john herdman the sinister cabaret


The Sinister Cabaret

by John Herdman


An Edinburgh advocate experiences humiliation and terror in a surreal Scottish Highland adventure.

Gothic, surreal, and type Jungian to the max, this hypnagogic novel from John Herdman will take you to the edge of reason.


Donald Humbie, an Edinburgh advocate of every kind of substance, undergoes an interior experience of humiliation and terror, totally losing his way in a surreal Scottish Highland adventure.

Donald Humbie, leaving behind his career and his wife in Edinburgh, heads north to familiar places for a short break. Unfortunately, the familiar places have become unfamiliar and increasingly hostile.

Each setting, each character, each event is an unsettling side-step away from normality in a dark, surreal landscape that has Donald fleeing manically around the country. Fearing that his wife has been abducted, he seeks out MacNucator, a private detective, to find her.

Meanwhile the Sinister Cabaret, led by the strange and unfathomable Mr Motion, pursues him relentlessly.

John Herdman’s characters inhabit a dark universe illuminated by his profoundly laconic wit. In the Sinister Cabaret he continues the exploration of extreme states of mind and ambiguous interior worlds with the Gothic imagination, which has led critics to compare him with James Hogg and R L Stevenson.




"Provides an entertaining and amusing read that explores issues of control and democracy in a virtual world that falls uneasily between reality and fantasy."

Clare Simpson, Textualities
"He continues a tradition of Scottish surrealism which has been around since Hogg and Galt."
The Herald
"Herdman's writing is a feat of great wit and invention."
Scotland on Sunday
".... skillfully treads a vertiginous edge between satiric comedy and high seriousness."
"The key to understanding Herdman's work is to recognize the colossal and ubiquitous presence of Dostoyevsky. This makes Herdman that rare creature - one whose writing of Scotland and the Scottish is refracted through the lens of the European tradition."
Macdonald Daly
"a fiction writer of skill and ingenuity whose constant shifts and turns perplex and beguile his readers as he weaves prose narratives of surreal power and sharp satirical bite.... The Sinister Cabaret is an intelligent, disturbing, quietly compelling novel: if you have yet to discover Herdman's work, pick up a copy, and treat yourself to something a little different on a cold winter's night."
John Burnside, The Scotsman
"The narrative combines a series of journeys and encounters, an atmosphere compounded of nightmare, comedy and erudition, which is uniquely Herdman... There is a quality of surreal experience, comic nastiness, metaphysical horror ... the always gripping narrative becomes intense and moving."
Isobel Murray, The Herald & Scottish Studies Review
"It is a tribute to Herdman's writing that he evokes so many writers without ever seeming to imitate them .. the quality of Herdman's fantastic imaginings commands respect."
Christopher Whyte, Scotland on Sunday
"This is a rich, complex and deeply rewarding book ... It is arguably the author's finest work of fiction .. The book builds to a tremendous climax and has a startling surprise at the end. This book is a major contribution to modern Scottish fiction and confirms Herdman's importance as an outstanding and singular novelist of the absurd."
Ronald Binns, Amazon review



John Herdman

EBOOK ISBN 9781914090622


  • ISBN: 9781914090615