Blurb: Lilly is ten years old, born with a heart defect, and already addicted to heroin. Her mother is gone from her life, and there are rumors that she was killed by her father and buried near the abandoned house across the street. The house intrigues her, she can’t stay away, and the monstrous homeless man who lives there has been trying to get Lilly to come inside.
For her mother is there, buried in the back, and this homeless man is Lilly’s true father, and both want their daughter back.
Milk – Blood is a completely unique horror, mixing the physical tension of fear, dread and violence with psychological and social concerns of poverty, drug abuse and social care surrounding a motherless young girl, Lilly, who has been struggling with a terrible illness from birth and later comes to learn the true fate of her mother as well as becoming reliant on heroin.
There is a sense of darkness and eeriness in the setting alone, with the story based on a rundown street in Detroit in a poverty-stricken area where virtually every other home is boarded up, the homeless roam the road in need for shelter and crime and drug use is always an issue. Lilly has to walk down this road on the way home from school every weekday evening, with the dark house across the street and a strange, creepy homeless man calling to her. She is teased by school kids and returns home to be ignored regularly and yet still dealing with her illness and pain. And yet these latter issues are nothing compared to the horror she is to encounter deeper into the story.
I found the opening chapters alone of particular interest as Matthews has written the same scene but from each point of view, i.e. the mother’s and her partner’s. This enables the reader from the offset of the story to empathise as much as possible with both sides. I found these chapters, although very tragic concerning the death surrounding the mother, very beautifully written when it came to the partner taking care of the very ill newborn. Such a caring and gently written sequence is rare in many horrors. It is because of this that I believe Milk – Blood begins like a thriller which later develops into a horror.
To use a child, especially one so young and addicted to heroin, I thought was daring of the author in this type of horror and yet it plays out really well. There were moments earlier on in the story that I couldn’t quite comprehend the direction of the story, however these passed very quickly and as the reader continues the story opens out into a great psychological horror that will not disappoint the reader! Due to the content I would recommend that the reader is of mature age of at least 17yrs.
The homeless guy in the boarded up house across the street is also one that has his demons (and for me could have easily been a development of a scavenging character from one of Matthews’ previous books, On the Lips of Children). For he sees and hears more than you would expect. Whether it is partly due to his drug intake or a ‘gift’ he has it adds a deep sense of grittiness, mystery and fear and the reader cannot help but long Lilly to have nothing to do with this character. Of course, Lilly might just get sucked into some inevitable danger as the reader is pulled into the horror too.
Mark Matthews has written Milk – Blood in a clever manner, being able to use some personal experiences and developing them into a suspenseful horror. And not all meets the eye to begin with but as the story wraps up (which it does superbly well) the reader is treated to a little more and realises that there certainly is a purpose for every character mentioned! Despite there being many horrific and tragic scenes, the real horror is where the story takes us – the end result.
This is written in a fantastic way and I love how the reader has no sense of the bigger picture until the conclusion! Although my personal favourite book of Mark Matthews is On the Lips of Children, this one is very close, using a blend of horror from On the Lips of Children as well as the social and dramatic elements of the author’s Stray. (The links of Stray and On the Lips of Children will take you to my previous reviews and some background info on Mark Matthews with On the Lips of Children review.)
A copy of Milk – Blood was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest and fair review.
Milk – Blood was recently released in June 2014. The cover design is from Kealan Patrick Burke of Elderlemon Design, and the story was edited by Richard Thomas, Editor in Chief at Dark House Press.
The term upon which the title is based, “Milk-Blood” was made famous in the Neil Young Song “The Needle and the Damage Done.” A companion piece featuring a character from Milk-Blood, The Damage Done, is available for free on Amazon and has been receiving tremendous reviews.
Reviewed by Caroline Barker