Manchester, the present. Michael divides his time between the job centre and the pub. A chance meeting with Lee, an introduction to her ‘Uncle’ Ian, and a heavy night on the lash lead to a job working the door at a Northern Quarter massage parlour.
After witnessing the violent death of one of the ‘punts’, Michael experiences blood-drenched flashbacks and feels himself being sucked into a twilight world that he doesn't understand but that is irresistibly attractive. When he eventually finds out what goes on in the room below 7th Heaven, Michael’s life will never be the same again.
Think Bret Easton Ellis. On a writing break in the north of England. And all he packed was Fight Club and some early Stephen King novels. Stephen McGeagh’s powerful debut will stay with you for a long time.
We’re all about the fusion here at CSNI. Last week featured a horror hack tackling crime. This week, debut novelist Stephen McGeagh writes a horror-esque/ crime-esque thing, and releases it through literary publisher, Salt. Is your head spinning yet? Good. Because that’s exactly the right frame of mind for talking about this book.
In many ways, HABIT could be part of the Bizarro or New Weird movement. But don’t let that put you off: for all its weirdness, this is still very much a story grounded in reality. The writing style is loose and colloquial, narrator Michael as Scally as they come. It’s dog rough at times, paragraphing and sentencing both out the window. And therein lies its strength: with such a down to earth narrative, characters and settings so familiar, the meat of the story, that big reveal in 7th Heaven, will prove all the more devastating, going way beyond what either crime or horror fiction has delivered in recent years in terms of shock factor. Make no mistake: HABIT is brutal. It will shake you to your very core.
It’s a cinematic read. For tone and content, I’m reminded of films like MARTYRS or Paul Andrew Williams’ 2006 release LONDON TO BRIGHTON. There’s something lyrical about the book too, the easy-flowing narrative of booze and sex and Manchester’s clubbing scene reminiscent of songs like Arab Strap’s THE FIRST BIG WEEKEND or The Streets’ BLINDED BY THE LIGHTS. It’s the kind of book I’d recommend to people who don’t normally read much, the short chapters and slim volume making for a very digestible page-turner.
The characters are people you’ll know, or once were yourself. Protagonist Michael is far from innocent, but he’s naive and fresh enough to ease us gently into the shenanigans at 7th Heaven while still retaining that all-important integrity. Lee makes for a good damsel in distress, in a twisted, neo-noir kind of way, with Mike’s sister as the equaliser (kind of) and best friend Dig providing some black humour.
There’s nothing to criticise. Everything about this book works.
In fact, let’s make this easy for you: HABIT is groundbreaking. The kind of book that when you’re not reading you’re thinking about reading, and chomping at the bit to dive back into. It's full of dirt and grime and charm. Easily one of my favourite and most memorable reads of the last ten years.
You need this book.
Genre Fiction Writer