Tuesday, May 31, 2011

June, 2011 Reviews

JUNE 2011 REVIEWS

(NOTE: The "smell ratings" at the end of some reviews rate the actual SMELL of the book and have nothing to do with the story.  Smell Ratings: 5 = excellent, 1 = odorless, 2-4 = you figure it out.  Book Key: hc = hardcover / tp = trade paperback / mmp - mass market paperback / rarer forms described.  Unless otherwise noted, all reviews are by Nick Cato).



TORMENT by Greg Chapman (2011 Damnation Books / 61 pp / tp and ebook)

In 1984, Deacon Douglas Mackinnon performs  an exorcism on his wife; she dies in the process.  Police believe it's a case of cold-blooded murder, and Mackinnon's young daughter, Jessica, is left traumatized.

25 Years later, Jessica travels to Scotland with her husband and son when they learn of her father's passing.  They've been called to assess the Deacon's mansion and decide if they want to sell it.  Of course things quickly go wrong when Jessica decides it'd be a good idea to spend the night at the house; her son is haunted the first night, her and the hubby quickly afterward.

TORMENT features some genuinely scary moments and keeps the reader guessing if it's a possession or a haunted house tale (or a combo of both).  The brief 61 pages could easily have been stretched to novel length, but considering how slick this reads, perhaps it's current size works for the best.

I want more from Chapman.


THE NOBODY by Tom Piccirilli (2010 Crossroads Press & Macabre Ink Digital / 100 pp / ebook)

This is the umpteenth noir tale I've read from Piccirilli, and he always manages to craft broken down protagonists you can't help but cheer on.

This time, a man nick-named Cryer comes home to find his young daughter gutted and his wife in the tub with her throat slashed.  To make matters worse, he almost grabs the killer as he's fleeing out a window, only to have a 3-inch blade slammed into his forehead, almost killing him and wiping out his memory in the process.

Much of THE NOBODY features Cryer regaining his memory in various institutions as he searches for who he was before the stabbing, while simultaneously searching for the person who killed his family.  Suspects abound and at times the tension gets as high as I've ever read in a Piccirilli tale.  You probably won't guess who the killer is until the page he or she is revealed.

I'm LOVIN' these brutal, pulpy crime dramas from Mr. Pic...

(NOTE: This was released as a limited edition trade paperback and hardcover in 2008 by Tasmaniac Press, both now long sold out)


ZOMBIE BITCHES FROM HELL by Zoot Campbell (2011 Grand Mal Press 2011 / 230 pp / tp)

The world has gone to Hell and the bitches are taking over.  While trying to create an AIDS vaccine, scientists have inadvertently unleashed a new “disease” on the world—one that only affects women and turns them into zombies.  Lock up your daughters, wives and granddaughters because the first chance they get they’ll chow down on the family jewels and anything else they can get their teeth and claws on.

ZOMBIE BITCHES follows Kent, a reporter from Denver and his friend Tim who decide to make their way to Boston so that Kent can find and hopefully save his girlfriend Jen.  Along for the ride in their hot-air balloon is Kent’s trusty mutt MG and the owner of said balloon Rick.  The story is told from Kent’s point of view and relates the trouble they run into—from a convent full of zombie women, a barn with nursing home refugees and an old armory full of white supremacists.
   
The disease is named the GaGa after Lady GaGa collapses on stage and turns into one of the first hungry harpies from Hell while the world watches on television.  As Kent and Tim make their way east the zombie hoards make their way west, but a change is going on.  The packs of screaming banshees are becoming organized.  The undead women are evolving and they are determined to take over.  When Kent finally makes it as far east as land will go he not only finds a sizeable stronghold of male survivors but he also discovers just how evolved and organized these bitches are.

Between the title, the author’s name and the awesome cover art by Michael Lindsey, ZOMBIE BITCHES FROM HELL reminded me of an old pulp novel—in a good way.  While I love my zombies, the whole “apocalyptic zombie” thing can get a bit repetitive….but not with ZOMBIE BITCHES.  Zoot Campbell adds a fresh narrative to the zombie sub-genre.  The story flows nicely and character development is  good.  The end of the novel totally works for me and there are a few nice surprises thrown in, including the question of Kent’s sanity.  Zoot Campbell left me wanting more…..and from what I understand, I’ll get it.  ZOMBIE BITCHES FROM HELL is a great addition to zombie lit and I can’t wait to read more!

-Colleen Wanglund


BLOOD BORN by Matthew Warner (2011 HW Press / 497 pp / tp)

When several girls go missing in the Washington, D.C. area, detective Christina Randall goes on the case; the girls who are found have been the victim of rape...but that's far from the worst part.  It seems each victim of this serial rapist has been impregnated--and are experiencing excelerated pregnancies.  Within one week, each victim gives birth to a primate-looking creature that immediately turns and devours its mother.

Margaret Connolly's daughter is now missing.  Margaret works at the CalPark Fertility Clinic, and has been trying to understand the outbreak of bizarre pregnancies.  She begins to loose her marbles when her daughter is abducted, but she eventually meets up with detective Randall and the two begin to piece things together.

BLOOD BORN features genetically-created bigfoot-like creatures who are on a sole mission to breed.  They rape without remorse, causing a quarantine of the D.C. area.  Among several nightmarish scenes is a highway packed with cars trying to escape the city being attacked by the creatures; the blood and guts fly, yet Warner keeps the chills on target without getting silly.  You'd think a novel with rampaging monsters raping women with over-sized penises would garner some laughs...but BLOOD BORN doesn't.  It's serious horror written at a break-neck pace, and despite a larger than usual roster of characters, the reader is never lost.

While BLOOD BORN is a fun monster mash, I wish Warner would've let us in a but more regarding what caused our Third Reich-worshipping genetics doctor to tick; his creatures were "born" from a mistake in an attempt to create the perfect human...but we learn so little of Dr. Nicolae Schaefer that he truly takes a backseat to the his unholy creations (it's suggested Schaefer may even be of supernatural origin, leaving things wide open for a sequel).  But regardless, Warner's 3rd novel is a serious scare-fest, blending police procedural thrillers with plenty of blood, guts, scares, and some of the horniest monsters to hit our nation's capital since the Clinton administration.  You've been warned...

Smell Rating: 2


BABY’S FIRST BOOK OF SERIOUSLY FUCKED-UP SHIT by Robert Devereaux (2011 Deadite Press / 176 pp / tp)

If you’ve read Robert Devereaux’s almost-pornographic take on Jolly Old Saint Nick, SANTA STEPS OUT, then the title of this collection won’t surprise or offend you.  If you are offended by the title, then why did you pick up the book?

The first story, “Showdown at Stinking Springs,” brings together two well-known lovers of sex - Hefty Jake Gentry and Lily Mae Dalton - for a showdown of the sexual kind.  Kyle Hardwick, an old man, tells the tale of how these two sex fiends finally meet in the town of Stinking Springs in the summer of 1882.  Their showdown destroys the town by fire, the conflagration sparked by the heat of their mutual power orgasms.  As he tells the tale, Kyle delights in the attention of several naked beauties.

“Showdown at Stinking Springs” starts the collection off with quite a bang, and sets the tone for the rest of the stories.  The tale originally appeared in Hustler Fantasies, which should indicate just how intensely sexual the story is.  

As he did with Santa Claus, Mr. Devereaux takes a childhood favorite and defiles it, albeit in an interesting and fun way.  “Clap If You Believe” is the story of a man who meets his fiance’s parents and sister for the first time.  While the sister, Melissa, is a normal human girl, Tinkerbell was born to human parents although she is a fairy.  Mr. Jones is suspicious of Alex’s motives for wanting to marry his daughter and invites Alex into his den for a talk after dinner.  Alex confesses he’s been intimate with Tinkerbell and cares for her very much. But when Mr. Jones asks Alex if he loves his daughter, Alex gives the wrong answer and loses everything.

What boggles the mind about this story isn’t so much the graphic descriptions of Tinkerbell’s sexual prowess, but that the couple had sex at all.  The story does have some amusing moments, such as the sly mention of Disney World and Donald Duck.  Overall, though, the story is a little melancholy with a sad ending.

“Li’l Miss Ultrasound” is a great take on the distasteful practice of child beauty pageants, knocking the stage-mom stereotype up quite a few notches.  “Bucky Goes to Church” tells the story of Bucky, a man who finally snaps after years of abuse and bullying and shoots up all the people in his church.  Instead of going to hell after being shot by police, he is turned into God by the previous God and finds out being Divine isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Adam and Eve are revisited in the Garden of Eden in “Fructus in Eden,” but this time they keep eating that apple, alternately tempted by and remorseful about the beautiful fruit.  Eventually gluttony and wantonness take over, and they no longer give a rat’s ass about God’s wrath.  God finally gives up and lets Adam and Eve do what they want with Him, resulting in a foursome with the Serpent.  Eve’s orgasm brings about the cries of children not yet born, who fly out of her womb as balls of light and color.  Adam and Eve leave the Garden to find their children, leaving God a shell of Himself.

Interestingly enough, this is one of the least offensive stories in the collection.  The story that follows, “One Flesh: A Cautionary Tale,” follows a father and son who are killed in a car accident the night the son’s child is born.  Their spirits inhabit the baby, and they are very aware of their lust for their respective wives.  They get through childhood OK, but once the hormones hit in the teen years, it’s all they can do not to touch the women they are living with.  They finally snap one day and tied up their wives and “pleasured” the horrified women.  The men then decide to make one woman out of the two, and start cutting various parts.

This is a great story, full of offensive content, including the hint of incest.  But is it really incest if the son’s body and mind are inhabited by his father and grandfather lusting after their respective wives?  This is a fun story, but it can really mess with your head.

The weakest story of the collection, but by no means a bad story is “The Slobbering Tongue That Ate the Frightfully Huge Woman.”  A woman who is raped cuts out her attacker’s tongue, which comes to life and tries to find her.  While in the lab where she was attacked, a pink substance splashes her, causing to grow into a gigantic woman.  She makes her way to the Grand Canyon where she knows she will fit, while the tongue pulses after her, killing people in its wake.

The final story “Holy Fast, Holy Feast” is a neat zombie tale that was a little difficult to follow at first, but once I realized what was going on, I was hooked.  Zombie sex, a zombie baby and a dead guru who has brought the dead the life round out what is a great collection of stories.

BABY’S FIRST BOOK OF SERIOUSLY FUCKED-UP SHIT is the perfect title for this collection.  Every one of these stories fucks with your mind.  I hope Robert Devereaux keeps writing short stories; this collection left me wanting a lot more.

-Sheri White


BLEED by Ed Kurtz (2011 / 390 pp / tp)

Walt's a young man with a promising future: he has just purchased a fix-er-up house out in the sticks, yet close enough to his new job as a high school English teacher.  He's also planning on proposing to his girlfriend Amanda.  He notices a spot on the ceiling one day, and after not being able to get rid of it, the spot begins to grow.  At first it becomes a bigger stain, then eventually, it turns into a pulsating lump.  And as it grows, Amanda notices Walt starting to act strange.  She ends up leaving when she witnesses the ceiling lump eat a cockroach one night; Walt refuses to leave the house or the strange thing that is rapidly taking control of him.

If David Cronenberg and Frank Hennenlotter decided to remake LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and HELLRAISER, BLEED would be the result.  It reads like an 80s-styled horror novel with the gruesome feel of a classic splatter film--but where most gore-film inspired novels falter, BLEED finds its strength.  The reader cares for Walt, despite him becoming a murdering slave to the blood-thirsty creature, while at the same time we're cheering for Amanda as she attempts to escape the clutches of her now crazed boyfriend and his ever-growing monster.

For a first novel (self published, no less), Kurtz has done a fantastic job, seldom seen even among the best of professionally-released horror novels (i.e. there's NO filler here).  While there's a couple of typos and POV issues, the story is well told, the suspense and gore work side by side, and the touches of Henenlotter-like dark humor work like a charm.  It was also great to see a couple of characters introduced more than halfway through the novel actually work and add to the satisfying conclusion.

I had an absolute blast reading BLEED, and you can tell the author had a blast writing it.  I'm keeping my eye on Ed Kurtz, and hope to see another winner like this from him again soon.

Smell Rating: 2


ENTOMBED by Brian Keene (2011 Camelot Books / 204 pp / limited edition hc)

I don't splurge for limited editions too often, but when I heard Keene had written a sequel to DEAD SEA, I just had to have it.  While this takes place in the same "world" as DEAD SEA, I really wouldn't consider ENTOMBED a "sequel;" there's no zombie whales or people adrift at sea.  However, it takes a turn I never saw coming and made me happy despite the slight disappointment this wasn't the type of sequel I had in mind.

Told from the point of view of Peter (who gave guided tours of a former fallout bunker located beneath a posh hotel before all hell broke loose), this is one of those zombie tales where the undead take a back seat to the living: there's limited zombie action, but Keene's claustrophobic tale of a man bent on survival against those he thought were on his side is quite grim and difficult to put down.

When they realize starvation is nigh, the 17 trapped survivors in (said) bunker agree cannibalism will be the only way to survive.  They vote for Peter to be the first one to be killed; but a friend lets the cat out of the bag and Peter finds time to hide before the hungering humans could take him in his sleep.  As Peter kills for self defense (and survival), someone refers to him as a "serial killer," causing Peter's mind to shoot in dozens of directions.  IS he really doing this to survive, or is he also enjoying the power killing seems to brings him?

ENTOMBED is a violent, satisfying tale of survival in the face of the apocalypse, although those looking for an all-out zombie story might be a bit disappointed.

There's a bonus second story here titled WHITE FIRE, where a tornado knocks over a van and unleashes a virus that's basically a suped-up meningitis.  While killer virus stories are nothing new, Keene injects a fine supernatural element that adds a bit of mystery to the whole thing, and there's a few nods to other Keene shorts that'll have fans grinning in end-time glee.

Glenn Chadbourne provides some great interior artwork, while Gak's cover captures the main tale to the tee.  Camelot Books did a fine job with the production here, as did the author who once again proves he's hard to beat when it comes to end of the world horrors.

Smell Rating: 5



BRAIN CHEESE BUFFET / BULLET THROUGH YOUR FACE by Edward Lee (2010 Deadite Press / both TP)

Ahhh, the surefire Edward Lee diet plan … appetite-killing emetics in written form!

Eeeeeeeeew. These books. So gross. So nasty. So cringeworthy and disgusting, you about want to wash your hands merely after turning the pages. 

My unsuspecting husband ordered these two for me as an anniversary gift, because they were on my wish list. Okay, well, with titles like that and given the way he’s heard me rave about Lee’s work before, maybe “unsuspecting” is the wrong word there. Poor guy. 

For instance, the other night we were watching a rerun of SOUTH PARK, the episode where the boys react to being assigned THE CATCHER IN THE RYE  by writing the foulest, filthiest book they can imagine. A book that makes anyone reading it immediately puke their guts, yet also be unable to put it down. 

And I scoffed and said Ed Lee could blow them out of the water without even breaking a sweat. Hubby and teenager didn’t believe me. I found them some excerpts to read that didn’t involve sex (honestly, what kind of a wife and mother do you take me for? tsk!) and watched their reactions (on second thought … maybe you’re right to think that …)

The results didn’t involve my family throwing up, but they did look at me funny after that. “This is the sort of stuff you like to read?” their nervous eyes seemed to say. “This is a writer you respect, admire, and damn near idolize?”

Well, yes. Yes, it is. Yes, I do. Okay, so maybe that makes me a weirdo sickpuppy. But I do. I love the whole vile squicky yucky visceral gore in all its vivid, VIVID detail. More than that, I admire the underlying structure, the skill behind it all. 

Such a juxtaposition! Here is an author obviously brilliant, erudite, skilled, personable and cheerful … writing about characters so unutterably loathsome and vile … utilizing dialect thicker than the congealed biological sludge he describes all too well … involving acts more heinous than anybody should ever have to contemplate … there’s enough bodily fluids in these two slim trade paperbacks to keep a hazmat team busy for a year … wow. Just bleeping wow. 

BRAIN CHEESE BUFFET contains nine gooshy tales, two of which were familiar to me from previous anthologies (“Mr. Torso” and “Grub Girl,” though the version of the latter in this book appears to be the expanded director’s cut). Many of the stories are interconnected within the same depraved universe of imagination, with recurring characters and locales. “The Dritphilist” hit me particularly close to home, being set in Seattle and involving psychiatry, though that is one specialty I think I’ll pass on ever getting involved with thanks! The other stories range from the alien to the supernatural, with some mad science thrown in that manages to make even THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE look kind of tame, and atrocities that’d make the SAW franchise people twitch. 

BULLET THROUGH YOUR FACE is similar, except in the form of three novellas that revolve around the central premise that, basically, men are slime. Objectifying, deceitful, rotten sexist slime. And women are no better. “Ever Nat” involves a guy who finds out the hard way that taking advantage of a pretty young thing can have disastrous consequences. “The Salt-Diviner” shows the folly of being willing to go too far for the sake of greed. The final story, well, when the title of it is “The Refrigerator Full Of Sperm,” you may as well rest assured it is what it says on the tin. I didn’t care for that last one so much, mostly because one of the characters didn’t get what I thought he deserved. 

If there’s one problem with these books, it’s in terms of final layout and proofreading. I spotted way too many typos and other teensy errors, which interfered with my overall enjoyment. I’ve noticed similar flaws in the other Deadite Press books I’ve read, and it really is too bad. They’ve got awesome authors and great stories, eye-catching covers. An extra once-over before going to print would do so much good!

-Christine Morgan


WITCHES OF EAST END by Melissa de la Cruz (to be released June 21, 2011 by Hyperion Books / 288 pp / tp)

Joanna Beauchamp, and her daughters, Ingrid and Freya, are witches living in modern-day America in the town of North Hampton, located by the ocean.  Forbidden to use their magic centuries before, the women chafe at having to behave like regular people, and begin to slip.  Joanna has the power to bring back the dead and heal the very sick, Ingrid can read auras and cast spells that bring people their most heartfelt desires, and Freya creates potions that help the lovelorn.

After using their magic a few times and realizing they are helping, not hurting the townspeople, the women begin to use their powers more often.  But then awful things begin to happen - two of their neighbors are attacked, and a young girl disappears after drinking one of Freya’s cocktails.  These incidents bring unwanted attention to the women, and now they must find out what evil is stalking them and their town.

Witches of East End is a fun book, a romantic comedy with the added bonuses of magic and mayhem.  The characters are well-developed and interesting; you root for them when their magic works wonders for those in need.  There are several romances at play; the main one is Freya and her fiance Bran Gardiner.  But then she meets Bran’s brother Killian and realizes they share a dangerous attraction to one another.  Will she choose Killian over Bran?

There are also mysteries throughout the novel - who attacked the Beauchamps’ neighbors? Why are dead birds suddenly appearing on the beach in front of their house?  And is the women’s magic really helping the people they care about or causing more trouble instead?

WITCHES OF EAST END is the first in a series.  If the rest of the series is as good as the first, then I can’t wait to read them.

-Sherri White


THE BLACK CAT AND THE GHOUL by Edgar Allan Poe & Keith Gouveia (2011 Coscom Entertainment / 114 pgs / tp)

When I was asked to review THE BLACK CAT AND THE GHOUL, a mash-up by Edgar Allan Poe and Keith Gouveia, I was a little leery.  I’ve never really been interested in mash-ups so I had never read one before.  How do you really improve on the original?  Especially when we’re talking Poe’s “The Black Cat”?  That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with Keith Gouveia’s treatment of the story.  Gouveia makes it clear in his intro that he’s a huge fan of Poe and his writing shows his respect for the author as well.

Gouveia begins his story by keeping Poe’s “The Black Cat” completely intact, beginning to end.  What Gouveia does is continue the story from the perspective of the man, John, as he sits in a cell waiting for his execution for the murder of his wife.  The night before he is visited by Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld and a bargain is struck.  John will continue to walk the earth delivering souls to Pluto in hell.  The deal turns out to be not quite what John thought and he is guided by the very same cat that he blames for his current predicament.

Included in the novella is the poem “Cemetery” an original work by Keith Gouveia, as well as its inspiration, Poe’s “The City in the Sea”.  The book also contains Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” and an original short story by Gouveia entitled “Broken” about what happens to a man after he loses his wife in a tragic accident.

I thoroughly enjoyed THE BLACK CAT AND THE GHOUL.  Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems are very dark and depressing in their mood and tone and Keith Gouveia manages to capture those same dark qualities perfectly and quite seamlessly.  And he does so without altering the original character of John or his self-absorbed nature.  The original works “Cemetery” and “Broken” are wonderful homages to a brilliant artist and Gouveia’s respect and admiration are apparent.  This is a definite get, even if you’ve been iffy about the mash-ups.

-Colleen Wanglund


BLOOD OF MY WORLD TRILOGY by A.P. Fuchs (2011 Coscom Entertainment / tp and ebook)

I’m not the biggest fan of paranormal romance, especially with the release of books such as THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and the TWILIGHT series (which I do not consider horror).  However I was intrigued by a YA novella trilogy by A.P. Fuchs who is perhaps best known for writing about zombies.
 
BLOOD OF MY WORLD consists of three novellas—DISCOVERY OF DEATH, MEMORIES OF DEATH, and LIFE OF DEATH—that tell the story of high school sweethearts Zach and Rose.  Zach has unexpectedly disappeared, leaving Rose in a state of confusion and worry.  Zach has become a vampire and has no memory of his former life, including Rose.  One fateful night Zach is taken out to feed by his vampire mother Mira and kills Rose’s mother.  Experiencing his victim’s memories, Zach is confused by the people he sees and what his connection to them may be.  In the meantime, in the wake of her mother’s death, Rose discovers that she comes from a long line of vampire slayers.

While dealing with the funeral and her training Rose sees Zach and knows what he has become.  Rose’s father Marcus also knows what Zach has become and instructs his daughter to stay away from the cemetery.  Marcus explains that vampires have no feelings or emotions for anyone in their former lives, which is what makes them such effective killers.  Zach tries to understand what is happening to him and what Rose meant to him.  Zach’s vampire family seems ready to accept Rose, even though she’s a human.  Ultimately Zach will be forced to choose between his vampire family and Rose, and truths will come out that help Zach determine where his loyalties lie.

Fuchs has written a very good story in BLOOD OF MY WORLD.  The characters are well-developed and his vampires’ characteristics are quite interesting.  I enjoyed the Shakespeare-esque story of the young lovers from different and clashing worlds—vampire and slayer.  What I also liked about this trilogy is that it doesn’t have the creepiness that most other vampire romances targeting young girls have.  Zach is only a vampire for a few weeks when he and Rose meet again, he’s not a hundred-plus year old vampire “in love” with a teen girl.  In other words, Zach isn’t a dirty old man, he’s still just a kid.  The horror elements are really good, too.  The vampires have ulterior motives that ultimately drive the story—they aren’t an afterthought.  The romance aspect is a bit intense at times, so if paranormal romance isn’t your thing, then this is not the trilogy for you.  Overall BLOOD OF MY WORLD is a really good read for its target audience.

-Colleen Wanglund



THE GREEN MAN by Lee Mather (2010 Damnation Books / 26 pgs tb)

In this short novella we are told about an experience had by Pete, which he is writing in a journal eight years after the event that he says changed his life.  Pete grew up with his mother’s stories about a mysterious Green Man who would appear to her whenever someone close to her was going to die.  She was convinced it was her great-grandfather but Pete didn’t believe her stories, at one point thinking his mother crazy.

Pete receives a phone call from his mother the night before he was scheduled to fly that the Green Man had appeared to her again.  She warned Pete not to get on the plane, but this only angered Pete.  Pete boarded the plane with his friend Seb, but his mother’s possible premonition had him spooked.  Ultimately the plane does crash, proving his mother right.  What Pete discovers, though is that the Green man’s appearance was not necessarily a warning of his own impending accident.

THE GREEN MAN is not just a creepy supernatural story, but it is a story of faith….in something, anything.  The writing is well done and Lee Mather manages to get across how life-changing an event Pete lived through.  At just 26 pages, THE GREEN MAN is a quick but powerful read.

-Colleen Wanglund

Sunday, May 22, 2011

SUMMER SCARES!

art by Darlene Wanglund

SUMMER SCARES! is part of MONSTER LIBRARIAN's continuing effort to inform and educate librarians on the best new horror fiction available today.  See more SUMMER SCARES! reviews right here: Monster Librarian's SUMMER SCARES!




BLEED by Ed Kurtz (2011 / 390 pp / tp)

Walt's a young man with a promising future: he has just purchased a fix-er-up house out in the sticks, yet close enough to his new job as a high school English teacher.  He's also planning on proposing to his girlfriend Amanda.  He notices a spot on the ceiling one day, and after not being able to get rid of it, the spot begins to grow.  At first it becomes a bigger stain, then eventually, it turns into a pulsating lump.  And as it grows, Amanda notices Walt starting to act strange.  She ends up leaving when she witnesses the ceiling lump eat a cockroach one night; Walt refuses to leave the house or the strange thing that is rapidly taking control of him.

If David Cronenberg and Frank Hennenlotter decided to remake LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and HELLRAISER, BLEED would be the result.  It reads like an 80s-styled horror novel with the gruesome feel of a classic splatter film--but where most gore-film inspired novels falter, BLEED finds its strength.  The reader cares for Walt, despite him becoming a murdering slave to the blood-thirsty creature, while at the same time we're cheering for Amanda as she attempts to escape the clutches of her now crazed boyfriend and his ever-growing monster.

For a first novel (self published, no less), Kurtz has done a fantastic job, seldom seen even among the best of professionally-released horror novels (i.e. there's NO filler here).  While there's a couple of typos and POV issues, the story is well told, the suspense and gore work side by side, and the touches of Henenlotter-like dark humor work like a charm.  It was also great to see a couple of characters introduced more than halfway through the novel actually work and add to the satisfying conclusion.

I had an absolute blast reading BLEED, and you can tell the author had a blast writing it.  I'm keeping my eye on Ed Kurtz, and hope to see another winner like this from him again soon.

-Nick Cato


ZOMBIE BITCHES FROM HELL by Zoot Campbell (2011 Grand Mal Press 2011 / 230 pp / tp)

The world has gone to Hell and the bitches are taking over.  While trying to create an AIDS vaccine, scientists have inadvertently unleashed a new “disease” on the world—one that only affects women and turns them into zombies.  Lock up your daughters, wives and granddaughters because the first chance they get they’ll chow down on the family jewels and anything else they can get their teeth and claws on.

ZOMBIE BITCHES follows Kent, a reporter from Denver and his friend Tim who decide to make their way to Boston so that Kent can find and hopefully save his girlfriend Jen.  Along for the ride in their hot-air balloon is Kent’s trusty mutt MG and the owner of said balloon Rick.  The story is told from Kent’s point of view and relates the trouble they run into—from a convent full of zombie women, a barn with nursing home refugees and an old armory full of white supremacists.
   
The disease is named the GaGa after Lady GaGa collapses on stage and turns into one of the first hungry harpies from Hell while the world watches on television.  As Kent and Tim make their way east the zombie hoards make their way west, but a change is going on.  The packs of screaming banshees are becoming organized.  The undead women are evolving and they are determined to take over.  When Kent finally makes it as far east as land will go he not only finds a sizeable stronghold of male survivors but he also discovers just how evolved and organized these bitches are.

Between the title, the author’s name and the awesome cover art by Michael Lindsey, ZOMBIE BITCHES FROM HELL reminded me of an old pulp novel—in a good way.  While I love my zombies, the whole “apocalyptic zombie” thing can get a bit repetitive….but not with ZOMBIE BITCHES.  Zoot Campbell adds a fresh narrative to the zombie sub-genre.  The story flows nicely and character development is  good.  The end of the novel totally works for me and there are a few nice surprises thrown in, including the question of Kent’s sanity.  Zoot Campbell left me wanting more…..and from what I understand, I’ll get it.  ZOMBIE BITCHES FROM HELL is a great addition to zombie lit and I can’t wait to read more!

-Colleen Wanglund


BLOOD BORN by Matthew Warner (2011 HW Press / 497 pp / tp)

When several girls go missing in the Washington, D.C. area, detective Christina Randall goes on the case; the girls who are found have been the victim of rape...but that's far from the worst part.  It seems each victim of this serial rapist has been impregnated--and are experiencing excelerated pregnancies.  Within one week, each victim gives birth to a primate-looking creature that immediately turns and devours its mother.

Margaret Connolly's daughter is now missing.  Margaret works at the CalPark Fertility Clinic, and has been trying to understand the outbreak of bizarre pregnancies.  She begins to loose her marbles when her daughter is abducted, but she eventually meets up with detective Randall and the two begin to piece things together.

BLOOD BORN features genetically-created bigfoot-like creatures who are on a sole mission to breed.  They rape without remorse, causing a quarantine of the D.C. area.  Among several nightmarish scenes is a highway packed with cars trying to escape the city being attacked by the creatures; the blood and guts fly, yet Warner keeps the chills on target without getting silly.  You'd think a novel with rampaging monsters raping women with over-sized penises would garner some laughs...but BLOOD BORN doesn't.  It's serious horror written at a break-neck pace, and despite a larger than usual roster of characters, the reader is never lost.

While BLOOD BORN is a fun monster mash, I wish Warner would've let us in a but more regarding what caused our Third Reich-worshipping genetics doctor to tick; his creatures were "born" from a mistake in an attempt to create the perfect human...but we learn so little of Dr. Nicolae Schaefer that he truly takes a backseat to the his unholy creations (it's suggested Schaefer may even be of supernatural origin, leaving things wide open for a sequel).  But regardless, Warner's 3rd novel is a serious scare-fest, blending police procedural thrillers with plenty of blood, guts, scares, and some of the horniest monsters to hit our nation's capital since the Clinton administration.  You've been warned...

-Nick Cato

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May, 2011 Reviews

MAY 2011 REVIEWS

(NOTE: The "smell ratings" at the end of some reviews rate the actual SMELL of the book and have nothing to do with the story.  Smell Ratings: 5 = excellent, 1 = odorless, 2-4 = you figure it out.  Book Key: hc = hardcover / tp = trade paperback / mmp - mass market paperback / rarer forms described.  Unless otherwise noted, all reviews are by Nick Cato).


CONFESSIONS OF A ZOMBIE LOVER by Zoe E. Whitten (2011 / 56 pp / ebook)

Microbiologist Eugene O'Donnell is on a mission to help heal victims of a world-wide plague that has caused the dead to rise and become killers.  By combining electro-shock therapy and a diet of brain-enhancing vitamins and herbs, Eugene ("G" to his friends) begins to see progress in Reggie, one of his zombie subjects housed at a military base.  As the zombies under G's care grow in intelligence, Whitten cleverly compares them to children, giving the reader a more personal feel toward the undead, and hence giving this novella a somewhat fresh spin on a rapidly tiring subgenre.

Alongside the medical story is a romance between G and Reggie, arguably making this the first gay zombie romance story (although with all the zombie tales out there today, I could be wrong).  When the two finally hit the sack for a night of drunken sex, things go horribly wrong and G's life changes in a way he never expected.

CONFESSIONS is the second book in a zombie series by Whitten, and while I haven't read the first, this is a decent stand alone story, featuring some interesting ideas on the undead and human/zombie relationships.  I found it a little slow at the beginning, but the second half picks up nicely.

If you're a zombie fan I say give 'er a shot...


PRAY TO STAY DEAD by Mason James Cole (2011 Print is Dead / 327 pp. / tp and ebook)

It's end-of-the-world zombie apocalypse time once again...but before you let out a frustrated yawn , listen up: while it's true you've probably read this a hundred times before, PRAY is one of those novels that despite its familiar story, manages to work.  And it works in a big way.

Set in 1974, PRAY follows five friends on their trip to a Lake Tahoe getaway.  They stop in an isolated town to get food and gas at a small store owned by a senior couple (Misty and her crackpot husband, Crate) and before long they're abducted by an insane backwoods family who waste no time slaughtering the men and taking the women captive.  Much of the story is seen through the eyes of Colleen; she's forced into an Amish-like religious cult whose Manson-like leader, Huffington Neibolt, has been kidnapping and impregnating women for years as part of a Noah-like survival strategy for the coming apocalypse.  When the dead start to rise around the world, it only encourages Huffington all the more that his stable of wives (and stockpile of weapons) were truly the Lord's work.

Meanwhile, a black Vietnam vet named Reggie is trying to travel from California to New Mexico in an attempt to locate and rescue his daughter (cue Brian Keene's THE RISING) when he comes across a cop named Cardo.  Reggie rescues him from a rooftop that's surrounded by zombies, and the two travel on, eventually coming to the aforementioned gas station where they help the elderly couple survive in a classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD finale.

Cole manages to craft believable, likeable characters whose pain we feel on mental, physical, and even spiritual levels.  His antagonists are basically right out of 70s redneck slasher films, and cause more terror among our survivors than the undead (although there's no shortage of zombie carnage here).  While PRAY does have the action and feel of a trashy grindhouse film, Cole's way of spinning his tale puts this one leaps and bounds above the abundance of modern zombie novels; it may be mainly by-the-numbers, but it goes down so smooth you won't know what hit you.

I'm as sick of zombies as anyone else...but when something as entertaining and well-written as PRAY TO STAY DEAD comes along, it re-kindles my love for the undead just a little bit longer.  'Tis a bloody good show.


Smell Rating: 2


A LIFE ON FIRE by Chris Bowsman (2011 Grindhouse Press / 110 pp / tp)

Patent Clerk Gerald McManner is tired of dealing with moronic inventors and is bored with his life in general.  Saddened over the death of his wife Tracy, he begins to drink excessively and eventually finds himself popping in and out of an alternate reality where strange creatures dwell, his late wife speaks to him, and a man whose death he's partially responsible for gives him hints on how to deal with his new surroundings.

Bowsman's short novella is a decent man-loosing-his-marbles tale, although I found myself hoping there'd be more interludes told from Tracy's viewpoint during her bathtub suicide (the final one is quite heartbreaking).  A LIFE ON FIRE is an entertaining (although depressing) piece of dark fiction.


Smell Rating: 1


JACK’S MAGIC BEANS by Brian Keene (2011 Deadite Press / 104 pp / tp)

Brian Keene needs to be sporked for being such a damn tease!

Just, you know, generally speaking … but specifically for delivering up the tantalizing tidbits of tales in this slim little collection, that only whet the appetite for full-on novel-length versions! 

Under a hundred pages, five stories, and four agonized soul-deep howls from me of, “What do you mean, that’s IT? Where’s the rest?!? Augh! &%^^$^@$$%@!!!”

Alas, my titanium spork would probably get confiscated at airport security, and of course I wouldn’t seriously advocate physical violence (in this case). So I will have to settle for a psychic sporking. 

*spork*

Okay, that’s out of the way, moving on to the actual reviews! 

First off, the title track, “Jack’s Magic Beans.” I love-love-LOVE me some sudden apocalypse, be it from natural disaster or zombie outbreak or what have you. Out of the blue, all hell just breaks loose and whisks me along for the ride and I enjoy every minute of it. In this one, what starts when a stockboy thinks the lettuces are talking to him (“We are the lettuce,” they say. “We know everything.” … how can anybody not love a line like that?) escalates into a gorestorm of madness that engulfs an entire supermarket. A handful of terrified but seemingly-sane survivors take refuge in the store freezer as they try to figure out what could have happened, and how they can get out of it alive. 

“Without You,” the second story in the book, is a life tragedy of love gone sour and marriage gone stale, neatly compacted into five short pages, while also filled with the sort of black humor and grisly morality that would have fit right in with the wonderful old horror comics. 

The next two, “I Am An Exit” and “This Is Not An Exit,” go together. And this is why I only howled four times instead of five; I gnashed my teeth after the first one but then was lulled into a false sense of relaxing security as soon as I realized the second was a kind of sequel. They are quick peeks, snapshots, brief but compelling excerpts from the life of a serial killer. The author’s note following “This Is Not An Exit” promises more of the story in a yet-to-be-written novel, so he just better follow through!

Last but not least is “‘The King’ In: YELLOW,” a tribute to the classic of the same name, albeit with a clever tweaking of punctuation and a moderning-up rock and roll edge. Roger and Kathryn are having a nice dinner out when they witness an act of insanity connected to an earlier cryptic remark from a streetcorner vagrant. Swept along by morbid curiosity and the hunger for adventure, they decide to take in a performance of a play called YELLOW, featuring a cast list of actors named for and doing eerily apt impersonations of famous dead rock stars … or are they?

Keene’s mastery of character and description shine through on every page. These are very real people, experiencing very vivid emotions and events. That’s part of why it’s so hard to let them go, and accept that the story’s done. 

-Christine Morgan


THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson (2003 Random House / 447 pp / hc & tp)

All right, so it’s not exactly fiction … but since I’ve reviewed stuff here that isn’t exactly horror either, I guess fair’s fair. 

Fair’s fair … a joke, a pun, son, as Foghorn Leghorn would say … because the setting for this book is the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, more properly known as the World’s Columbian Exposition. 

Welcome to America at the end of the nineteenth century, at a crossroads in history when Victorian gaslight is giving way to the fabulous inventions and discoveries of men like Edison and Tesla. Welcome to Chicago, which puts in its bid for the fair out of a determined effort to prove that theirs is a city every bit as sophisticated as New York or Paris, that it’s not just a grimy place of soot and slaughterhouses. 

Welcome to the stomping grounds of one of the nation’s first notorious, infamous, headline-grabbing serial killers. Meet Dr. Henry H. Holmes, who took the last name of one of England’s most beloved detectives but modeled his hobbies much more after Jack the Ripper. 

How many young women, drawn to Chicago by the prospects of freedom, excitement, and employment, met their gruesome ends in Dr. Holmes’ sinister sanctum? We’ll never know. Speculations of the time put the number in the vicinity of two hundred. 

Even a fraction of that amount would still put Holmes well ahead of the Ripper’s tally, the difference being that many of Holmes’ victims were never found. The Gilded Age was also a time of burgeoning medical science … dissections, cadavers, grave robbers. Some of the young ladies who fell prey to Holmes’ charms ended up being delivered to a colleague of his who articulated skeletons for sale to medical schools. Others just vanished. 

This monster, a textbook sociopath in every sense, was striking in appearance, charming in manner, and a seemingly respectable member of society. He owned a building in Chicago, operating several businesses out of it, under a variety of names, aliases and double-blinds so that his creditors never knew how to collect on his many debts. He hired fresh-faced girls to work in his shops, romancing and even illegally marrying a few. When the time of the Fair came close, he opened a hotel … where men seeking lodging were turned away, but vacancies always seemed available for ladies. 

Even the inquiring families were deterred by Holmes’ seemingly sincere willingness to be helpful, his stories of elopements and running out on the rent. And the rest of Chicago was far too swamped to worry about some missing persons.

Anyone who has ever planned a major event – a big wedding, say … or worse, a convention! – will know all too well the thousand and one problems that go with it. Location, organizing, programming, people-wrangling, food, sanitation, supplies, entertainment, prices, hassles, egos, bickering, chaos. A single delay can throw the whole thing off schedule. A single disagreement can explode into a full-scale feud. 

Imagine trying to put together not just a wedding or a con weekend, but an entire fair. Not just any fair. A fair that will run for months. A WORLD’S Fair. To show the rest of the globe that America is no longer an upstart newcomer but a serious player. To, as the saying went, have to “out-Eiffel Eiffel,” whose Tower had wowed them at the Paris expo. 

Now imagine trying to do it within two years. From the ground up. With a tight-fisted budget oversight bunch of busy-bodies, politicians, society matrons, architects of competing vision, thousands of workers, union agitators, newspaper reporters. Your career, livelihood, and reputation on the line. 

Gut-clenching, isn’t it? The tension and drama that the author conveys is every bit as gripping in the unfolding tale of the Fair’s construction as the story of the murders. Non-fiction, okay, but it does not read as such. So much of the content comes from letters, articles and accounts of the time that it turns these individuals into very real people, their struggles as sympathetic as anything going on today. 

Reading Erik Larson’s THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, I was put in mind of Robert McCammon’s Matthew Corbett books, set in eighteenth-century New York … this is a hundred years later but the effect of stepping back through time comes across almost as vividly. It also put me in mind of the series CONNECTIONS, by James Burke, in which the smallest and seemingly most coincidental of events can have far-reaching ripples down through the ages.

Perfect for the “serious” reader on your list … or for anyone into history, serial killers, architecture, steampunk, human triumph and despair, and just an all-around damn good read!

-Christine Morgan


ASYLUM LAKE by R.A. Evans (2008 Chapbook Press / 208 pp / tp and ebook)

ASYLUM LAKE opens in 1972 in the town of Bedlam Falls with the trial of twelve-year-old Lionel Collins, who has brutally murdered a family without any provocation.  What could have caused the son of a reverend to bludgeon and dismember the family, including their small twins?  Some people think Lionel is mentally ill; others are convinced he’s just evil.  And what is the significance of the white bracelet around his wrist?

Almost 40 years later, Brady Tanner and his dog Gruff move to Bedlam Falls after the sudden death of his wife, moving into the summer home where he and his family spent their vacations throughout Brady’s childhood.  The home is overshadowed by Lake View Asylum, a psychiatric hospital now abandoned.  The asylum, and the lake it overlooks, hold terrible secrets - secrets that Brady is about to discover.  How is his family connected to the asylum?  And what happened that night he and his friends swam out to the float in the lake, a night he has no memory of?

As Brady settles into his new home, he reunites with an old love, April, and gets to know her daughter Abby.  But Brady’s happiness is diminished by the realization that there is a presence in his home, one that’s trying to tell him something.  Mysterious messages appear in letter tiles on a Scrabble board.  His late father’s room is filled with crime memorabilia relating to the asylum.  Brady’s father, as well as his grandfather, had been part of the local law enforcement years before when Lionel Collins carried out his heinous crime.  What was his father looking for?

ASYLUM LAKE is a fun horror story.  By turns horrifying and amusing, Asylum Lake will keep you turning the pages well into the night.  Although the story leads to a satisfying conclusion, there are enough loose ends for a sequel, which I hope the author is planning.  The characters are very real and most are likeable; even the dog became a favorite character.

If you’re looking for a riveting, well-written story, you don’t need to look any further than ASYLUM LAKE.

-Sheri White


DIAVOLINO by Steve Emmett (2011 Etopia Press / ebook)

Tom Lupton is an architect who is given the chance to build a dream house for a rich client on the small island of Diavolino in Italy.  He and his family, along with his assistant Sima, move to the island to live in a temporary home the client, Roger, has built for them.  But Diavolino is hiding an evil that has been kept secret for centuries, and the locals are worried the new residents will somehow unleash the evil.  They do not welcome Tom and his family with open arms.

But there is no holding back the evil; there is someone who has been waiting for this time since he first discovered Diavolino almost 500 years before.  The time has come to serve his Master and finally be granted the power he craves.

As the evil grows and spreads throughout Italy, Tom’s wife Elspeth and daughter Amy, as well as Sima, are kidnapped by Clavelli, the one who awaits the Master.  Tom and his Italian assistant Paolo race against time to find Tom’s family and stop the evil that threatens to destroy the world.

Demons wreaking havoc on Earth is always a fun read, and DIAVOLINO is no exception.  It brings to mind the great horror novels from the 1980s - good vs. evil, blood and guts, chaos.  There are twists and turns throughout the story, and an ending that practically begs for a sequel.

Emmet packs a lot into a relatively short novel - fires, plane crashes, volcanic eruptions, a bloody lake and demonic monks.  Lots of action, lots of surprises, great writing and vivid descriptions make DIAVOLINO a must-read for any horror aficionado.

-Sheri White



DIRGE by Ken Knight (Authorhouse 2010 / 480 pp / tb and ebook)

Mickey is a loser.  Picked on throughout school and ridiculed by the girl he wants, he seems to be going nowhere fast.  After winning big on a lottery ticket, Mickey attempts to redeem himself to Monique only to be struck down in a terrible accident.  Now, the zombie apocalypse has begun in the Southeastern United States….and it’s being led by that same loser.  No one outside of a four-star general and a handful of people working for a company called DIEWINN knows the true beginnings of this new cataclysmic event.
  
Washington D.C. has fallen to the zombies who seem to be able to think and react as readily as when alive.  Society has begun to unravel and the government and military are unable to stop the unprecedented contagion.  With an administration more concerned with civil rights, a CEO looking to cash in on experimental nanotechnology and a potential military conspiracy, can anyone stop the horde of resurrected dead before it’s too late?

Ken Knight has taken the zombie sub-genre to an all-new level with DIRGE.  It is a fresh take on the causes, results and outcomes of a zombie apocalypse.  Character development is great leaving the reader able to understand and even sympathize with Mickey and his situation.  DIRGE is populated with some very interesting people including Luciana Belacourt, the CEO of DIEWINN, who is the perfect evil genius.  I genuinely disliked her as an individual.  The pacing of the story is spot on and quick, holding the reader’s interest until the very end without any lag.  The ending took me completely by surprise in its unpredictability….and as anyone who knows me can attest to, I hate predictability.  One complaint I have with DIRGE is with the character Hoochie.  For whatever reason I just couldn’t connect with the character.  Another is that sometimes the grammatical usage got a little repetitive.  Other than that DIRGE is a great and refreshing read that had me hooked from page one.

-Colleen Wanglund


BLIND SWIMMER (2010 Eibonvale Press 2010 / 360 pp / tb)

BLIND SWIMMER is an eleven-story anthology from the writers of Eibonvale Press.  The theme centers on creativity in isolation with some very varied ideas on what that means.  They are stories full of horror, surrealism, loneliness and desperation.

My favorite of the bunch is the first story called “Bellony” by Nina Allan.  It tells the tale of Terri, a writer striking out on her own to discover what happened to Terri’s favorite childhood writer Allis Bennett.  After isolating herself in Allis’ last known residence, Terri discovers that Allis’ life and the circumstances of her disappearance are as strange and mysterious as her books.  Terri must soon ask herself what is real and what is fiction?  What I love about this particular story is that it is open to the reader’s interpretation.

Another excellent story is “The Book of Tides” by David Rix about a man who lives alone along a stretch of beach in Scotland.  The man tells stories that he ‘feels’ from the debris that washes ashore.  His existence becomes confusing for him after finding a young woman.  He begins to question whether or not to return to civilization and discover the state of the world.

“The Talkative Star” by Rhys Hughes is an interesting take on the theme with quick short pieces and poetry all involving the sun.  “The Higgins Technique” by Terry Grimwood is about the lengths some artists will go to for their work.  “Far Beneath Incomplete Constellations” by Alexander Zelenyj looks at a man’s secret affair with a woman that induces dreams which he wishes were reality.

All of the stories in BLIND SWIMMER are well-written and offer fantastic and imaginative ideas on the concept of creativity in isolation.  As well as the stories, there is an essay by David Rix on his vision for Eibonvale Press and a great foreword by Joel Lane that are not to be missed.  BLIND SWIMMER is an excellent and interesting read.

-Colleen Wanglund

The following review originally appeared at THE CROW'S CAW


IN LAYMON’S TERMS edited by Kelly Laymon, Steve Gerlach, & Richard Chizmar (To be Released August 1, 2011 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 615 pp / hc)

Arguably one of the most eagerly-awaited titles in recent horror fiction, this mammoth tribute to the late Richard Laymon is jam-packed with fond remembrances, original fiction inspired by Laymon, some rare Laymon shorts and oddities, and even an 18-page pictorial courtesy of Richard’s wife.


Part One: After opening pieces from Kelly Laymon and Steve Gerlach (both will be cherished by long time Laymon fans), former Leisure Books editor Don D’Auria gives a brief history of his personal love for the author as well as how he began to publish his catalog for the mass market.


The always reliable Norman Partridge delivers the first Laymon-inspired story, followed by a brief piece describing what he liked best about the late author.  Next up is ‘Meeting Joanne’ by Bentley Little and it delivers big time to both Laymon AND Little fans; one of the best stories here IMO.  We then dive into another goodie from Jack Ketchum titled ‘Hotline’ then a decent werewolf tale from Regina Mitchell.


Bookseller Alan Beatts shares some interesting accounts of his few meetings with Laymon, then Brian Keene gives us ‘Castaways,’ a short version of his Laymon-inspired novel of the same name.  Brian Freeman has one of the better segues into his fine short story, while Ryan Harding’s ‘Development’ is a nasty little ditty you’d swear was written by Laymon himself.


John Urbancik’s ‘Fauxville North’ is the second werewolf tale of the anthology, and ‘Daddy Wound’ by Jacqueline Mitchell keeps the thrills coming.  Gary Brander’s remembrance is one of the more personal here, and his tale, ‘Campfire Story,’ has all the elements Laymon fans love.  Simon Clark’s ‘Ham’s Not There’ is a fantastic take on the invisible man thing while Gina Osnovich’s ‘Edge of Town’ really brings on the Laymonesque goodness.  One of the more original tales comes from Michael T. Hyuck, Jr.: ‘Deep Dawn’s Jongluer’ deals with a mute artist (although she can hear) and a nasty experience she has aboard a ship.  Sheri White’s remembrance will appeal to anyone with kids, then Tom Piccirilli’s ‘New York Comes to the Desert’ mixes two genres he has mastered: horror and noir (plus a little dark humor I’m sure Laymon would’ve loved).  Adam Pepper’s ‘The Lonely Room’ is a standard (although well-executed) “continual” type story about a sleazy motel with a possessed room (Pepper’s remembrance piece will be of interest to HWA members).


Part Two: The middle section features lots of Laymon goodies; there’s early poems (that are scans of the original type-written pages) and a story Laymon had published in a 1970 issue of ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE.  Then there are 20 pages of a newsletter Richard edited titled ‘Smokers Blend’ that features tips, advice, and humor pieces geared toward pipe smokers (while I didn’t read all of this part, it was interesting to see what our favorite horror writer did when not scaring people silly).  There’s stories from Debonair magazine, a GREAT witch/movie story titled ‘Cut’ from 1985’s ‘Bestseller #23,’ a wonderful interview conducted in 1995 by Ed Gorman for Mystery Scene, 3 stories that originally appeared in Cemetery Dance magazine (each one better than the last) and a killer Halloween story called ‘Boo’ from 2000’s ‘October Dreams.’  The section ends with 16 pages of photographs, my favorite being Laymon at a book signing with Bentley Little and J.F. Gonzalez (Little only did 3 signings in his career [according to a 2005 issue of THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW], this one because his friend Richard Laymon had asked him).  Despite all the testimonies in the book, you could tell how much Laymon loved his family, friends and colleagues just by looking at these priceless photos.


Part Three: Matt Schwartz gives a funny account of how he became a fan, and compares the goodness of Laymon’s novels to the goodness of Melrose Place (trust me—it works!).  Steve Gerlach’s remembrance is one of the shortest, yet one of the most memorable, and his story ‘Dead of Night’ has no problem putting chills on your spine.  James Futch’s ‘Cover’ is a clever (and brief) take on the zombie thing, while Michael Oliveri’s ‘Behavior Therapy’ works great after his neat intro/remembrance).  Rain Graves claims (in her memoriam) she’s worried how Laymon fans will take her story; with ‘Wild Card,’ she has nothing to worry about.  John Pelan’s ‘Another Saturday Night’ features a sleazeball thief who picks up a goth chick whose ritual sex-thing turns out to be much more than a fetish.


Robert Freese’s remembrance is one of my favorites here: he explains why he wrote a review of Laymons writing book, ‘A Writer’s Tale,’ and how he tried to have it published in Fangoria Magazine.  The manuscript was sent back to him mutilated (!), and needless to say the letter was not published.  Fans will eat this story up, but I wish Freese’s actual review was included here (would have been quite appropriate).  Donn Gash follows this with an equally-as-cool remembrance titled ‘Pushing Buttons’ which flies in the face of critics who never “got” Laymon’s fiction (especially his characters).


‘Dig’ is a fun “buried alive” story by William D. Carl that features a truly grizzlyending; Holly Newstein & Ralph Bieder II deliver ‘Prayers,’ about an office worker whose life takes drastic changes after he sends a donation to a charismatic TV preacher.  Mark Justice’s ‘The Red Kingdom’ is a sex-charged thriller dealing with blood-soaked “amazons” attempting to bring their Dark Lord back to earth (did I mention this one was sex-charged?).


More so than almost any other tale in IN LAYMON’S TERMS, Bryan Smith’s ‘Pizza Face’ truly captures the feel and aura of Laymon’s own short stories; it’s a tense home invasion tale with well-timed humor and intense violence.  Dick would’ve been quite pleased with this one!
Brett McBean’s ‘The Genius of a Sick Mind’ is a well-done cat-and-mouse story, although at this point in the anthology the Laymonesque twist endings become a bit predictable—such as in Sebastien Pharand’s ‘Little Monsters,’ about an old man who guards his property from small creatures (you’ll see where this one’s headed by the middle of the first page).  It’s a well-written tale, if a bit familiar.


I didn’t care for Jonathan Torres’ ‘Bestiality,’ about 2 low-lifes who capture stray “animals” for an experimental lab.  It’s five pages of rape and unpleasantness that I didn’t find any humor in (thankfully, Torres’ remembrance is quite nice).


Ron R. Clinton’s ‘The Diner’ is an ode to Laymon’s ‘The Beast House,’ and features a poor soul wandering into a restaurant that serves more than just coffee.  Troy Taylor’s ‘The Keepsake’ is a vampire story that—while good—could’ve had a better ending.  While ‘Coastal Pickup’ is another one you’ll figure out early on, Brent Zirnheld’s mysterious female character kept it interesting.  Nicole Cushing’s tribute to Laymon’s ‘The Traveling Vampire Show,’ titled ‘Scabby Nipples and Sharp Teeth,’ is another vamp yarn, albeit with a wonderfully demented conclusion.


Weston Ochse’s ‘Crashing Down’ takes a nice turn and gives a fresh look at death and suicide (it’s also one of the creepier stories here).  Michael McCarty & Mark McLaughlin’s ‘From the Bowels of the Earth’ wins for funniest story, about a nerd who reluctantly becomes a demon hunter.  I can’t say enough good things about Robert Morrish’s ‘Still Life with Mother,’ a disturbing Norman Bates-like tale with a flavor all its own, while Roger Range’s ‘Scavengers’ pits blood-thirsty coyotes against an average American family (and like a Laymon story, NO ONE is safe here).  Slick ending, too.


Patricia Lee Macomber pulls off an amazing feat in an anthology full of (mainly) extreme, gory tales: ‘Past Tense’ not only has a happy ending, but holds its own here thanks to the great, suggestive prose that’s as tense as the more graphic entries.


Philip Robinson’s eerie ‘Occupied’ deals with a creature living inside an oak tree and the homeowner who must deal with its insatiable bloodlust, while a kinky couple go for the gusto in Jim Millman’s ‘For the Light,’ a short and face-paced thriller.


If any remembrance in IN LAYMON’S TERMS can bring a tear to your eye, it’s Geoff Cooper’s, but his following hostage story, ‘Strangers: Good Friends and a Bottle of Wine’ will quickly put your heart in your throat.


The final piece of fiction comes from the always demented Edward Lee, whose ‘Chef’ is a hilarious take on the undead (and culinary arts!).  And it all concludes with a beautiful and bittersweet ‘Dream’ from Matt Johnson.


Like any anthology (especially one of this size), there are a few forgettable stories, but even those had their hearts in the right place.  Richard Laymon’s 1987 novel, ‘Night Show,’ inspired me to write more than any other novel I had read up to that point, so it was nice to read so many similar testimonies (and everyone who was fortunate enough to meet Richard only had super-positive things to say about him).


IN LAYMON’S TERMS serves as a fond tribute to a writer who literally had HORROR running through his veins, an author who stood up for the genre and went out of his way to support and promote both seasoned and new writers, and a man who—despite the dark, extreme stories he made a living from—was one of the nicest, family-oriented guys the horror fiction scene had ever known.  Regardless if you’re a fan or not, this book deserves to be on any horror fan’s bookshelf.
As I’m sure every contributor to this anthology would agree: “The Dick would be pleased.”