Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In Laymon’s Terms Edited by Kelly Laymon, Steve Gerlach, and Richard Chizmar

From Cemetery Dance:

This massive, oversized tribute anthology for Richard Laymon features short fiction and personal remembrances from dozens and dozens of the biggest names in horror and Laymon’s biggest fans.

In addition, there are more than one hundred pages of “Rarities and Fan Favorites” from Richard Laymon’s personal files — stories, interviews, and more, including a 17 page photo album personally selected by Ann Laymon. Several of these rare pieces were scanned directly from Laymon’s original manuscripts and contain his handwritten corrections.

Featuring more than 600 pages of fiction and essays written in honor of the man, author, and friend, In Laymon’s Terms is personal, moving, and wildly entertaining. This is a unique hardcover that would have made Richard Laymon proud.

Richard Laymon is the most respected author in the genre.  This is a very simple and a very bold statement but it is also a statement that I believe to be completely accurate.  Listening to authors talk about Laymon is like listening to veterans talk about a sergeant who saved his entire platoon because of his selfless devotion to the cause.  The love they have for Richard Laymon is genuine and boundless.  I’ve even spoken to authors who may not necessarily care for his style but they are quick to add that, as a person, Dick was in a league of his own.  His love for the genre and his peers was unparelled and the man never took his success for granted.  Simply put, he was a class act.

Cemetery Dance did a fantastic job with this book.  The look and  feel of the book is absolutely breathtaking and it does the memory of Richard Laymon supreme justice.  The amount of material presented within the covers is staggering and every word of it drips with the love and adoration for a man who was criminally underrated by a few and insanely loved by many.

The beauty of this wonderful Cemetery Dance release is that it will appeal to Laymon devotees, as well as non-fans equally.  Sure there are stories here that could have easily come directly from Laymon’s pen (Keene’s Castaways and Smith’s Pizza Face) but there are a great abundance of tales that channel the spirit of Laymon without bearing much resemblance to his style (Ed Lee’s Chef).  A great deal of credit should be given to Kelly Laymon, Steve Gerlach and Richard Chizmar.  These are the editors who realized that there are genre fans out there that may not care for the Laymon style but are very curious about his impact on the genre and they did a wonderful job putting that on display in this collection. The stories range from despicable in the case of Torres’ Bestiality, to humorous in Piccirilli’s New York Comes to the Desert, to flat-out brilliant with Little’s Meeting Joanne. Every story really seems to take a theme present in Laymon’s work and exploit it to the fullest.  The quality of work in this collection is amazing, as every story is memorable and executed impeccably.  This is one of those rare collections where there really isn’t a weak spot to speak of.

Then there are the remembrances.  Ah yes, the remembrances. There is no way I can adequately explain the emotion evoked in these heartfelt essays.  For many of these writers, this was the opportunity to formally say goodbye to a friend that was taken from them too early. The magnitude of emotions displayed here will have your heart in your throat and tears streaming from your eyes.  There is no way around it. The recollections range in tone but all are a testament to the fact that Richard Laymon was a great mentor and friend to many. The reader will feel slightly voyeuristic as these authors lay their souls on the paper.  These essays are really that powerful.

As a complete Laymon nut, the real highlight for me was the inclusion of actual Laymon works that I had never read.  Reading Laymon’s dedication to pipe smoking in his short lived zine, ‘Smokers Blend’, was an absolute treat, while dissecting some poems from a college aged Laymon was more fun than I’ve had in awhile.  These are the real draw for the Laymon fan and make this collection well worth the price.  It adds a certain sense of validity to those years of clamoring about in used bookstores trying to find the Headline edition of In The Dark or selling various organs to afford that copy of A Writer’s Tale on eBay. This collection proves that we weren’t the only ones going crazy over the writings of Richard Laymon.

This is a most fitting farewell to a man who deserves to be appreciated in the same way that people appreciate names like King, Barker and Bloch.  His writing was mean and gritty with a subtle undercurrent of brutal humor which made his style so damn unique.  More than any other writer, Richard Laymon sucked me into the world of genre fiction and, based on the brilliant display of emotion in this gorgeous collection, I am not the only one.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Animosity by James Newman

James Newman has described Animosity as his, “love letter to the horror genre.”  I certainly think this is an apt description but I would take it a step further and argue that Animosity is James Newman’s big ol’ bear-hug to, not only the genre, but the fans that keep it alive and kicking.

This is the book that every horror fan needs to read because, lets face it,  it’s tough being a part of this community.  People assume we are all crazed maniacs looking to undermine the moral fiber of society.  I remember going into my local indie bookstore, asking where the horror section was and the clerk glared at me as if I had just asked for a step-by-step guide for committing every carnal depravity known to man (and some that may have been brand new.)  It doesn’t stop there, though.  The cautious glances from store clerks when you pick up that amazing new edition of Cannibal Ferox or the frightened look your co-worker gives when they find that beat-up Laymon paperback sitting in your office- yep, we deal with a ton of (completely unjustified) persecution.  Why are we the only real literary and cinematic genre that has dozens of conventions devoted to it? I’ll tell ya’ why- because we are so marginalized from society that most of us don’t even bother talking about the genre in mixed company.  We need these events so we can revel in our mutual love of the macabre. Well James Newman decided to step in and tell us that we are not alone. Nope, there are others just like us and a few that are little worse off.

From Necessary Evil Press:

Andrew Holland is a bestselling horror writer. While none of Andy’s neighbors has any interest in reading his macabre books, they’re pleased to have a celebrity author living among them.

 Then, one morning, Andy finds the body of a child several hundred feet from his front door. A little girl who has been raped and murdered.

 And everything changes on Poinsettia Lane.

 Andy’s neighbors turn on him. Their animosity is subtle at first: a dirty look from across the street, a friendly wave that is not reciprocated. The local media exacerbates the tension in the neighborhood by insinuating connections between the horror writer’s work and his role in the girl’s murder.

 The authorities clear Andy of any wrongdoing, but the stain has set.

 Before long, this once-quiet, peaceful neighborhood becomes a maelstrom of anxiety and chaos. Andy’s neighbors surround his home like a horde of zombies – but instead of a hunger for flesh, these monsters are driven by lies, fear, and hatred.

Andy Holland’s neighborhood is just like our neighborhoods and his neighbors are our neighbors.  They are the people who we interact with on a daily basis and we can easily see them reflected in Newman’s characters.  That is what makes this book so incredibly frightening.  We can easily see what animosity can do to a person.  It can bring out the hatred and ugliness in the people we know.  Newman’s vision of a picturesque community plays out like the classic Twilight Zone episode, ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street’ as the true villains are those who claim to be “fighting the good fight”. Logic gets tossed to the wayside as mob mentality takes over and people begin looking for any reason to point the finger.  The interesting thing is that in a world that claims to embrace diversity, the person with the slightest idiosyncrasy is the most commonly persecuted.  This is the lesson that Newman is trying to get across to the reader.  He is telling us that just because our tastes lean toward the macabre, we are no different than those people who paint their chests for sporting events or the bible thumper who condemns all non-believers.  He is taking us in and telling us that we should celebrate our passion instead of hiding it.

Animosity is a story that begs to be read in one sitting.  This book starts off as a slow simmer and before you know what hit you, this thing is at a rolling boil.  Newman’s ability to create tension is reminiscent of Ketchum as he sucks the reader in with very commonplace events and escalates the whole affair until the reader and characters find themselves in a frenzied free-fall with no hope of escape.  The magic in Newman’s writing lies in his ability to keep the whole story planted firmly in reality as he presents these seemingly impossible scenarios.

Animosity solidifies Newman as a must-read author for me.  His unique voice and blue collar style really speak to me in a way that few authors can.  Animosity , much like his other work, doesn’t rely on supernatural monsters but, instead, explores the inner evil within humanity.  If you have yet to read anything by this extremely talented author I strongly urge you to head over to the Necessary Evil Press site and pick up your copy today.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hero by Wrath James White and JF Gonzalez

There is something special that happens when an author defies expectations and creates something that seems to be totally out of their comfort zone. There is a certain thrill that a reader gets when we realize that we are witnessing the evolution of a writer as he explores his craft. This is exactly what happened when Wrath James White and JF Gonzalez pooled their talents and unleashed Hero on the genre.

From Amazon.com:

Adelle Smith has lived her entire life for the betterment of mankind. A Civil Rights Activist in the Sixties and Seventies, she has spent most of her adult life attending marches, giving speeches, and lending a hand to anyone in need. But on the very evening she is to be acknowledged with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her humanitarian efforts, a stroke leaves her partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Now Adelle’s in the care of a ruthless hospice nurse, who sees not a hero before her, but the cause of her many hardships growing up as a child of interracial parents, someone who decides to give Adelle her very own brand of Physical Therapy; consisting of pain and suffering, mental cruelty and torture. And now, after a lifetime of helping others, Adelle needs help, quickly, before another round of brutal treatment snuffs out her life.

White and Gonzalez are two authors who really know how to bring the blood. In fact, these are two authors that I routinely hear people say that their books are “too much.” I guess that is why I was so surprised to see these two masters of gore rein it in a bit and deliver a story that explores the subtle nuances of racism and survival.

The writing is absolutely seamless, which is becoming rarer and rarer with collaborations. Many times, the difference in style is so discernible that it completely takes the reader away from the story- this isn’t the case with Hero . White and Gonzalez approach this story with an air of confidence as they deftly craft one of the most tightly wound tales of medical terror that one is likely to come across. They assault us with their command of the craft and leave us cowering with the protagonist as we await the next onslaught. Make no mistake, Hero puts the reader through some serious abuse. Sure, there are nasty bits of physical torture (it is a Wrath and JF collaboration, after all) but what really threw me for a loop was the emotional rollercoaster I found myself caught up in. The authors really engage the reader on an emotional level and this is where the story really shines.

The protagonist, Adelle, has been through quite a bit in her life and the authors take the time to explore her heart-breaking past. The reader is left to bear witness to the racial inequities that shaped Adelle into the strong civil leader that she is today. The authors do a sensational job of shaping her past which is why the present seems to be so much more unsettling. See, one gets the impression that Adelle has overcome all possible adversity and now she can ride off into the sunset and leave the younger generation to carry the torch. She deserves the time to herself and now she finally has it. Unfortunately, her new hospice nurse won’t let Adelle off the hook so easily. This particular nurse presents us with a very unique view of racism, as she combines elements of self-loathing with a balls-to-the-wall case of psychosis. Adelle is put in a hopeless situation as she finds herself at the mercy of the deranged nurse and the audience winces along for the ride which yields some very interesting and unexpected results.

The story plays out in reality. There are no sugarcoated characters with strong morals. Everyone in Hero has flaws and they act accordingly. This allows the writers to lend a sense of credibility as they explore the various issues that are present with inner-city life. No one is glorified but there are aspects of their personality that should be celebrated. There is the local drug pusher who, despite the violent life he leads, is willing to keep a watchful eye over Adelle after she is released from the hospital. Then we have Adelle’s daughter, who has left the city for the suburbs and is constantly trying to suppress her urban upbringing while putting on a white collar fa├žade. These are the types of characters that make Hero an absolute delight to read. Anyone can write a gripping story about a crazed nurse tormenting her patient, but it takes special talent to add layers of social commentary and authenticity to the proceedings. This is the magic of Hero . If you have no prior experience with White or Gonzalez, you may see Hero as a well told exploration of tension but Hero is much more than that. Aside from being a great collaboration, Hero is the manifestation of two writers challenging themselves and their craft. It is something that will be enjoyed by all genre fans but will mean so much more to fans of both authors.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mine by Robert R McCammon

It is late and you are absolutely exhausted.  Another day struggling to make ends meet has taken its toll on you and you really just need to unwind.  Then it happens- the baby starts screaming.  Your paternal instincts kick in and you pick up the wailing infant in an attempt to soothe their pain.  Unfortunately, this is one of those times where nothing seems to work.  Now, at this point any normal parent would take additional measures to ease the child’s discomfort.  Well, normal parents are not the main character in Robert R, McCammon’s, Mine .  See, the main character in Mine is a woman known as Mary Terror and what she chooses to do is take the child and shove its face into a white hot oven range. Yep, you know that this is going to be an intense read from the get-go.

From Amazon.com:

Laura Clayborne is a successful journalist with a successful stockbroker husband. But her marriage is foundering and her biological clock is winding down. David, her newborn son, is the only light of her life.
Mary Terrell, alias Mary Terror, is a scarred survivor of the Sixties. A former member of the terrorist group, Storm Front Brigade, she now festers in a world of warped memories and unrelenting rage. Quite simply, Mary Terror is mad. Murderously mad.

When Mary Terror steals Laura’s baby and heads west, killing anyone in her way, Laura realizes the only way to stop her is to hunt her down. But the closer she gets to Mary, the more she must think and act like her….

Mary Terror is a child of the sixties, a lover of peace, except that somewhere along her life’s path hate and evil began to replace the concepts of love and empathy.  These feelings have slowly devoured Mary over the years, to the point where she is just a shell of her former self. She is a pure ball of mangled insanity and misplaced madness.  Her distorted view of reality has led her to the belief that the only way to make things right is to get a child and take it to her ex-love in California.  Mary is simply trying to find her place in a world where her ideals are no longer the status quo.  Instead of adapting, as many of Mary’s friends from the 60s have, she still holds the same anger and hatred toward “the system” and attempts to fit them into modern society.  The result is one of the most frightening characters that you are likely to read.  Mary’s drive knows no bounds as she steals a child and takes off for the West Coast, leaving a trail of death in her wake.

McCammon writes Mary Terror with frightening realism.  The descriptions of her thoughts, drug use and habits make this character really jump off the page.  McCammon puts forth the present day Mary Terror without bias- allowing the reader to discover how far-reaching her madness truly is.  These descriptions are contrasted beautifully with flashbacks of Mary with the group known as The Storm Front Brigade.  The reader can begin to make the connections in their head between the two eras as we slowly begin to see how Mary’s mind has devolved.  Having these flashbacks add quite a bit of “fat” to the story and also help the reader catch their breath during one heart-pounding story.

Mine is one of the most intense reads you are likely to come across.  There are points in the novel where the story works up to a pace so frantic that your palms will sweat.  At its core, the book is about a mother’s love for her child and the lengths parents will go for the ones they love. This is the center of all the tension throughout the book.  The reader will cringe as Mary Terror attempts to care for poor baby David in her own unique way and they will certainly be on the edge of their seat as Laura realizes that the only person she can trust is herself in the pursuit of Mary.  It is a classic cat-and-mouse game that is written with sniper-like precision.

For me, Mine is McCammon stepping away from his normal style and writing something to have a bit of fun.  This book does not share anything in common with the deep emotional themes of Boy’s Life or the sweeping scope of Swan Song. Nope, this book is simply an action driven tale done to complete perfection.  McCammon is not reinventing the wheel here; he is simply making the most streamlined and ferociously fast wheel that we have ever seen.

If you are looking for a wonderful page-turner with some truly horrific elements sprinkled in with non-stop action than Mine may just be the book for you!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Can You Survive The Zombie Apocalypse? by Max Brallier

Do you remember those silly Choose Your Own Adventure books of your youth? For me, they played an integral role in my childhood.  I distinctly remember sitting on my front porch, trading Choose Your Own Adventure paperbacks as if they were baseball cards.  Man, I wish there was an adult version for genre fans so I could still enjoy these books.  Well, thanks to Max Brallier my prayers have been answered because he has unleashed an amazing Choose Your Own Adventure book aimed at the adults who grew up on them.

From Amazon :

Inside these pages lies unspeakable horror. Bloodsplattering, brain-impaling, flesh-devouring horror. You’ve probably read your fair share of zombie stories. But this time it’s different. No longer can you sit idle as a bunch of fools make all the wrong moves. All hell is about to break loose—and YOU have a say in humanity’s survival. 

You have choices to make.

Moral dilemmas.

 Strategic decisions.

 Weapons. Vehicles.

 Will you be a hero?

 Or will you cover your own ass at all costs?

 Can you withstand the coming hours, days, weeks, and months? Or will you die amidst the chaos and violence of a zombie uprising?

 Or, worst of all, will you become one of them?

 I have read a few books trying to capitalize on the nostalgia of the Choose Your Own Adventure and, frankly, they have all been awful.  They try to straddle the fine line between youth and adult and the result is a story that is haphazardly thrown together with the hope that the novelty alone will sell them some copies.  Luckily for us genre fans, Brallier breaks this mold and offers a refreshingly mature and thoughtful take on this well-worn format.

Can You Survive The Zombie Apocalypse? is a gut-munching success because Brallier identifies his target audience and he writes to them, and them only.  This is not a book for children or the young adult crowd. This is a book written for adult genre fans who are looking for a breath of fresh (or fetid) air within a zombie genre that has been run into the ground.  The subject matter plays upon the preconceived notions of what a zombie story should include, but then adds a hefty amount of action and humor to make it feel fresh and engaging.  Sure, it contains all of the staples that fans of the undead have come to expect, but there is a sense of first-person realism that will resonate with even the most hardened zombie fan.  The decisions that the reader is faced with are realistic ones.  I never caught myself becoming frustrated with the possible courses of action because they were the same decisions that I would make if put in this situation.  This really helps elevate Can You Survive The Zombie Apocalypse? beyond a gimmicky cash-in and puts it squarely in the potential classic category.

The best thing that Can You Survive The Zombie Apocalypse? has going for it is Brallier’s attention to the story.  Sure, this is a Choose Your Own Adventure but the story never gets lost in the gimmick.  In fact, the entire gimmick could be dropped and you would have a collection of short stories that would rival some of the best undead collection available.  The story is just flat-out fantastic.  The reader assumes  the role of protagonist as Brallier leads us around Manhattan after a massive zombie outbreak.  There are roving motorcycle gangs, infested sports complexes (Yankee Stadium overrun with the undead is pretty impressive) and, of course, military involvement- all while the reader is given choices along the way which will determine their fate.  It is nothing short of amazing!  I felt like I was playing the starring role in some of my all-time favorite zombie films as I attempted to hack, slash and reason my way to safety.

Can You Survive The Zombie Apocalypse? Is a very accessible genre entry.  The books of Max Brooks immediately come to mind when trying to describe this to others- it is a book firmly rooted in genre fiction that will be widely consumed and appreciated within the mainstream.  It’s like Brallier wrote the content for us genre die-hards and then included the gimmick to get everyone else to check out what  is lurking in the underground of modern fiction.  I strongly recommend that people who love the zombie genre check this out.  Heck, I recommend that people who are sick of the zombie genre check this out.  This should be required reading for those looking to see how versatile and inventive genre fiction truly is these days.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Circle by Bentley Little

From Cemetery Dance:

“The shrine. How does it operate? Do you just pray to it or do you have to bring it something or what?”

In this unsettling novella by Bentley Little, many strange occurrences unsettle the inhabitants of William Tell Circle:

For Helen, a knock on the door brings an unexpected visitor along with lavish gifts, and it seems all her wishes have been granted…but at what cost?

For young Frank and his friends, a fabled neighborhood shrine may answer their prayers for a girlfriend, just as their older brothers hope the same source will grant them money. But the older boys’ improvised ritual turns into something horrible…

For Gil Marotta, a rescue mission to the shrine leads him into a chilling confrontation with the local witch…

The Circle tells the story of a normally quiet community, plunged into the kind of surreal nightmare only Bentley Little can deliver.

Simply stated, The Circle is not Bentley Little’s best work.  I originally read the story about 10 years ago when it was part of the Four Dark Nights collection and remember being entertained by it.  After all of these years my opinion of the story has lessened quite a bit.  If you were to take the story apart and examine each of its “components” it works but unfortunately as a whole the thing just comes off as disjointed and confusing.

The story takes place on a typical cul-de-sac in a mundane suburban neighborhood where the residents are as cookie cutter as they come.  Unfortunately for the residents of the circle, there also happen to be a modern day witch living in their midst and they have just pissed her off.  What follows is a series of horrific scenarios as the witch looks to bring retribution on her unsuspecting neighbors.  The actual story was fresh, fun and surprisingly believable.  Things just fell apart in the execution.

Little usually reaches the line where most authors would stop and he crosses it with a grin on his face.  Nothing seems too violent or graphic for Little. This wasn’t the case in The Circle.  On more than one occasion I was waiting for a huge payoff but was left complete blue balled.  Even in the opening (arguably the best part of the story) the premise is absolutely disgusting but it didn’t hit on an emotional level the way Little’s other “gross out” scenes play out. I guess this is what happens when you grow up with an author and then go back and re-read some of their earlier work.  It also explains why I may have enjoyed the story a bit more when a read it a decade ago.

I’m sure most Little fans will scoop this up immediately and I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from doing so. As usual Cemetery Dance has done a bang up job with the presentation here and this will look beautiful on any collector’s shelf.  Now for those who are not necessarily Little fans or those new to his work, this may not be the best read for you.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Haunted by Bentley Little

It seems that once an author achieves any type of success in this genre, there are a group of “critics” who are quick to knock them down.  The critical attacks cite everything from their lack of literary prowess to the narcissistic love of their own style.  Hell, there are people who begrudge authors because they feel that certain authors have already enjoyed enough success, as if we are only allowed a set amount of praise and celebration.  When it comes to Bentley Little, this crowd loves to say that Little does not know how to properly close a story.  Well, Little’s new haunted house story, cleverly titled The Haunted , is out and as the old internet meme goes “haters gonna hate”.

From Amazon:

The Perry family’s new house is perfect-except for the weird behavior of the neighbors, and that odd smell coming from a dark corner in the basement. Pity no one warned the family about the house. Now it’s too late. Because the darkness at the bottom of the basement stairs is rising.

The Haunted is absolutely heartbreaking in its dissection familial relationships.  Don’t be mistaken, this is a haunted house tale but it is also a study of the power and beauty of family and sacrifice.  The Perry’s have had their fair share of pain in their past but have moved on and established themselves as a “normal” family.  Of course, the Perry’s have to endure the struggles that most families face when they have two teenage children, financial uncertainty and disapproving in-laws but they meet these obstacles and work through them. That is why the actual haunting seems so frightening.  Little creates rich characters that the reader can relate to and when we see them tormented, it hurts just a little bit more.  As evidenced by his book titles, this is what Little does best.  He creates characters and worlds that are eerily similar to the places his readers call “home”, then he incorporates chilling elements spawned from the mundane to throw our precious lives into a tailspin.

The story is slightly flawed as certain plotlines are never fully hashed out and often end up going nowhere, making the middle of the novel slightly frustrating.  There were elements of the story that were incorporated out of convenience instead of necessity.  For example, a local teacher who specializes in local history is brought into the story for no other reason than to create a bridge to flashbacks of the town.  His story was never fully resolved and to say that his character was one-dimensional still wouldn’t begin to describe how flat he was.  These complaints are trivial but they certainly detracted from the overall experience and are uncommon in Little’s work.

The fact that THE HAUNTED is so frightening makes it easy to forget about minor flaws.  Little crafted an ancient evil that had me waking up at night, hearing things creaking about the house.  Little uses modern technology like cell phones and computers, mixing in the classic haunting staples to create a truly inventive tale.  By having the Perry family receive lewd text messages and faces appearing on computer screens, Little walked a very fine line between silly and scary but I am happy to report that there is nothing lighthearted here.  The terror is cranked up at an agonizing pace until the reader is too frightened to keep reading but too engaged to put the book down.  It leaves the reader with a special reading experience that when firing on all cylinders, Little does better than anyone in the genre.

Now, it is time to talk about the ending.  As I said in the intro, there are a lot of people who love to hate Little’s endings.  As you may have guessed, I don’t really share that opinion.  For years the same thing has been said about King, yet I’ve never experienced it myself. The initial buzz surrounding The Haunted was more of the same.  As usual, I thought Little wrapped the story up beautifully.  I am not too much of man to admit that I wept openly as I worked through the final chapters of the story.  Little often takes a more human approach to his endings and THE HAUNTED was no different.  Despite a book full of supernatural evil, Bentley is able to find powerful ending in the normal, not the supernatural.  The personal take on the ending was Little at his most literary as his prose achieved maximum emotional impact.

The Haunted isn’t Little’s best but it is far from his worst.  The characters are very strong and the story is a solid haunted house tale that will frighten and titillate exactly where it should.  Little’s pacing is fast as ever which makes The Haunted one of the quickest, most entertaining books you’re likely to encounter this year.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bleed by Ed Kurtz

Have you ever been watching a really good horror film and you can just tell that the filmmakers were absolutely in love with the genre? It’s a good feeling, right? It’s like we are part of some special community where we are all just fans. That happens to me all of the time with film but it is rare that I get that feeling from a novel. Well Ed Kurtz has given me that feeling with his debut novel, Bleed . Ed knows what horror fans want because, at his core, he loves and understands the genre.

When Walt Blackmore moves into an old gable front house on the outskirts of a small town, things are really looking up for him; he has an adoring girlfriend to whom he plans to propose, a new job teaching English at the local high school, and an altogether bright future. His outlook and destiny are irreparably changed, however, when an unusual dark red spot appears on the ceiling in the hallway. Bit by bit, the spot grows, first into a dripping blood stain and eventually into a grotesque, muttering creature.

As the creature grows, Walt finds himself more and more interested in fostering its well-being. At first he only feeds it stray animals so that the blood-hungry monster can survive, but this soon fails to satisfy the creature’s ghastly needs. It is gradually becoming human again, and for that to happen it requires human blood and human flesh. And once Walt has crossed the line from curiosity to murder, there is no going back.

The audience has a front-row seat as Walt slowly begins his descent into the unthinkable. As the mysterious stain grows so does Walt’s insanity. Bleed is a slow-build with a quick pace. I know that sounds a bit contradictory but the pacing within each chapter is extremely quick while the chapters themselves build slowly to the climax. It is a very interesting dynamic that certainly helps Bleed deliver the scares while building a fantastic amount of tension.

As Walt loses his mind and the stain takes on a more recognizable form, Kurtz brings the scares. I found myself honestly frightened at what may be waiting for me on the next page. Kurtz picks off “safe” characters with reckless (and grisly) abandon so you never get “comfortable” within the story. Again, this is a testament to Kurtz’s ability to masterfully understand and manipulate the conventions of the genre.

With all of the scares on display, do you know what really got me? The noises. Kurtz saves his most descriptive prose to describe the sickly noises throughout the novel. Whether it is the creaking bedsprings in the intense prologue or the slurping and sucking sounds that emanate from the stain as it begins to take shape, these sounds add to the terror more than any amount of blood and gore ever could.

Bleed is a very simple novel done exceptionally well. Kurtz knows how to take a safe setting and few characters and twist it into an unpredictable mass of blood and scares. Kurtz is certainly a name to keep an eye out for in the future. I know I’ll be waiting with bated breath for his next release.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Wolf Hunt by Jeff Strand

I love Jeff Strand’s style. He can leave you cowering in the corner in terror or have you rolling on the floor in a bout of unbridled laughter (and at his best, he can have you doing both at the same time). There are a few authors who can craft a deeply frightening tale. There are a few authors that are able to tell a genuinely humorous story. There is only one author who can do both. That guy is Jeff Strand and Wolf Hunt may be the perfect balance between the laughs and the gore.

Two thugs. One innocent woman. And one VICIOUS frickin' werewolf.

Meet George and Lou, thugs for hire. The kind of intimidating-yet-friendly guys who will break your thumbs, but be polite about it.

Their latest assignment is to drive across Florida to deliver some precious cargo to a crime lord. The cargo: a man in a cage. Though Ivan seems perfectly human, they’re warned that he is, in fact, a bloodthirsty werewolf.

George and Lou don’t believe in the supernatural, but even if they did, it’s daytime and tonight isn’t the full moon. Their instructions are straightforward: Do not open the cage. Do not reach into the cage. Do not throw anything into the cage. And they don't.

Unfortunately, Ivan doesn’t play by the usual werewolf rules, and the thugs find themselves suddenly responsible for a ferocious escaped beast. One who can transform at will. One who enjoys killing in human form as much as he enjoys killing as a monster.

If George and Lou want to save their careers, dozens of people, and their own lives, they need to recapture him. Because Ivan the werewolf is in the mood for a murder spree…

Wolf Hunt is set at a break-neck pace that will have you turning page after bloody page. Strand packs an unbelievable amount of action into the 336 pages. Grenades, dismemberment, crazed house pets, silver arrows- Wolf Hunt has it all! Honestly, I think this may have been the fastest 300+ page read I’ve ever encountered.

Despite all of that blood soaked action, Strand’s dialogue is the real star of the show. I am amazed at his ability to consistently write truly inspired and humorous dialogue.  George and Lou create some insanely memorable banter that will leave you laughing out loud. The dialogue reads like a Kevin Smith film- the pacing and comedic timing were nothing short of perfection. In fact, there were more than a few times that I imagined George and Lou as the hapless loafers, Dante and Randal, from Smith’s ever-popular Clerks.  Sure they are hired thugs but their personalities are so strong and clearly defined that the reader cannot help but love them. 

Wolf Hunt is so much more that a werewolf story.  It is an absolute riot but it also has quite a bit of heart.  There are some truly gut wrenching scenarios that will leave you completely floored. This book will appeal to all fans of dark fiction regardless of which way your tastes lean. Believe me when I say there is something here for everyone. Wolf Hunt is a true genre masterpiece and only helps cement Strand’s status as one of the new masters of horror fiction. You would be doing yourself an unforgivable disservice by not checking this one out.

Wolf Hunt can be picked up in digital form for the ultra low price of $2.99 over at Amazon . You can also head over to Jeff’s site to bone up on all things Strand.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Forest of Shadows by Hunter Shea

When I go to an amusement park the last thing I want to do is sit through some dopey stunt show or putz around an “educational” display.  Hell no, I want to get on the biggest and fastest  roller-coaster, ride it until blood is dripping from my eyes and then vomit all over anyone unlucky enough to be in my vicinity. That’s just the type of guy I am.  I feel the same way about my ghost stories.  Of course, I can appreciate a slow burn that concerns itself with atmosphere but what I really like are the supernatural tales that get in there and get dirty…..real quick.  I guess this is why I was so thoroughly satisfied with Hunter Shea’s newest novel, Forest of Shadows .

From Amazon:

The dead still hate!

John Backman specializes in inexplicable phenomena. The weirder the better. So when he gets a letter from a terrified man describing an old log home with odd whisperings, shadows that come alive, and rooms that disappear, he can’t resist the call. But the violence only escalates as soon as John arrives in the remote Alaskan village of Shida. Something dreadful happened there. Something monstrous. The shadows are closing in…and they’re out for blood.

Hunter Shea is absolutely ruthless.  The man writes with a passion and aggression that will leave you helpless in its grasp.  Shea keeps his eyes on the prize and everything else is secondary.  He wants you to cringe.  He wants your skin to crawl.  He wants to positively scare you out of your god-given wits.  Like I said, the man is ruthless.  I can appreciate Shea’s style.  He wants to tell a ghost story that doesn’t meander around with sweeping atmosphere and slow progression.  His version of a ghost story involves some evil-as-all-get-out ghosts, some local legend and a hefty heaping of heartache.  Throw in ample amounts of booze and you have the makings for one refreshingly original tale.

Above anything else, Forest of Shadows is a genuinely scary book.  Now that may sound a bit simple but after years of reading dreadful tales, it takes quite a bit to get my blood pumping.  The real highlight of Forest of Shadows is Hunter Shea’s ability to craft a tale that is so frantic with the pacing and yet, so subtle with the horror.  In fact, I was having so much fun with the story that I didn’t realize how effectively the story was haunting my subconscious.  It took a few restless nights and one incredibly vivid nightmare about whispering shadows and the floating visage of a young boy, before I realized how successful this book was at scaring the living daylights out of me. It had worked its way into my brain and nestled in there, coiled to spring at any given moment.  This book scared me in a way I haven’t been scared in a very long time.

This is all a testament to Hunter Shea’s talent as a writer. He takes a premise that could quite honestly, be considered hokey and works it so well that it seems believable.  Initially when I read the first pages that describe an amateur ghost-hunter who loses his wife and wins the lottery on the same day, I was a little skeptical.  Can you blame me?  This skepticism was completely unfounded as Shea sucked me into a world filled with ancient evil, teenage angst, heartbreak and a town with a very strange past.  That town is Shida and it just may be one of the most frightening places you’re libel to visit.

The Alaskan town of Shida makes for the perfect backdrop to this bone chilling tale.  Shea creates a spine numbing sense of isolation as he draws a vivid portrait of this wilderness town.  Hell, Shea almost seems so confident in his ability to remove Shida from reality that he will tease the reader by discussing Shida’s proximity to many major Alaskan parks and cities, all while the reader knows that there is no escape from the diabolical events that Shea has in store for us. Shida is as much the star of this story as any character, all while the reader comes to realize that the dark shadows that obscure the towns past are more frightening than anything that may be whispering to them from the Great Beyond.

This book has me extremely excited about Hunter Shea. I can respect an author who takes the ghost story and completely disregards its well worn conventions to create something truly original. He preaches from the Altar of Pulp- spewing a sermon filled with his own merciless interpretation of what this genre should be. I love seeing a newcomer just completely rip it and own the living daylights out his writing.  I expect some very big things from Hunter Shea in the very near future.
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