Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A matter of survival

Final Girls

Riley Sager

Publisher: Dutton

Pub. Date: July 11, 2017

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The term “Final Girl” is a movie term referring to the final woman to confront the killer and survive in a slasher/horror movie. It is a well-known cliché that is prevalent in slasher films like Halloween, Friday the 13th and countless others but in real life it is virtually a non-existent event. Certainly it is common to anyone who has ever seen a slasher film. In the book of the same name by Riley Sager we are invited to contemplate the existence of three final girls and how the events afterward will affect them.

In Final Girls, Quincey Carpenter went to a cabin five years ago with five friends. She becomes the only survivor of a gruesome bloodbath. Before Quincey went through her nightmare, there were previously two similar but different incidents where two other women, Lisa and Samantha, survived a psychotic killer to be the only survivor. The media dubs all three “Final Girls” and, although they never met in person, there is a sense of unity and support between them as members of a club no one wants to be in. Quincy appears to be surviving well with help from her boyfriend and Coop, the police officer who saved her that night and became a sort of guardian for her. However her safety net starts to unravel when Lisa is reported to have committed suicide and Sam shows up on Quincey’s doorstep unannounced and for reasons not clearly apparent.

This sets up what is so far the best thriller to see light in the year of 2016. It is beautifully paced, constantly riveting, and pulls the reader into a tangled relationship that is not clearly revealed until the final chapter. Quincey is both strong in her willingness to survive but also fragile. She does not remember entirely what happened that night and has avoided confronting it, preferring to hide herself in her baking blog and letting her boyfriend and her guardian cop protect her. When Sam arrives it is both welcomed and questioned. Both of them are tough but not totally stable and the reason why Sam has chosen this particular time is constantly on Quincey’s mind. Yet they seem to connect because they went through a similar hell. Sam does indeed have an agenda but what it is will become slowly apparent as various twists and turns occur. Sam seems to be eager to get Quincey to remember the event of five years ago while Quincey feels safe and guarded in her loss of memory. The game between Quincey and Sam deepens while the reader is given flashbacks to Quincey’s horrific night five years ago. These flashbacks gives us more clue to the connection between past, present and the final girls.

I cannot overemphasize how deeply this tale of suspense grabbed me. Quincey is a beautifully complex character with levels of conflicts that one would see in anyone who went through such a nightmare. Sam is more of a mystery but she still rings true as one whose past is overwhelming her. The question forming the mystery are several. What really happened in the death of Lisa? What really happened five years ago at Pine Cottage where Quincy became the only survivor? And what is Sam’s real reason for showing up in Quincey’s life. The answers to these and other questions will probably not be the ones you expect but that is the wonder of a suspense mystery like this.

Final Girls is probably destined to be compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train but that may be unfair. I became fascinated by both Quincey and Sam in a way I did not in the other two best sellers. The twists and turns of Final Girls came on swift and natural but surprisingly. It is a clockwork of suspense hitting all the right alarms in your head. I feel comfortable in saying that we are looking as not only the big summer hit but one of the best, if not the best, thriller for 2017.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lovecraft meets Hip-Hop

Kanye West - Reanimator

Mash-ups are curious creatures. I would be hard pressed to call them anything but a novelty. We can blame Seth Grahame-Smith for the literary mash-up..or at least for its popularization due to the mystifying success of Pride and Prejudice with Zombies. I am still precariously on the fence with such endeavors. At best they are delightful diversions bringing out the best of the genres and authors they salute

Kanye West - Reanimator is somewhere in between. It is definitely funny and entertaining and it does an admirable job of blending H. P Lovecraft's style with the peculiarities of hip-hop. Yet even at its much less than a 100 pages length, it feels too long. The author had fun with this, using Lovecraft's serialized fiction, "Herbert West - Reanimator " and turning Mr. West into the rapper/beatmaster Kanye West as he uses the beat and the mixes to revive dead bodies. There is a lot of references to the need for fresh beats and quite a few musicians and rappers take a beating, so to speak, from Biggie to Paul McCartney. Maybe this is an acquired taste.

And I think i may have hit on the issue. I love Lovecraft and I am a bit of a music freak from rock to jazz to soul. But I honestly know little to nothing about hip-hop. I did really get into the earlier days with Run-DMC, Public Enemy and up to NWA but then I tapered off. There is clearly a number of in-jokes here .and I think too many of them went over my head. Plus I took points away whenever anyone mentioned Kim Kardashian.

So this is my recommendation. if you are into rap and Lovecraft both, this might be "Da Bomb". if not, it will be a risky endeavor. But again, let's give credit to the author for a noble attempt and some very funny turns of phrases. As for me, I am best off waiting for a classic rock version. Maybe...Leslie West -Reanimator?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Hap and Leonard and a midget vampire (maybe)

Rusty Puppy

Joe R. Lansdale

Publisher: Muholland Books

Pub. Date: February 23, 2017

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


We are now to the 12th installment of the Hap and Leonard series by Joe R. Lansdale and they just don't seem to wearing out their welcome. If they were real I would invite them to every party I held. Hap and I seem to be kindred spirits in our cautious liberalism and Leonard would keep the party lively assuming he doesn't kick the ass of everybody else at the party. I would just have to be careful I didn't provoke him into his habit of indiscriminate urinating...But I digress.

The last couple of books were fun but there was signs of a formula showing through. That isn't in itself a bad thing. All mystery series have formulas. But if it starts to show too much it doesn't feel fresh. Rusty Puppy feels fresh. There may be a number of reasons for this. First, Lansdale has added a new character in the form of Hap's daughter Chance. While her role in this book is minor, she still gives Hap something to reflect on and reveal new sides of him. Then there was that very close shave with death in Honky Tonk Samurai. I don't think it's just me to think Hap is a little more cautious and aware of his mortality (and others) in this book. Leonard is still Leonard but that is what makes him a delight in every single novel

The basic idea here is that a black womanwho lives across the street persuades Hap to investigate the murder of her son. At first he and Leonard simply plan to question a potential witness who claims he saw the police kill her son. Of course it gets much more complicated as they come to task with corrupt cops, an old acquaintance of Leonard who once beat him in a boxing match ("By points" Leonard reminds everyone), a vindictive bartender, and a four hundred year old vampire midget (or maybe just a foul-mouthed little girl)

As for the varied and sundry things that show up in every Hap and Leonard novel that gives it uniqueness, everything fits like a brass knuckle. The Lansdale wit is there, the dialogue is as snappy as a Texas turtle, and minor characters like Marvin Hansen shines when the time comes.

Oh. And Leonard has a new boy friend from an unlikely source.

Rusty Puppy is one of the best in the series and proves that there is still plenty of life in the East Texas odd couple. If you are already into the series you will not be disappointed and if you are not...What's holding you back?

Monday, May 8, 2017

A different kind of possession

The Time Eater

Aaron J. French


Publisher: Journalstone

Pub. Date: January 27, 2017

Rating: 4 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

Roger Boroughs and his friend James Steiner has been estranged since an incident in college when they summoned forth a strange and powerful entity they call the Time Eater. Many years later, Roger is requested by a woman named Annabelle to visit Roger, possibly for the last time since Roger is dying of a terminal illness. There is a great separation between them, much having to do with their two ex-wives as neither seemed to have really resolved their separation and hold many regrets. But Roger has discovered something even more disturbing, the Time Eater has possessed James and that may not only threaten their reality but shatter their very existence.

In The Time Eater, we basically have an exorcism story but it is not one that is typical of the usual type of demon exorcism. The demon Roger and James are confronting is a powerful entity from other dimensions or perhaps independent of all dimensions. They refer to it as a time eater because that appears to be what it mindlessly devours. Aaron J. French has cleverly combined an exorcism tale with huge chunks of Lovecraft and many other authors of the same era and before, such as Blackwood and Machen, who created a form of metaphysical horror. In the author’s prose, it comes out more like an existential horror since it questions our existence and sense of reality on our limited realm.

It can also be called psychological horror. The mindset of James and Roger, not to mention other characters, is basic to the plot and the tension. As we will see, the very identity of some of the characters become in question. French has built a sort of a Jenga game regarding the delicate interactions interaction of the protagonists It is a miracle the various twists and turns doesn’t topple them over.

In fact, I can see some readers faulting the author on this. When we get to the apparent final resolution, others may feel the need to read back and wonder if some things look a little too definitive and pat to be believable. I have called other authors on this very thing. But here it works because French has developed a very original and creative idea and placed the reader in a reality that stretches and boggles the imagination. The parameter of the story makes the reality of the characters believable even with all the twists and turns. Using an appropriate cliché, we accept it hook, line and sinker.

I have always admired Aaron J. French’s works but at the same time I wondered if he was too steeped in the esoteric to catch on, primarily the somewhat old fashioned and elusive metaphysical horror of his influences. The bio on the back pages of his book states he is pursuing a PhD in religious studies and I can’t say I’m surprised. Yet this is his best and most accessible work to date. It is the one by him I would most highly recommend.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A King and Wrightson classic


by Stephen King & Bernie Wrightson

Publisher: Plume

Pub date: (original) 1982

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Originally published in 1982, Creepshow was a collaboration between Stephen King and the late comic artist Bernie Wrightson to illustrate 5 short stories in a graphic novel format. It is a graphic adaptation of the George Romero film of the same name in which King wrote the screenplay. Both film and book purposely has a retro look which comes across as an imitation, or perhaps more accurately a tribute, to the earlier 50s horror comics most notably in style to EC Comics. The book even features a ghoulish host, like the comics had, who would briefly introduce each story. The book has been out of print for a while but it is being republished. The question is, does the scares of the 80s still impress in the 21st century.

It really isn’t a very hard question. While King has recently concentrated more on mysteries, he still remains the great horror genre icon. When it comes to horror, Bernie Wrightson was the art equivalence of King and stayed in the forefront with his stark lines and dark subjects. It’s not a surprise in how well both adapted to this tribute of the 50s horror magazines since they have both expressed their love for the comics and noted EC as a major influence. Yet Creepshow isn’t just a nostalgic trip back to either the 50’s or the 80s. It still dazzles with the artist’s bright colors and the author’s stark to-the-point tales. What stands out in this second reading is that King may not be just writing a tribute to early comics but highlighting a particular theme that still rings true in the popular media whether through writing, drawing or filming.

In “Father Day” we have the ubiquitous revenge from the grave story. “The Crate”, which was first published in Gallery magazine of July, 1979, covers the henpecked and miserable husband who finds the cure to his dilemma in a terror kept in a crate. “Something to Tide You Over” replays a popular topic from King’s earlier short fiction; rich men, adultery, revenge, and comeuppance. And finally “They’re Creeping up on You” is a tale reminiscent of Twilight Zone in which an evil man is brought down by what he fears the most. Through these four forays in dialogue and art there is a consistent theme of revenge and justice that was prevalent in the old EC comics. Creepshow continues that theme with a bit more bite from King and lots more color from Wrightson.

But a fifth story doesn’t fit that theme and for my money it is the best one. “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” was originally King’s story “Weeds” and in its prose form appeared first in Cavalier magazine of May, 1976. It is pretty much a rip off of Lovecraft’s “The Colour out of Space” and succeeds beautifully as it shifts the focus on one character, the simple Jordy, as he suffers from his meteoric find. Jordy brings humor (“Yuck! It’s meteor crap!”) and pathos to the story. In the movie. Jordy is played by Stephen King but Wrightson wisely keeps his features a bit vague. You don’t need to read the Lovecraft story to appreciate this one but it wouldn’t hurt.

Creepshow doesn’t just age well. It still feels both fresh and vintage at the same time. The stories still ring true for the genre and the love many have for the old comics is respected. Now if they would only repackage the movie. Blu-Ray anyone?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A battle of the sexes


By James Demonaco and B. K. Evenson


Publisher: Anchor

Pub Date: April 4, 2017 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

We are knee-deep back into the apocalypse with Feral, a new science fiction thriller by James Demonaco and B. K. Evenson. This is not unknown territory for either Demonaco or Evenson as Demonaco is best known as writer and director for The Purge film trilogy and B.K. Evenson is a pseudonym for Brian Evenson whose Last Days remains one of the most memorable forays into weird speculative fiction in the 21st century. Yet in their collaboration, we enter a weirdly familiar zombie-esque environment that pits the sexes against each other,.

In Feral, Allie is going though the usual teenage angst with the biggest problem being telling her best friend that her boyfriend posted a sex tape on the internet. Yet these mundane issues seem trite when all the men become sick and start attacking the women. Allie is barely able to save her sister Kim from an attack by her father and soon they are the few survivors living in the world where all men have become feral, attacking and killing any female on sight.

Flash forward to three years later. The few surviving women have hunkered down in make-shift forts battling off the ferals who are like animals and simple in their rage. A scientist is attempting to find a cure to the disease using the ferals Allie catches in her hunting forays outside the settlements as guinea pigs . It is on these explorations that she discover the ferals are showing signs that they may no longer be mindless and disorganized. She also discovers something else that will turn the women's perception of the world upside down.

The battle of the sexes taken to extremes is what attempts to set this novel apart from the many other post-apocalyptic zombie type books that inundate the market place. Yet there is lot of it that still sounds very familiar. Lets look at the good parts first. Allie is a powerful protagonist. She is forced into the role of protector and doesn't look back. It doesn't seem to be a role she always enjoys. It is a reluctant calling. Her teenage angst has turned into a one-sided survivalism aimed primary at the protection of the community but mostly the survival of her younger sister. When the big reveal comes, she become torn between her community and her own emotions. She is the best thing about the tale and her choices are what drives the plot. The authors has also created a believable nightmare environment where we can feel the dangers and the risks involved as we learn more about the choices facing this community of women. I liked the overall flow of theme and action throughout the novel.

Yet when all is said and done, there is too much that feels familiar. Perhaps The Walking Dead have inured us to this type of story. Beside Allie and one other, there are really few rounded out characters. It feels a little too much like a graphic novel in prose and sometimes I could read "Movie Deal" between the lines which i do not consider a good thing. There is indeed a riveting final battle for survival at the end and the authors put their all into the description. But it wasn't enough to rise above the formula. In fact, it kind of cinched the formula

In the balance though, Feral does become a very entertaining read and will please those who like post-apocalyptic novels. There are some soft moments that add to the reader's concern for the protagonist in this book, giving us a nice blend of action and emotional connection. But for me, It just isn't enough to place it above the pack of novels like this. I know that may be a tall order but when I read something like this, it is what I look for. Ultimately, we have a good novel in the sub-genre but not a contender.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Abduction and survival

Doll House

By John Hunt

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Pub. Date: January 19, 2017

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


 Suspense novels that deal with abduction, torture, and rape have a fine line to tread. The good ones must shock and scare but not cross over the line into gratuitousness. At the beginning of the novel I worried Doll House would do just that. It is certainly shocking and gruesome but John Hunt manages something quite impressive. The gory descriptions of violence do manage to shock but they also serve to strengthen the character and her resolve to overcome her ordeal. Doll House eventually becomes a story of bravery and perseverance.

We meet Olivia and her father on the first page They are likeable and admirable people. Olivia is headed to college yet almost immediately she is abducted. That sets up the nightmare and the reader is thrown into a whirlwind of violence and terror. The author does a brilliant bit of paradox as Olivia is imprisoned in a room that is almost all pink. It's like a pretty doll house which is the farthest thing to that which she will be subjected to. That contradiction nicely serves to disorient the reader to the emotions and actions that will follow.

If this nightmare continued through the entire book it just may be too much for most people. Fortunately , through incidents that will remain unspoken to prevent spoilers, we do get a reprieve from the horrors. That does not mean the tension is over. The suspense is still carried on by Hunt's excellent storytelling skills and the book becomes more of a mystery and a portrayal of physical and emotional survival. But what keeps this tale so riveting is the relationship between the characters. Olivia and her father is the linchpin but even seemingly less important interactions like that of the victims (Yes, there's more than one victim. I'll let that little teaser out!) and even the interaction between the kidnapper are important.

A good horror-suspense tale to some extent must make the reader uncomfortable. It is about those things you do not want to experience in real life. Horror and suspense are indeed cathartic. Hunt packs a huge punch in this book, teetering over the boundary sometimes perhaps, but redeems himself by making the protagonist of the novel someone you cannot help but root for. Doll House is the first great suspense novel I've read this year.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A House is not a home

Liquid Status

By Bradley Sands

Publisher: Rooster Republic Press 

Pub. date: February 23, 2017

 Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


 Bradley Sands' previous books are bizarro with a strong touch of comic madness. They made sense and yet they didn't and that was fine because that was the joy of the ride. Yet the author's works to me seemed to want to be a bit more than that at times. He packs a good sense of surrealism and Dada right next to the humor. His new novella Liquid Status appears a lot more serious, breaking partially free of that comic feel that I both admired yet felt it perhaps limited his potential. In 76 pages, the potential becomes gloriously limitless.

Liquid Status starts with the death of a grandmother. The family is not given a name except for Mom, Dad, and the sons Paul and Matt. We are immediately told that the family has rules mostly originating from Mom. Yet when Grandma, as we know her, dies not only are the rules of the family dissolved but also the rules of nature and physics. We are introduced to the impossible. The family is thrown into isolation from the outlying world and trapped in the house. The front door disappears. Matt becomes a cardboard box. Bodies change consciousness. And on and on as the impossible becomes possible and randomness looks for a meaning.

What is this all about? At times it feels like stream of consciousness but I suspect it all has some form of structure and meaning to the author. A rigid family is thrown into chaos. Their horror is in the lack of control and alienation from their once meaningful world. House and family are becoming inseparable in both a physical and a emotional sense. For a short novella, there is a lot packed into these pages

As much as I loved the author's previous books there seems to be a maturing here. There is still humor but the humor is both dark and more intimate. Liquid Status may seem weird to the unsuspecting reader but it is a joy to read, massaging the intellect and baffling the imagination on every page. This comes with a high recommendation even if you may like your fiction a bit more grounded in mundane reality.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The evil within

Exorcist Falls

 By Jonathan Janz

Publisher: Sinister Grin Pres

Pub. Date: March 15, 2017

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This publication of Exorcist Falls is actually two books. It starts with the previously published novella Exorcist Road and continues with the longer original novel Exorcist Falls. But they should be read as one book as Exorcist Falls starts two nights later and continues the suspense and horror already pouring out of the first work.

And when I say “Pouring” I mean a torrential downpour. The book gets right to the point on page one and doesn’t let up. We meet Father Jason Crowder as his friend and parishioner Danny Hartmann asks him to go to his brother’s house on a late raining night. Ron Hartman’s fourteen year old son Casey has attacked his family. Normally a priest wouldn’t be needed for such a problem but Casey is doing more than being violent. There is a serial killer loose and Casey is talking about things only the serial killer would know. Casey may be the Sweet Sixteen Serial Killer.

From here the novella and novel escalates into a dizzying combination of demonic possession horror and supernatural mystery. Is Casey possessed? Is he really the serial killer? The first question is answered quickly as Father Crowder calls in his mentor Father Sutherland and they prepare for the exorcism. The second question gets more interesting as red herrings and accusations fly constantly. Of course demons never make anything easy.

The first novella, Exorcist Road, takes place during the night of the exorcism and there is a clear ending in which we find out much about the possession and the murders. The title novel, as previously stated, starts two nights later. The problem is that any description of its plot will spoil portions of the novella so it is enough to say that the flow of the action blends seamlessly. Father Crowder is battling both demon and serial killer while fearing for both his body and soul. There are more clever turns all the way to the end.

I find exorcism thrillers to be a curious breed of horror novel. They focus on the most intimate of fears. The evil inside us. To some extent, they are comforting. Our dark secrets can be blamed on the supernatural, the demon inside us. If only it was that easy. Jonathan Janz gives us a turn by dealing with both horrors, that of the supernatural and that which is our own choosing, and suggests that maybe they are not all that separable. He does this in a tight well-structured plot and with a sharp eye for action and dialogue. If the action feels a bit too forced at times with its many twists and coincidences, it is easy to forgive when one’s words flow so easily on the pages. Exorcist Falls is a riveting horror thriller about supernatural horrors but and also the more mundane horrors of the human condition.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Killer Flowers


By Ray Garton

Publisher: RGB Publishing

Pub. Date: October 26, 2016

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

Flowers that kill. I've read a few science fiction books with a plot centering on such a contrary idea. The most famous novel of this variety has to be Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham although it is a toss up whether the real nightmare in the book is man eating plants, stumbling blindly (literally) through the apocalypse, or listening to long winded lectures about how to deal with these dilemmas.

In Ray Garton's novella Crawlers, you don't have to worry about making such choices. It's killer flowers all the way down. In Mount Crag, it is the morning after a meteor shower and the townspeople wake up to burnt spots on the ground with unusual flowers growing out of them . They are all over town and at first they are simply a curiosity, looking more artificial than real. But it doesn't take long for the plants to show a more sinister side. Crawling attacking flowers with a terrible side effect becomes the order of the day.

Like I said. It's fun and seems more like the old science fiction horror films of the 60s and 70s. In fact, the author acknowledges this in his foreword. The consensus is that this is a quick read that excels in entertaining and has more than a few thrills. Like anything by Garton, it is well written and delivers. It appears Mount Crag is a setting for a few of Garton's tales so I wouldn't advise moving there in the near future. Just enjoy this horror adventure and smell the roses while you can.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Joys of short fiction!

The Man in the Palace Theater

 By Ray Garton


Publisher:  RGB Publishing 

Pub Date: June 29, 2012

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


One of the nice developments in Kindle reading is its suitability for singly distributed short fiction. Before eBooks, if one wanted to read a recommended short story, one had to hunt down or borrow the magazine it was published in or find a collection with that particular story. The only exception was publications of chapbooks, a small limited printing of that one short work which was usually sold to collectors for a pretty price and rarely becoming accessible to the casual readers. But with the advent of the Kindle ebooks, and Amazon's strange but effective distribution system it is simple to distribute a work of short fiction for a nominal charge, usually being one or two dollars. This theoretically enables many to read a brief essay or short fiction piece that would be hard to find otherwise and/or simply forgotten.

The Man in the Palace Theater by Ray Garton is a good example of this. It was published originally as a limited edition chapbook. However it can now be had as an Kindle eBook for pocket change, 99 cents at last glimpse, and worth every penny even at the equivalence of 20 plus pages. In the short tale, John Bellows has been missing for a while but shows up unexpectedly at his friend's work. He convince her to go with him to see something he says is amazing. She reluctantly follows him, knowing he has been through a number of problems and is concerned for his physical and mental health. He takes her to an old abandoned theater, the Palace Theater of the tale's title. What he expects her to see and what happens makes up for the rest of the story.

And therein lies the gist of this short tale. It is difficult to explain any more without giving it away. But like many horror stories, there is a great deal of psychological tension in it. John is indeed a man of many misfortunes. Has the effects of his misfortunes led to the events that take place? This is one of those stories where it is not always certain what is supernatural and that is psychological. In fact, can they always be separated? I would submit, after reading this story, that what is supernatural is not necessarily the biggest horror.

If you haven't discover the joy of obtaining single short fiction on your kindle, this would be a great piece to start with. Ray Garton is an established writer with an impressive literary resume. His Live Girls is my pick for one of the best, and possibly the most underrated, vampire novels in decades. This short work, even in its brevity, shows many of the skills which makes Garton an author worth reading. Give it a try. For 99 cents, It's a steal.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Werewolves in New Orleans

The Wild Harmonic

By Beth W. Patterson

Publisher: Hidden World Books

Pub Date: November1, 2016

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

Birch “Buzz” MacKinley is a musician playing bass at the many music venues in New Orleans. Due to her troubled past and a closely guarded secret, she finds herself usually alone and trusting of few until she meets Rowan and his fellow musicians. She discovers she is not the only werewolf in town. In fact, there are many different forms of shapeshifters in existence living in a world and culture she never knew before. She also finds there is a growing danger around her and her new friends that exists side by side with her new companions.

In The Wild Harmonic, author Beth W. Patterson has created a rather different society of werewolves than we may be familiar with. In Patterson’s society of shapeshifters, werewolves tend to be especially good in particular careers like music and the helping professions. One of Buzz’s lycanthropic companions is a nun. But Buzz is particularly drawn to a pack that is into music and that is where this story gets its strengths. A musician herself, the author has a deep understanding of the power of music. Music is often involved in rituals seeking higher realms of existence and, in this novel, Patterson combines the two to create a rather unique combination of tune and growl so to speak. Without disparaging any of the author’s seemingly considerable skills, I think it is safe to say Patterson is a musician who writes rather than a writer who plays music. Her expertise and love for the music comes out that strong in both her writing style and her descriptions of the characters.

This is an interesting take on the werewolf tale with some rather intriguing complications. Rowan’s pack is only part of a bigger scenario. There is a danger lurking as shapeshifters disappear or are found dead. While Buzz is slowly becoming able to trust her pack mates, she discovers that not everyone who is a werewolf or another type of shapeshifter is on the same side. Hence, we have the conflict that moves the plot along.

Two things make The Wild Harmonic work, the hidden culture and society of the shapeshifters which I have already mentioned and the alternately fragile and strong character of Buzz. She is indeed shown as fragile at the beginning, isolated but grounded in her music. Then she meets Rowan. Glimpses of a paranormal romance show up and Buzz spends a lot of time pining over what may be unattainable. But Buzz becomes strong on her own and how that happens is an essential part of the story. It is not lost on me that Buzz is a bass player. Anyone who has worked as a musician and played in a substantial number of bands (raises hand) know that the bassist is the soul and anchor of a group and that was not lost on me as I discovered how the character of Buzz develops.

So we have a novel that is one part fantasy epic and one part paranormal romance with neither drowning out the other. But for me there is something missing. The horror is missing. While we have werewolves, other shapeshifters, and a looming threat, the tension seem to be missing. So much of the story is in setting up the culture and the musical and philosophical tones that we lose the horror. When we finally come in contact with the threat it is too late to regain it and, frankly, it is a little cartoonish and predictable for my taste. I wanted more old scares and less New Age. But what is there is quite substantial and entertaining. It is still a smart fantasy that will please most readers. Even though it is a standalone novel I think we may see Buzz again if the author has her way.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Gives a new meaning to "frozen with fear"

The Winter Over

By Matthew Iden

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer 

Pub. Date: February 1, 2017

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


  The first thing I recommend if you plan to read The Winter Over by Matthew Iden, is to turn your thermostat up. You are bound to feel more chilled than usual as you read this mystery/adventure novel set in the nine month long winter of Antarctica. The biggest strength of Iden's thriller is how he makes the dark and cold Antarctic environment and the seclusion of those inhabiting a research station come alive. The detail he puts in describing the compound and all the work needed to keep something like that operating is quite impressive. And they become very important details as we continue reading.

Cassie is a new worker at the Shackleton station. She is a hired as a vehicle mechanic but takes on a number of tasks in the station as many of the maintenance workers do. There is a bit of a class chasm between maintenance crew and scientists but the station keeps operating well despite of it. The long winter is about to start and the overall staff has been cut down to about 40 to keep the station going throughout the dark months and the well under freezing temperatures. The last plane is about to leave and there will be no way to leave the station after that. It's a yearly event which no one worries too much about except there is a seemingly accidental death just days before the last plane leaves. Cassie discovers some things to make her wonder about that death but it is not until well into the dark and cold isolation that she starts to put it all together.

I'm tempted to be corny and say, "But is it too late?" but won't because I think you get the idea. This is one of those stories that benefit from the reader knowing little about it before they dive into the pages. In basic plot ideas, The Winter Over is essentially one of those mysteries in which a finite number of people are trapped and you are wondering if any will make it out. But there are quite a few differences in this particular "And Then There Were None" scenario, of which many would make Agatha Christie envious. Iden spends a lot of time setting the scene well through half of the book. This leads a number of readers to call the book slow but I would rather call it " well planned". It isn't a case of "nothing happened" as much as a lot of little things are happening. Sooner or later though, all of frozen hell breaks out and it all makes sense. Lots of hints are scattered about and I suspect the savvy mystery buff will figure it out by the halfway point. Yet it is a very satisfying mystery that is weaved around a tight and well conceived setting. Like i said. Keep that thermostat up.

Many might consider this novel typical of a summer read and if you live in the desert like i do, it would probably a wise one when the temperature gauge hits 12oF.. But it's early in the year so let's call this a winter read perfect for around the fireplace. It is sort of a "Who Goes There?/The Thing" without the alien although there are monsters of a variety, the kind you meet every day. Mystery and adventure fans in particular will like this but anyone who loves good storytelling should give it a try.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Void and the Tingleverse

Dr. Chuck Tingle's Complete Guide to The Void

By Chuck Tingle

Publisher:  Amazon Digital Services LLC 

Pub Date: February 24, 2017

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars


 Welcome to the Tingleverse

I must confess I have never read a Chuck Tingle novel. I have certainly heard of him and have chuckled over titles like Space Raptor Butt Invasion, Schrodinger's Butt, and Slammed In The Butt By Domald Tromp's Attempt To Avoid Accusations Of Plagiarism By Removing All Facts Or Concrete Plans From His Republican National Convention Speech. I must admit I am tempted to read one if his writing style is as silly as his titles. Yet I am not really into gay erotic sci-fi satire so I have avoided the far

But there appears to be a darker side to Tingle. Threatening his loving and tingly Tingleverse is The Void. It is a dimension that is so totally terrifying just the mention of it can lead one to Void Madness, a condition that does not sound pleasant. Dr. Tingle wrote this brief 69 page work to help us recognize the dangers of The Void and to prevent being consumed by it, a place very few escape from. He tells us of the terrible creatures that come from The Void and gives some specific examples such as an especially vicious form of "Shrieking Mass"...

Throughout history, there has been several Shrieking Masses who greatly affected the course of humanity through their manipulation of humans. In recent history, the most notable Shrieking Mass is United States President Domald Tromp, who attained power despite the fact that the seams in his human suit remained clearly visible during his entire campaign cycle.

So what to make of this "guide"? Despite Tingle's endless admonition to be careful reading this book less you "succumb to the call of The Void", it is consistently humorous. I do not know if this is a companion book for fans of his novels or simply a sidestep into silliness. But it is entertaining and may cause me to take a look at one of his novels, butt pounding or no butt pounding.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Art and extremes

Unger House Radicals

By Chris Kelso


Publisher: Crowded Quarantine Publications 

Pub. Date: June 11, 2016

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


 Unger House Radicals starts with an Andy Warhol quote and a glimpse of the first narrator watching Andy Warhol's 8 hour film titled Sleep. Warhol was the poster boy for turning banality into art and The Factory was far from the idealist art community that many pretended it was. Mary Woronov popped that bubble in her memoir of negativity, nihilism, and drug use titled Swimming Underground: My Years in the Warhol Factory. Chris Kelso's strange and fragmented novel has its own art movement. creators and creative art house and, while thankfully entirely fictional, feels like a bit of a dark satire of the power of movements and the corruption of art.

In Unger House Radicals film maker Vincent Bittaker meets Brandon Swarthy, a serial killer. It's love at first killing. The two plot their own film movement and moves into the murder house of the serial killer Otto Spengler. Unger House becomes a focal point for the movement dubbed Ultra-realism in which Bittaker and Swarthy film murders as a testament to the ultimate and most realistic art. "What is more real than murder?" Swarthy asks. For the first part of the novel we follow their quest and relationship that takes strange sexual and psychological turns and plunges into the surreal.

But it doesn't end there. Ultra-realism catches on. The author continues the narration in the eyes of other participants and even critics as the movement becomes a cult and an equally disturbing counter revolution called The Last True Hope (Please do not let that be a Star Wars reference!) emerges. The narration is non-linear and very bizarre to the point of wondering if we entered another dimension only known to the author. This is one of those books which challenges the reader even if the writing flows like a sumofabitch through your veins as you read it. I'm not always sure I followed it but the emotional prose and the several philosophical tones that is batted back and forth never got lost in the shuffle.

Murder as art is one of those things that has become a clique in the barrage of mainstream serial killer novels flooding the market but they never go beyond the sensational. Vincenzo Bilof's The Violators and now, Unger Street Radicals show the the clique can go beyond the sensational and may reveal philosophical overtones that makes one thinks even if that thinking may feel somewhat uncomfortable. The violence and brutality may still be there but so is the examination of what is reality and how far is far enough. In Kelso's challenging and sometimes maddening book, we get a tome on the meaning , and meaningless, of movements. We examine if art can go beyond the boundaries of civilization and whether it should. But mainly we get a exhilarating and confusing ride. I have another Kelso novel to read and this one really whetted my appetite for more. A warning though. The Kelso universe may be very forbidding to some and should bear a label, "read at your own risk." But if you wish to take the risk you may be amazed and intrigued at what you read.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Dr. Phil meets Natural Born Killers

Something Violent

By Kristopher Rufty

Publisher: DarkFuse

Pub. date: March 28, 2017

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Dr. Phil meets Natural Born Killers.

Actually it is Dr. Ron. Ron McClure is the marriage counselor to the stars. He is bit of a celebrity himself through his books and TV appearances. When he is leaving a convenience store he is a bit torn about approaching a crying women through fear of getting involved but also tempted because she is quite beautiful. The woman finally approached him and the temptation of her beauty wins out...until she chloroforms and abducts him. When he awakes, he is tied to a chair. He discovers that his abductors are Seth and Jody, a serial killer team called The Sweetheart Killers. Lately Seth and Jody are having troubles. Seth doesn't want to kill with Jody anymore. Now they want Ron to fix them, to put the zing back into their killing spree, and save their relationship. Despite the obvious conflict of interest in helping two killers be successful in their chosen occupation, Ron agrees to try. After all, they are probably going to kill him either way.

What entails in Something Violent is a series of alternating flashbacks told by each other chronicling how they met and the events leading up to the crisis prompting the decision to kidnap the famous marriage counselor. In between, the hapless Ron gives his sage observations. This is a combination of horror tale and psychological crime thriller. But for me, it is also a satire of the bad couple romance thrillers we see occasionally popping up mainly in movies like Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, and, as already mentioned, eNatural Born Killers. Seth and Jody are seriously unhinged but not so much that they don't want a special life with each other. So when the relationship falter , they act in the only way they know. They need to keep that homicidal spark that brought them together alive any way they can. The entire idea of a counselor struggling to save the joy of a behavior that will kill people, and probably himself, is deliciously perverse. Probably more so for myself since I am a retired therapist. Yet that is where the dark comedy comes in; A pair of killers struggling to find the humanity that keeps them together through their sociopathic thrills .

The other nice touch is hinted in the title. There appears to be a serial killer web site called Something Violent. Everyone needs a little support, I guess. This idea merges into the theme of the story and drives much of the narrative. How it does that will be left for the reader to discover. The author, Kristopher Rufty, does a nice job in moving the ideas along. There is lots of action and as should be expected in this type of dark thriller, lots of violence. The chain of events does call for a good amount of suspension of belief and if there is one main weakness, it is that the events often seems a bit to convoluted to come together comfortably. Yet I was able to exercise that suspension of belief mainly due to the fact that I saw it as a satire of serial killer tales, a kind of very dark comedy. The feel was enough to make me chuckle over the dilemma of Dr. Ron and his clients even in the goriest of passages.

In the last assessment, Something Violent gets my recommendation. It a clever take on the serial killer genre and remains entertaining throughout. It also makes me glad this couple never showed up during my counseling career.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A paradoxical espionage tale.

Suan Ming

By Seb Doubinsky

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform 

Pub Date: December 31, 2016

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


In Seb Doubinsky's Suan Ming, remote viewing has become an essential tool for military espionage potentially leading to victories over Babylon's continuous war with The Chinese Federation. John DiMeglio is one of the best remote viewers and has been coaxed back to duty for a special assignment. The man he is working with, Greeley, seems to know his job and the mission starts regularly enough. But soon, DiMeglio realizes there is something odd about this mission. Counter-viewers are blocking and endangering him, the top brass isn't telling him everything, and wasn't his wife a blond?

Suan Ming is pure Philip K Dick styled science fiction with the possibility of alternative realities and parallel worlds on every page. It is also another of Doubinsky's novels that teases us with what is going on and makes us think outside the box. It seems straight forward at first but a few flashbacks, a mission that makes DiMeglio questions his perception of reality, and a blurring of dreaming and waking life blurs the initial mainstream feel. As is his habit in many of his works, Doubinsky adds some short poetic chapters between the action that prepares you for the journey. The ending of Suan Ming doesn't really wrap it up but is still a satifying climax that keeps you thinking after the first page. It is a fitting end to the literary puzzle and another fine effect by the author.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Not so elementary, my dear Watson

Cat Flap

By Ian Jarvis

Publisher: MX Publishing 

Pub Date: February 1, 2017

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Bernard Quist is a private investigator although he prefers the term "Consultant detective". He recently hired a young 19 year old black youth by the name of Watson to be his assistant. Lately the detective trade has been centered around tracking unfaithful spouses and working divorce cases. But when a somewhat seedy thug asks them to prove his fiancee did not die of a suicide, it takes them into serial killer territory with a string of murders involving employees of a pharmaceutical company.

Does Bernard Quist remind you of anyone in particular?

Cat Flap is a clever take-off on the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. But while Quist has a lot in common with the great detective there is plenty of reasons Quist is his own man. Ian Jarvis is clearly making a tribute of sorts to Sherlock Holmes but he is also successfully creating a detective that can stand on its own. This is a modern mystery complete with all the fixings of contemporary England but Quist seems slightly out of place. There is a reason for this but that must be kept a secret for now. Enter 19 year old Watson, a thoroughly contemporary but sometimes naive British lad with a sense for all the modern things that Quist seems clumsy around. There is an vast array of secondary and minor characters that add to the plot, perhaps too many. But it all makes sense in the end and the reader realizes that this was one clever ride.

But what really makes this novel work is the humor. It is a clever dry wit that shows up in the dialogue whether Quist is giving his eager assistant back-handed compliments or commenting on that which no one else gets. When the mystery takes a supernatural turn, the author is right there gauging the reactions of the characters and making a few odd quirks in the plot instantly understandable.

Overall, Cat Flap is a fun novel. It's hard to take it too seriously but easy to get caught up in the fun. While the Holmes pastiche beginning helps one get hooked, the novel soon becomes its own story. In fact, now that the character are introduced and developed, it might be good to dump the Holmes connection altogether in the next inevitable books. Quist is too interesting to play second fiddle.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Back to the pulps

Dead on the Bones: Pulp on Fire

By Joe R. Lansdale


 Publisher: Subterranean Press

Pub Date: November 30, 2016

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

Joe R. Lansdale is one of the American authors where the influence from the pulp magazines and novels remains so well pronounced. Even in his most famous novels like The Bottoms, there is a grittiness that thinly disguises the pulp world. It can be easily argued that his mystery novel duo, Hap and Leonard, would have been very happy in the pages of a hard-boiled detective fiction magazine. Dead on the Bones; Pulp on Fire starts with an introduction where the author discusses his love for the old pulp writers. But he makes clear another influence to emerge in his childhood of the 50s, television, is what really ignited his love for the pulps. I never thought of it before but programs like Flash Gordon and all those westerns were visual pulp. I do not think it is coincidence that the pulp influence for Lansdale is most pronounced in his mystery/crime noir works and his western novels.

Dead on the Bones; Pulp on Fire is all pulp though. It is best to think of this as a tribute. The twelve works of fiction included in the collection, with one exception which we will get to later, breathes more pulp than Lansdale. Three stories are heavily influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs, an author that Lansdale singles out in the introduction. One of the works, "Tarzan and the Land That Time Forgot" is a pastiche blending together the Tarzan tales , Pellucidar, and another Burroughs creation mentioned in the title."Under the Warrior Star" and "The Wizard of Trees" are more original but are definitely in the style of Burroughs and other writers of early pulp fiction. The Gruesome Affair of the Electric Blue Lighting" blends Edgar Allen Poe's amateur detective C. Auguste Dupin with a hint of Lovecraft. "The Redheaded Dead" and "King of the Cheap Romance" are dedicated to Robert E. Howard and Ardath Mayhar respectively. "Naked Angel" would fit well in any horror or suspense pulp magazine. In the later years, I would like to believe Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine would have picked it up despite its supernatural tones..

Which leaves the title story, "Dead on the Bones". This story of conjured fighting matches feels the most like Lansdale. Its setting and imagine plot fits well with anything he writes thus it is all Lansdale. It is my pick for best fiction in the collection.

Not that the other stories aren't good . They are quite good. And I especially liked "Under the Warrior Star" which, again from the introduction, seems to be a very early story by the author recently revamped. If you are a fan of Burroughs or the Weird Tales roster of writers you will really enjoy this. While it may not be what some would call typical Lansdale, I still recommend it for the nostalgic feel and the imaginative storytelling.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A devil of a dilemma

The Devil's Prayer

By Luke Gracias

Publisher: Australian eBook Publisher 

Pub. Date: February 18, 2016

Rating: 2 & 1/2 stars out of 5

The Devil's Prayer by Australian author Luke Gracias starts out strong. We get a brief prologue that sets the stage with a shocking suicide death of a nun. The nun is a woman who abandoned her two daughters six years ago. Her daughters, now at age 17 and 23, had no idea why she left and where she went . A priest takes the oldest daughter Siobhan aside and gives her a message that sends her to Europe to seek out answers about what happened to her mother . This leads to some dark secrets that not only threaten the lives of Siobhan and her family but the fate of the world .

The novel's mystery centers on an actual artifact called the Codex Gigas (The Devil's Bible) which is the largest medieval manuscript in existence. Gracias makes good use of a number of legends concerning the book including that it was written by a monk who sold his soul to the devil and that twelve pages (The Devil's Prayer) are missing from it. The author certainly did some impressive research, blending his story with the historical facts regarding the manuscript. In a way, this type of novel bears more than some resemblance to the conspiratorial thrillers of Dan Brown via The DaVinci Code. However, there is also a different story that is the bulk of this particular novel and separates it from a comparison of anything by Dan Brown.

The bulk of the narrative is taken from a confession written by Siobhan's mother and this is the best part of the book. In the telling of how her mother, Denise Russo, ended up in a monastery we get a tense supernatural tale. To describe it even briefly would steal the heart out of the novel. This is what kept me turning the pages. It is an imaginative plot that gives the book its particular uniqueness and charm. As long as we are caught up in the confession, the novel grabs and holds us.

Then something inexplicable happens . In order to pull in the story of the Devil's Bible and those missing pages, we are taken into a textbook account of its origin. We lose the main narrative. This is further interrupted by an account from a Father Zachary. All of this is necessary information but it severely disrupts the flow. Considering its Dan Brown influences, it would have been nice if the writer took Mr. Brown's habit of not breaking the flow and spreading the historical background through the book, revealing it only as it becomes necessary. The first two-thirds of the novel reads like wildfire. The last third to quarter drags like a boulder in the mud. But eventually we get back to our heroine Siobhan who we are caring deeply for. And then...

Some might consider this a spoiler . I consider it a dire warning since the author failed to warn us about this at the beginning. We are left hanging. The ending is a cliff-hanger of the worst kind. Frankly, I find this unforgivable especially since there is no warning that this is a series or in need of a sequel. If it is a stand-alone novel then it is even more infuriating. When one writes such an exciting novel and then denies us the pay-off, something is very wrong. Please. If you are writing a series let us know beforehand. It's one of my pet peeves.

So here is the low-down on this novel. We have a dynamite beginning with a four star story written by someone who knows how to write. Then in the last third or quarter, we are bogged down by an info dump. Still, if we had a climatic ending we would be looking at a three and a half star book at least. But instead...cliff hanger. No payoff. This serious error forces me to give this book two and a half stars. This may sound harsh especially since i enjoyed his writing so much. Yet endings in a thriller are essential and this one didn't. It's too bad because it is a terrific two thirds of a book.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A young adult ghost story


By Teri Polen

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Pub. Date: December 1, 2016

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


 In Teri Polen's Young Adult horror novel Sarah we have the type of horror that is steeped in the emotions of teens yet interestingly stretches into adult horror often. Sarah is a ghost story and of course ghost stories are popular with all ages. Yet this one deftly merges mature topics with a tight horror tale and more than a taste of violence.

Cain is what most would consider a good guy . He is the captain of the soccer team and his head is on fairly straight, partially thanks to his BFF Finn who has no problem telling him when he is screwing up. The latest problem is with Cain's girl friend who is clearly using him and Finn doesn't waste words in telling Cain that. That may be why Cain doesn't pay much attention to strange things like cold breezes and creaking doors in his family's new house. At least not at first. He discovers a girl named Sarah was killed in the house while it was being built. Sarah is angry over her death and Cain wants to help her resolve it and move on. But when that help include taking possession of his body and planning gruesome deaths of her killers , Cain tries to stop it which only puts his friends and family at risk too.

From there on, it gets pretty scary. I would think this book might be too intense for younger children. 12 and up would be OK...I think. But regardless of the quibbling on the age level, Teri Polen has written one of the better YA horror novels in the past few years. Cain is totally likeable and believable. His hesitation on the number of things feels quite right as does his friend Finn who is the best advice giver even if he doesn't take it that well himself. There is a new girl friend and a cute little sister that add more dimension to the story. Cain's mother seems a bit thin. She is just there because he needs a mother. But the main characters are perfect for tangling with the spirit of Sarah as her true intentions starts to show.

Actually, Sarah is the real highlight of the story. we feels for her because of the circumstances of her death,. Yet the author reveal her growing evilness so nicely that she truly become a figure of horror. As her powers grow, so does the terror. This is one book to keep the lights on while reading, especially if you are a teen.

Sarah is well worth reading for both teens and adults. In a way it is a fairly common ghost story with possession throw in. Yet the combination of teen issues with the constant twists and turns raises it above the usual. This is a good book for your teen who think Goosebumps is old-fashioned. And if you really want to have fun wait until night when he or she is about two-thirds done than flip the main power switch off. Mean maybe but ...

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hotels and Owls

The Nightly Disease

By Max Booth III

Publisher: Darkfuse

Pub Date: December 18, 2016

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


 It is said one should write about what they know. Max Booth definitely knows something about night auditing in a hotel. Much of what is in The Nightly Disease comes from his experiences working that very job; hopefully not the actual events but from the strange and cynical atmosphere that night duty brings. Having worked a series of night shifts in a series of strange jobs in my much younger years, I can vouch that the midnight hours brings out a different and not always complimentary side of human nature. But so far none of my nighttime jobs ever involved, at least directly, owls. Only my daytime ones.

The Nightly Disease centers around a hotel night auditor by the name of Isaac. In first person narrative, he gets right down to telling us about what a lousy job he has. His only real only friend is George the night auditor at the hotel next door. Asides from George, the only other thing he looks forward to each night is the bulimic homeless girl who comes into the hotel to purge. There is one other interesting girl he meets, a new night auditor who biggest dream is to pet an owl. So it is a bad sign when she ends up dead, killed by an owl that attacks her.

Owls figure heavily in Booth's noirish yet weird novel. What their role actually is may be argued even after you finished the last page. They give the book a fantastic feel but are more of a omen (appropriately if you know your Native American folklore) than the main event. Isaac's nightly encounters are both mundane and surreal at the same time. It is a bit like Bukowski's nihilism meets Tom Robbins' mirth. Booth could have made the questionable decision to write a wandering narrative steeped in the negativity of lost hotel characters but instead he wisely chooses to add a main event that gives the plot a focus and Isaac a challenge. Isaac doesn't see it that way but views it as an exclamation point to his drudge of a life and it's inescapable dead end. But in a typical noir move there is a girl that may be his ticket to a meaningful life. Yes, it is the bulimic one. Even hotel night auditors have dreams and sometimes you have to take them where they drop.

While Booth is usually associated with writings of the surreal and bizarre, this particular book reads fairly straight. That does not mean it isn't strange, just the type of strange that makes sense in an alienating world. In fact, of the things I've read by the author, this is probably the most mainstream . (Gasp!) It is, as expected, beautifully written with dialogue and descriptions that grabs your jugular. It is a darkly comedic story which smacks head first into existential angst and comes out the other side with a least a little hope for the human race, not to mention one hotel night auditor. Max Booth III is one of those authors to look out for and The Nightly Disease is the first substantial and thoughtful fiction of the new year.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Mercenaries vs religious fanatics and monster

Little Heaven

By Nick Cutter

Publisher: Gallery Books

Pub. Date: January 10, 2017

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

It's hard to believe after two stunning novels of horror from Nick Cutter in the last few years but Little Heaven is a major disappointment. Cutter has carved himself a splendid little niche of visceral thrills with The Troop and The DeepLittle Heaven pales next to them. It's a little hard to figure out why since it does have the require amount of scares and body horror that the author is known for. Let's see if we can.

The first thing that stands out in Cutter's first two books is that the plot is held together by brilliantly vicious ideas of horror. Although formed adequately to catch the reader's empathy, the characters are secondary to that horror. In Little Heaven we have another horror but it is secondary to the characters. Normally this would be good but the characters of the novel doesn't stand apart enough to make us care. The action of the novel goes back and forth over two decades; from the 60s to the 80s. The constant throughout this see-sawing are three mercenaries who gives us very little to like about them. And these are our "heroes". The novel describes how they meet through a contract hit and how their paths continues to cross. One of them, Minerva, plans to kill another, a British black man named Ebeneezer, to fulfill a wish for revenge. For reasons never sufficiently explained, Minerva , Ebeneezer and a third man named Michah maintain an uneasy bond through the years. This hard to believe bond takes them to a religious commune and eventually a confrontation with a misshapen creature in the wilderness.

The main human villain does not fare well either. The commune of Amos and his followers is a thinly disguised Jonestown but Amos shows none of the charisma required to bring something like that together. He looks and acts like a fool leaving the reader to wonder why anyone would follow him. Interestingly, the most believable thing in the novel is the strange creature in the forest and that is because we are given a creepy and scary glance at his development in the prologue. The image that Cutter sets forward never leaves us and give us the kind of promise that he delivered in his first books. Unfortunately that is not to be in this book.

It seems that the author is blending a few styles of writing here besides his own. There is some Cormac McCarthy in the type of protagonists he creates and a lot of Stephen King in Amos and the circumstances his commune finds it in. Yet it ever really gel together. We end up with a well written horror tale that should of worked but doesn't. I am only left with recommending either The Troop or The Deep to the reader or telling them to wait for Cutter's next book.