By Gary McMahon

Reviewed by Terry Grimwood

The video tape contains the rough cut of the last film Jude's actress mother worked on, but it isn't about to give up its secrets easily, just a little more each time he watches it. Jude found it while researching a biography about her for Rhinestone Books, who want all the dirt on Vanna St Clair. His researches, however, have been noticed...

Jude is a true independent press "hero", a loner, haunted, world-weary, a man who has difficulty with relationships and deep darkness in his past. He's prickly, not always likeable, which is what gives him that third dimension all truly literary characters need and so few actually attain. Jude is what sets Rough Cut above the run-of-the-mill horror story. Jude lives and breathes and makes this a truly character-driven novel.

If Gary McMahon wanted this intense, bleak piece to be a page-turner, he certainly achieved his goal. It is Rough Cut's unpredictability that keeps you reading. There is no way of second guessing its author. The story moves fast, the prose is neat, economical, yet vivid enough to draw you into Jude's personal and emotionally brutal quest. The narrative is evenly littered with enough mysteries and shocks to lead you just that little bit further before you close the covers for the night. Each twist of the plot is as tantalizing as the enigmatic fragments of film on the video tape that lies at the heart of the tale.

The writing is visual, the imagery stark and increasingly surreal. The settings are vivid, places you can smell and touch and visit in your imagination. The final dénouement is dramatic and shocking, played out in the beautifully described ruin of an abandoned and ghost-ridden psychiatric hospital that most definitely has something nasty in the cellar.

Rough Cut is an intelligent, well-crafted novel that was obviously written from the heart. There is little warmth or humour, no concession to comfortable story-telling, nothing to reassure the dear reader. The tale is told just as it has to be told, knife-blade straight and underlain with passion.

The book comes with a full colour cover by artist Vincent Chong and an introduction by Gary Fry.

Rough Cut by Gary McMahon. Tpb, 140pp, £6.99. Published by Pendragon Press, PO Box 12, Maesteg, Mid Glamorgan, South Wales, CF34 0XG, United Kingdom.

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