Blackstoke by Rob Parker #BookReview


In a quiet cul-de-sac on the newly-opened, much sought-after Blackstoke housing development, the first handful of families are moving in. These neighbours, thrown together for the first time, are looking forward to settling into their bright new lives—with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The estate couldn’t be nicer, but it’s a big change for everyone.

Then things start to happen. Bad things. As if something doesn't want them there.

As the new residents try to make sense of events, the buried history of the area makes itself suddenly, deeply apparent—with a series of shocking, violent escalations.

Soon, no one is safe, as the original powers of Blackstoke return to reclaim their territory and birth right in a final night of dark revelations, gore and bloodshed.

When I was in my early teens back in the mid-Eighties, we used to hire videos from a mobile van and the driver had a very relaxed attitude towards age ratings. My parents' only rule was that we weren't allowed to watch The Exorcist or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but otherwise my brothers and I had free reign of any horror film we fancied - and we watched a lot. Blackstoke might be set in the present day but it's vividly reminiscent of those classic movies and though it is undeniably spine-chilling, it is also a tremendously fun read.
The cinematic feel is present right from the very start as we are steadily introduced to the residents of a quiet cul-de-sac on the prestigious new Blackstoke estate. It's moving-in day for the West family - Peter, Pam and their children, Alice and Jacob but it quickly becomes apparent that there are tensions in their marriage and as the perspective switches from husband to wife, their mutual unspoken resentment suggests their new home might not be a fresh start. Of course, their marital grievances are eventually the least of their problems but at first, there are just little hints here and there that Blackstoke is hiding a dark secret. 
Retired couple, Quint (presumably a reference to the Jaws character?) and Wendy Fenchurch, young lawyer, Grace Milligan and her Irish Wolfhound, Dewey, David and Christian Lyons and their baby daughter, Olivia and local MP, Fletcher Adams, his long-suffering wife, Joyce and their twin boys are the Wests' neighbours. The narrative focuses on them in turn over the course of a few days, giving readers the opportunity to develop opinions about each before the inevitable horror is unleashed. Some are infinitely more likeable than others and in the first part of the book, there is a fair amount of humour to be found in the witty descriptions and sharp dialogue although there is always a creeping sense of dread.
The tension rises inexorably as neighbour starts to turn on neighbour until a terrifying development and a grotesque discovery triggers a night of sheer terror. Rob Parker barely gives his characters - and his readers - a chance to draw breath before the next gruesome scene or nightmarish fright. Bloody, brutal and twisted, this dark thriller isn't for the faint-hearted but those who enjoy a twisted tale will love the blood-curdling revelations and almost relentless non-stop action.
It's not just a gore-fest however; there is a perplexing mystery at the heart of Blackstoke while the scenes of courage and selflessness as characters realise what is really important are genuinely moving.  At the start of this review I compared Blackstoke to a 70s or 80s horror movie and although it definitely encapsulates the essence of many of those films, it could never be accused of suffering from the one-dimensional, often misogynistic characterisation frequently seen back then. Rob Parker ensures his characters are people to care about, many have a redemptive arc and there is even some empathy spared for the hideous antagonists, despite their monstrous activities.
Blackstoke may not be welcomed by housebuilders but this descent into a suburban hellscape is viscerally suspenseful and unrelentingly compulsive -  I absolutely loved it! 

Blackstoke is published by Red Dog Press and can be purchased directly from their website or order from your favourite bookshop.

About the Author
Rob Parker is a married father of three, who lives in a village near Warrington, UK. The author of the Ben Bracken thrillers and the standalone post-Brexit country-noir Crook's Hollow, he enjoys a rural life on an old pig farm (now minus pigs), writing horrible things between school runs. Rob writes full time, as well as organising and attending various author events across the UK - while boxing regularly for charity. Passionate about inspiring a love of the written word in young people, he spends a lot of time in schools across the North West, encouraging literacy, story-telling and creative-writing. He is also a co-host of the For Your Reconsideration film podcast, and a regular voice on the Blood Brothers crime book podcast.