By George Mann
2013; $12.95 trade paperback; $7.99 ebook
Reviewed by Andrew Byers
SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE WILL OF THE DEAD continues Titan Books’ series of new Sherlock Holmes pastiches that are notable for their inclusion of steampunk or other science fictional elements. George Mann is no stranger to Holmes: he has edited a collection of Holmes stories (ENCOUNTERS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, also from Titan Books). Titan will be publishing another of Mann’s Holmes novels (THE SPIRIT BOX) and a second edited collection of stories (FURTHER ENCOUNTERS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES) later in 2014. His pedigree for Victorian mysteries is strengthened by his authorship of the popular Newbury and Hobbes series (five published so far, beginning with THE AFFINITY BRIDGE, plus another couple short story collections) and his editorial direction of two Sexton Blake collections. Given all of that, this should be an exciting new Sherlock Holmes novel, but unfortunately, it’s merely good but not great.
The mystery begins simply enough: a wealthy old man dies in a fall down the stairs leaving a handful of nephews and a niece behind. His will is nowhere to be found. It all seems ordinary enough, but clearly Sherlock Holmes sees more to the story than the reader does because he immediately agrees to investigate the case. Here we come to the crux of the problem: the major weakness of the novel is that it is essentially composed of two separate plots that are seemingly unconnected until the very end. The first plot is what seems to be a simple, run-of-the-mill inheritance dispute after a man dies and his will disappears. The second plot is a rash of brazen home invasions by a group of “iron men” who smash their way into the homes of the wealthy and carry off valuables occurring at the same time as the inheritance dispute. We only know about the iron men at all because Watson periodically reads about the latest home invasion in the newspaper and asks Holmes if maybe he might want to help the police with that case. The reader wonders the same thing. While obviously fantastical, the case of the iron men certainly sounds more interesting than the dull inheritance mystery. So why isn’t the book about the second plot instead of the first? Having read the novel, I just don’t know why Mann chose to virtually ignore the fun and steampunky plot for a very run-of-the-mill one – he has certainly never shied away from the fantastical in his other novels.
Sherlockian purists might also be a little annoyed with the injections of some chapters that are accounts of key events told from the perspective of characters other than Watson or Holmes. Mann even feels the need to append an apology to the front of the book for this, so while this didn’t bother me, I wonder why he didn’t choose to restructure the narrative to avoid this practice entirely, as these accounts add very little to the story. Periodic anachronisms of speech are peppered throughout the book, often leading me to think that Mann never did capture the dialogue of Holmes and Watson. It’s a minor quibble, but it was distracting at times.
I wanted to like this book a great deal more than I did. Characterization remained shallow throughout, and the dialogue was sometimes just jarring enough that it proved a distraction. Those weren’t fatal flaws; my only significant criticism was that the book was, for the most part, all too mundane and boring. Throughout, I often asked myself why Holmes wasn’t interested in getting involved in the iron men case. Robots seem to be rampaging through the streets of London, and instead of reading about that, we’re left with a plot that pales in comparison with the events we know are occurring off-stage at the same time. Recommended mainly for those who are big fans of George Mann’s work and those who really crave new pastiches of Sherlock Holmes.
Cleanliness is Next to Deadliness
by Laurel Manning
Do you believe that you can create your own fate? I always believed I would die in the shower and every time I stepped in I feared the inevitable.
Yesterday I didn’t bother showering so today I must. The hairs on my arm start to rise as step under. I know he’s out there, the man with the knife, my shower killer.
I’m in, what’s that noise? Oh God he’s here. A shadow looms in the doorway. I hear “Hi Honey” before I slip and crack my head open on the shower floor. COD: Household Accident. My husband is devastated.
Issue #10: Ghost Stories, November 2013
By Various Contributors
Reviewed by Eden Royce
Do you believe in ghosts?
Regardless of your answer to that question, do you believe that a horror magazine can be successful in a world of full-length novels? I do, because Midnight Echo has succeeded in putting together an excellent compilation of short horror tales and other features that make it so. (Sorry, I’m a Trekkie as well as a horror fan.)
What lies in wait after death has always been fascinating to writers and readers of horror. Even with their mere presence, ghosts can change the outcome of a story. And should they decide to take action, no one is unaffected. Midnight Echo has chosen tales from both of these paths: ghosts that lurk, spirits that take matters into their own… hands?
These tales are Gothic in nature to me: creepy and atmospheric. The characters’ lives and sanity are at stake here and in most of the stories, you’re not sure which you’d rather lose. Ghosts bring out multiple reactions in us: fear, fascination, and a bit of sadness. Especially when the ghost is of someone we know. Do you try to communicate… understand… help? Or do you flee, knowing that the thing in front of you isn’t the person you knew and loved?
Vincent Chong has created just the right cover for this issue: ethereal and haunting, with a touch of occult. Issue #10 also includes an interview with Friday the 13th author Victor Miller, a fascinating column about Australia’s ghosts by Andrew McKiernan, and Mark Smith-Briggs Celluloid Nightmares feature on the remake of Australian cult classic, Patrick.
Joseph Pinto’s “Lunch” is a heart-breaking tale of grief and remorse; with an ending that will make you forever after let those in mourning take all the time they need….
“Darker” by Zena Shapter was a enjoyable tale, blending dark fantasy with horror, to tell the story of a man that believes himself capable of taking revenge on an enemy by making a deal with a creature that calls itself more than a god. He’s quite wrong.
This issue is a great read all around. And as far as that first question in this review goes, maybe read this issue before you answer.
Recommended. Visit www.midnightechomagazine.com for full details.
Starting from 2014 the Horror Writers Association (HWA) has instituted the Horror Writers Association Scholarship, open to all members of the HWA. The Scholarship is designed to assist in the professional development of writers in the horror/dark fantasy genre. The first Horror Writers Association Scholarship has been awarded to Jim Pyre, a pseudonym for a writer who grew up in Chicago but now lives in a small farming town.
Jim lives in Ohio with my wife and many, many cats. A Midwesterner by birth, he grew up in Chicago and graduated from a law school in Columbus, Ohio. He reads, writes and works a day job in between. He writes because he knows that there are places – above and below us, behind us, beside us, just beyond the reach of our peripheral vision, that are inhabited, populated, filled … with things. You know what he’s talking about. Things. Spooky things. Creepy things. Crawly things. Shadowy things. Ghostly things even. And these things always find their way into his fiction. He can be found at: www.jimpyre.com, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter as Jim Pyre.
Jim said, “I’m humbled and incredibly grateful for receiving this award. I would like to thank the Horror Writers Association and the judges for awarding me this scholarship. This is a wonderful opportunity for me to explore my craft. To learn just how to put blood to paper. When I was a child I dreamed of becoming an author. I’d copy book after book in the hopes of understanding the secrets of becoming a writer. Sadly, most childhood fancies fall by the wayside with age and mine were no different. School and work replaced art, but my desire to create always remained. Now, thanks to the HWA I get follow a wonderful dream I’ve put on hold for far too long.”
HWA President Rocky Wood said, “We are pleased to present a scholarship specifically targeted to support the development of authors in our genre.”
About the HWA
The Horror Writers Association is a worldwide organization promoting dark literature and its creators. It has over 1200 members who write, edit and publish professionally in fiction, nonfiction, videogames, films, comics, and other media. For more information about the HWA visit www.horror.org. Media inquiries to email@example.com
From Wild Eye Releasing
New York, NY - Wild Eye Releasing is excited to announce that Cary Hill’s Scream Park will be available nationwide on DVD and VOD April 22nd. Hailed by Doctor Carnage Reviews as “creepy” and “bringing to mind Black Christmas and John Carpenter’s Halloween“, Scream Park was a hit at horror festivals throughout 2013, slashing to audience acclaim at Texas Frightmare Weekend, the Eerie Horror Film Festival and Horror Realm.
The Fright Land amusement park is on the verge of closing its doors forever. But the park’s owner, Hyde (Doug Bradley,Hellraiser), has one last plan to sell more tickets…murder. Hiring two backwoods maniacs to break into the park and hack and slash all his employees, Hyde thinks these killings will create a media sensation, but he has just unleashed a horror that no one can survive.
Tradepaperback, 281 pp., $16.00
Reviewed by Michael Collings
Wolf’s Cut is the fifth volume in a series involving a werewolf homicide cop named, appropriately enough, Nick Lupo. As such it shares the strengths and the weaknesses of serial narratives.
Its strengths are a solid sense of characters—major and minor—as they enter this story with detailed backgrounds, motivations, and responses to their various situations…for several, how they handle being werewolves. There is an equivalent sense of solid landscapes, mapped in earlier novels and continued in this one.
Its weaknesses, unfortunately, are intimately connected with its strengths. Many of the characters and situations continue from earlier stories, and Wolf’s Cut devotes much of its first fifty or so pages to stopping the current story—the mob’s attempt to take over a reservation casino—and giving detailed flashbacks into characters, organizations, actions, and other carryovers. One particular piece of information is emphasized at least six times, when readers (especially those familiar with the series) would lock it in after the first repetition.
In addition, throughout most of the book, there are half a dozen hubs of action, until a seventh is suddenly added three-quarters of the way through. Managing shifts among the various landscapes—and times, since portions move back to post-WWII Italy—without disrupting the threads associated with each character proves difficult, increasingly so as the story progresses.
Add to that the dozen or so major characters, often referred to by their situations in previous novels, and Wolf’s Cut becomes a potentially solid story that threatens to get lost in its own minutiae.
Gagliani’s take on the werewolf motif is interesting, but as with other points it sometimes clogs the storytelling. A key factor in combatting the creatures is their horrific reaction to being stabbed by one of two silver-bladed knives from the Vatican; and each time the story refers to the Vatican silvers, it stops to recount bits of their history, to describe their power against werewolves (as if showing it were not sufficient), and, more disturbingly, to repeat and repeat that these are the Vatican knives, not just any old silver blades.
Another element in the makeup of his creatures is their increased libido, based upon fundamental changes in DNA subsequent to being bitten. Again, that is an intriguing detail that should strengthen Gagliani’s representation. Unfortunately, again, it begins to overshadow all of the werewolves, their actions and reactions. At least one character slips into almost a caricature—a sex-driven female, wolf and will and always willing, devastatingly beautiful and urgent to have…and destroy…any man who crosses her path. A bit of that works well; too much, and the novel seems to be striving for a subtitle: “ A Sex Manual for Werewolves.”
Wolf’s Cut is also bulky, wordy at times, with a fair number of malformed sentences that, for me at least, interfere with the story it so wants to tell. And there is a story, almost buried under all of the difficulties. The tribe’s struggle against the mob; a reservation doctor’s struggle with problems internal and external; Nick Lupo’s struggle with his basic identity—all of these could blend into a strong, taut, well-told horror-thriller. Just not this one.