and when they ricocheted off the pathway, they bounced shimmering spatters onto his trainers. You can "see" that, and like many parts of the book, you think, "This would make an easy scene in a movie." Once you have that thought it's hard not to see every scene as it would look in a movie. I constantly thought about what a good fit this would be for cinema. This is a novel that would make a great movie, and every scene reads that way. 

Overall, The Suffering is a good, solid read with action, chills, classic horror concepts, and also some fun, and some quirk. This is due to Ms. Mars' unique stylings, her British sensibility, and her unique writing style. It reads like a comfortable, familiar flannel on a chilly night. Getting to know the group is fun, and you can't help rooting for Kyle as he navigates the terrible assaults from the characters released from the walls...especially the giant Po, who genuinely creates a chill. A solid read from a promising talent.