Sunday, November 20, 2016

Reviews for the Week of November 21, 2016

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CREEPING WAVES by Matthew M. Bartlett (2016 Muzzleland Press / 272 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Continuing the same vibe he created in GATEWAYS TO ABOMINATION (2014) and THE WITCH-CULT IN WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS (2015), Bartlett brings us back to the mysterious town of Leeds, revealing more of it's dark history and mysterious residents.

For those not in the know, a radio station (WXXT) lures people to Leeds with its strange broadcasts. And once there, hapless visitors are confronted with everything from devil worshippers to flying leeches to a woman who sells the most unusual of books. The short chapters in CREEPING WAVES latently introduce us to some of the town's more infamous figures and historical events, and several are nothing short of terrifying. And while Bartlett uses some dark humor at times, there's a real sinister feel to everything, even when we think he's going for an all-out laugh.

Among my favorites here are 'Baal Protects the King (Part 1)', where a young priest discovers Leeds' ancient evil; 'The Egg,' in which a new chicken farmer brings an unusual egg into his home and the violent affects it has on his family; 'Rangel,' where a man, continually haunted by the disappearance of his younger sister, returns to Leeds after moving to the west coast: this one really got under my skin. Finally, 'The Massachusetts State Trooper' is a prime example of the author's bizarre style of horror, unsettling and as eerie as it gets.

With glimpses into Leeds' personal ads, haunting phone calls, and the sense that nothing is at it seems, CREEPING WAVES is another excellent entry in Bartlett's growing occult series. Well written, scary, and completely absorbing, you'll surely be weary of turning your radio dial down to the lower numbers.

-Nick Cato

SIX SCARY STORIES edited by Stephen King (2016 Cemetery Dance Publications / 200 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

When you ask Stephen King to judge a competition, ask him to select a winner from the six best stories narrowed down by experienced literary types, from a field of hundreds of submissions ... when you say, okay, Steve, here's our top six, now you pick ONE ...

Well, we're talking Stephen-freakin'-KING here, people. He did what they wanted, he picked one, but he also deemed the other five just too damn good to leave behind. And, being a guy with a certain degree of influence, certain connections, certain heft, he was readily able to find a publisher willing to take on the task.

I'm glad he did, because they really are pretty good. The book itself is a slim, sleek, lovely thing, which is available both in trade paperback and luxurious hardcover. The introduction offers a tantalizing glimpse behind some industry scenes as to how the competition and end result came about.

As for the stories themselves, well, in the introduction, Mr. King makes a point of mentioning how he doesn't want to say too much about them, give too much away. So, I won't either, but will try to provide a teensy teaser for each:

'Wild Swimming' by Elodie Harper, the winning tale, opens the book and is told in the form of a series of emails from a young woman whose adventuresome sport/hobby brings her to a lake perhaps best left undisturbed.

In 'Eau-de-Eric,' by Manuela Saragosa, a widowed mother isn't sure what to do about her daughter's attachment to a disturbing new stuffed animal.

'The Spots' by Paul Bassett Davies, provides an interesting examination of duty, loyalty, blindness, cognitive dissonance, and perception.

'The Unpicking' by Michael Button was my personal favorite of the bunch, a nasty-chilling little take on what toys get up to while the household sleeps.

'La Mort De L'Amant' by Stuart Johnstone, has a rustic, tragic feel with unsettling undertones and better-unanswered questions that linger long after the story's done.

'The Bear Trap' by Neil Hudson finishes things off with the grim tale of a kid left on his own to look after the place until his father returns, though it's sure been a long time.

-Christine Morgan

THE NIGHT PARADE by Ronnald Malfi (2016 Kensington Press / 384 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

THE NIGHT PARADE takes us to the end of times on a hot pursuit, doomsday kind of ride alongside David and his unique daughter, Ellie. They’ve got six hundred bucks, a change of clothes, and a handgun in a duffel bag in the backseat, not to mention what may be the only key left to saving the world. At first it seems like David has kidnapped his daughter and is on the run from her Mom, but if you stick with it a little bit longer, there are much stranger things going on.

There is a nasty virus spreading, Wander’s Folly. Although, a cheesy name for such a dreadful virus, one causing a worldwide epidemic, it definitely isn’t something to mess around with. It has already killed all the birds. And nobody knows exactly how the Folly is spread. We only know that one doesn’t want to catch it because it makes it's recipients go mad, a disease of the mind, a constant state of nightmarish hallucinations so real that you believe them, not to mention it's accompanied by terrible headaches, nosebleeds, and once infected you are entirely unable to decipher dream from reality.

We eventually find out David didn’t kidnap his daughter. He’s just a loving dad in fear of the government taking her away from him like they did his wife. Ellie, too, finds this out after overhearing it on the news at a diner by accident, her Mom is dead, but something doesn’t add up. On the news they said it was a suicide and they (David and Ellie) are now on the most wanted list for questioning. Innocent fugitives on the run. But, why you ask? They didn’t kill her. And David knows for a fact that she didn’t commit suicide. It’s all just part of a big cover up. The doctors drained her and made her weak during extensive testing. A simple blood test resulted in her demise and the fact that she was immune to the Folly. She may have been the only key on this planet to cure it. After she passes we discover Ellie has the same rare blood as her mom. The doctors, feds, and hazmat suits won’t stop for anything until they catch them. Ellie also discovers around this time that she has new found superpowers. She can heal and control people’s emotions, pulling out the bad and replacing it with good. She has had her powers ever since she can remember and they’re getting stronger by the minute. Will David be able to keep his daughter safe from the powers that be and their extreme medical testing before he too gets sick and dies from the Folly like the rest of the world?

I guess you’ll have to read it for yourself and find out.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book and would recommend it to any fans of Horror and Science Fiction alike.

-Jon R. Meyers

ISLAND RED by Matt Serafini (2016 Severed Press / 222 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I picked this one up with the idea it'd be your basic summer vacation gorefest creature feature, nightmares in paradise as something ravenous from the deep chows down on an endless buffet of bikini-babes and stubborn tourists who paid too much to listen to advice about avoiding the beach.

The way the book starts off, with a young couple going for a sexy moonlight swim despite a grim warning from the grizzled one-eyed old-timer, certainly supports that anticipated narrative ... you just know an aquatic terror is about to show up ...

Which it does, in the form of a large frilled shark, but by the time the shark makes the scene, our sexy young couple are already dead. Burnt and blackened, char-broiled, sizzling crispy critters. And the shark, who'd only been doing the natural thing of investigating a potential free cooked meal, finds itself a sudden victim, the unwilling but helpless host to a far more malevolent entity.

So, as if the basic primal fear of being eaten by sea monsters isn't enough, it gets worse. Several other basic primal fears are added to the mix -- infection, possession, parasitic takeover, loss of control. Not to mention being isolated on a remote island (with a hurricane bearing down, of course), the confusion and panic, trapped desperation, and not-unjustified paranoia brought on by a huge circling dead-black warship.

All this, plus the human drama elements, as the enforcer for a ruthless crime boss has been given one last chance, and a divorced dad tries to rebuild his relationship with his teenage son, and a missing young woman's secrets threaten to expose several sleazy truths.

And there I'd been, expecting a simple SyFy formulaic chomp-o-rama ... to say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement, because not only did ISLAND RED give me a wild action-thriller-mystery ride, it also proved to be damn well written. A little choppy in places, maybe, with some abrupt transitions and some elements left unexplained or lost in the shuffle, but with that much going on, at such a cranked-up pace, it's easy to forgive.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC (Issue No. 54)

This issue's fiction is comprised of three novelettes and one short story, kicking off with Steven J. Dines' 'Perspective,' which uses various points of view to tell the tale of Emily, a woman who has lost her sight as a result of stress that became too much for her in light of dealing with a stalker. The sections told from the person who raped Emily when she was a teenager are especially unsettling, and Dines does a fine job making us feel both Emily's blindness and her husband David's growing frustration as he deals with her handicap both mentally and physically.

Julie C. Day's 'A Pinhole of Light' is quite a unique ghost story: In an attempt to speak with his late wife, photographer Geir discovers a way to communicate with the dead by developing photographs on his skin (trust me, it sounds out there but it works). Geir's system comes at a price, which not only leaves him completely drained, but bothers his young daughter Jenny, who is busy painting a mural on her bedroom wall with her uncle Peter. She hopes it will take her father's mind off his wife and inspire him to abandon his occult practice. The shortest tale of the issue, yet the most epic in scope.

In Ralph Robert Moore's 'Not Everything Has a Name,' A tall man named Ben meets Tommy and Sheila at a bar, and after a game of pool, he winds up taking Sheila home with him. Ben's a bit older than her, and also a widower. Moore gives this the feel of a classic noir story, but at the halfway point nothing is as it seems and the conclusion will surely surprise most readers.

I'm not one for werewolf stories, but Malcolm Devlin's 'Dogsbody' is a fresh look at them. Gil, who had been part of a group who were infected with a lyncanthropic virus, became a werewolf for only a few hours. But it has changed his life in ways far worse than the physical transformation. Devlin's tale focuses more on the aftermath of Gil's incident and offers much thought into the nature of mankind itself. While all four stories this issue are excellent, this was easily my favorite.

Opening non fiction columns by Stephen Volk and Lynda E. Rucker will get your blood flowing (especially Volk's piece on violence in the genre), and Peter Tennant delivers an insightful interview with Damien Angelica Walters after his usual barrage of book reviews, this time focusing on Lovecraftian anthologies. Gary Couzen's dvd/blu-ray reviews cap the issue, and as much as I follow the genre I had no idea the classic giallo film 'The Bloodstained Butterfly' had been released from Arrow Films. Thanks, Gary, for helping to shrink my wallet!

You're still not reading BLACK STATIC? Correct that right here: BLACK STATIC

-Nick Cato


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