"One of the Dead" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Crystal Lake Publishing

one of the dead richard farren barber poster large

Written by Richard Farren Barber
2024, 131 pages, Fiction
Released on 19th March 2024


I first reviewed Richard Farren Barber back in 2017 and quickly devoured his impressive back catalogue, becoming a huge fan. Considering he has been published by a host of top indie presses, including Black Shuck Books, Crossroad Press, Demain Publishing, Crystal Lake Publishing and Hersham Horror Books, he deserves to be much better known than he probably is. I rarely see Richard’s work being discussed on horror Twitter feeds or Facebook pages; this is a great shame, as his novella and short story output, in particular, is equal to the best the genre has to offer.

I rate Richard’s work so highly, he has featured in three of my annual Horror DNA Top Ten ‘best of’ lists. If you are reading about him for the first time, here are some perfect entry points: The Living and the Lost (Top 10 Horror Novels of 2019 feature), Perfect Darkness, Perfect Silence (Top Ten Horror Novels of 2017 feature) and Twenty Years Dead (Top Ten Novellas of 2022 article).

Before we dig into the typically low-key One of the Dead (once again on Crystal Lake Publishing), I will drop some further suggestions. If there were such a thing as a perfect novella, then Richard’s Closer Still (2018) ticks every box; this tale of a teenage girl haunted by her best friend is exquisite, beautifully capturing the angst amongst the terror. Richard has a very restrained style and rarely uses blood, gore or dramatics, and this trademark is illustrated perfectly in his atmospheric novelette, The Coffin Walk. Sadly, his remarkable debut novel The Living and the Lost is currently out of print and I hope it finds a new home at some point in the future, as it is much too good to remain unavailable. In this remarkable work, an English local council department deals with the spiritual ‘cleaning’ of houses after the death of a tenant. Not exactly Ghostbusters, and is all the more powerful because of it.

Like with The Living and the Lost and Twenty Years Dead, the author gives little away in how the supernatural functions within the boundaries of the One of the Dead narrative. Across the first few pages the reader is dropped in the midst of a bizarre situation unfolding on a Nottingham high street, which sets the scene for the next 130-pages and plays out over a relatively brief period of time. Although they are not connected except in style, it would be exceptionally easy for Richard Farren Barber to market One of the Dead, The Living and the Lost and Twenty Years Dead as a unique ‘supernatural trilogy.’

In One of the Dead, Nick is cursed with the rare ability to sense, see and smell when the undead are close. The story does not go into specifics, but the dead prowl populated areas sucking the life from the living, akin to vampires, prolonging existence in their own netherworld. Eventually, they fade away to nothing if they do not feed. They do not suck blood, instead a scratch is enough to condemn their victim to a premature death. Once scratched, the undead creature will return on further occasions, continuing to drain the life-force of their victim.

When the story opens, Nick lives his life constantly on guard, as even though the undead are slow and cumbersome, there is always the chance one could creep up on him from out of the shadows. In the unsettling open scenes he sees one of these beings shambling down the street, knowing if he walks fast enough, will not catch its attention. However, nobody else can truly see the beings and he helplessly watches the creature scratch a little girl, realising her life has now been tragically cut short. She could die anytime in the next few days or catch a rare cancer and expire prematurely young. It will look like natural causes, but Nick knows better.

I love the manner in which the dead are portrayed, similar to homeless beggars on the street; everybody sees them, but tries to ignore them. All apart from Nick, who inherited the ‘gift’ from his estranged father, who watched his mother die in an equivalent manner after being scratched. Nick has nobody to talk to about what he sees except his father, who does not return his calls and becomes agitated when the dead start becoming more aggressive than usual. Early in the story one of the undead starts stalking Nick’s girlfriend Abby, their relationship already has its struggles, and he cannot explain what is truly ailing him.

Like most of Richard Farren Barber’s other work, there is little blood and thunder on show. Instead, this is a sad, melancholic quiet horror tale of a guy carrying a heavy burden he was ill-equipped to cope with. The sense of time and place, the Nottingham city centre and the graveyard are superb, and they jar perfectly against the undead and their obsession with holding onto the slither of life that comes with draining a living person of their soul. There is something incredibly endearing about office worker Nick being told off by his boss for taking a long lunch when he could see ghosts everywhere!


Overall: 4.5 Star Rating Cover
Buy from Amazon US.
Buy from Amazon UK.

This page includes affiliate links where Horror DNA may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
Other articles by this writer


Join Us!

Hit the buttons below to follow us, you won't regret it...