The Forbidden, By FR Tallis

To hell and back, with a stowaway

Click to follow

In the 1870s, a young doctor, Paul Clement, takes a posting to the French colony of San Sebastien and comes into contact with not only the tropical diseases he has ambitions of curing, but also the dark native magic that appears to raise the dead. Although the crude, revenant magics are exposed as nothing more supernatural than natural drugs which suppress the user's vital signs, Clement takes back to his native gaslit Paris an interest in life after death, and the possibilities of electrical resuscitation of patients on the brink of dying.

Intrigued by reports of the out-of-body experiences supposedly undergone by those who are revived from a temporary clinical death, and of the fabled "white light" at the end of a dark tunnel, Clement resolves to undertake a dangerous experiment himself, which sees him skirting the edges of death before being snatched back.

While in this netherworld state, Clement is presented with a vision of not only the afterlife but also the hell of popular Christian myth, all burning lakes of fire and flocks of leathery-winged demons. But although, thanks to his experimental electric shock treatments, Clement is successfully revived, he appears not to return to his body alone ....

F R Tallis is a clinical psychologist who has a number of non-fiction books to his name, as well as novels that have been shortlisted for crime awards such as the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger and the Edgars. The Forbidden is a fast-paced, entertaining tale which wears its influences on its sleeve: in his afterword, Tallis says that it started life as a homage to Là-Bas, the controversial 1891 occult novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans, and quickly grew to take in other French flavours from the Marquis de Sade and Guy de Maupassant.

As a result, it feels like a novel from a much earlier time, and not just because of the French connection. Tallis also namechecks Dennis Wheatley, and it is this school of occult fiction to which The Forbidden seems most strongly allied. Tallis's other-dimensional entities are demons in the most literal sense, down to their horns, cloven hooves and even pitchforks, which may seem somewhat at odds with the more subtle horrors prevalent in modern horror fiction.

Once you accept that Tallis is taking us to the most literal of hells and back, The Forbidden becomes a darkly joyful ride with creepy and thrilling moments in abundance.