Only the Stains Remain by Ross Jeffrey [Book review]

Jude and Kyle are two young brothers growing up in the early 80s on their family’s farm. What promised to be an idyllic upbringing became the stuff of nightmares when their mother succumbs to cancer, leaving the pair to be brought up by their alcoholic father. What follows is a relentless string of abuse that ultimately ends in tragedy, one which Jude carries through into adulthood.

book cover for Only The Stains Remain by Ross Jeffery

Unable to move past the events that transpired, Jude, now a grown man, is defined by an upbringing he can’t leave in his past. Not while the ghosts of his childhood remain amongst the living. He is making his way back home for the first time in years and is long past due some vengeance. 

A fair warning for anyone considering picking up a copy of ‘Only the Stains Remain’, to say it is not for the faint of heart is a hell of an understatement.

I have often seen Ross Jeffery’s work compared to Jack Ketchum and with this latest novella, you can certainly see why. It is unflinchingly brutal, tackling some deeply unpleasant subject matter with ruthless honesty, and carries a pervading sense of hopelessness bordering on the nihilistic. This is one of those rare books that is so effective at creating a world so vivid, populated by characters so well realized, that what they go through makes this a book that is endured, not enjoyed.


The story itself focuses on Jude, switching between his recollections of his childhood, and the present day. The flashbacks focus on the abuse both him and his brother suffered at the hands of his extended family and the present-day sections on Jude enacting revenge for his suffering. It’s a familiar story, reminiscent of revenge movies like ‘Last House on the Left’ and ‘I Spit on Your Grave’, and ‘Only the Stains Remain’ is every bit as uncompromising as these movies. The morality, however, is far more complex. The book takes no pains to justify Jude’s actions, as horrific as the flashbacks may be, and as deserving of punishment as the perpetrators clearly are, and the lengths Jude goes to in order to get his revenge are as inventive as they are appalling but, in the end, there is no catharsis to be had, either for Jude or the reader. 

Ross Jeffery has delivered his most bleak and powerful book to date with ‘Only the Stains Remain’. Grimly violent and unwaveringly downbeat, this won’t be a book for everyone, but it is indisputably a phenomenal achievement. It is no easy task in horror fiction to scare a reader but it is a rare talent indeed that can affect you in such a profound way that, once the final page is read, you know it is not a reading experience you will ever forget.

Richard Martin

Richard Martin


Richard Martin started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatized himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner and an inappropriate amount of books. 

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