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A suburban horror classic from the prize-winning author of the Peculiar Crimes Unit novels starring Bryant & May, Psychoville reveals the truth about housewives, bloodstains, and the damage one can inflict with a steam iron.
England, 1985. When the cruel and heartless hand of urban planning forces fourteen-year-old Billy March and his family to abandon their home in London and relocate to quiet, residential Invicta Cross, Billy holds out hope for a fresh start. Instead, his entire family is methodically and tragically abused by their petty, hostile neighbors. Though Billy eventually befriends a young girl as damaged as himself, he never forgets those humiliations—nor can he forgive them.
1995. Invicta Cross has just been voted “Britain’s Favorite New Town” . . . and a stylish young married couple has just moved in. Glamorous, charismatic, and wealthy, they’re instantly popular with the locals. Then a strange series of coincidences begins. As one neighbor after another goes missing, no one suspects that the perfect couple in Balmoral Close might know more than they let on—until a suspicious reporter sets out to discover the truth.
Look for Christopher Fowler’s fantasy and horror classics, now available as ebooks:

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Psychoville

Chapter 1

The Tide Change

‘One third of all home-based violence is caused by neighbours.’
—1933 British Crime Survey

The girl was dashing along an endless crimson corridor, trying to put as much distance as possible between herself and her pursuer, screaming like a banshee all the way. But the top right-hand corner was out of focus, making it hard to tell exactly what was after her.

The creature wore standard-issue black satanic robes and moved like a tall man running in callipers. Its grasping hands had the talons of a beast, although the only real beasts he had seen were in the London Zoo, and drowsed on artificial rocks, their stubby claws tucked away.

When Billy next looked up, the heroine had somehow managed to shove the stalking hell-spawn into a cellar. She threw her weight against the door and held it shut until the creature stopped hammering. Then she barred it with a convenient plank.

He removed his fingers from his eyes and looked back at the immense screen. Suddenly a screaming latex head burst through the cellar door, drooling and spitting blood, its eyes turned over in its sockets like those of a boiled fish. The girl wailed and fell as the devil-thing grabbed her by the hair. Boy, she was really for it now. She knew too much and would be torn to shreds for daring to venture into the satanists’ lair. He had seen the film before and knew what was about to happen. A cut, that was what, a glitch in the soundtrack and a jump to something less disturbing, courtesy of the censors.

Billy kicked his popcorn box onto the floor and looked up at the vast peeling roof of the Woolwich Granada, once voted ‘the most romantic cinema in England’, now smelling of piss and pine disinfectant and reduced to running dumber-than-crap horror double bills to make ends meet.

There were only a dozen people in the auditorium, mostly pensioners on cheap tickets. One of them, an elderly man in a smart navy-blue raincoat, kept shifting seats furtively every few minutes, looking for someone to wank off. There were no proper usherettes any more, just a little Korean woman who sat with her head in her hands and her unlit torch in her lap, easing the tedium of her job by remaining lightly asleep at the top of the balcony steps.

A muffled drumroll of thunder sounded beyond the exit doors, mingling perfectly with the soundtrack of the film, like part of a new audio gimmick dreamed up by the management. He loved the sound that filled the auditorium. Cineramic sound. Everything was magnified, all drama heightened. Ominous atonal chords accompanied footsteps and the most casual conversations gained dimensional depth, so that shouts of laughter or screams of terror resonated through the building, echoing on long after the film had ended. Cinema was larger than life, and therefore more real. Celluloid fantasies conformed to their own strange sets of rules. Monsters lived, crimes were solved, vengeance was exacted. Inside such tales were changeless truths; it was the world outside that required constant reassessment.

Reluctantly, Billy rose to leave. He thumped up the balcony steps and down the curving gilt staircase to the empty foyer, past the poster advertising next week’s attraction, Back to the Future, past another warning that the building was to become a bingo hall—refurbishment commencing next month—then slid to a stop beneath the unlit marquee, beyond which the rain fell in a dense grey curtain. Billy had no jacket and knew that his mother would kill him if he got soaked in his school sweater. The bus stop was a fair walk and had no shelter; he’d get drowned. All he could do was wait it out. Being late for tea would make no difference to his mother’s mood; he was already in enough trouble, slipping out of school and spending his textbook money at the cinema. He was sure that even his father, who loved the movies, would lose his temper this time. ‘We pay out for your books so you’ll study and make something decent of yourself,’ Billy could hear him say, ‘and this is how you bloody repay us.’

He pushed open one of the doors and peered out. Water was spattering noisily onto the steps from the canopy’s overflowing gutters. He retreated into the foyer and pulled a dog-eared leaflet from his back pocket, studying it carefully. ‘Become an Odeon Cinema Manager’ it said. He’d pocketed it last week after visiting another of the area’s rundown cinemas. Maybe that was what he would do, become a cinema manager. It sounded like a pretty full life:

As an Odeon Cinema Manager you will be expected to escort film stars and celebrities visiting your town, to approve the siting of publicity posters and standees, and to supervise regular quality checks on your refreshment areas and toilet facilities.

Billy couldn’t imagine many celebrities venturing out here. He couldn’t see Harrison Ford hanging around for very long in Woolwich, not unless he wanted his car radio nicked. As an Odeon Cinema Manager the wages probably weren’t great but at least he would be able to pay his way at home, and he’d get to see all the new films for nothing. There were a couple of foreseeable problems, one being that they were closing down all the cinemas, what with video catching on in such a big way, the other being that Billy March was only fourteen years old.

And there he stood, contemplating the future possibilities, one gangly boy framed in the glass and chrome double doors of the near-derelict Granada, waiting for the rain to ease up at six o’clock on a miserable Wednesday evening in September 1985. It had been a bad year. Inner-city chaos was headline news, violence flaring in Brixton and Handsworth. There were arson attacks on Asians in Ilford, football riots and fires, airline tragedies, the continuing miners’ strike. My Beautiful Laundrette and Letter to Brezhnev were double-billing the London arthouses, little gestures of defiance. None of it touched Billy, of course. Enormous changes only occurred to fully formed people. He waited on.

Billy did not know it then, but he was framed in a pose almost exactly the same as the one adopted by his father in 1966, when Ray March, then in his late twenties, stood beneath the illuminated awning of the Roxy cinema at the top of Westcombe Hill waiting for the rain to end, with no jacket and just his dreams for company, the memory of the films he had just seen (The Plague of the Zombies and Dracula—Prince of Darkness) dispersing into the wet night.

It turned out they had much in common, son and father, although Billy did not know it then. He did know that when you left the cinema the spell of the screen stayed with you for a few more minutes, so that everything you saw and did was coloured by the emotions you had just felt. In that brief precious time, fantasy and reality combined to make anything achievable, anything at all. But reality quickly crowded out the magic, and the feeling was soon lost. Billy knew that one day it would be lost forever. And then he would be an adult.

- About the author -

Christopher Fowler is the acclaimed author of the award-winning Full Dark House and eleven other Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries: The Water Room, Seventy-Seven Clocks, Ten Second Staircase, White Corridor, The Victoria Vanishes, Bryant & May on the Loose, Bryant & May off the Rails, The Memory of Blood, The Invisible Code, Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart, and Bryant & May and the Burning Man. In 2015, Fowler won the coveted Crime Writers’ Association Dagger in the Library Award in recognition for his body of work. He lives in London, where he is at work on his next Peculiar Crimes Unit novel, Bryant & May: Strange Tide.

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