Monday, April 11, 2016

Reviews for the Week of April 11, 2016

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info.


SUBMERGED by Thomas F. Monteleone (2016 Samhain Publishing / 338 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Former Navy diver Dex McCauley and his crew discover a sunken German WW2 u-boat in the Chesapeake Bay during a routine dive. But it's unlike any u-boat they've seen before, and there are no records of it ever exisiting. And when Dex discovers the captain's memoirs (and a strange object), he learns of the sinister mission the sub had been on.

As we follow Dex's present day story, the novel is split with what happened aboard the sub back in 1945. Captain Erich Bruckner runs a tight ship and has been ordered to keep his crew in the dark about their top secret mission, which includes a bombing assault over New York City. On their way to America, they are ordered to visit a top secret Nazi base under the ice in Greenland, where they discover a bizarre occurence had almost destroyed the SS's plans.

As Dex and his crew go back for a second visit to the wreck, an illuminati-like organization learns of the u-boat's discovery and are hell-bent on retrieiving whatever Dex has salvaged from the wreck. Their second dive ends with only Dex and one other diver alive and on the run...

SUBMERGED is a fast-paced action adventure/thriller with just enough Lovecraftian goodness to give it a horrific edge. While I hate to use a played out term such as "compulsive page-turner," there's really no other way to describe this as the close of each chapter forces you to read on. As I read, I felt as if I were watching a summer blockbuster, and it'd be a crime if someone didn't do their best to translate this one to the big screen (so make sure to have a big bucket of popcorn on hand before you start reading).

If you haven't read Monteleone before, this is a fine place to start. If you're a fan, you'll surely rip through this in a sitting or two.

An all-around great read from one of the best in the business.

-Nick Cato

MISTER WHITE by John C. Foster (2016 Grey Matter Press / 278 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

At times, this book gave me a crowded feeling, not in a bad way but a busy one, as if several people were conducting distinct big projects in a smallish shared space. No matter how well they got along, every now and then there’s bound to be some jostling.

In this case, instead of people it’s storylines – international spy thriller, family secrets, occult conspiracy, haunted house-ish, and stalking malevolence – and I was left with something of a reverse-gestalt impression … that the whole came out not quite up to the sum of its parts. I think I would’ve preferred a tighter focus on a few elements, to be more fully explored and resolved.

Summary-wise, Lewis Edgar is an operative for a shadowy agency which made the mistake of trying to harness and control an ancient evil force. When things inevitably go wrong, Lewis winds up on the run from enemies and former allies alike, while also trying to protect his semi-estranged family. His chase takes him across several countries and through weird supernatural encounters.

Basically, for me, I wanted more of some stuff and less of other. I was left tantalized but curious about the train and the nuns, I wanted more with Hedde and the dogs; I felt like there was a lot more going on, and I was somehow missing out on important pieces.

I did enjoy it, I found the writing top-notch, the mood nicely ominous with creeping dread, and I probably had more fun than I should’ve with putting my long-ago German classes to the test. My current plan is to let it settle a while, let it mull around in the back of my brain, and then see how a second reading goes over.

-Christine Morgan

ODD NUMBERS by Richard Chizmar / HOW THE WIND LIES by Brian James Freeman (2016 White Noise Press / 40 pp / limited edition chapbook)

The latest offering from White Noise Press contains two stories in a "flip book" style. The stories are unrelated but are both excellent.

In Richard Chizmar's 'Odd Numbers,' a man's compulsive use of numbers drives him over the edge, then in Brian James Freeman's 'How the Wind Lies,' ten families set out across America in colonial times to get away from a malevolent force, but only one survives and has to face what has been following them.

As with all WNP chapbooks, to reveal anymore about the stories would be a disservice to the reader. I think this one is sold out now but check the secondhand market. Collector's will surely cherish this beautifully designed edition.

-Nick Cato

SACRIFICING VIRGINS by John Everson (2015 Samhain Publishing / 282 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’m going to commit apophasis here by not even getting into the whole Samhain kerfuffle, except to say what a shame it is for the authors, especially when collections like this one are indicative of the kind of books we’ll have to look for elsewhere.

Because, wow, these are some excellent stories! Beautifully written, dark, evocative, spooky, sensual, each with its own unique blend of mood and emotion … disturbingly erotic, weird, powerful, mingling dread and humor … all with precise, intense effect.

There are ghost stories, murders, infestations, a guy in love with his answering machine, revenge, deadly dunk tanks, twists, kinks, and shocks. What would you do if you found a beautiful body buried on the beach? If you thought you had a chance to bring a loved one back from the dead? If you got tired of the deal you made with the devil?

This may be one of my toughest challenges yet in terms of trying to select my faves. So many of them are so good, it’d be easier to list the few I didn’t quite care as much for … but even that proved difficult when I went flipping back through the pages.

So, I’ll single out 'Green Apples, Red Nails' for particular mention, which made me literally gasp out loud not once but twice. I did NOT see that coming. Chills and goosebumps. Well done!

-Christine Morgan

THE SPECIMEN by Pete Kahle (2014 CreateSpace / 502 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

When I was in college, a bunch of us went to the movies to see … uh … I can’t even remember what we went there to see! But the double-feature was some sleeper flick we’d never heard of, so we stuck around to give it a chance and find out if it was any good. It was THE HIDDEN. ‘Nuff said.

There’s just something about the whole alien symbiote thing, isn’t there? Something simultaneously fascinating and repelling, whether it’s squidgy body-taking-over evil or mutually beneficial willingness (one of my favorite characters in a superhero game was bonded with an energy-lifeform).

What you’re getting in this book is more the squidgy-evil kind, latching on with hooks and tentacles, implanting nasty little wormy larvae, subsuming the host’s will, etc. And they’ve been doing this for a long, long time … throughout human history … the flashbacks to the Viking and Aztec ages, being two of my favorite eras, I particularly loved!

And, just as they’ve always been among us, some of us have been either trying to exploit or destroy them. The struggle kicks into high gear when an urban explorer goes poking around an abandoned asylum and brings out something that’s been locked away for fifty years. Something very old, very powerful, and very unhappy about its long captivity.

This is also one of those books that has no dang business being a first novel. Are you kidding me? I mean yes, okay, the author’s done short stories and is no slouch as an editor, but whoa … so many characters, all vivid and distinct … so many storylines deftly interwoven … serious good stuff here, so, when I saw the ‘first novel’ bit in the About the Author, I was flatly gobsmacked. Never would have suspected.

I will be eagerly, and impatiently, awaiting the sequel. And now I also want to go watch THE HIDDEN again.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC Issue 51 (Mar-Apr 2016)

Martin Hanford's cover art, "Jack in the Box," continues Black Static's recent run of excellent covers, which houses this top notch issue.

The opening commentary begins with Stephen Volk on how the workings of the BBC remind him of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (!), then we get Lynda E. Rucker's take on the three anxieties horror writers face (although I can say Peter Straub--contrary to this column--is very approachable and has given me solid time at three different events). Good stuff here.

Stephen Graham Jones' novelette 'Bird Father' finds a widow (and her sons) dealing with life after a fatal car accident claims her husband. She starts dating an officer a bit too soon afterward, and the boys decide to play some twisted pranks on her using a dead bird that was seen at their father's crash site. But the officer isn't what he seems to be, and the walls of their house become a Poe-like mystery in this dazzling chiller.

An old woman babysits in the house she used to live in in Mark Morris' 'Fall Up.' Both young Heidi and babysitter Shirley have recently lost loved ones (brother and husband, respectively), and despite its short length, Morris manages to build a growing dread in both characters that culminates in a hair-raising finale. A nice twist on the haunted house story.

Gary McMahon's 'Necropolis Beach' is a pre-apocalyptic Lovecraftian tragic love story that reminded me of an early Neal Adams comic strip from EERIE magazine. Picture something like HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP with a much better (and serious) script...

An old man attempts to make amends with an old woman he stole from in Caren Gossoff's 'Spring Forward.' I enjoyed the author's prose and the tale is fine, but this melancholy drama is out of place in a horror magazine.

In 'Listen, Listen,' "Mr." Stephen Hargadon introduces us to Robert Haig, who inherits his toy-making father's fortune. But Robert's old man comes back to torment him in a unique way in this wonderfully written study of ghosts and the afterlife.

Norman Prentiss shows what happens when a slightly apprehensive English professor goes a bit off the rails in 'The Future of Literary Criticism.' Professor Lowell Fitch, after receiving a calligraphy pen as an anonymous gift at a convention, decides to re-write much of his speech for his panel the next morning. His theory on what made Poe's detective stories tick causes near scandal at the 1962 job seminar. Prentiss fills his novelette with finely timed humor, a great ending, and a clever nod to Poe (I sense a partial theme this issue).

After 50 issues, the 'Blood Spectrum' dvd/bluray reviews are taken over by Gary Couzens, who delivers a fine debut column (with an excellent look at the new bluray of 'Thundercrack.') Readers who looked forward to Tony Lee's column will not be disappointed.

Peter Tennant's 'Case Notes' looks at some DarkFuse titles, a pair of ocean/shark-themed anthologies ('Sharkpunk' sounds like a good time) and a pair of novels by Angela Slatter before getting to an interview (and more novel reviews) with author/editor Molly Tanzer.

A very satisfying issue highlighted by a nice variety of story-accompanying artwork.

Grab a copy or subscription here: Black Static

-Nick Cato



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