Inspiration just isn’t coming to you today. You sit there, the lyrics failing to materialise on your notebook. Closing your eyes, you let yourself fall into a trance-like state and then, as if from nowhere, the words fall from your fingers. Afterwards, rising from your stupor you look at what you’ve written and realise, with some measure of disappointment, that what you have written are not song lyrics, but a blurb:
“Aldo Evans is a desperate man. Fired from his job and deeply in debt, he struggles to balance a broken family life with his passion for music.
Luce Figura is a troubled woman. A rhythmic perfectionist, she is haunted by childhood trauma and scorned by her religiously devout mother.
Ross McArthur is a wiseass. Orphaned as an infant and raised by the state, his interests include game shows, home-grown weed, occasional violence and the bass guitar.
They are Public Alibi. A rock n’ roll band going nowhere fast.
When the sharp-suited, smooth talking producer Gappa Bale offers them a once in a lifetime chance to make their dreams come true, they are caught up in a maelstrom of fame, obsession, music and murder.
Soon, Aldo, Luce and Ross must ask themselves: is it really better to burn out than to fade away?”
Cuttin’ Heads is not a book about hairdressing. You won’t learn the secrets of how to cut the perfect bob, how to tint the most luscious perm, or layer the best fringe that the world has ever seen, here. It is not a historic retrospective of Britain’s most notorious executioners, or a history of the guillotine. Neither is it a book about the John Mellencamp album of the same name, though you would be a tad closer there.
So what does it mean then? Well, according to urbandictionary.com the term ‘Cutting Heads’ is defined as: “An impromptu show down with musical instruments. This practice can be observed at Guitar stores when two people try to out do each other with their bad ass Steve Vai style.”
So now you know.
But how does this fit into our story? And is there any chance of learning how to cut the perfect bob? Even indirectly?
Before we proceed BE WARNED: there are mild spoilers ahead. I have tried to write this review as spoiler free as possible, but I kinda gave up. It was hard. So, ahead there be spoilers of some kind. Only mild ones, and nothing that you may not be able to glean from the blurb or the cover, tbh, but consider yourself warned.
Do you feel warned? No? Well, here’s another:
MILD SPOILERS AHOY.
Leap to the end of the review, after the photo of D.A. Watson, so see my spoiler free recap. 🙂
Aldo Evans, Luce Figura and Ross McArthur are Public Alibi. A fledgling Glaswegian band struggling, as so many do, to make their mark in the world. They each have the passion and drive to succeed, but that success eludes them and real life, the bastard that it is, keeps getting in the way. Then, one particular evening they play a gig at the 13th Note, a well known music and cafe venue in Glasgow, and there they play the gig of their lives, taking them all quite by surprise. At this gig they meet a suave, handsome, enigmatic gentleman by the name of Gappa Bale. He likes what he’s heard and offers them a support slot to the highly successful, and current Big Thing, Remember May, another 3-piece, at the famous Glasgow Barrowland Ballroom. Oh, and a cool £3000 for doing so. If they impress Gappa enough then he promises them a recording contract on top. Blimey.
This is a dream come true for them all, but for Aldo in particular. He is the front man and leader of the band, and he embraces Gappa’s offer wholeheartedly. Ross, their bassist, is also on board, but Luce, the drummer, is a little more reserved. Public Alibi don’t do anything unless all three of them agree unanimously, and Luce’s hesitation, her feeling that something is just off about the whole thing, could be their downfall.
Is this deal just too good to be true? Is Luce correct in her reservations and hesitation to trust Gappa Bale?
Well, what do you think? Does the Pope shit in the woods? Does Tom hate Jerry? Does the doorbell always ring just as you’ve got into the bath?
If the answer to those questions, and the frankly awesome cover of this book and the general premise don’t make you say a big, “Hell Yeah!” then you need to read another book. 😉
If I’m being totally honest here, Cuttin’ Heads is not a book that is going to win any prizes for originality in terms of its storyline. I could see where it was going from the off, but maybe that’s because I’ve read a lot of horror books in my time. However, that is not to say that it is a bad book. Oh no! Far from it in fact. Cuttin’ Heads is great fun and an excellently written horror story.
Set in Scotland, primarily Glasgow, D.A. Watson writes much of dialogue in a broad Glaswegian brogue with plenty of “tae’s”, “dae’s”, “wean”s and other wonderful expressions such as “You can take your face for a shite with that pish, Aldo,” along the way. He also uses the C-word very liberally, so if that type of language offends you you may struggle at times, but for me it all lends a strong air of authenticity to the dialogue that just helps to immerse you further into their characters.
As for Public Alibi themselves, all three characters are strongly drawn, very likeable and fully fleshed out with interesting and very different backgrounds (pop back and see the blurb above for a wee recap). They are highly sympathetic individuals and your heart breaks for them as they are forced into a seemingly impossible position by the mysterious Gappa Bale.
As for Gappa himself, well I’ll leave you to find out exactly who, or what, he is, but know one thing: the man is one evil motherfucker! When he finally gets what he wants and the facade drops, he is revealed to be a truly terrifying and malignant creature indeed.
Cuttin’ Heads is not just a horror novel, it is also an ode to music. The author’s musical passion is extremely evident all the way through. The way he describes the structure of songwriting, the melody and rhythm, the love a musician has for their instruments and their craft, can only come from someone who seriously knows their shit. Me? I do not know my shit – I have as about as much musical ability as a sack of rocks with a stringless guitar in a vacuum – but, even though they can get a little technical at times, I never felt lost during those particular passages and descriptions. Again, they lend an air of authenticity to the narrative and to the characters that continues to draw you in.
Throughout the novel the horror slowly builds and builds. There are some proper scary moments in Cuttin’ Heads, moments that I felt that rivalled and most certainly invoked the great master Stephen King; Aldo’s venture into the forest surrounding the Easy Rolling Records recording studio stands out, as do the nightmares of Luce, not to mention Gappa’s threats against Aldo’s son, Dylan. As I said, he’s an evil mofo, and no mistake. I really found myself rooting for Aldo, Luce and Ross and pretty much pulling my hair out at times.
Cuttin’ Heads is a great horror novel, with a genuine sense of growing terror, threat and despair as the full realisation of the deal that the members of Public Alibi have entered into slowly dawns. With realistic, sympathetic characters and a truly evil antagonist, D.A. Watson has created his own worthy addition into the cannon of Faustian, or Faustian-esque, horror novels. The old adage “Be careful what you wish for” has never been truer for these poor souls 😉
Prizewinning author D.A. Watson spent several years working in bars, restaurants and call centres before going back to university with the half-arsed plan of becoming a music teacher. Halfway through his degree at the University of Glasgow, he discovered he was actually better at writing, and unleashed his debut novel, In the Devil’s Name, on an unsuspecting public in the summer of 2012. Plans of a career in education left firmly in the dust, he later gained his masters degree in Creative Writing from the University of Stirling.
He has since published two more novels, The Wolves of Langabhat and Cuttin’ Heads, a handful of non-fiction pieces, several short stories including Durty Diana, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016, and the Burns parody Tam O’ Shatner, which in 2017 came runner up in the Dunedin Robert Burns Poetry Competition, and was a competition winner at the Falkirk Storytelling Festival.
He lives with his family in Western Scotland.
“The Christoper Brookmyre of horror. Readers will be very very afraid.”
– Louise Welsh, bestselling author of the Plague Times trilogy
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