Journalist Laura Warren is sent to L.A. to meet with the cast and crew of a new horror series ‘It Feeds’, which is based on a cult horror film called ‘The Guesthouse’, which is believed to be cursed following the deaths of many of the people who worked on it. Unbeknownst to those she meets, Laura is actually Polly Tremaine, the child actress from ‘The Guesthouse’ and one of the few actors to survive the film. Within minutes of arriving in L.A., Laura starts to see strange things happening and she becomes afraid that the past she thought she’d left behind is catching up with her.
‘Burn the Negative’ is the latest book from London-based Josh Winning, senior film writer for ‘Radio Times’, ‘Total Film’ contributor and ‘Torn Stubs’ podcast co-host. Taking his clear love of horror, Winning has crafted a story that slowly unravels and has the reader, as well as the main character Laura, trying to decipher what is and what isn’t real. With plenty of nods to classic horrors, ‘Burn the Negative’ is essentially a story about how the past always catches up with you no matter how hard you try to out-run it. For Laura, she believes that moving from the US to the UK and changing her name was enough but her return to L.A. proves that unfinished business will always find you in the end.
When Laura first arrives in L.A. she’s not aware that the series she’s reporting on is inspired by the infamous film she starred in. To her knowledge, her editor and those around her have no idea that she’s really Polly Tremaine so the coincidence feels incredibly random. After witnessing a man jumping from a bridge upon her arrival in L.A., Laura becomes uneasy and when she starts to see the Needle Man, the monster at the centre of ‘The Guesthouse’, she wonders if she might be going a little crazy. As the bodies pile up, and history starts repeating, Laura finds herself in a race against time to prove her innocence and uncover what’s really going on.
‘Burn the Negative’ starts off strongly. Laura is a character you quickly warm to and as snippets of her life are cleverly revealed, often through newspaper clippings and script pages, you start to put the pieces together as to what’s actually going on. The arrival of Laura’s sister Amy , who forms part of the detective team along with psychic Beverly who is working on the new TV series, switches things up a notch and it adds a bit of family conflict that allows us to dig deeper into Laura’s upbringing. Winning does some great work exploring the dynamics between a reluctant child star and her pushy mother, and that relationship instantly brings to mind plenty of Hollywood stars from the last few decades.
Where ‘Burn the Negative’ falters is its conclusion. I don’t want to give away spoilers but what I will say is that high concept horror historically has difficulty bringing a story to a satisfactory close. Unfortunately, this novel doesn’t quite manage it although Winning makes a valiant effort. For the most part the book treads a fine line between reality and the supernatural, but it’s the attempt to explain the Needle Man that doesn’t quite land. Winning throws his all at making a grand conclusion to his story but the eventual reveal didn’t work for me.
‘Burn the Negative’ is a fairly quick read and for horror fans it will certainly be a page-turner. It’s a shame that the conclusion doesn’t hit the high bar the first half of the book sets but if you choose to just go along for the ride, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. As someone who has spent most of their life wading through the horror genre, I appreciated how much Winning’s love of the genre shines from the pages but I really wish that the ending had been stronger.
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Released date: 11th July 2023 Buy ‘Burn the Negative’ now
This article contains an affiliate link. Sales through this link may result in us earning a commission.