Woo hoo! It’s review time again! I’ve been going strong with my reading of Aussie writers this year, and Matthew Tait is the next Australian author whose work I’ve had the pleasure of reading. As mentioned in previous reviews, the Australian spec fic community is a close-knit one – the horror community, more so. Yep, you guessed it, this review comes with a disclaimer. I know Matt quite well, you could even say we’re buds. We have a mutual love of Clive Barker, and horror as a whole. I’ve never worked with Matt on any of his projects, so when I purchased Davey Ribbon, it was as a reader (and to support the work of Aussie writers, of course).
Alrighty, with the disclaimer out of the way, the next order of business is the spoiler alert:
SPOILERS ABOUND WITH ABOUNDING ABOUNDEDNESS – DON’T BLAME ME IF YOU READ ON AND HAVE AN ‘AWW, SHE SPOILED THE STORY WITH ABOUNDING SPOILERS OF ABOUNDEDNESS!’
Davey Ribbon (released through HodgePodge Press) is the first of Matthew Tait’s work I’ve read, and if this is the mettle of what he has to offer, then I will fast be rectifying this fact.
Let’s begin with the cover art – yes, I know the old adage ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ but as someone who works both sides of the desk, aah, yeah, I do (if you’ve got crap cover art, I’m gonna assume—rightly or wrongly—the words inside aren’t going to be much better). No problem here with Davey Ribbon; the cover art is as hauntingly eerie as it is beautiful.
The story begins in the past, 1969 to be exact, where Angus Fisher has stumbled upon the murder of a child – Sarah Capeshaw – in the middle of the forest surrounding Cyclone Cove. Angus is in dire straits; the murderer, Reginald Avery, won’t have any witnesses to his crime. As Angus begs, reasons, yells for his survival, in strolls Davey Ribbon, a child-savant with a love of ribbons (which trail behind him wherever he goes).
Things go from bad to worse, and while I won’t spoil this scene (it really does deserve to be spoiler free), it’s this dark past that will come back to bite Cyclone Cove and its residents on the arse.
Fast forward to the present day, and Davey Ribbon has become the stuff of urban legend, but there are those within Cyclone Cove who will not let the past die. Cyclone Cove is reminiscent of many a small town with secrets (think Stephen King’s ‘Derry’, from IT), and when you add in a huge conglomerate that has come to the Cyclone Cove as its “saviour”, things aren’t going to end pretty.
We’re slowly introduced to those townfolk who will become major players in the story’s finale, and Tait does well to weave the many characters within the story, although there were, at times (about midway through), where I began to wonder whether I could keep the characters straight in my head. With the twins (Beatrice and Michelle), their religious-nutter mother (Patty), their babysitter (Miriam), the head of the cult-conglomerate (Samara) and her boy-toy (Nathan), the town’s recluse (Norman Perks), renowned musician (Jerry), returned resident (Sean), town cop (Bill), Samara’s acolytes, pub owner… and those characters from the past.
It’s a big character list, but this is a small town, and there are a lot of things at play behind the scenes and from the past that sit like a volcano beneath Cyclone Cove. It’s not a matter of will the eruption occur, but when.
This is a story of secrets – everyone has them – and the biggest secret of all is Davey Ribbon. As with any urban legend, it differs in its telling, growing more macabre. Tait works the legend and the secrets well, giving the reader a little more then a little more as the story slowly unravels (and the townsfolk with it).
The crux of this story revolves around the book’s namesake – Davey Ribbon – who begins to show himself to those who have been chosen to fight the big fight. But Davey isn’t the only one behind the scenes pulling the strings. While Samara Reagan and Norman Perks are working overtime and double-shifts to bring Davey into the now (each with differing agendas), there are those within Cyclone Cove who are the puppets for the puppeteers. Each of the players in this finale have only pieces of the puzzle, as does the reader, and I enjoyed trying to figure out what was going on as the characters’ did.
From about midway, though, I began to wonder when Angus Fisher would make a reappearance – Tait does well with his misdirection, and when all is revealed, I was able to look back and see the clues – whether other readers will see it before I did, I’m not sure; if they don’t, will they feel cheated with the misdirection? I can’t say.
The ending of the story was brutal, bloody, and over a little too cleanly. I like messy endings – I don’t mean blood and gore (although huzzah on that point), but rather I don’t want to have all the answers. Tait doesn’t give us everything, and if I have one misgiving about the telling of this tale, it’s the chapter where the survivors – those who truly know what happened that fateful day – get together to try and figure out what exactly happened and why. Personally, as a reader, I’d rather ruminate on that myself. I was given enough within the confines of the story and the ending to make those connections.
All in all, this was a strong story with a great premise that was delivered in an engaging and sinister way. It isn’t shy in its brutality, and it doesn’t hold back when tackling themes some find disturbing. A special mention goes out to the editor of HodgePodge Press – this was one of the cleanest reads I’ve had in a while, thank you!
On a Goodreads scale, I give Davey Ribbon 4.5/5 stars.