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.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...