Horror Book Review: Threshold by Murphy St. John

Threshold is the title of author Murphy St. John’s debut horror novel packing a thought provoking storyline, a huge cast of characters and a genuine sense of discomfort and dread.

Unfortunately I don’t have a whole lot of information on the author, other than to say that I expect to hear more from him as the man can write. Threshold may be a debut but it’s immersive story and intense characters show a much more seasoned hand. I did find a picture on Good Reads too and can also confirm he has good hair.

Threshold Murphy St. John author image

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Malcolm can’t remember being fatally stabbed. If the masked woman, Thalia, is to be believed, he’s now in limbo along with six other strangers who are all guilty of unspeakable crimes. For atonement, they must each survive a dangerous trial involving an eerie monster in a haunting locale. Succeed and return to life. Fail and it’s straight to hell.

Threshold captures the imagination straight from the off as we meet a character called Brandon, in what appears to be a destroyed funfair, screaming about being the last one left so he must be the winner to another person called Thalia, who mocks him and sends him to his “death”. At the start of the book, this means very little and as we drop Brandon completely and move forwards with the actual story, we only really understand the point of the Brandon scene much later on. What it does though, is instantly grab your attention, then, later on, you get even more pay off as you connect the dots and realise Brandon was the last survivor of a previous group, not the group of our story.

We start off meeting Malcolm. We know very little of the man at this stage other than that he quickly seems cold and aggressive. In his apartment block, a neighbour has killed themselves and Malcolm’s sole concern is not being happy sleeping with a rotting corpse next door. With emergency services not available until the morning, he angrily decides to get the body and dump it outside so he can sleep more comfortably. While outside though, carrying a body and looking more than a little suspicious, he is approached by a shadowed figure and fatally stabbed. Now, in many stories, the death of a character means the end of that person’s involvement in the story. Not here in Threshold though, where death is just the beginning.

Malcom awakes on a cliff edge, near a beach to the sound of waves, the taste of salty air and the feel of sand between his fingers. Looking around he realises the cliff offers a long drop down and behind there is a dark and sinister looking jungle. He has no recollection of why he has wounds, he certainly has no idea as to where he is. Then, he spots a younger man jogging towards him. Enter Cameron, who approaches Malcolm and they both come to understand that neither of them know where they are, or how they got here. Cameron invites Malcolm to join him and a group he is with, further into the jungle and away from the long drop of the cliff. Malcom reluctantly accepts, while constantly running an internal commentary of aggression and defensiveness, ready to punch Cameron’s lights out if anything seems untoward.

In the jungle, we meet the rest of the group. We meet Ellis, a drug addict with no access to drugs and we meet meek and reserved Annette. As the group introduce themselves, we learn they are all in the same boat. All woke up here, no one knows how, where or why, all personal belongings are gone, like phones and wallets, and no one remembers the last 24 hours though all prior memories are clear. We also learn that there is another person here somewhere too as they beat Ellis up and took his remaining possessions. Cameron and Malcolm head off looking for supplies and notice a shadowy figure in the woods.

Thinking it may be the person who robbed Ellis, they give chase but the figure slinks away though leading out characters to an area where there are two huge, ornate stone doors standing magical and mystical, looking museum ready, but leading to nowhere as they circle them and they seem to be just freestanding.

All of this detail, while it might some unimportant is really necessary as within these early stages, we really get some fat added to the characters and start getting the feeling of the mystery and threat of the location they are in. We also don’t get too much, which I like, as it leaves the reader also a little confused, bemused and wondering what the hell is going on so we are in the same state of mind as the characters and much more able to understand their predicament.

Eventually two more people are met, joining the group of confused and lost accidental explorers. We meet social media loving Shelly, and a heavily overweight Doug. With the group all back together, they set to discussing a little more about who they are and what they did, desperately trying to find any connection for why they are here but find nothing but, as time passes, their reasonably comfortable until now existence starts to change with the appearance of more shadowy figures. Looking like moving darkness, they appear in the woods, never approaching, just staring. Like they are waiting for something. More and more appear, raising the threat level and making the group feel like they need to move on, so they do, constantly being followed by a growing number of what become nicknamed as the Frayed.

Threshold Murphy St. John book cover

Almost like they are being herded, the group are forced onwards, the Frayed follow, and we end up back at the doors which start to open. As the group get closer, the Frayed attack, essentially forcing the group through the doors with Dough barely making it and, being grabbed by the Frayed just as he enters the doors. Ont he other side, in a dark tunnel, they see the agony on Doug’s face as a simple touch by the blackened creatures have left his leg twisted and unrecognisable as a leg at all. Cameron and Malcom force him up and part carry, part drag him along with the group, down the tunnel towards another set of doors at the end. They go through, and find themselves on an endless prairie under the moon where, at the end of the path ahead lies a large rustic mansion. Their next destination.

They knock and are greeted by a woman’s voice welcoming them in, and telling them dinner is ready. Not sinister at all right? They go in to the huge home where a table is laid out with a feast worthy of a bard’s time. The jolly woman introduces herself as Thalia. A name we know from the start of Threshold. She is tall, unnaturally slender, wearing a suit, top hat with a cane, but also wearing a jovial mask that obscures her face. Behind the mask, though, through the eyeholes, nothing shows, like it is empty and hollow. We also meet Travis, who arrived earlier and turns out to be the thief running around in the jungle where the group previously resided.

So the group are altogether now, and it is time for Thalia to explain what the hell is going on, starting with, the fact that they are all dead. It’s quite a thing to take in, and Thalia’s comical delivery probably doesn’t help. While the group are in disbelief, Travis makes the instantly regrettable decision of attacking Thalia who swipes him across the room with ease letting everyone be sure, she is not what she seems. Having angered Thalia, the group learn in no uncertain terms that being dead does not save you from fates much worse than death while also learning that they are a group of seven destined for hell due to the wasteful lives they led on earth.

Here, on the Threshold, they are in limbo. An experiment in rehabilitation, or maybe just a game for beings like Thalia to pass time. They will all face a trial, together, one designed specifically for the sins of each character. Seven people, seven sins, seven trials. Pass your test, and have a chance at redemption, fail and be sent further into hell to be tortured for eternity. Thalia expects them all to fail. They aren’t her first group and everyone fails and so the trials begin, testing all of them with each individuals trial where they are forced to face their sins in horrific form, while being opened up to the scrutiny of those around them and uncovering the devastating link between the seven and why they are all grouped together.

I won’t give anything else away, but hope that has explained enough to make you want to check out this book and be intrigued by the trials and the truths to be uncovered. Threshold is a huge story, in length and ambition. It is exciting, intelligent and horrific with monsters well imagined and deaths of the goriest kind. I really loved the story and found it flowed very well. The uncovering of the connections between each of our seven was my favourite part of the journey and how it made me feel, suddenly knowing the truth about a person I had been rooting for, and now felt disgusted by. Especially as each character is wonderfully developed, with just their sin held back until we cared enough about them that we would be shocked.

That’s clever writing. Thalia’s character is awesome and very well written in, acting as gap filler and narrator at times, keeping us informed with her dialogue and adding a layer of mystery and additional fear with her mannerisms and methods. Murphy St. John has a talent for atmosphere and tension building and I found myself on edge for the majority of the story. There is a ton of effort also in the descriptiveness of the worlds and characters and I found it very easy to visualise everything I was reading. I also really appreciated the wider existential questions and thoughts the story of Threshold provokes. The idea that simply asking for forgiveness for your sins would ever be enough to absolve you of them, what awaits us after death and the existence of Hell, Heaven and Purgatory.

As far as debut’s go, this is a top book, one that a much more experienced writer would feel extreme pride in, and shows an author in Murphy St. John that has insane potential. Any fan of horror will get immense enjoyment from Threshold so make sure you grab a copy from here, and enjoy the nightmares.

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  • Brendan Fisher

    Owner/Editor/Writer/YouTuber - Heavy Metal and reading, two things I have always loved so they are the two areas you will find most of my reviews. Post apocalyptic is my jam and I always have a book on the go and have for decades now. From a metal perspective, age has softened my inadequacies and I now operate with an open mind, loving many bands from many sub genres but having a particular admiration for the UK underground scene. In my other time, when not focused on Dad duties and work, I try to support the craft beer movement by drinking as much of it as I can and you will also find me out on the streets, walking. I love walking, I love exploring new places and snapping nature photos as I go.

Threshold by Murphy St. John

Book Title: Threshold

Book Author: Murphy St. John

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