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I’m not sure what I was expecting when I settled in to read this one. Something good, I felt confident, given what I've seen from Rawlik before, and in such regard I was not let down. Beyond that, I was thinking something kind of Bride-of-Frankenstein-ish, maybe, a sequel spinoff to the classic Reanimator, along those lines. What I got was so much more, it blew even my vague early expectations away.
This is far beyond a simple sequel. This is extrapolation and worldbuilding and interweaving of epic proportions. This is not just a who's who of the Mythos, but a who's who of the entire era, historical and literary and pop-fictional combined. It's fun, it's sly, it's clever. I was reminded of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, only minus the painfully forced feel, with better-written and more interesting, less-gimmicky characterization.
The story is primarily told in the form of journal entries from one Robert Peaslee, beginning shortly after the Great War. Originally from Arkham, his duties as part of a military security detail gradually morph into a semi-independent career of private investigation, paranormal troubleshooting, and general looking into the proverbial things-best-unknown.
During the course of his various pursuits, he becomes fascinated with a young lady named Megan Halsey-Griffith (a fascination made all the more interesting by the fact Robert isn't normally very keen on young ladies, so to speak). Her untimely death leads to his research into her family's enigmatic past -- deepening the frame narrative into diaries, letters, and accounts from other points of view -- and including some sordid glimpses into erotic underworlds and mysterious medical practices.
All this, of course, while also taking the reader on a grim and whimsical sight-seeing tour of Lovecraftiana, hitting several delightful touchstones along the way. My personal favorite moments, Chambersian heretic that I am, came early in the book (Chapter Two: The Sepia Prints).
But wait, you might be saying, this is called REANIMATRIX, isn't it about Herbert West and his infamous serum? Of course! That particular reagent, and its applications, provide the underlying drive for the plot, as various factions seek to control, duplicate, counter, or exploit its effects. There's plenty of reanimation to go around!
Chizmar's mammoth short story collection is everything you'd expect from a writer (and editor) who has been working with the best in the business for the past 25+ years through his magazine, Cemetery Dance. On display here are 35 of his career-spanning tales, most featuring clever twist endings, many are of the "quiet" horror variety, but that makes the stories with bursts of violence that much more effective.
Among my favorites are the title tale, A LONG DECEMBER, one of the longer pieces of the collection and an absolutely stunning serial killer/revenge story with an ending you won't see coming. Another serial killer is on the loose in THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES, a truly horrifying take on the subgenre.
In DITCH TREASURES, a highway maintenance man discovers something amazing in a roadside pond. To say any more will do you a huge disservice. In GRAND FINALE, a rich college student secretly films his bedroom antics, but he starts seeing gruesome images when he plays the tapes back. This would've made a killer episode of MASTERS OF HORROR or TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE.
In one of Chizmar's best twists, a mother learns a wicked secret one of her kids is keeping in THE BOX, while THE SEASON OF GIVING delivers a heartbreaking look at child abuse set against a holiday background. DEVIL'S NIGHT deals with jealousy gone amuck (and features some of the collection's most memorable characters), and in what is arguably the most powerful story of the lot, an aging man's son turns to a mysterious stranger to help his father become immortal in HEROES.
Even in the three or four stories that didn't work for me, Chizmar was still able to keep my interest, so to say a 35-story collection didn't have a bad apple in the bunch is a rare occasion.
A LONG DECEMBER is an excellent read, and I'll surely be revisiting a couple of its stories. Chizmar provides some genuine scares and plenty of variety to keep any horror fan up late, buried between the pages. And with most stories here at a short length, compelling you to continue, it's easy to get lost in this author's dark world.
Alright. I had to sit on this one for a minute and let the black water soak in until I figured out how I really felt about it. There’s a lot going on in this book. One is probably not going to be able to tackle this in a single sitting. It’s slow. It’s dark. It’s deep.
John Langans’ haunting novel THE FISHERMAN is an excellent read with a mean lower gut punch to the abdomen. What we have here is a super dark, slow burning literary horror novel that bleeds darkness from all turns of the page. What’s to be expected inside? Black Magic, giant snakes, monsters, a mysterious lady corpse, an eerie man with giant hooks, and legend upon legend as the true story unfolds like an old fishing tale passed on from one fisherman to the next. In fact, there is such a tale. The tale of Der Fisher: The Fisherman, and his legacy that prevails out at his old stomping grounds—Dutchman’s Creek, a creek barely noticeable on a map
Langan is a great story teller. He shows us this within the first few pages, when the reader is instantly drawn into the author’s dark mindset. We are introduced to our main characters, Dan and Abe, whose lives are in absolute bloody shambles. They’re sad widows with tragic back stories, who are able to bond over their one and only true love who hasn’t up and died on them just yet: fishing. Their true nature and emotions unfold before your eyes as one of them tells the other of the mysterious and equally legendary creek. You can feel their pain, their struggles, their sadness as the story goes on and their secrets are revealed to each other in ways one would probably not like to find out.
Reader beware: there is a story inside of a story here, and you may find yourself wanting to give up at times; don’t. Just stick it out. There’s a lot of history involved, as we go back in time to discover the true origins of the creek, and the many mysteries in the small town near it. It’s necessary for the story to unfold and the author will make it worth your time, as it allows some of the darker segments to hit that much harder.
Definitely recommended for fans of weird, horror, and dark fiction alike.
-Jon R. Meyers
Fellow devotees of the late, great Richard Laymon get bonus points with me, and by now Jim Goforth has racked up quite a few ... there's just something so satisfying about a good unabashed wallow in sex and blood and gore!
This collection of seven tales opens up with "Dead Tree Creepers," which is what basically amounts to Laymonesque comfort food. The mac-and-cheese of it, classic, hearty, gooey, and filling. A bunch of friends go camping in the woods, to drink and carouse, to score or try to, and to tell some spooky stories. One of which, that of the malevolent eyeball-gouging Creepers, turns out of course to be all too true.
Closing out the book is "Cavedwellers," which might on first blush seem to be a similar young-folks-meet-bad-ends-in-the-wilderness, set on and in a mountain as intrepid hikers get trapped while seeking shelter from a storm ... but then along come some surprises, far worse and weirder than any ordinary cave-monsters.
And what's in between these two? Oh, all sorts of fiendish nastiness! A sleazy jerk discovers a new night-spot where the dancers really take it off ... some brutes and bullies pick on the wrong target ... a pair of would-be thieves get more than they bargained for when they're hired to retrieve a mystery package ... a psychic's nightmares come too close to home ... the impending end of the world affects different people different ways.
So yeah, if, like me, you enjoy your hardcore horror up to the elbows in it, you should find plenty of wicked fodder here.
Sammons (editor of several Lovecraftian anthologies) has put together a real winning team here, with stories set in three eras (before, during, and after the Old Ones return). While I like Lovecraft well enough, I'm not a huge fan of the countless "mythos" stories that have flooded the market over the past several years, but in this case they not only work, a few truly terrify.
Among my favorites in Section One ("In The Before Times") are Tim Curran's incredibly creepy SCRATCHING FROM THE OUTER DARKNESS, where a blind woman is given a vision of Cthulhu's return, Scott T. Goudsward's THE HIDDEN, as we follow a support group and an artist as they bring forth Cthulhu with the help of one of their member's late father's notes, and in one of the best of the anthology, THE GENTLEMAN CALLER by Lucy A. Snyder, where we meet a wheelchair bound deformed female dwarf, who works as a phone sex operator and is given an unusual necklace that allows her to travel into other people's bodies. How she inadvertently unleashes Cthulhu is unforgettable. I found every story in this first section (there are 4 more) to feature a chilling sense of impending doom, and each one unique from the other.
My favorites in Section Two ("Where Were You When The World Ended?") were Peter Rawlik's TIME FLIES, which is kind of like what the film PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE would be like if done in a non-campy manner. It deals with possessing aliens who arrive to witness mankind's demise. Clever stuff. In Tim Waggoner's SORROW ROAD, a mother and her cancer-ridden 4 year-old son witness the arrival of the Old Ones in this heartbreaking yet terrifying entry that features Waggoner's dazzling prose and a weirdness level amped up to 11. And in William Meikle's THE CALL OF THE DEEP, Two UK soldiers are sent to the U.S. to guard scientists on a top secret mission to save the world from natural disasters and an invasion by millions of amphibious creatures. Meikle's tale features Cthulhu entering the world with more global devastation than I can ever remember reading before. Gleefully insane.
In the final section ("Life in the Shadow of Living Gods"), I particularly liked Christine Morgan's THE KEEPER OF MEMORY: long after the Old Ones have returned an old woman known as Mema teaches the young children about the world before the New Gods arrived. A haunting (and at times hilarious) monster mash, Morgan's ability to add humor to such a serious story (and overall anthology) is quite impressive. The book's final offering, STRANGERS DIE EVERY DAY by Cody Goodfellow. is a "mini-epic" dealing with Tobin Thrush, a man for hire living in an apocalyptic world where Cthulhu may be an idea more than an actual God. This blend of noir action centering around Thrush's search for a kidnapped girl is jam-packed with bizarre cults, gangs, and so much strangeness I couldn't read it fast enough. Easily the highlight of the anthology and a must read for fans of weird fiction, Goodfellow's tale is worth the price of admission on its own, and dare I say HPL himself would be envious.
RETURN OF THE OLD ONES is a great anthology with not a slow story in the mix. Each author has brought unique ideas and takes on the Mythos to the table and the result is a horrific end-times jamboree even those who don't care for Lovecraft will enjoy. A pleasant surprise all around.
CELEBRITY CHEF ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE by Jack Strange (2016 Kensington Gore Publishing / 268 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
As a fan of zombies, bizarro, and celebrity chefs -- seriously, it's cooking shows on pretty much every night at my house! -- the moment I learned about this book, I knew it would be exactly my kind of thing. And I was not disappointed! Well, right up until the guy ran over the cat. Then, I was not merely disappointed, I was distraught and more than a little aggravated.
But hey, it worked out! The guy was on his way to see his wacky inventor uncle, who claimed to have finally had a breakthrough on his raise-the-dead machine, and naturally they needed a test subject. So, the cat came back. Albeit as a sex-crazed flesh-eating bundle of ginger-furred murder ...
Both wacky uncle and Robert, the cat-runner-overer, sort of fail to notice that part. Besides, they've got bigger plans. Robert works for a television network and has the bright idea of bringing back deceased celebrity chef Floyd Rampant to host reruns of his old show. What could go wrong?
Well, as the title would suggest, quite a bit. Even celebrity chefs come back as sex-crazed flesh-eaters, though of course, there are certain professional standards to uphold. And with hundreds of the world's best about to descend upon Chef-Con, the time is right for Chef Rampant to expand his culinary empire.
What follows is a riotous series of blood-drenched, pan-seared, deglazed screwball antics, hopping willy-nilly among various POV characters -- the chefs themselves, the cop trying to solve the case, a restaurant worker who can't convince anyone of the truth, innocent and/or hapless victims, government officials trying to spin the burgeoning disaster, and (yay!) Henderson the cat. Two thumbs up, those thumbs lightly-braised with a spinal fluid reduction, served over a bed of kidney risotto and topped with a poached eye.
THE FORTY-TWO by Ed Kurtz (2014 New Pulp Press / 366 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
This book's another great example of the blurred overlap between crime fiction, thriller, and horror. It covers them all, and it covers them well, while also being a nostalgic hearkening-back to an iconic piece of Americana even people who weren't alive then or never went there have absorbed by cultural osmosis.
New York. Times Square. The late 1970s, the heyday of sleazy nightlife, strip clubs, smut shops, sex, drugs, and movie theaters. Oh so many movie theaters, catering to a wide range of tastes, as long as most of those tastes are of the low-brow, low-budget variety. Adult movies, kung-fu movies, biker movies, exploitation flicks ...
And Charley's favorite, horror movies. Bad ones. The schlockier and gorier and bloodier, the better. He loves 'em. Can't get enough. Until the night he ends up sort of holding hands with an attractive stranger in the dark. He spends the rest of the show mulling over possible chat-up lines, but when the lights come up, he realizes that the girl beside him is dead. Stabbed in her seat while they sat there.
Suddenly, Charley's got all the blood and gore he could want ... only, this is real life, and he doesn't want it. Yet he can't put the incident behind him. He can't walk away. He needs to know who this mystery girl was, who killed her, why she had to die.
His bumbling efforts at investigation very quickly get him in way over his head. People trying to kill him, more people around him getting killed, secrets, lies, conspiracies, murder, money, hookers, drugs, cautionary beatings, and more.
No spoilers, though! You'll just have to read it. Written in a style that celebrates its grainy, grimy, graphic, transgressive, vivid Technicolor subject matter, it's a definite experience, gripping and exciting, sordid and tragic. This book about movies should go full-circle and become a movie, but I don't know if current movies could do it true justice.
BAD APPLES 3 (2016 Corpus Press / 242 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
I love Halloween; it's my favorite holiday by far. So, when given a whole anthology of Halloween tales, you'd better believe I was as eager as a kid setting out, plastic pumpkin-bucket in hand.
This particular trick-or-treat excursion didn't cover many houses; there are only seven stories in all making up the book. But, they aren't just a meager assortment of small candies. These are the full-size bars you'll want to hide from your mom before she 'confiscates' them for your own good.
First up is "Belle Souffrance," by Adam and Evans Light, a darkly haunting ballet of torment and revenge, with several particularly memorable black-humor-hilariously disturbing moments.
It's followed by John McNee's "Chocolate-Covered Eyeball," which takes your classic candy-store scenes like in Harry Potter and Willie Wonka, and turns them inside-out by way of EC comics.
"October's End" by Craig Saunders goes more a Twilight Zone route, with the subtle old-school feel of bent reality and inescapable nightmares.
In Gregor Xane's "The Uncle Taffy's Girl," you suspect right from the beginning that this party is going to go badly for the hapless dude hoping to get laid. And it does, but in surprising, unexpected ways.
Speaking of hapless people and parties, that's what's on Charli's mind as she boards the bus in "Last Stop" by Edward Lorn. Only, a pumpkin-faced psycho with murder on his mind has other plans.
"Body of Christ" by Mark Matthews is my favorite of the bunch, probably because it's just so deeply messed up on so many levels.
Jason Parent's "Pulp" wraps things up with a chaotic homage to the genre as a whole, packed with name-nods and references at the school horror-film-club's costume party.
All in all, fun reading for the spirit of the season; what better time to go bobbing for apples?