Monday, July 13, 2015

Reviews for the Week of July 13, 2015

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


THE CONSULTANT by Bentley Little (to be released 9/15 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 480 pp / trade hardcover and limited edition hardcover)

Craig Horne works for a failing company called CompWare. He's called into a staff meeting where the CEO explains they'll be hiring a consulting firm to help them get back on track. Regus Patoff, the firm's main consultant, arrives dressed a little odd and causing much of the staff to feel on edge. And before long he's getting a little too involved in everyone at CompWare's personal lives, going above and beyond what a standard consultant should be doing.

It doesn't take long for weird things to start happening: staff members are committing suicide, Patoff's comments become more personal and obscene, and the head of CompWare begins acting as if he's under a spell.

For some reason, Craig finds himself unable to be physically harmed by Patoff, and he learns his wife Angie's job is now being overlooked by BFG, Patoff's consulting firm, who also manage to bring their services to their young son Dylan's elementary school.

With CompWare's staff slowly being eliminated, and his family under constant threat by the mysterious Mr. Patoff, Craig and his friend/co-worker Phil are alone against this unusual threat ... that is, until Patoff makes Phil the new CEO of CompWare.

THE CONSULTANT is classic Bentley Little, in the vein of his novels THE MAILMAN and THE ASSOCIATION. Little brings some serious chills, but this time the tone is so darkly comic--and even absurd at times--that I found myself laughing out loud. But here the terror and the humor work well together, especially in light of Mr. Patoff (who I can envision being played in a film version by Steve Buscemi). He's one of the more interesting villains to grace a Little novel, and when total chaos breaks out in the final chapters, it's just so damn entertaining you can't help but sit there with a wicked, satisfed grin on your face, even as one burning question is left for the reader to decipher.

Little's twisted take on office paranoia is just what his fans have been waiting for.

Now get back to work!

-Nick Cato

END TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH by Ian Welke (2015 Omnium Gatherum / 282 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, first off, LOVE the title! Were I a teacher, I’d give extra credit bonus points for that. And for the themes of the prom and the school play. I’d read a whole book about either of those alone. Brilliant. Great stuff.

So, yes, welcome to Ridgemont. It’s a lovely place. The school, the community, the church … the new church … that nice new Esoteric Order of Dagon church gaining such popularity …

Even Mr. and Mrs. MacIntire have converted, though their kids aren’t very interested. Son Tim is too busy trying to keep his job and save up for college; daughter Evelyn is about to start high school and much more concerned with friends and boys.

Soon, though, it’s hard to ignore the changes taking place in town. More and more kids are coming to school in church-inspired uniforms. The faculty members slow to adapt to the adjusted curriculum aren’t just risking their jobs. Behavioral problems may be at a low, but vandalism – particularly some strange and unsettling pieces of graffiti – are on the upswing.

If someone doesn’t do something, and quick, this year’s Ridgemont graduation class may be the last ever. That isn’t a future Evelyn and her friends are eager to see, so, they decide to be the someones to do something about it.

I lost track of a couple of the sub-plot threads along the way – hey, there was a lot going on! – but the references were hugely fun and the imagery was fantastic. Again, as mentioned above, in the bits involving the prom and the play were my far and away favorites.

-Christine Morgan

WET AND SCREAMING by Shane McKenzie (2015 Deadite Press / 220 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This new collection is packed with almost as much in the way of extra goodies as it is primary goodies, so that just makes for bonus win all the way around! An intro and bonus end stories by Jen and Sylvia Soska nicely bookend the volume.

Better yet, each story opens with a personal essay by the author to explain (or warn the reader) a bit about what they’re getting themselves into. I love this kind of thing, peeks inside the mindspace where some of my favorite people hang their creative hats. If nothing else, it helps make me feel better about my own muse’s living situation!

First up, obesity! The horror, the revulsion, the shame! In the eyes of many, fatness is The Worst Thing Ever; I remember a survey showing how many women would rather lose IQ points than gain pounds (admittedly, if I could just weigh my IQ, I’d be happy …).

“Fat Slob” hearkens back to King’s “Thinner,” but in a much more painful, gooshy, squicktastic way. And, like with “Thinner,” like with Wrath James White’s “Voracious,” as horrific as it is, the really evil and insidious part is, well, wouldn’t it still be kinda tempting?

“So Much Pain, So Much Death” I’d read before in the Fresh Fear anthology, and had almost successfully forgotten how disturbing it was … but here it is again, unsettling as ever! Maybe even more so on second read, because all those shivers just came rushing right on back.

Ouija board mishaps, the perils of distracted driving, Halloween hijinks, sport/trophy hunting, Ed Gein having a garage sale, dead kittens as just the tip of the hoarder iceberg, a troubled man’s unique deadly addiction, clowns, and all manner of weirdness make their way into the mix.

And then, it’s time for the grand finale, with the “Stab the Rabbit.” Damn near everybody I’ve ever known would agree with the first half of the intro; Jessica Rabbit defined sex-on-a-plate for an entire generation. But then it gets twisted. Deliciously, deviantly twisted. Cartoon universes are awesome, with their own rules and laws of physics that may or may not apply in our own … seeing them meet, in particularly unthinkable ways, is a sick, fun-filled ride.

The same can basically be said for the whole book. Does not disappoint, especially if you’re expecting gruesome hilarity with underlying depth, pathos and insight.

-Christine Morgan

CARRIER by Timothy Johnson (2014  Permuted Press / 322 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Sci-fi’s not usually my thing, but horror is … so, something billed as sci-fi horror, sure, I figured I’d give it a shot.

Overall, I’m not sorry, though I must admit I did find it a bit of an uphill slog to get into at the beginning. Lots of introductions and tech made for a dense and heavy first course to try and digest all at once.

The heavy density did continue throughout in terms of the writing style; a lot of detail, a lot of telling rather than showing. Maybe not to the point of outright info-dumps, but very much making sure you-the-reader “get” it.

First novel syndrome? Upon checking, I saw that yes, this is the author’s first. So, explainable and understandable. And, for a first, off to a pretty decent start nonetheless. Better than several I’ve seen. The plot feels sound, the characters are distinct, the tension holds up, and many of the descriptive passages or turns of phrase are really good.

The premise is your basic outbreak of crazy/infected with zombies. Set on a huge spaceship, it’s claustrophobic enough to have that no-escape sense while big enough to have room to maneuver. For the leading ensemble, there’s the security officer, the ship’s doctor to whom he’s married, the cracking-under-strain captain, the shifty corporate agent, and a rapidly-dwindling supply of supporting cast as the situation worsens.

The pace picks up considerably once things shift more from the sci-fi to the horror portions of the program, or maybe that’s just where more of my interest kicked in. Either way, it held me through to he end. A solid effort and worth a look.

-Christine Morgan