Archive for Book Reviews
Germany has lost the war and occupying forces are there cleaning up the mess and bringing order to the chaos. Or they are trying. In the British Zone, Detective Inspector Silas Payne from Scotland Yard is called in to investigate a gruesome murder – kind of an understatement in the country that committed so many gruesome murders of its own during that time. But this one was not a war crime by any means.
For those of you who are WWII buffs, as I am, the author does an incredible job bringing readers back to that time, engulfing us in the atmosphere of the end of the war. The good, the bad and the ugly of occupation forces sucks us into a time that hopefully will never happen again. But for this story, it sets the pace and the horror of the upcoming investigation.
The characters involved drag us into the most unusual crime. Detective Inspector Payne runs across a unit of soldiers whose aim is to have a good time, grab some souvenirs, and mess up whatever clues were left at the crime scene. Two dead bodies in the basement of the house – one man and one woman and a table covered with surgical instruments. The man has an unusual tattoo which signified Waffen SS, a German group that was terrifying as many occupiers as possible. Looks like something was interrupted but Payne wanted to know more – all of it.
Payne visits Wolffslust prison in the town and finds that most of the prisoners were let go without even checking what crimes brought them there. He also finds a door that he is unable to open. He immediately has someone come and blast it open. Inside are crates and boxes and piles of paperwork and odd equipment. Among them are skulls, glass jars with internal organs – well, you can imagine. The equipment is the most interesting. Can you wait for it?
Finally, Detective Inspector Payne is led to a man that is still being held in the prison – Amon Toth, ex-SS and ex-Gestapo. The prisoner proceeds to tell Payne that he knows the killer and that he will kill again. But he will only give him the information if he can be allowed to escape the prison, cross the border and get away. Well….
Characters are well written and entertaining in scary and creepy ways – all to set you up for that final chapter. I will leave you with a name mentioned in the very first few pages of the book – Little Otto. Who he is and what he does is why you should read this novel. It will creep you out and leave you to look over your shoulder in the future.
Jim is a man tired of life and hiding secrets. In fact, he’s hiding a rather big secret. He and his wife are struggling to make their marriage work. On a business trip, Jim decides to spice up his dull routine, and in a haze of gin, picks up a woman in a bar. The night quickly goes from bad to worse, and he soon realizes that his alcohol-induced decision would become the worst mistake he’s ever made.
Rera immediately sets up an intriguing story with a sure-fire lure—a mysterious phone call. Jim and his wife are taking a few days to try and repair the tatters of their marriage. But this phone call shatters Jim’s shaky peace of mind. The call is from a dead man, and he informs Jim that the police are re-opening a murder investigation. A murder investigation that hinges squarely on Jim’s terrible gin-soaked decision, and the details of that evening he conveniently left out for his wife. The narrative unfolds slowly, but it’s well-paced, and the growing confusion and horror draw the reader deep into this macabre and disturbing tale.
Sign is a multi-layered story of lies, deception, the supernatural, revenge, and murder. Rera skillfully keeps the reader on a delicate balance between the occult and the real world throughout the novel. The work’s only major flaw is the La Conga brothers. They are flat, cliché characters, and the chapter on Marlene’s kidnapping is a glaring misstep in an otherwise well-developed narrative. Sidestepping those two (they only make a brief appearance), Sign comes highly recommended.
According to Albert Camus, “A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession.” Many critics interpret the works of Edgar Allan Poe to be a confession—a means of purging himself of the shame he felt regarding his wife’s untimely death and his vices. As Spirits of the Dead is an adaptation, it meshes Poe’s guilt with Richard Corben’s vision. The result: new interpretations that sometimes suit, at other times rattle, the familiar frames provided by one of the founding fathers of the horror genre.
The art is extraordinary, beginning with the front cover, which depicts Poe like most of us have always imagined him: restlessly scavenging for peace in a night teeming with mystery and dread. The skulls at his feet represent the waking nightmare that was his life: a nightmare he fabricated via personal demons and sad choices.
The interior art is equally wonderful. Some of the characters are drawn with a bit of humor. For example, the narrator, Mag the Hag, provides a Crypt Keeper-esque blend of satire and disgust. “Fall of the House of Usher” contains a Roderick who resembles an aging rock star. His sister, Madeline, looks enough like him to evoke sympathy. Most of the female characters are generously endowed with ample bosom, and the nude females – even the corpses – have enviable figures.
The colors are rich and the panels fully saturated. The lack of empty visual space gives a frenzied feel to the horror, much in the way that a soundtrack enhances the tension of a thriller film.
Corben’s signature style – familiar to those of us who enjoy Heavy Metal Magazine, DC Comics, and other Dark Horse offerings – is omnipresent. He interprets the grotesque in a much more straightforward manner than Poe did in the original tales and poems.
The most interesting is his take on “The City in the Sea.” Corben gives it a complex intensity that is not explicit in Poe’s poem. Corben adds racist undertones reminiscent of Melville’s Benito Cereno. It is a compelling lens through which to view the primary source.
Corben presents only the opening lines of poems. As a Poe purist, I would have liked more of the lyrical majesty and less veering off the path of the original vision, especially with a masterpiece like The Raven. Fans of old school style comics and horror will really enjoy this book. Corben’s enthusiasm for the material did encourage me to return to the original poems and stories for a hundredth read.
It’s almost Halloween. The nights are getting longer, there’s a dark chill in the air, and the lines between worlds are cracking. From somewhere within those cracks lurks Bad Apples: Five Slices of Halloween Horror, a five-author anthology beckoning you to lose yourself in its pages.
Gregor Xane’s “The Wriggle Twins” is a morbid, twisted, darkly whimsical tale of two very special children. These two live on their own and only come out to play on Halloween, but when they do, you’ll want to be as far away as possible. The kids are seeking offerings for their paranormal benefactor, and it’s not candy he collects.
Evans Light’s “Pumpkinhead Ted” is a classic revenge tale that pits an unfortunate deformed boy against a group of vicious bullies. It’s a high-caliber gross-out at times, and the moral middle ground it takes with the characters adds to its horrific quality.
Adam Light’s “Ghost Light Road”, despite its title, is a darker and bleaker story than the ones before it. Supernatural slasher film junkies will get their fix here, as a group of thrill-seekers become prey in an isolated house, and an urban legend evolves and adapts to modern times.
Jason Parent’s “Easy Pickings” returns to the bullying theme, as two friends decide to pick on a younger boy, not realizing that his invisible friend isn’t so imaginary after all. Once the tables turn, games of tag and hide-and-seek become life or death affairs.
Edward Lorn’s “The Scare Rows” ends the collection, and it’s far different from any of the preceding stories. A mysterious man walks into a small town and sets it abuzz in anticipation of an event no one can quite describe. The direction this goes is unexpected and very explicit, in both violence and sex, but it’s tongue-in-cheek the whole way through.
It’s clear that each author included here has a love for the horror genre in its many facets, and for Halloween in particular. The descriptions of its sights, smells and sounds are spot-on. The stories are thrilling and chilling and nostalgic in all the right places, and they all hold that indefinable magic that so many associate with that inimitable evening. There are no highlights here. These stories are excellent across the board. Bad Apples is a welcome addition to the genre, and one that you can come back to year after year when autumnal darkness descends. Recommended.
Beyond the Grip of Time marks the third volume of M. Amanuensis Sharkchild’s “The Dark Verse”, a series of books collecting stories that first appeared on the podcast of the same name. Sharkchild describes these tales as “occult, metaphysical, and fantastical horror”, but that only scratches the surface of the dark dreamscapes you’ll begin to wander as soon as you open the cover. This is the kind of cosmic horror and fantasy that takes you both deep inside yourself and farther away from reality than you’d perhaps care to imagine. It is indeed a vicarious journey beyond the grip of time, and Sharkchild’s singular vision is rendered succinctly through his archaic writing style.
The book itself, as a physical object, is a work of art. The purple faux-leather hardcover with its glossy golden illustrations (one on the front and one on the back), is stunning to look at and soft to the touch, and the weight of it pairs well with the psychological weight of the strange tales it contains. There are also two full color, two-page illustrations on the front and back inner cover, as well as a one-and-a-half page black and white one preceding each story. These gorgeous illustrations, provided by John F. Stifter, are detailed, yet still give just an enigmatic inkling of what’s to come.
There are twenty-six stories here, most of them being only a few pages in length, but skimming through the table of contents to see titles like “The Thief of Timeworn Lives and his Fortress” and “The Truncation of Being By Folding Flesh” will give at least a bare idea of the overall tone of the collection. These are tales of people entwined in the inner workings of forces far beyond our ordinary range of perception. Many of the main characters are either adepts or acolytes in various occult paths. Some are merely ordinary people caught up in extraordinary things by no fault of their own. Almost invariably there’s the sense that in Sharkchild’s fictional world, humanity is merely like a grain of sand in a vast and vastly unknowable desert. Whether the story falls into the horror or fantasy genre, chaos tends to trump order, at times literally tearing it apart.
There are stolen and murdered souls, dark bargains best left alone, the exploration of worlds beyond worlds, people playing God in the most clinical manner, flesh offered and flesh taken, the innocently spoken words of Unthinkable Curses, and a whole host of obscene and terrifying creatures brought to vivid life. There’s all of this and a lot more.
This third volume of The Dark Verse reads fine as a standalone collection of weird fiction, but given the depth of imagination in the stories, and the book’s immaculate presentation, you’ll likely find yourself wanting to pick up the other volumes as well. Beyond the Grip of Time is a beautiful tome all around. Highly recommended.
If you’re going to write a zombie novel in 2014, you have to give readers something truly new because by this point, if someone is interested in reading a story about zombies, they’ve undoubtedly read all the usual approaches by now. I am happy to say that M. R. Carey has indeed given us a fresh look at zombies in THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS. I’m not going to beat around the bush as some other reviews have and pretend that this is something other than a zombie novel. That’s not a spoiler, simply read the back cover blurbs and you’ll know just what you’re in for. I’d also like to clarify that while this book is credited to “M. R. Carey,” it is written by Mike Carey, prolific author of the Felix Castor supernatural detective series as well as the Lucifer comic/graphic novel series (a spin-off of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman). Carey’s got a great reputation as a wordsmith and world-builder, so I’m not sure why the publisher has resorted to initials here.
Some mild plot spoilers follow, though I promise not to ruin the book for you.
Melanie is a very smart, precocious girl forcibly enrolled in a special school that is as much a maximum-security prison as it is a place of learning. The world outside the school is a post-apocalyptic Britain, with the survivors trying desperately to find a cure for the disease that has brought down civilization. I don’t want to say too much about the nature of the disease that brought down civilization, except to say that it is interesting and nuanced, and provides good scope for the story. Again, I don’t want to offer too many spoilers, but Melanie, her favorite teacher, and a couple soldiers are forced to leave the fragile outpost of a heavily militarized civilization in which they have been living and travel through a ruined Britain, giving the reader the opportunity to learn what’s going on along with the protagonists.
The zombies of THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS offer a nice, logical mix of shamblers, sprinters, and more enigmatic sorts, making their nature unpredictable and part of the novel’s mystery for unraveling. I was also pleasantly reminded of David Gerrold’s excellent (though still uncompleted after all these years) War Against the Chtorr series in which an alien – and highly lethal – ecosystem is gradually replacing our own.
Carey’s writing is very clear and eminently readable; this was the longest piece of fiction I’ve read by Carey (I’ve loved several of his stories collected in various anthologies) and his prose remains as fine as ever. Characterization, dialogue, plot, and action sequences are all very well done. I am happy to say that action and combat are strengths for Carey.
I can’t quite decide if THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is a young adult novel or not, or if that’s even a meaningful genre distinction (aren’t YA novels mainly read by adults anyway?), and frankly, it doesn’t matter either way. This was a very fast, enjoyable read. Hard to put down. Highly recommended.