In an English seaside resort, seasonal workers have been disappearing for years. Lately they have been turning up dead and horribly mutilated.
Molly Raynor, a young hotel receptionist, is looking for answers after one of her co-workers goes missing.
Why are the disappearances being kept out of the papers? Why are the police lying to her? And who is the mysterious guest on the third floor?
Working during the Christmas holiday period as a receptionist at the Belvoir and Lodge hotels isn’t exactly a thrill for young student Molly Raynor but it’s an easy enough job, that is until she finds herself involved in things she shouldn’t have. It all started with the arrival of the mysterious Mr Bolland; a severely disfigured, wheelchair-bound individual who requiring a round-the-clock nurse to tend to his every need. When a contractor is found gruesomely murdered and an ex-employee goes missing, Molly begins to wonder if there’s some connection between them all but the truth may be closer than she thinks…
I have a soft spot for horror novels that take place close to home so when I got stuck into the pages of Ian Sheltain’s horror thriller novel, YOUR HEART OUT, I was pleased to find it takes place in an unidentified Northern seaside resort, which I fully imagine is Blackpool or somewhere on the Fylde coast. Being somewhere familiar always helps the story to unsettle me but that needn’t have been the case as this novel does that enough in itself as the opening chapter alarmingly sets the scene for what’s to come with its introduction to Mr Bolland and the spectres that haunt him. Men, women and children, skinless with a gaping hole in their chests; a vision so frightening it would drive a man to suicide, if only death was an option. Gaping chest wounds become a familiar sight in YOUR HEART OUT. Sheltain’s descriptions on how they occur will send a shiver down your spine but the feeling of dread isn’t over when the police seemingly cover up the existence of these injuries in the murders they investigate. Fortunately, the astute young woman of the story, Molly Raynor, has noticed this strange cover-up of evidence and is determined to get to the truth.
Most stories have a focus and even though the view point switches from time to time, it’s the character of Molly who we spend most of our time with. Whilst we don’t get to find out a great deal about her personal life outside of her relationship with her father and her educational studies, we’re provided with a confident overview of the kind of person she is from her work at the Lodge and Belvoir hotels. Molly seems a likeable girl and, like most people her age, likes to spend time on social media and browsing websites whilst sat bored stiff at her job as a receptionist at the two hotels ran by Toby Regis, a local businessman who likes to rule with an iron fist. When Regis is in attendance at the hotel, all the staff are on edge, afraid at his outbursts or the threat of being sacked, but with him out of the way, the job is a doddle and gives her enough money to help pay the rent on the flat she shares with her unemployed father. Molly seems a bright girl, studying history at university whilst working at the hotels during her term break. A series of peculiar and grisly events sets Molly on a path to the truth but her determination doesn’t go unnoticed as she begins to get unwanted attention the closer she gets to finding the answers. Her passion and fire for doing what she believes is right is captivating and draws the reader into her journey from an unremarkable receptionist to someone who can make a difference in a place that doesn’t seem to care. We’re with her every step of the way and feel the pressures she faces as she tries to do the right thing.
Sheltain’s use of the English language throughout the 251 pages is very contemporary and easy to consume, and even gave me a jolly good laugh at one point thanks to his quick-witted and relatable characters. Just the right amount of background information fleshes out these characters into three dimensional personas that you either grow to like, dislike or at least be curious by. Of course, it’s Molly who we feel right at home with and the rollercoaster set of events she encounters will have you turning the next page in eagerness to see where the story will turn to next.
Horror fans will be interested to notes that there’s a grisly element to YOUR HEART OUT, but it’s not all about the gore. The main horror threads in this book are the human and supernatural kind, chilling enough in equal measures to keep you engaged in its tightly-weaved story. Although the supernatural aspect may have fantastical elements to it, as most do, the human kind feels rather near the bone and brings the realism to the story that grounds the supernatural element with a tad more legitimacy. It’s proper dark stuff once you get stuck into it and I found myself eager to find out what happens next. Introductions of new characters to the story never fail to add extra depth and layers to the point where you’ll find yourself as paranoid as Molly and other characters are the closer to death they find themselves.
Author Ian Sheltain seems to have a great feel for pace for the most part, especially in the first and middle sections of the book, however the ending appears somewhat rushed and sudden. I enjoyed the outcome Sheltain chose for the story as it effectively wraps up the tale, even if it leaves many questions unanswered, but I was left wanting more. I felt, rightly or wrongly, that there was more to give; as sudden as the villain of the piece arrives, so did this ending, leaving no prisoners. It’s dark, it’s bleak and unapologetic with it, which is admirable and a sweet change from the norm, but I felt like the conclusion to the story should’ve been drawn out just a little bit longer, even if the conclusion stayed exactly the same. Maybe I feel this way because I was enjoying the world and characters that Sheltain has created too much, but I suppose that is the art of storytelling. He certainly has a knack for making the characters feel genuine, right down to their dialogue which appears true and in line with the nature and persona of the characters.
A chilling, supernatural horror tale with lashings of Northern grit, YOUR HEART OUT isn’t afraid to get under your skin… it might even remove it.
~ 8/10 – Bat, horrorcultfilms.co.uk
About Ian Sheltain
Ian Sheltain lives in the north of England with his wife and dog.
Visit Ian Sheltain’s website.