Sunday, January 31, 2016

Of Houdini and mediums

The Box Jumper

By Lisa Mannetti

Publisher: Smart Rhino Publishing

Pub. Date: September 30, 2015

Rating: 4 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

Lisa Mannetti’s The Box Jumper is a novella that seduces you with exquisite prose, keeps you wanting more due to a a teasing narrative from a unreliable narrator, and leaves you with the bittersweet aftertaste of existential angst. It is a mesmerizing if challenging combination of a mystery, bio-fictional drama, and a slowly developing touch of the supernatural. Much of that challenge has to do with the non-linear telling of the story by our main character. Leona Derwatt is the long-time assistant and confidant of legendary magician and escape artist Harry Houdini. In the parlance of the magic trade she is a Box Jumper, one who assists the magician in pulling off the tricks of his trade. Leona is also essential to Houdini’s later stage of his life which centers on exposing fake mediums and their séances. The practice makes Houdini a few enemies that not only affect his life but haunts Leona’s far after Houdini’s death.

It is the narrative of this haunting tale that makes it both a challenging read and one that surrounds the reader with awe and mystery. The first person narrative is that of Leona’s and it is the type that we believe at first but then question. She leaps back and forth to different time frames. One is in the 20s when Houdini is still alive and the other is in her later years as she is confronted by unwelcome reminders of the past. Some of the narration is fairly straight, especially those where we learn about Houdini, Leona’s complex connection to him, and his obsession with fake mediums. Other parts reads like a fever dream, a psychedelic nightmare. The narration is always involving and beautiful, a testament to the author’s poetic skills. The darkness of the story hold you partially because Leona seems so real and alive.

Another successful touch is the author’s combining of historical characters and those that are fictional . Leona is the lead fictional character. Yet much of the tension evolves around Houdini and the Sherlock Holmes writer Arthur Conan Doyle, whose belief in the supernatural is threatened by Houdini’s exposure of the fake psychics. I believe the other protagonists in this tale such as Emory, a competing magician, and Evelyn, a medium with questionable tactics and motives, are fictional yet Mannetti blends the real and fictional so well together that I would not be surprised if they, or a factual equivalence, actually existed.

The Box Jumper is fairly short at just over 100 pages. So it is important not to give much away. Yet it is not really the plot that I recommend it for. It is the joy of seeing a talented and gifted writer weave a literary spell. It is the writing that shines and if the nontraditional telling is a bit challenging, the writing is not. This is one of those books that may be lumped into the dark fantasy genre but deserved to be read by anyone who loves a quality novel.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A demonic western

Hell's Bounty

By Joe R. Lansdale & John L. Lansdale

Publisher: Subterranean Press

Pub: February 29, 2016

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

I like my westerns weird. Zombie action. Deals with devils. Silver bullets. Demon horses. Hell's Bounty has all of that and then some. This supernatural yarn by the Lansdale brothers reads like a whirlwind of bullets and brimstone. It is a delightful menage of pulp western and Weird Tales horror that is over too quickly and begs for a re-read.It is also a sugary supernatural confection for the mind with about the same lack of nutrients, but let's face it. Man cannot live on prime rib and artichokes alone.

Smith is a bounty hunter and not a very nice person to put it mildly. He is in the town of Falling Rock to apprehend a criminal dead or alive. While he gets his man, dead, a run-in with a vicious hombre named Trumbo Quill and a miscalculation over the length of a dynamite fuse sends him straight to Hell. However, Hell's bartender Snappy (guess who?) has a deal for him. Smith is to return to Falling Rock and take on Quill who has now been possessed by the demon Zelzarda and is planning to let loose The Ancient Ones on unsuspecting Earth. It appears even God and the devil are no match for Lovecraftian evils.

Smith is sent back to Earth, now a year after his death. The rest becomes the grit in the tale with Smith teaming up with the survivors of Falling Rock and a few helpers from the underworld. Quill is the now demonic heavy who is guarded by smart-ass ghouls. It is pretty much non-stop action but the Brothers Lansdale occasionally slows it down to reveal a story of personal growth and redemption. After no anti-hero is worth his weight in silver if the hero part doesn't tip the scale at least a little bit.

This short novel screams pulp and Joe R. Lansdale is probably the most pulp oriented of the contemporary writers of horror, mystery and western. He has been delving into western quite a bit lately and this one takes me back to one of his first supernatural westerns, Dead in the West. It is both a throw-back and an improvement with colorful descriptions and sharp witty dialog that moves the story like a hellbound train. Yet even with the clear redemption angle, it something feel too pulp. His latest western oriented novels, noticeably The Thicket and Paradise Sky, are some of his best work with themes to rival the dense literary canons. Lansdale is at his peak. Yet Hell's Bounty feels a little like a pit stop, a fun excursion in the pits of Western BBQ Hell. But it is a hell of a lot of fun. So that is how I recommend you read it, like a roller coaster ride before the main event. Pulp Lansdale is great. Lansdale at the peak of his career with a message among the fun and horror is greater. Even with the redemption theme, the most message you will get from Hell's Bounty is don't go to Hell and carry a lot of silver. So enjoy Hell's Bounty, but think of it as an appetizer before the vast bounties of the Landsdale universe to come. Three and a half stars.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Revenge from the grave

Death Do Us Part

By J. G. Faherty

Publish: Samhain Publishing

Pub. Date: January 6, 2015

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Vengeance can be nasty business, as J. G. Faherty so creatively demonstrates in his short work of weird fiction, Death Do Us Part. Catherine Stanhope has allegedly committed suicide by driving her car off a cliff. What would be a tragedy to most has mixed blessings for her husband Art. He is mostly relieved, for the vindictive and tumultuous Catherine has made his life and his son’s life miserable. He has asked for a divorce shortly before the suicide and is in love with Catherine’s sister, Missy. It appears his life with his son and Missy can proceed without the viciousness of his now deceased wife. Yet odd and violent incidents are happening in the house and Catherine appears to be reaching out from beyond the grave to enact her revenge.

Faherty’s almost a novella hits hard with a tight plot and lots of action for an approximately 80 page story. There is a mystery involved but it is a thin one. We know from the first chapter that Catherine did not commit suicide but we do not know who killed her. It isn’t really that hard to figure it out but it is Catherine’s obsessive and murderous obsession to wreak havoc on everyone she blames, which seems to be her entire family, that drives the story. There is a gypsy-like medium who helps out the bad-luck Stan and his family. Stan is maybe the weakest link. Despite his unenviable situation, there is not really enough background and development to feel all that bad for him. He seems to be a sounding board for the terrors to come. Yet it hardly matters because Catherine steals the show as the harbinger of evil whether it is as a threatening poltergeist or a murderous entity. One of the cool moves in this tale is how Catherine develops from a scary threat to a truly terrifying bringer of death. We know from the first page, Catherine is bad news and we are taken along for the ride. Faherty’s main success in this tale is the development of a growing terror that becomes stronger and more threatening to Art and his family.

In many ways, Death Do Us Part is a typical ghost story of spectral revenge. But it is how the reader stays hooked in watching the evil grow and rises up that makes it way above average. There are some interesting twists in this story mostly centering on Catherine and her evil vendetta. The shortness of the book will make this an exhilarating can't-put-down type of read for most. Faherty rarely fails to scare and entertain and this short but loaded story is no exception.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Of bugs and men..and fungus

I Will Rot Without You

By Danger Slater

Publisher: Fungasm Press

Pub Date: February, 2015

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Whenever I read a Bizarro novel, I wonder if I will live through it. I have risked my life in literary jungles before. I grew up on Luis Bunuel movies and equally surreal books and films. I cut my teeth on William S Burroughs and the beats. I navigated through the wide open ranges of Transgressive Literature and I’m still not sure what that is. I journeyed through the scattered corpses of Splatterpunk. But Bizarro sometimes scares me.

The best way to describe Bizarro is as a tricked out version of everything I mentioned above. It is surrealism revved up by influences from Manga, Marvel anti-heroes, and B Horror Movies. With a few exceptions it is a young man’s (or woman’s) game. One for someone young and foolish enough to break the rules and go where the id takes you.

I Will Rot Without You by Danger Slater is an especially tricky piece of novelistic mayhem because it has a weird sweetness to it. That is a strange thing to say about a book that centers around mold and cockroaches, but it is there. If Richard Brautigan and William S. Burroughs had a baby it would be Danger. Anyone remember Joe’s Apartment, that terrible MTV produced movie about an apartment infested with cockroaches? Think of a version that is ten times better with a script by Kafka and envisioned by David Cronenberg and you are close to the experience of this bug and fungus infested novel but not quite.

What makes I Will Rot Without You work is that the author places the narrator in a empathetic and even everyman’s persona while subjecting him through a nightmare of body horror and downright disgusting violence and gore. Ernie is struggling through the breakup with his girlfriend Gretchen. Immediately after her departure, cockroaches have taken over his place and repulsive but seemingly sentient mold is rapidly growing to alarming proportions. The cockroaches are led by one of their own named Cross who is as involving and interesting as you will find any literary character who is a cockroach. Ernie finds them feeding him the pinkish mold while he sleep and starts to experience strange and terrible transformations to his body. In the meantime he is attracted to Dee, the girl next door, but when he approaches her, he is attacked by her boyfriend whose arms and other appendages are attached to her body. Then the weird stuff starts.

There are other outlandish things going on such as the old man who made his dead wife into a marionette. The author makes these characters fit in his unique world. The most realistic in-the-world character for me is Mr. Shakribarti, the verbally abusive landlord, but only because I once had a landlord just like him right down to the obscenities. . All this bizarreness and the casual way each character accepts it, at least at first, is par for the Bizarro course. Yet Slater cleverly weaves in a theme to the madness. It doesn’t take long to realize he is talking about relationships and its constructive and destructive abilities. The author’s elegant prose stands out, takes us through the odd occurrences, and gives it a beauty and meaning all its own.

In the end, Slater shows us what good Bizarro is all about. The best Bizarro is not just weird but weird with a purpose. His wonderfully descriptive and poetic prose is worth the admittance alone but I Will Rot Without You is so good on many levels that I recommend this to anyone, even those that hate cockroaches and mold. If you have never read a Bizarro novel, this would be a good one to start with. If you have, it is still a must read.

Friday, January 15, 2016

To BEE or not to BEE

Night of the ZomBEEs

By Kevin David Anderson.


Publisher: Ronin Books

Date: November 8, 2015

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Shaun and Toby live in Honeywell Springs, the “Honey Bee Capital of the World”, which is something 13 year old Shaun is not delighted about, having this “thing” about the buzzers. It is Founders Day where everyone dresses up like bees and wear black and gold. But before the festival starts, Shaun must make a grocery delivery to Dr. Romero (get it?) who is doing secret experiments with bees. Dr. Romero’s genetically altered bees, being the size of chihuahuas, have escaped and are headed to the town’s festival. It is up to Toby and the melissophobic Shaun to warn the town. Did I mention that the sting of these dog sized bees turn people into zombies? Did I need to mention that considering the title of the novel?

Geared at the young adult and maybe slighter younger crowd, Night of the ZomBEEs by Kevin David Anderson is one of the funniest zombie novels I have read in a while. Anderson is no stranger to the satiric sci-fi/horror comedy having previously written Night of the Living Trekkies. In his major protagonists, he gives us two smart but picked-on nerds in Shaun and Toby and teams them with Samantha aka Sam. She is usually a bully to the two “Dweebs” but Shaun has a secret crush on her. Shaun and Toby provides the very smart dialogue while Sam gives the team its tension. The dialogue is one of the best things about the book. It is sharp but still sounds early teen. The adults are a different matter. Like many YA books of this variety, the adults are there as fodder for the disaster and a sounding board for the kids’ eventual one-upsmanship. It is no spoiler in a YA book like this to say the kids save the day. How they save the day is where the fun is.

Yet as an adult, I found it quite amusing as long as I let my inner child wander a bit. There are plenty of references to chuckle at for both the adult and teen zombie movie fan. Remember Dr. Romero? I also learned how to play “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock. (Spock vaporizes rock but lizard poisons Spock). Since Shaun and Toby are James Bond fans, we also get plenty of references to the secret agent as they argue if they are really brave enough, or stupid enough, to try what they are thinking of doing.

I can’t say that Night of the ZomBEEs explores any new territory. It follows the tried and true zombie format fairly closely. Yet there is a large measure of FUN in capital letters that makes this story work. There is violence of the B-Movie zombie variety but it never goes into what I consider gore. Actually I would have no trouble recommending this to the Tween category which I suspect it was written for rather than the broader “12-18” age range. Night of the ZomBEEs is an imaginative romp through both the zombie and mutated animal genres that succeeds on wit and imagination. Recommended for all zombie fans, adult and teens alike.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A venomous psychological thriller

The Poison Artist

By Jonathan Moore

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 

Pub Date: January 26, 2016

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In Jonathan Moore's incredibly intelligent and creepy psychological horror/suspense novel The Poison Artist, San Francisco toxicologist Caleb Maddox has an emotional breakup with his girlfriend and is nursing his misery over a few drinks in a nondescript bar. He meets a femme-fatale type over a class of absinthe and becomes infatuated with this woman whose obsession with secrecy is as mysterious and enticing as the timing in which they meet. There happens to be a number of other stressful events going on around Caleb at this point in his life. He is struggling with a funded research project that deals with the effects of pain on the brain and body and his long-time friend Henry, a forensics examiner, is asking him for advice on a string of suspected drownings that may also involve chemical poisoning which are happening in the Bay Area.

Caleb Maddox is the focus of Moore’s novel and it is a blurry focus at best at the beginning. We do not know at first the reason for the tumultuous break-up but we know it must have been of the devastating variety. We slowly discover that Caleb has had a traumatic childhood with his artist father but we do not know the details until much later. What becomes obvious early on is that Caleb is very troubled and very fragile. He makes a lot of stupid moves during the novel but we stick with him because those moves make a certain amount of sense within the range of Caleb’s life and pain. The “stupid moves” seem to mean something, which is kind of a neat trick for the author to play. The mysterious woman is also fragile but creepy. She is the type of woman that novels like The Woman in White and the movies like Vertigo made famous and is a stalwart of this type of psychological thriller. Caleb’s obsession with this woman either makes for a majestic epic or a creepy and scary masterpiece of the nightmare kind and I suspect you already know where this one is headed.

Just as important is the string of murders that Caleb’s friend is working on. They appear to be drownings but tests shows a particular sameness in their injuries and involves a particular substance in their bodies. Caleb’s expertise as a toxicologist brings him into this investigation but on the sly since he is also one of the last people to see the most recent victim alive. Caleb’s role as secret adviser and possible suspect causes a strange precarious balancing act for him and brings him into the proverbial spider web just the more tightly.

All these twists, overlapping sub-plots and behavioral motives make for a complex yet hypnotizing read. It is one in which we may be a bit unsure of the main protagonist but can’t resist seeing how far he will drag himself in. And of course mysterious femme fatales are always a plus. The delight in the novel is that Moore plays it out so well. He weaves all the spider silk together and never falls off the beam. The trick is to give us just enough to keep us going, a little more to say, “I think I know” but not enough to really know and perhaps even be shocked when we do know. There are enough turns and red herring to keep the most jaded mystery buff wondering. Yet in something like this, it is not the who-done-it that excites me as much as the dark and complex minds of our protagonist and the woman that obsesses him to do actions that most of us would shake our heads at. This is the hallmark of the psychologist thriller. The entrapment into the darkness caused by the faulty workings of a mind that goes beyond reasoning. The Poison Artist fits neatly with that handful of exceptional psychological suspense novels that capture that dark and unenviable passion that lead to terror and horror. The Poison Artist is an eerie but well-structured excursion into that dark territory and is recommended to anyone who loves a good literary suspense novel.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Ellison returns

Can & Can'tankerous

By Harlan Ellison

Publisher: Subterranean 

Pub Date: December 31, 2015

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

Harlan Ellison either made me weird or made me grow up. I still cant figure out which one it is.

I was a normal but nerdy kid in my teens. I played the clarinet in the high school band, read voraciously, and sneaked peeks at horror movies on TV and scary comics when my parents weren't watching. I also discovered science fiction when I was eleven years old . The school and community library mainly had books by Heinlein, Clarke, Norton and Asimov, the nerdy boy's sci-fi drugs of choice. At 16, I convinced my parents to let me join the Doubleday Science Fiction Book Club. When you joined, you got a bunch of books as an incentive, 9 for 99 cents or something like that. One of those books was the anthology Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison.

It was either a wake up call or an invite into the group mind for the perverse. These were science fiction stories but filled with topics, language, emotions and controversy not visited by the usual 60s schoolboy rather than the more technological but simplified social mindsets of Heinlein and Asimov. There were horror elements in some but most of all they made me think...a lot. Dangerous Visions introduced me to a number of authors that made an everlasting impact on me including Philip K. Dick, Fritz Leiber, J. G. Ballard,...and Harlan Ellison.

I started hunting down the books of Harlan Ellison in my often obsessive style .Ellison arguably did his best work in the 60s and 70s; "Repent, Repent Said the Ticktockman", "I Have No Mouth but I Must Scream", "A Boy and his Dog", and "Shatterday" are all important and now classic short fiction. The list is long. But it left me yearning not for the mainstream but for the unusual. The fiction that your father and mother wouldn't understand. The tales that seemed a little off from the polite society. The type of stories that sensed of chaos but smelled of relevancy. For the social concerns of Ellison's mind were never far away in any of his writings. If his stories sometimes felt rude and manic, it was rudeness that came with the anger of observing social injustice and wondering why the "Visigoths" in our society were so blind to it. For me, the stories of Ellison were just as much as an awakening and a foundation for my growth as a human being as the Civil Rights Movement, men on the moon, and the assassination of Kennedy and King.

So now we are in the 21th century. Harlan is in his 70s and recently has suffered a stroke, although he is recovering and from what I hear from people still in touch with him, he is "still Ellison" which I imagine evokes in some people a nostalgic feeling of pleasure, relief and dread. Can & Can'tankerous is his newest collection of stories featuring, as stated by the publisher, "ten previously uncollected tales from the fifth and sixth decades of Harlan Ellison’s professional writing career". A couple stories are 21th century rewrites of earlier fiction from the 50s. The others are not on the level of his classics like his work from the 70s. That would be asking too much from a writer who has already surpassed both quantity and quality of most writers his age. Yet the Ellison wit, style, and emotion are all there. Some stories like "How Interesting, a Tiny Man" shows the social mind of Ellison that often waivers between idealism and cynicism. "Never Send to Know For Whom the Lettuce Wilts" displays his quirky humor in a tale that starts with the search for a fortune cookie factory and ends with very weird aliens. "Incognita Inc". is a homage to the cartography of imaginary worlds and feels a bit Bradbury to me. "Goodbye to All That" at first reads like a single punchline story but says a lot in a few pages with an climatic wry reference that I guess some people didn't get.. "The Toad Prince or Sex Queen of the Martian Pleasure Dome" is the longest, most fantastical and most intricate story of the lot. It display much of what makes Ellison so original. It is possibly the best of the ten but picking a best Ellison tale even among the ten in this collection is a very subjective matter.

Ellison includes introductions and sometimes afterwords to the stories giving insight in how they came about and how they were received. But the most intriguing bit of non-fiction throughout the book are brief italicized segments that describe his stroke in 2014. They add an extra dimension to the book and are consistent with the writer's habit of placing everything out there for you to see.

Rating this work, though, causes the reviewer to admit to some issues. The nature of uncollected stories throughseveral decades give the collection a haphazard feel. His best collections like Deathbird Stories and Shatterday have an intensity and mood through them like glue for the mind. These stories feel more like also-rans even if they would give Sea Biscuit a run for his money. Yet that running description of his stroke does manage to bring them together in a way unusual to a collection. He also gives some insight in the art of writing in his introductions. I am also happy to hear that through the decades he still has his beloved portable Olympic typewriter and kept up with his two fingered 120 words a minute, at least until his stroke and with Ellison...perhaps even now?

So in the fickled and unscientific art of reviewing , especially with established authors who tend to be judged by the bulk of their work., I would give this a 3.5 out of 5 stars. It is a splendid work but mainly for those already captured in Ellisonland. For the readers still to discover Ellison, I must direct to either Deathbird Stories or Shatterday then they can check out where the master has taken us.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

John Waters hitchhikes across America.


By John Waters


Publisher:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I really like John Waters' take on pretty much everything. He has a good eye for pop culture and a wry observational style that brings out the bad and good in everyone including himself. So I was surprised I couldn't really get into Carsick, John Waters' chronicle of a hitchhiking journey across America. The most glaring reason is that only the third section is about the actual trip. The first and second section are fictional accounts of the best that could happen and the worst that could happen. They are well written and amusing. Waters can do no less. But I felt they distracted from the point of a literary travel book about America, an account of a travel that confronts you with the real face of America and , especially when you have an astute observer like Waters, an investigation in the contemporary state of culture and country. When I think of books like this, I think of Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck and Blue Highways by William Least Moon, two of my favorite all-time non-fiction works. I realize it may be unfair to throw any book into a stack that include such insightful and revealing classics, but that is what happens when you enter the territory. At least, Moon and Steinbeck wrote exclusively about the travels in their books.

So that leaves the third non-fictional part, the real story. It's good. it's entertaining. But it didn't really tell me much. It felt in a hurry and didn't give me insight like other books by Waters. In the long run, I really could not get into it. Overall, I felt a little cheated. And I felt a little sad because I really wanted this book to be more. I know a lot of people who liked it. But I found myself wanting to dig out Travels with Charley or Blue Highways, books that define the nature of the travel-across-America genre and revealed the real natures and dreams of the average resident of this country.

But I will give John Waters credit. I have done a lot of hitchhiking in my youthful days and now, in my mid sixties, the idea of doing the same fills me with fear and trembling. Waters must have big cajones to do what he did in his mid-sixties. I also love his cardboard sign "Not Psycho" which is the best cardboard sign I ever heard of second only to a panhandler on the street whose sign read "Will be president for food".

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A look at one of the Ripper suspects

Prisoner 4347

By A. J. Griffiths-Jones

Publisher:  Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd. 

Pub. Date: May 29, 2015

Rating: 2 & 1/2 out of 5 stars


Of all the possible candidates for Jack the Ripper, Dr. Thomas Neil Cream may be the most unlikely. Born in 1850 and hung for murder at Newgate Prison in 1892, he is occasionally touted as one of the possible suspects. He was a murderer himself responsible for the death of several women and one man in Canada, the United States, and England. Yet his link to Jack the Ripper is only in the unsubstantiated rumor that he stated at the moment of his hanging, "I am Jack the...". (One biographer has suggested that Cream actually said in a moment of great fear and panic, "I am ejaculating" but that is probably as far fetched as "I am Jack the..".) But whatever rumors and innuendos existed to link him with Jack the Ripper, there are two bits of information that makes it nearly impossible.

1. Cream preferred poison not knives or surgical equipment. Serial killers rarely change their mode of operations. But even more convincing...

2. Thomas Neil Cream was in Joliet Prison in Illinois for a murder when the infamous Ripper slayings took place in 1888. He was not released until 1891.

In Prisoner 4374, A. J. Griffiths-Jones accounts the life and crimes of Thomas Neil Cream from his start as an abortionist at the age of 24 to his death at 42. I must say up front that I was a little disappointed with the back cover blurb that insinuated that Cream may have actually bribed his way out of prison to do the crimes and had a "doppleganger" take his place in his cell. For this is never a claim made in Griffiths-Jones' book. The author makes it clear early on that she does not believe Cream committed the Whitechapel murders. So what we have is a biography of sort about Cream who was dubbed the Lambeth Poisoner by the British press. The author chooses to tell the story of the Lambeth Poisoner in first narrative as Cream himself might have written it. And thus lies the problem. Is this a novel or a true crime documentation of his life? Although the author states she extensively researched her subject, and I am sure she did, there are no footnotes or appendix with references and some photos of Cream and papers such as a few letters and his sentence commutation which are too small to read and have no description of what they entail. With the first person narration it is difficult to assert the facts from what the author perceives in dramatic license as Creams' perception and opinion. So essentially, Prisoner 4374 only works as a fictional biography.

Fortunately, it works fairly well at that level. Griffiths-Jones does have a casual yet distinct style that brings out the personality in what must have been a charismatic if morally bankrupt man. The author adds a flair to the narrative and shows more than a little understanding of a anti-social personality depicted the way Cream makes excuses for his behavior and justifies his deeds. In its own way, it is an enjoyable read of a murderer who, despite the questionable linkage to Jack, has a certain villainous attraction of his own. One of the things that draws me to the story is that in Cream, we have a murderer who worked on two continents, something that is unusual and a dubious achievement at the time. Certainly anyone who enjoys reading about murderers and especially serial killers will find this entertaining.

But even though I enjoyed the story, It seems like there was a lot more to be said than a brief imaginary autobiography. Cream and his villainy stands equal to others in his Victorian times like H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper whoever he really was. There never was a real link to Jack the Ripper and it is unfortunate that the author felt she needed to tease that link to get it going. The good thing about this book is that it is a fine introduction to a singular villain of the late 19th century. The not so good thing is that it is mostly just a taste, not deciding if it wants to be fiction or biography. I would recommend this on the standalone weight of the subject matter and apart from the ludicrous Jack the Ripper connection. Also those who like books about serial killers, and there are more of us than you would guess out there, will enjoy reading about one that is lesser known than the usual subjects. But if you are attracted to the book solely on the Ripper connection, you will be disappointed.

Friday, January 1, 2016

A house of nightmares

Prince of Nightmares

By John McNee


Publisher: Blood Bound Books

Pub Date: January 1, 2016

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Prince of Nightmares by John McNee goes for the slow burn at first. Multi-millionaire Victor Teversham is to spend a few days in a hotel with an unusual reputation. Those who stay overnight tend to have very vivid nightmares. The nightmares often involve similar characters who are thought of as ghosts haunting the hotel. The reason Teversham has a reservation at this most sought after "vacation" spot is because his wife booked a reservation for him just before she killed herself.

It is an interesting premise that, with a few explicit nightmares, quietly starts building up the tension and heightens the mystery. By the middle of the novel it is going full speed into scare-the-hell-out-of-me territory. But this is no ordinary haunted house story and the author has a lot more in store for the reader bedsides things that go bump in the night. As Victor has his nightmares and meets the other guests, his assistant Harry is attempting to discover the mystery of the inn and finds more than just haunts and spirits.

This is a nice twist on the haunted house theme. McNee knows how to write some vivid and scary scenes. One of the tricks here is to separate the reality from the dreams but have just enough uncertainty in the reader's mind to keep them off balance. The author does this perfectly. You can feel the confusion and fear of the characters as they experience the strange horrors of the house., just as we can understand the seriousness of Harry's revaluation that the house is more than it appears.

If the popularity of the haunted house novel can be gauged by the numerous books of that kind that is making it to my review pile, I would say it is not only very popular butis making a bit of a comeback. But like any often used idea, it needs to be revamped occasionally. Prince of Nightmares is the kind of novel that those looking for more than the usual in this genre would like. I would recommend this to all readers of horror . John McNee manages to put his own signature on the plot and gives us something else. Prince of Nightmares is a nice horror novel to start the year off with. I would recommend it to any reader of horror, and not just of the haunted house variety.