Monday 13 April 2015

REVIEW: Mark Matthews - Milk-Blood

Genre: Urban Horror
Publisher: Wicked Run Press
Publication Date: 24th June 2014
Pages: 157


This review of Milk-Blood by Mark Matthews is the result of a copy sent to Ginger Nuts of Horror in exchange for an honest review.

As I like to do with review requests coming into Ginger Nuts, this is the first time I have read Mark Matthews. It won’t be the last but this one has left me, eh, disturbed is probably the best description.

Lilly is 10 years old. She has cyanosis. It basically makes her skin a bit blue and a bit see through. Her mom has gone. She doesn’t know where to. She doesn’t know her dad has killed her and buried her across the street. She doesn’t know her dad isn’t her dad. Jervis is a homeless man living in the derelict house across the street. The same one her mom “lives” at. Jervis has secrets too. He also has a lot of voices in his head telling him to do all sorts of nasty things. Lilly is becoming addicted to heroin. Jervis wants her to come stay with him. She has no idea why but she’ll find out soon enough.

OK. I really don’t know where to go with this. I knew this had to do with drug use. The definition of Milk-Blood after all is removing the blood containing drugs from an addict and injecting it into yourself thus getting a high. Wonderful. Sickening. Harrowing to think that people actually do this.

That is the thing that disturbed me the most about this book. The author has been involved with addiction and mental health treatment for a lot of his life so he should know what he is writing about. But, by god it was hard to read at times.

It begins with Lilly’s mom and dad, being told in the third person. The first chapter is repeated, seeing it from both parents’ points of view. This was an interesting concept but when it then changed from third person to first person, seeing things through the eyes of Lilly I thought this a bit weird. Mr Matthews also has “Notes from the Author” at various points throughout the story and I also found these a bit off-putting.

In essence the story follows Lilly in her struggles with potential bullying in school. It follows her and her dad’s permanent battle with child protection services and then her addiction to heroin. The bum Jervis who lives in the burnt out house across the street comes into the story more and more as the voices in his head try to convince him to do things for them regarding Lilly. I can’t tell you what they want him to do because that will spoil a lot of the plot for you.

Characters wise you have very strong individuals all battling various problems for various reasons. Lilly is a little girl, but one who knows what to do to keep the authorities off the family’s backs. She is growing up but unfortunately makes some bad choices along the way. Her dad is a man battling all sorts of evils. In one sense he is strong and in another, so weak it’s unbelievable. I’ll let you make your own mind up in what way. Jervis is probably my favourite character in the story. The scenes where we get to know more about him are fantastic. We truly get inside his head, listening to his conversations with himself, his friends and the ghosts. A fascinating insight as to what it could be like in someone’s head.

I’m at a bit of a loss to tell you much more about this one without giving you spoilers. I don’t think it is the greatest writing in the world, but, it is very effective writing. I mentioned to my wife a few times while reading it that I found it disturbing. This, I suppose proves the point that it’s very effective if it gets you thinking about it enough to discuss it with someone not interested in it. The scenes of drug use that it uses are disgusting at worst, harrowing at best, especially when it involves a child using drugs. It does however make you think about what it must be like to live like that. I’m not sure if this is what Mr Matthews set out to do but if he did, he achieved it very well.

To summarise: Urban horror. Don’t be expecting jump out of your seat moments but it is definitely horrific. Harrowing. Sad. Very very dark. A good read but it will, I suspect take you a bit longer to read than normal. You may need to take a break or two.

How do I rate something like this? I have no idea. It’s one of those books that 20% in, I was thinking two stars. Then it moved to four, then back down again. I think I have to go right in the middle because I simply cannot make my mind up. If I re-read the story it may change.

General rating:

★★★ Liked it. Would read author again but not totally for me.

Horror rating:

★★★★ Horrific in so many different ways.

You can buy Milk-Blood here:

Book Synopsis:

Lilly is ten years old, born with a heart defect, and already addicted to heroin. Her mother is gone from her life, and there are rumors that she was killed by her father and buried near the abandoned house across the street. The house intrigues her, she can't stay away, and the monstrous homeless man who lives there has been trying to get Lilly to come inside.

For her mother is there, buried in the back, and this homeless man is Lilly's true father, and both want their daughter back.

Mark Matthews has worked in the behavioral health field for over 20 years. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, a licensed professional counselor, and lives near Detroit with his wife and 2 daughters.

His novel "On the Lips of Children," from Books of the Dead Press, was nominated as a semi-finalist for the 2014 Best Kindle Book Awards. It is based on a predawn run on a dark San Diego trail just as described in the novel.

The follow up to this novel, MILK-BLOOD, is set within the urban blight of Detroit and is also based on a true setting and some true circumstances. STRAY was his first novel, and takes place at a substance abuse treatment center with an animal shelter right next door within barking distance.

Matthews is an avid runner, and his second novel, The Jade Rabbit, is the story of a woman, adopted from China, who is raised in Detroit and runs marathons to deal with lingering trauma. A non-fiction book on running and addiction called "Chasing the Dragon: Running to Get High" is also available on Amazon.

You can see more of Mark at his website.

Mark’s author page can be found here.

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