It seems you can’t review anything these days without mentioning that horror fiction is in a bit of a resurgence at the moment, so let me start off by saying just that. From the indie works of the Hawk & Cleaver lot (have you checked out The Nest podcast yet? You really should) to the emergence of the likes of Paul Tremblay, Chad Lutzke, and Adam Neville into the literary stratosphere, we look set to enter a new golden age of horror. Which is pretty handy if you’re a horror writer. Ahem.
One name that I’ve seen bandied about a lot as a rising star is Gemma Amor. This despite only one collection of shorts and this novella, Dear Laura, to her name. Her debut novel is coming out soon, but before that arrives I wanted to check out what all the fuss was about. I was not prepared for what followed.
Dear Laura could be seen as another entry into the somewhat over-stuffed psychological thriller niche, but only until you read past the first few pages. Every year, on her birthday, Laura gets a letter from a stranger. That stranger claims to know the whereabouts of her missing friend Bobby, but there’s a catch: he’ll only tell her what he knows in exchange for something…personal.
To label this as only a psychological thriller would be a disservice to this dark and brooding tale. A meditation on growing up, on the psychic wounds tragedy leaves, and of the lengths we go to for the people we love, Dear Laura is a thundering punch to the gut that left me staring out of the window for a good hour after its final page as I tried to process what I’d read. There’s real horror here, too, a bracing grimness that calls to mind Thomas Harris at his height.
Gemma is a startlingly good writer, using a third-person narration so close to its protagonist that it brought to mind King at his best, but with a pared-down urgency that’s often missing from King’s sprawl. In fact, there are elements of this that call to mind King’s Gerald’s Game and the wrenching pain of that novel. I keep going back to the idea of it as a gut punch. It’s powerful, but there’s real insight here, too, about grief and closure.
It’s a brisk, intense read – I got through it all in one sitting and wanted more. Not of Laura’s story necessarily – the arc of this narrative is perfectly closed out – but more of Gemma’s work. Her first novel, White Pines, is out soon, and you can be bloody sure that I’ll be queuing up for it on release day.
5 Stars, obvs.
Have you read Dear Laura? Let me know your thoughts below the line. Not had the pleasure? Buy Dear Laura today on Amazon (affiliate link)
Paul Stephenson is an author and blogger. His first series, the post-apocalyptic thriller trilogy Blood on the Motorway, is available now in ebook and print from Amazon, and free to read for Kindle Unlimited members. Get Short Sharp Shocks, a collection of three exclusive free short stories when you join the reader’s group. Subscribe to the blog to get a weekly roundup of all posts sent directly to your inbox. Also you can share using the buttons below, or why not buy Paul a coffee?