Adam Nevill is a hell of a writer. No One Gets Out Alive is the fourth Nevill novel I’ve read and none have disappointed. Last Days remains my favorite, though. What I enjoy about Nevill’s writing is the way he retains a literary voice in a genre that is often disregarded as having any true literary merit (reading the likes of King, Koontz, Barker, Lovecraft, even Bloch or Matheson way back in the seventies and eighties was often frowned upon by critics, teachers, and mainstream fiction writers—things have improved over the years as we have seen horror and weird fiction become focuses of literary criticism and even course subjects in colleges and universities).
Nevill often brings to his stories the starkest, most imaginative elements of the weird fiction penned by Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Lovecraft, Ashton Smith, Belknap Long, and others. No One Gets Out Alive, in particular, is a haunted house tale, and there is a part of that house that calls to mind some of the wider cosmic mythos found in the writings of the above authors. But it also retains the unsettling, intimate of horrors both physical and supernatural.
In the novel, the female protagonist, Stephanie, simply wants to find someplace to crash in the short-term as she begins to rebuild her life. This place she finds in this Birmingham house is cheap, and she’s willing to tolerate the creepy, unsolicited advances of the landlord as she doesn’t intend to stay long. She just needs to save enough money to find more acceptable long-term lodging. Unfortunately, finding work through the temp agencies available to her is difficult, and she quickly discovers the unsavoriness of the flat she has rented. And then there are the seemingly disembodied voices. Stephanie can’t entertain the thought of staying the night, let alone a week or month. There is something wrong with the house, and she feels it on a deep, primal level. But she can’t leave without reclaiming her deposit, as she is that destitute and would have nothing with which to obtain alternative accommodations. The landlord, Knacker, disabuses her of the possibility of receiving back the deposit unless she helps out with some “fings.” And like that, Stephanie must endure deliberate, escalating harassment—harassment thinly veiled as attempts at being compassionate.
Stephanie soon discovers that the other female occupants have been sold to Knacker and his “cousin,” Fergal, as unwitting sex slaves, and Stephanie is expected to participate as well to “pull her weight.”
Stephanie’s imprisonment and the heavy threat of being forced into prostitution are on their own enough to make the novel unsettling. But again there are the voices and noises all about her and the deeper mystery of the property that begins to reveal to Stephanie that there is much more than the horror of human trafficking moving through this house. And when she comes face to face with that horror when locked in the lightless ground floor flat and its otherworldly occupants, Nevill is at his best in a scene that recalls a visceral terror of being preyed upon in the dark much as Clarice Starling was at the end of Silence of the Lambs.
As with The Ritual, No One Gets Out Alive takes an abrupt turn toward the end when the reader feels the story has reached its logical denouement. However, there is more to tell. Throughout the novel, Stephanie reacts as a victim. As she endures more and more abuse, we see such victimization transform into desperate action. Toward the final pages, Stephanie may appear to others as going out of her mind, but she is fully engaged in putting an end to the horror only she can see and experience.
Some may criticize the novel for being too long, too wordy. I disagree. Nevill has a way with language and his words, sentences, paragraphs have a lyricism to them that underscores the scenes and events they describe. I enjoy novels that take the time to breathe, that draw the reader in ever so slightly, teasing out the secrets as the pages turn. Adam Nevill knows how to turn the screw, which makes him one of the most exciting contemporary novelists writing in the horror, weird fiction field.