The Devil’s Guests, by Matt Shaw, a review
I finally took the plunge on my Kindle this past week and cracked open a book I had actually purchased some time ago, an experience I’m sure many of us are well familiar with. The Devil’s Guests was a book I was intrigued with, long before it was released but for whatever reason, it took me this long to get around to it.
And I was definitely not disappointed. I’m always a little hesitant, going into a Matt Shaw book because, while I don’t necessarily have an issue with extreme horror, I have to admit that it isn’t my favorite medium for the genre. While I have never found any of Shaw’s books to be lacking in depth or complexity, I have come across other names which I shall not mention that seem to use extreme horror as license to put as much vile, disgusting content onto the page as they can manage, with even the plot taking a back seat.
However, my experience with the work of Matt Shaw is that he devotes the proper attention to all aspects of the story, not just the parts that make you cringe away from the page or the screen. And while his writing does make me uncomfortable at times, it has always been with the knowledge and faith that somewhere in there is a point to the extreme nature of the story.
The Devil’s Guests on face is a simple concept, centered around a particularly violent and sociopathic manager of a hotel. In and of itself, it isn’t the newest concept but for me, what makes the book stand out is the collaborative effort of all the authors involved. While the heart of the book has been constructed by Shaw, he has invited other writers to pen specific sections of the book, introducing various characters who Shaw is then responsible for dispatching in good time.
What I was most taken by was how smooth the narrative comes off. In the introduction, Shaw mentions that he had to go through the manuscript with some minor editing to keep the tone of the characters consistent. I can’t imagine the amount of work and headaches that go into keeping a project like this straight but he did a fantastic job layering and fitting everything together. In all truthfulness, I found the tone here to be as consistent as most single-author books I have read. This is not an anthology, as Shaw argues himself, this is a novel.
The story isn’t given much context in terms of a backstory but I also don’t think it’s needed. This is about plunging yourself into a frightening and visceral experience. The characters are all great, the movement of the narrative is top notch and the extreme portions work well within the context of the story. I thought Shaw did a great job at balancing out the more graphic parts with great narrative, foreshadowing and voice of characters.
There were moments when I did feel like the hotel itself was a bit over the top just in terms of how many secret doors and rooms could be found within, making it seem more like the set of a classic Bond film than gritty horror. Still, this is a small criticism and to be honest, I was more than happy to let that go in the course of a fun reading experience. Horror works best when there is no reason and very little warning. This is a well-written exploration of the dark horror that can take place for no more of an offense than checking in to a hotel.
And as a bonus, Shaw provides several additional short stories from other authors, one of which is an extended scene of what ended up in the book. Shaw wrote an introduction explaining his decision to pare it down and I have to say that I agree that putting this story into the book in its original form would likely have been too much. It’s a brutal story and I’m pretty sure I would have had trouble moving on into the rest of the book after getting to the other side of this scene.
All around, great writing by everyone involved.