NOMINATED for Best Novel in the Australian Shadows Awards 2018.
My horror novel, Contrition, was released on 3 September 2018 in Australia/UK and New Zealand. The North American release occurred in November 2018.
In her late teens, Meredith Berg-Olsen had all the makings of a runway model. Now in her late forties, after everything she had been through – including horrors that John could only guess at – she looked bloodless instead of pale, skeletal instead of slender, more dead than alive…
John Penrose has two secrets. One is the flatmate he keeps hidden from the world: his high-school sweetheart, Meredith. His other secret is the reason he feels compelled to look after her.
Contrition is a horror story with noir undertones and an atmosphere of mounting dread.
[Cover design by Bram Stoker Award-winning illustrator Greg Chapman.]
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EXAMPLES OF READER REVIEWS
Geneve Flynn 5/5 stars (Amazon): Contrition is a superb psychological thriller set in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. The writing is taut, sharply observed and claustrophobic, making for a simultaneously unsettling and compulsive read.
Destiny Pifer 5/5 stars (Goodreads): I devoured this book in literally two days it was that good. From the very first page you are immediately sucked into this world of pure horror and you can’t help but feel for the poor guy who has unknowingly welcomed a monster into his home. As the story progresses you find yourself trying to figure out what happened to Meredith and why she acts the way that she does. You want the lead John Penrose to find happiness but you know that Meredith isn’t going to let him out of her clutches that easily. One of the most fantastic horror novels I have read in a long time! It was so good that I let my brother borrow it because even he was intrigued by it. A definite five star rating!
Anne (Facebook): Hi Deborah I just finished reading ” Contrition” & I loved it😁
So many twists, turns, & shocks! I love the characters, you have a talent bringing your characters to life, making them believable. Another thrilling tale from a master of horror writing 👏👏
Robyn O’Sullivan 5/5 stars (Goodreads): Contrition is another high-pressure horror story from Deb Sheldon. When we meet John Penrose, we learn that he is moving house, lives alone, and likes gardening. Before long, we also learn that John has a secret and, in order to keep this secret, he has to tell lies and maintain his life in an orderly routine. Then John meets Donna and he begins to imagine he can have a life with her. That’s when the lies, the routine, and the secret all spin out of control. This is a real page-turner with an end that is beyond extraordinary!
Allen James 5/5 stars (Goodreads): Very creepy. Great characters. Unexpected twists and turns. The pacing ramped up nicely and each chapter left on a cliffhanger. I didn’t see the end coming but when it did it made sense.
Anne Mccluskey 5/5 stars (Goodreads): “Contrition” is another gem from Deborah Sheldon. The storyline is brilliant & intriguing as the characters are built up. There are plenty of twists & shocks, that kept me enthralled to the end. Once again, Deborah has written a story unlike any other – this one is another wonderful feast of horror from her pen. As always, this story makes me want to read more of Deborah Sheldon’s work.
Stephanie 4/5 stars (Goodreads): Very dark and very grim. Not an easy read at times as you begin to discover what Meredith, former lover of the main character, John Penrose has become. Believing himself guilty of an appalling crime, John looks after Meredith as an act of penance despite the suffering her actions cause him. During this time, he spirals into alcoholism whilst being in a state of self-denial until he finds, at last, a woman who can give his life real meaning. If only he didn’t have Meredith lurking in the background…
How far would you go to make up for past wrongs? What would you endure to atone for something terrible that happened long ago? How strong is the binding power of love … and guilt … and shame? Is it worth upending your whole life to save someone else’s? Where’s the line between duty/obligation and self-preservation? What would you put yourself through to keep a secret?
When he discovers his high-school sweetheart homeless, John Penrose goes above and beyond. He doesn’t just try to help her. He takes her in. But, as he quickly learns from her disturbed and disturbing behaviors, he also has to keep her hidden. Hidden from his landlords, his neighbors, everyone.
And there are a succession of landlords and neighbors; Meredith has particular dislikes for traffic noises, yard work, neighborhood pets, kids, etc. Although she’s supposed to stay inside, she always eventually slips out, and there are only so many incidents people can overlook or pass off before they start getting suspicious.
They can’t stay in any one place long, frequently moving, hopping from one rental property to another as John struggles to hang onto his job and make ends meet. He has no social life. He can’t have anyone over. Maintaining his carefully-constructed story is its own challenge.
Also, more and more, he’s having a hard time getting past just how weird Meredith’s become. Spooky. Even dangerous. Her eating habits, for instance … the boxes she doesn’t want him to look in … the gaps in her memory … the peculiar scars.
The latest move brings a new complication. Her name is Donna, the friendly, attractive, single mom who lives across the street. John likes her. Meredith doesn’t. Plus, John is piecing together more of Meredith’s missing years, as well as confronting his own memories about their school years, and what happened to her brother.
Instantly intriguing, brimming with building psychological dread and tension, it’d be a gripping thriller even without the horrific creepy paranormal elements. Really enjoyable, if not entirely comfortable, making the reader look inward to wonder what he or she might do. – Christine Morgan
Contrition, by Deborah Sheldon, is one of those books that once started on, you just cannot put down.
I found it intriguing from the beginning; I was desperate to know what the secrets were. Just what was Meredith? What had John done? The author does a fantastic job of keeping the reader guessing, and withholding just enough to keep us turning those pages, without us losing interest or faith in the book. The pace is very fast, there is always something happening or about to happen and we are never quite sure what. I knew the payoff would be worth it, and quite frankly, the ending is brilliant.
The back-story, the history of John and Meredith, goes from normal to ‘what in the hell’ at great intervals. We get tossed just the right amount of detail and the right times.
I secondary story of John dealing with alcoholism was treated with dignity and respect. I feel that the author has either had personal dealings with the disease or she had really done her research. Coming from a family with alcohol problems past and current, I felt a kinship to John; I was really rooting for him throughout. He had a lot to deal with, past and present. The toll that Meredith was taking on him, his day to day life, and his mental well-being; he truly is a strong character. This is something that really came across well in the narrative.
I am annoyed at myself for taking so long to read Contrition. It has been a long standing title in my to-read list, and for the impact it had on me, I really wish I had gotten to it sooner. It is one of those books that will stick with you for a long time afterwards.
I cannot recommend this enough, Deborah Sheldon is a great author, and she knows how to write deep and real characters. She can tell a tale and she can scare the crap out of you. This is a terrifying story of the human condition. – Lesley-Ann
This is the latest horror/thriller from Australian writer Deborah Sheldon, just published on 3 September 2018 from IFWG Publishing and is available on amazon to purchase. Sheldon has created a seemingly ordinary Mr Average, John Penrose, as her protagonist, however it becomes clear very quickly (and at 240 pages there is no extra fat on the bone in this tale) he lives a not so ordinary life. He might have a boring dead end job, rent in the suburbs, no friends and no social life and drink too much beer, but he has an extraordinary secret lodging with him. Both literally sharing his rental home and sharing his back story, set 30 years previously, which still casts long toxic shadows into the present day.
The unravelling of the past when the young, shy college lad John Penrose meets and becomes entwined in the lives of the twins Lyle and Meredith Berg-Olsen, both of whom he loves in different ways but with deadly consequences, is slotted in beside the current day narrative describing John’s tedious existence – moving from rental house to rental house, when issues arise with Meredith and her behaviour.
John still loves his Merry, he still sees her with the eyes of his first teenage love, but to us the reader, it is apparent Meredith is not the girl she once was and John is blinded by devotion. Sheldon cleverly gives us clues and hints, but avoids the full reveal about what ails Meredith, until the climax, which is exciting and well constructed and takes an unexpected turn in the last few pages.
A neighbour, a single mother, Donna with a daughter in tow, takes a shine to John, and they begin a sweet gentle courtship but in the neighbourhood animals keep going missing, Meredith never goes out of the house in daylight hours, a ‘witch’ is seen outside Donna’ s windows and John learns new facts about his past from an old school mate now working for a circus performing in town. The mundanities of life are being undermined.
John has a truly unnerving night time encounter with Meredith’s homeless friend, Sebastian, which has John racing for his life through the suburb’s back gardens. Meanwhile at home the tension mounts. Long before John asks the killer questions, we the reader are suspicious – of Meredith and her hobby boxes and of what did happen that summer day with Lyle down by the river, for which John has carried a lifetime of ‘Contrition’ and provides the motivations for all that he does thereafter.
This is a pacy, exciting read with strong horror content and some gruesome scenes which are well written but not for the faint hearted reader. If you don’t like shocks and scares this is not for you. There are noir currents at play here too, John Penrose is very much a man trapped by his femme fatale and one fateful act carried out one long ago summer’s day, which changed his life and from which he cannot get out from under. The guy just never catches a break. You’re hoping he will turn things around, but just for like Elisha Cook, Jnr in all those noir B movies of the 1940’s, you know deep down, it’s not going to happen. – Alyson Faye
Deborah Sheldon uses well elements of suspense to device a bizarre story of secrets. John Penrose can only lie so much before ghosts and skeletons of his past start catching up with him. As the winter breeze carries a chill and rented suburbia apartments fall into disrepair, there is John and his Meredith—and she is quite an anomaly.
Meredith’s stillness, her blank expressions, thin lips and the circles around her eyes make her little more than the ghost of the woman John once loved. When things spark up between him and fellow tenant Donna, John is astonished by the extent to which his ‘come-we-stay’ Meredith will go to keep a stranglehold on him. But Meredith is not the only secret in John’s life—who killed her brother?
Things get weird, really weird, towards the end and the story with its elements of zombiism gets stranger than fiction. The thing that inhabits Meredith gets dramatic and gory and unfathomable. That which is left of her, is it human?
Contrition has elements of strong dialogue in places. It offers a robust characterisation of Meredith whose very existence satisfies the horror quotient. But the story does not take you to that next level that makes it extraordinary. John as the protagonist is not memorable and his fling with Donna comes along with much narration.
Nonetheless there are elements of the story that would freeze one up, quicken the heart rate and cause startle if dramatised with the right riff in the gut of a film. – Eugen Bacon