Cosmic horror has a way of unsettling readers, we never know what to expect. The Gulp delivers, by the barrel. Baxter's writing produces an atmospheric dread, with thought-provoking prose he's able to creep into the reader's mind. The descriptive quality of his writing artfully depicts action and motion, providing fear for the reader. The Gulp is his creation, his writing is so authentic, readers will be transported to the Australian coastline, trapped in its clutches.
There are five novellas within The Gulp, all separate entities, but skillfully intertwined. His ability to choreograph scenes will have you sweating, striding through the pages with fervor. Its clear, that this is the beginning for The Gulp, what other discoveries have yet to be made?
Out on a Rim 5⭐️
This one ends with a bang, you won't see it coming, nothing has prepared you for what's going to happen.
Mother in Bloom 5⭐️
In the face of despair, they believed they were granted freedom, it came back.
The Band Plays On 5⭐️
This one is steeped in raw emotion, the brilliant reimagining of a common horror trope, will have you dreaming of the possibilities.
48 to Go 5⭐️
Visceral, brutal, highly descriptive violence, will have you begging for more!
The Rock Fisher 5⭐️
This one, you think you know what’s happening, trust me, you don’t! It will have you reeling.
The Gulp is a special place, we’ve only just breached the horizon.
I would recommend this book to fans of cosmic horror, even if you're not a fan of cosmic, this collection, may cause you to change your mind. @BlakeDevours
The town of Gulpepper, known as "The Gulp" to locals, appears to be a small, quiet Australian harbor town. No one wants to stop there, the police won't come if you call them, and locals know that you can never really leave. While things are quiet and business as usual during the day, everyone knows that you shouldn't be out in The Gulp after dark. In these five interconnected novellas are just a taste of what goes on in The Gulp.
We are introduced to Gulpepper in the first story, "On the Rim," by veteran truck driver George on his last shift to The Gulp training his replacement, Rich on his weekly route. George warns Rich to make the trip to The Gulp as quick as you can and then get out of town before dark. Rich takes this as the old man playing a trick on him and ignores his advice. While dropping off their load at a grocery store, there is an accident with their truck, forcing them to stay in The Gulp overnight. Despite George's advice not to go out at night and ignoring his requests for him to stay in the truck until the tow truck comes in the morning, Rich decides that he wants to get to know the town. He heads out and quickly finds himself in more trouble than he bargained for.
In "Mother in Bloom," we meet teenage siblings who are dealing with the aftermath of their mother's death and how to cover it up so that they aren't separated by social services. When the mother's remains morph into something unexpected, the siblings learn exactly just how far they will go to stay together. The characters and events in this story get a lot of callbacks throughout the book. This story, I feel, does have some mild body horror.
The third story, "The Band Plays On," introduces us to the legendary band Blind Eye Moon via a concert attended by four tourists visiting The Gulp while on holiday. After bonding with the band during the show, the tourists are invited back to their house to party afterward, and end up staying at the band's insistence for a few days. The party keeps going and the booze keeps flowing, and soon the nightmares begin. While one of the tourists gets suspicious, the remaining three start looking and feeling haggard from the late night parties and subsequent nightmares. And the band is eager to keep the party going at any cost.
"48 To Go" is my favorite story in the collection, and when you read it, you'll know why. This is without a doubt, one of the craziest stories I've ever read. After getting his mob boss's drugs stolen, a local thug is given 48 hours to collect the $60,000 owed to his boss, or never be seen again. The lengths this character goes to is bonkers. This story has notes of occultism mixed with the supernatural. One thing is for sure, Baxter has changed how I look at guinea pigs for the rest of my life with this story.
The last story in the collection is "Rock Fisher," a tale of both eldritch horror and body horror. After suffering a painful breakup with his girlfriend, a character goes fishing and catches an entity that takes over every area of his life and will change life in The Gulp as we have come to know it.
I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book and was sad to see it end. In creating The Gulp, Baxter has created his own playland mash up of Innsmouth and Castle Rock. There are so many more big background stories to be told and so many more inhabitants to learn about. I hope we get to visit The Gulp again soon. @brandi_the_bibliophile
Alan Baxter has created a stunning collection of small town horror that perfectly blends tones and themes of The Twilight Zone, Stranger Things, Castle Rock, The X-Files and Twin Peaks – in an Irresistible concoction of the weird and macabre, small town horror has never had it so good.
What I loved about this collection is how the stories bleed into one another, how there are subtle references that pull this tapestry of a town together, the connecting threads making it a full breathing fully function snapshot of the weird and wonderful and disturbing location of Gulpepper (a place I strangely wanted to visit).
Fictional town or not, Baxter has created a wonderful collection of unsettling and dark stories, brutal and enlightening – a nightmare vision that showcases how good horror fiction can be!
– Out on a Rim – Richard Blake is a new driver inheriting the delivery route of the Gulp from his companion George, the old timer driver who’s close to retirement. They’re trying to make the delivery and get out before it gets dark, George says that the town is bad enough in the daytime he doesn’t want to get stuck here at night.
Something happens to their truck and they are forced to stay over in The Gulp. The story flits back and forth between Rich (Richard) and George – Richard checks into a motel (something like the motel in Psycho) and he witnesses something happening in the next room, something that he’ll never forget and something that he’ll never unsee!
Such a great way to start this diabolical collection and setting the scene of this strange and peculiar town.
– Mother in Bloom – A familial tale that focuses on the brother and sister relationship of Zack and Mandy. They’ve some difficult decisions to make regarding the care of their mother. They’ve been planning for this day but somehow they’re not ready for what needs to be done. They’ve a plan but will it work? Will they get away with this deception and will anyone notice – they’ve fed lies for months leading up to this day, but are they prepared for where things are heading when something starts to bloom on their mother’s flesh.
– The Band Plays On – A group of backpackers are watching a band in a local pub, they’re transfixed by the band's performance and are soon invited to an after party at the Gulp where the band live. The premise is almost vampiric in its tone and conventions and also of Sirens of the sea (might just be me) the band's music enchants those that hears it. There is some lovecraftian work in this one too, but for me it was my least favourite in the collection, it’s a great story but from what came before this slower pace seemed to stall my enjoyment – it’s strange as if this story was shifted to the start of the collection it might have had a different feel to it – but you can see why it’s here as foundations are laid that cement parts of the overall story on offer by Baxter.
– 48 to Go – Our protagonist Dace whilst out on a boat trying to impress a girl gets robbed by two masked individuals (pirates) who steal his boss Carter’s weed. Dace is given the ultimatum of getting back the cash worth of the weed or having his parents and sister killed. Dance sets out to rob an old couple, break into their house and steal the money they’ve been hoarding, but once he breaks in he quickly discovers more than he’d ever thought possible! This one is bananas crazy good! So many moving parts but Baxter handles it all like a master – the action sequences in this story were fabulously executed!
– Rock Fisher – Troy longs for a family, but a discovery whilst rock fishing might have just answered his insatiable paternal longing. This is a fabulous creepy tale, with a delicate body horror that the great Cronenberg would be happy with. Unsettling and disturbing – also a story that ensures that all loose cords are woven together to possibly start a new thread further down the line – and I for one will be eagerly anticipating a follow up collection!
An arrestingly brilliant collection of horror that bewitches its reader and pollutes the mind with Baxter’s mastery of horror in all its dark shades, whatever you do this year, makes sure you take a trip to The Gulp!
The Gulp is an interwoven collection of five novellas, all set in the small town of Gulpepper. The first story establishes a sense of place early on, the locality and its inhabitants are vividly portrayed. The reader is provided a sense of mystery, a feeling that things are not quite right in Gulpepper. The whole collection has a Lovecraftian vibe, the notion of the sea having something to do with the weirdness of the place.
I enjoyed all the stories, though as with most collections preferred some to others.
The first story, Out on a Rim, sets the stage for what’s to come. This one is strong, but one scene was a little too graphic for my taste. However, I’m fully aware that others will enjoy that aspect. I loved the supernatural suggestion of ‘letting the dream in.’ 4 stars
The second story, Mother in Bloom, reminded me of Chad Lutzke’s Of Foster Homes and Flies. The characters in this one have such a tragic background. All in all, it has strong characterization and provides nail-biting moments. Some of the more graphic scenes were almost comical in their absurdity, but despite this it got me thinking about family background and its effect on the psychology of the young. 4.5 stars
The third story, The Band Plays on, was one of my favorites. A real page-turner. I loved the whole ‘band’ thing, its vibe and energy flowed from the page. It brought to mind The Lost Boys, in fact the film even gets a mention here, but this story would make a great film in its own right. Here we are granted more of the backstory to The Gulp. Atmospheric, energetic, creepy! 5 stars
In the fourth story, 48 Hours to Go, I really felt for the protagonist. He is not a likeable character, but I could not help but pity him for the plight he finds himself in. The way he tries to resolve it draws him in deeper and deeper. This one again has a fair few graphic scenes but also builds a great atmosphere. Wickedly comedic at times, just like story two. 4.5 stars
The fifth and final story, Rock Fisher, was my favorite of all. Again, it has a Lovecraftian vibe, this one sustained my interest throughout. I loved the twists and turns it took and it brought the whole collection to a satisfactory conclusion. An Aussie Innsmouth. 5 stars
Overall a great read. Small town horror at its best. The mythos of The Gulp and its inhabitants feels incestuous and cloying. Trust me, you won’t easily escape its clutches!
To summarize, I rate the collection 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5. @CatherineMcCarthy
Catherine McCarthy is a spinner of dark tales with a sting in the tail.
She has published two novels and a collection of short stories, and her new novella, Immortelle, will be published by Off Limits Press in summer 2021.
Her short stories and flash fiction have been published in various places online and in anthologies such as Diabolica Britannica, Graveyard Smash, and The One That Got Away.
"Out on a Rim" opens as a lorry driver on the verge of retirement shows his replacement his regular route through the outback and small towns of his part of Oz. After an accident, the lorry is out of action with the pair stranded in The Gulp and despite several warnings, the young replacement heads out into the night. Here and with the rest of the book, you can see that Baxter is a dab hand with prose. He flavours it with detail, but it always remains captivating.
"Mother in Bloom" is a supremely captivating tale that subverted my expectations and left me wanting more. Zack and Maddy's neglectful mother lays dead in her bed and the siblings need to get rid of the body in order to continue claiming her benefit money. This one was my favourite as Baxter blows the roof off by ratcheted the suspense to unbearable levels.
"The Band Plays On" hues a more predictable line, but the imagery and prose of the tale keeps you interested even if you have an idea where things are going. A group of backpackers see local band, Blind Eye Moon playing in a neighbouring town and are invited back to "The Manor" for an afterparty they'll never forget. One thing I will say for myself is that my brain struggled to perform Irish, Australian and German accents in rapid succession.
"48 to Go" walks the line between horror and crime with low level mobster, Dace, being robbed of his drug cargo and being on the hook for it by his maniacal boss. Rumours lead Dace to try his hand at burglary with less than desired results. Like "Mother in Bloom", Baxter ratchets things up across this story until you have no idea what is about to come.
"Rock Fisher" closes out with Troy taking a fishing trip before work and catching a mesmerising, mysterious egg from the ocean. This is probably the most mysterious tale of the collection and hints at more to come from The Gulp as the powers that be there sense a change coming their way.
Baxter is a wonderful writer of prose that drags you into a story and constantly manages to evade tropes and take his story to suspenseful height you were not expecting. I look forward to future tales from The Gulp eagerly.
Welcome to The Gulp, the Hotel California of Aussie harbor towns.
Out on a Rim
Two truck drivers get stuck in The Gulp. One decides to wander the town and finds more adventure than he bargained for.
Mother in Bloom
Mother dies. She wasn’t a very good mom and the teens decide to keep her death a secret. Then they find mom covered in a fungus...and it's hungry.
The Band Plays On
A new spin on an old trope. Four young adults find happiness in music, partying with a band after a show, but when weird stuff begins to happen, Patrick can’t believe he is the only sane one.
48 to Go
If a crime boss gave you 48 hours to come up with an obscene amount of money, how would you get it? Dace has a very simple way--steal, but when the couple he is robbing turns out to be more than he bargained for, Dace is forced to decide whose life is worth losing. (Hint: it isn’t his family’s)
Alan saved the best for last. This creepy tale gives us life, literally. A sinister egg is found by a fisherman and things begin to change for all of The Gulp.
“ The Gulp has a habit of swallowing people. But sometimes it spits one out.”
And just like that, The Gulp has spit me out. I survived. I enjoyed my stay, everything cleaned up very nicely in the end and the ending gives us home to a return trip. I would definitely visit The Gulp again. Alan gave us five distinct stories, some more brutal than others (seriously what is up with the guinea pigs?), but all high in creep factor. There is certainly a weird force around The Gulp and it leads us all to one thing-- the fall. @the.book.slayer
Reviewing Alan Baxter’s “The Gulp” was always going to be dangerous. The man’s written copious amounts of books. It’s the first thing you see when you try to stalk him on Twitter. Aside from his cross-armed, self-confident stance, there’s a row of horrifically good-looking horror books backing him up. Then you read the small print and know this man needs no backup. He is a martial artist, dog-loving, ninja crochet master that could kill you just with his beard. Hell, he’s even funny. And then he goes and writes his damn book “The Gulp” and the talent almost leaks out over your hands making you feel like you just got slimed. It’s disgusting, dammit.
I gleefully snatched up the opportunity to read an ARC of Alan’s, lovingly suggested by THE Mother herself, and didn’t catch a whiff of their nefarious plan.
See I’ve done the math, Alan.
21 times, say, 5-10 euros. Let’s call it 10, because we’ll be wanting the paperbacks of course, not just the kindle versions. That’s 210 euros, Alan. To start with. That’s not even counting all of the hardbacks and signed limited editions I am going to have to buy now I have read you. Finally.
I know. I know. I’m late to the game. It’s now too late for me.
But I can still save the others. The ones that don’t know how damn addictive your voice is.
Do not buy this book. It will make all the other books you read this year feel smaller, slightly shabby. Whatever you do, don’t read the 5 short stories just lurking behind the wonderfully vintage cover, with its alluring fake crease, cunningly added to make the whole thing look damn spectacular, like you knew we would find that attractive. Dammit.
I refuse to review this book, it’ll only make you more fans.
My lips are sealed. I’m not going to tell you about Out on a Rim, because that’s where he draws you in, gets you just loving his casual voice, until he smacks you round the face with body horror so visceral it made me squirm on my sofa (that’s also something you don’t want to see), Carter’s eating of the eyes a throwback to The Corinthian, in my mind, but way, way rawer. It’s a solid opener, straight-up great storytelling. It makes you already start planning the damn order of his other books, makes you think “Hmm, Roo sounds like the best way to spend my money”. I LOATHE MY FAN-BOY SELF.
The absolute nastiness of Mother in bloom (MIB) made it my favourite of the bunch, just wonderful storytelling, the humour and ickiness of it all! Don’t do it. You really don’t want to read my favourite line of the book: “She’d spent all day with her head buzzing about who they could give to the white thing in the bed” – I mean – Who the hell can write that line and garner a horrified laugh from their reader? A ninja dog twitterer, that’s who. I even coincidentally read about single-cell amoeba’s in the arctic circle, which are eating crabs, whilst reading this short, literally on the same day, and knew, just knew, that it wasn’t chance, or fate.
The damn man’s a Prophet.
The band plays on sets everything up, of course. After becoming addicted by MIB, the apparent normalness of his second short “ The Band Plays on” establishes Baxter as at the top of his game. The loving detail to the music was the draw, the attention to the experience – not the horror – the enticement – that was really well done. We understand the hypnotic effect. We are as captured as the Mc’s – The fantastic throwaway of calling the head of the house “Bram”. The balls of it. Just fantastic. You gotta hate the talented git.
The third one you really, really don’t want to read, 48 To Go, shows the genius in a wonderful scene where a smack to the face breaks a neck, has you laughing at something so horrific, you are totally unprepared for the actual raw body horror that follows shortly thereafter. He makes you laugh then almost constrict your own guts in body shock, the writing is so bleak. Just fantastic. I saw a lot of people that have read the book claim this as their favourite short, the sheer absurdity of hamsters on spits is – well – genius isn’t too far off the mark.
Ahem. You don’t want to read about hamsters on spits, do you? Absolutely not. That sounds irreverent. Right?
Rock fisher ties all the threads together – if anything the similarities to Mother in Bloom was almost too much for me to appreciate as much as the others, an egg replacing fungus? But it does what is needed to make the book feel complete and lay the groundwork for a series.
Because that’s the inevitable conclusion.
Baxter laces the entire book with recurrent characters, to whom some of which we learn, by happenstance, their stories. It’s those themes, glimpses of weirdness, that make this book for me. I wish, in a way, that not as many would have been explained. It is wonderful to find out why a house has a garden dedicated to hamsters, but it would have also been wonderful to have wondered – and marvelled in the thought process behind the detail, but not find out until subsequent books. There are stories here that we will find out about later.
Yeah. All pretence aside, this was great. I raced through this book in an evening and a half, I barely made notes on my phone, I didn’t want the spell to end. This was the highlight of my weekend.
Take my money. Alan. Just don’t gloat.
5 stars and more.
I received a copy of the ARC of The Gulp as a review copy, courtesy of Alan Baxter and Mother Horror and 13th Dragon Books. This did not, however, influence my begrudging fanboy respect of the book, and will not really make a difference to the stupid amount of money I am now going to have to spend to catch up on all his other stuff.
And I believe Alan does this.
THE GULP is 5 inter-connected novellas set in the same fictional town of Gulpepper. Or, "The Gulp" as the residents call it. Think Stephen King's Castle Rock or the show, Eerie, Indiana.
Readers get a real sense of location with Baxter's usage of Aussie slang and dialect. I took note of it right away. In the first novella, A trucker passing through winds up hitting the local watering hole and then staying the night at one of the town's motels and he encounters some of the townspeople as well as some strange phenomena on an evening walk. This set my expectation for later novellas and I thought it was particularly effective but it was my least favorite story of the bunch. It felt like it shared a kinship with his supernatural/crime noir books, DEVOURING DARK and MANIFEST RECALL and I was really hoping for more of a straight horror sampling from Alan.
I was in luck!
My favorite stories were MOTHER IN BLOOM (great character development and suspense as teen siblings work together to deal with their mother's death-lands squarely on the nose for the horror genre) and THE BAND PLAYS ON (I loved the way Baxter flexed his storytelling skills in this one and proved that horror does not have to be infused with gore and violence to satisfy true horror hounds)
I think it's exciting that the last two stories pave the way or "leave the door open" for readers to wonder what's next for the citizens of Gulpepper. Baxter certainly developed a universe/mythos here but left some lingering questions and underdeveloped ideas on the page. I'm sure there is more to come. I'm here for it.