In the movie `1408' Samuel L. Jackson's character asserts that the room of the title is "just an evil f**king room." Apartment 16, however, is not evil in itself, but it is imbued with it, and has been for fifty years, through the tortured and twisted paintings of its previous owner, the obscure and now dead artist Felix Hessen. And for those fifty years this expensive apartment in a luxury building in the heart of London has sat empty and brooding, its evil seeping out into the rest of the apartment building, filling it with shadows no amount of lighting can disperse.
Into this dim gothic domain enters Apryl, a young American who has come to sell apartment 39, which she and her mother have inherited from an old aunt she never met. And through aunt Lillian's diaries she discovers a catalogue of madness, delusion, paranoia and nightmares in its residents, all induced by the paintings of Hessen, residents who, in fifty years, have never been able to venture more than a mile in any direction from the building before becoming disorientated and ill . . . the only escape is death.
Meanwhile, when nightwatchman and aspiring-artist-down-on-his-luck Seth investigates noises coming from apartment 16, he soon experiences hallucinations, paranoia and ultimately finds himself becoming a channel through which new paintings are created - paintings which open up a gateway in apartment 16 to the Void.
This isn't simply a haunted English country manor transplanted to a city setting, for London is an integral part of the story - a character in itself - and in that sense Nevill brilliantly conveys a Thomas Ligotti-esque flavour of a city relentlessly grinding down its citizens. And the moments of hallucination and paranoia (especially the superb sequence with Seth in the supermarket) are nothing short of vintage Ramsey Campbell as the author presents mundane situations which become transformed when seen through the eyes of his deeply disturbed characters. There are shades of Clive Barker, too, not least in the descriptions of paintings but in Nevill's portrayal of what the old and selfish and money-twisted residents of the apartment building truly look like when the thin veil of reality is stripped away. And then there are wonderful moments of delightful weirdness, as witness the chapter featuring a group of people calling themselves The Friends of Felix Hessen!
With the arrival of such imprints as Quercus, Corsair and Corvus there is a sense of horror finally being able to spreads its wings once more beyond the ghetto boundaries of the small press. But if publishers want to find the next, say, Clive Barker then they're going to have to have the conviction to turn their writers loose and let them go nuts, to have the courage to allow their writers to achieve their full ambition. This second novel from Nevill is an excellent 4-star read - but I'm saving the 5 stars for when he's turned loose and writes his equivalent of `Imajica', for there is a forceful sense that that potential is there in Nevill, as it is also in Mark Morris and Conrad Williams: two other terrific writers in need of a publisher to take that big gamble. Only then will publishers see the genre once more breaking out.