The idea embedded in Steve Mosby’s sixth novel is that stories can be dangerous. After a slowish start it becomes quite a chiller, with horror and dread creeping across every page.
It begins simply enough. Neil Dawson has a dullish job in university admin. His father, a writer, is found dead at a viaduct, an apparent suicide. Looking through his dad’s papers, Neil finds an old out-of-print novel, The Black Flower. This strange story about a frightened girl who appears from nowhere disturbs Neil, and this combined with his feeling that there was something suspicious about his father’s suicide, unsettles him. But when his pregnant partner, Ally, is abducted, Neil feels his father may have been drawn into a real horror crime thinly disguised as fiction in The Black Flower, and that Ally may soon be another victim.
Meanwhile, detective sergeant Hannah Price is also mourning her father, and harbours guilty suspicions about his past. She gets assigned to Neil’s case and they come together from different angles into the heart of a terrifying crime.
The narrative is intricate, at times tricky, but ultimately rewarding for the reader. It moves between Neil’s first-person account, to a third-period narrative about Hannah, some passages from the abductor’s point of view, and extracts from the mysterious novel. This only jars a bit towards the end when the points of view are mingled in the same chapters. Still, the reader is placed in the driving seat, effectively, piecing the story together ahead of the characters.
And all these storylines circle one very sinister character, an implacable psychopath leading a macabre family cult from a remote farm. This figure invades Neil’s life and is all the more frightening for our protagonist because he realises the man has been operating for years without detection.
Black Flowers is a cleverly constructed hall of mirrors. The narratives twist and turn so much that it is easy to miss where it is stretching plausibility, but it is intriguing and reaches a pulsating, horrific climax.