Laura lives on a grim housing estate that most people would probably describe, in a word, as "soulless”. The houses – at least the ones still inhabited – are grey, the tarmac is grey, apart from the weeds sprouting through the unrepaired cracks and potholes, the sky is always grey, and, on some days, even the municipal grass looks grey in the verges and the local "rec”.
It could almost be Gdansk, or Romania,but it’s actually in the North of England. Laura’s life isn’t very colourful, either. Her mum has a succession of boyfriends, the latest of whom, Jay, has a nasty habit of blundering into Laura’s room "by mistake” when he’s coming back from the loo in the middle of the night.
Like many other estates, this one has its local characters, recognised by everybody, not really known by anybody, remarked upon, but never engaged in conversation. One such is the woman called "Sweaty Betty” who is always rummaging through the bins outside the shops. She never stops to talk, and is often to be seen, dressed in a weird variety of cast-offs and hand-me-downs, trudging along with two or three heavy carrier bags of what seems to be empty tin cans and rubbish.
A chance meeting between Laura and Betty, though, over a shared bag of chips on a cold night on a bench in the park leads to an incredible series of events which are literally life-changing for both of them In the course of a single night,they wrestle with the demons who inhabit that strange no-man’s-land between life and death, at "Death’s Door”, where the souls of the departed are helped by the "Walkers” – those with the special psychic gift of being able to aid people to cross to the next plane of existence – and menaced by other terrifying beings who want to feed on their energy, including the dangerous demon "The Fryer” and his chillingly-evil sister, Bathsheba, a sick manipulator of healthy minds. Ironically, it seems the estate is anything but "soulless”, as it becomes a portal between the worlds of the living and the dead, and a terrifying psychic battle-ground.
During this shock-a-minute conflict both Laura and the woman she once knew as "Betty” are also forced to confront their own inner demons,and have to face up to some very disturbing and awful facts about their own lives, decisions and actions, including, in the case of "Betty”, the horrific death of her own daughter in a fire.
"Gripping” is too slight a word for this book, Gez Walsh’s most masterful Twisted Minds tale so far. Nothing is real, nobody is who they say they are, and the plot has more twists than a Chubby Checker tribute act. Like all of Gez Walsh’s work, it is also shot through with black humour, which does occasionally even subvert the horror genre.
Beware picking this book up and beginning to read it late at night, especially if you are of a nervous disposition and you are at home alone… unless you actually like being scared stiff and unable to sleep, that is!