Saturday, July 31, 2010

Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter, (Damnation Books) by Ed Erdelac

“Tales of a High Planes Drifter” is a collection of four novella-length tales featuring the Merkabah Rider and his adventures in the 19th-century American West. The Rider himself is reminiscent of no one more than Stephen King's Roland of Gilead; a gunman with conviction, who is prepared to kill but still has lines he won't cross. Dropping an Hasidic Jew into the Wild West is a pretty gutsy move, but it just might make this one of the genre's standout books this year.

Not only is the Rider a gunslinger, he's also a potent Qabbalist (one skilled in the secret arts of Hebrew mysticism; seals of Solomon and the like) capable of astral travel and creating magical talismans. He uses his many talents in a series of battles against bigotry, attackers both supernatural and mundane, and his own tortured conscience.

The general thread woven throughout the stories in the book is that of a man, betrayed by his master, seeking justice in the name of his fallen brethren. In the course of the Rider's search for the traitorous Adon he takes on a bloodthirsty cult ("The Blood Libel"), a group of bandits in league with a voodoo bokor ("The Dust Devils"), a demon-possessed, grief-stricken father and husband ("Hell's Hired Gun"), and a cathouse staffed by the daughters of Lilith (“The Nightjar Women”).

Erdelac is a self-proclaimed history enthusiast, and “Tales of a High Planes Drifter” is packed with what must have been a staggering amount of research into Jewish history and mysticism. His descriptive skills are top-notch and he exhibits particular skill at knowing when to throw in a bit of extra gore. The second book comes out this fall, which only adds to the win.

Visit www.facebook.com/ed.erdelac. Buy it today.

Lincoln Crisler is a United States Army combat veteran and non-commissioned officer and the author of two collections of dark stories, Magick & Misery (2009, Black Bed Sheet) and Despairs & Delights (2008, Arctic Wolf). He lives in Augusta, Georgia with his wife and two of his three children. You can visit his website at www.lincolncrisler.info.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Interview with Jeff Strand

Jeff Strand's latest novel, Dweller, is an incredible tale of a fifty year-long relationship between a lonely man and a lethal forest creature. Like Pressure before it, Dweller isn't a quick burst of thrills and gore; Strand examines our long-term association with darkness and its effects. Instead of a long-winded sermon about a book you really just need to take my word about, I give you the following interview with the author, Jeff Strand:

Lincoln Crisler: I've heard you have something of a reputation as a funny guy and charming personality. What spurred the transformation into the grim, gritty guy that writes about serial murder and man-eating monsters?

Jeff Strand: Well, it seems like more of a transformation than it actually is. The 2009 Leisure paperback edition of Pressure was a reprint of the 2006 Earthling Publications hardcover edition, so though to most readers it looks like I wrote Pressure and Dweller back to back, between those two books was more lighthearted fare: The Sinister Mr. Corpse, Benjamin's Parasite, The Haunted Forest Tour, The Severed Nose, and Disposal. (It's kind of weird to say "lighthearted fare" to describe such splattery books, but compared to Pressure and Dweller it's appropriate!)

The real "transformation" came much earlier. I wanted to write comedy novels, and I'd published three of them: How to Rescue a Dead Princess, Out of Whack, and Elrod McBugle on the Loose, but after my novel Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary)--which was supposed to be a mystery/comedy but turned out infinitely darker than I'd originally planned--I focused entirely on horror fiction.

LC: I always find it interesting to read a book and then read about what was going on in the author’s life around the time they were writing the book. What was going on with you while you were writing Dweller?

JS: Ummmm...I was going to my day job, eating, sleeping, and writing Dweller. That's about it. There were not a lot of outside interests being pursued during the creation of that book. I'd had a very active summer promoting Pressure, and somehow I thought that I'd maintain a regular writing routine during the conventions and bookstore appearances. I was completely insane. So once all of that was over with, it wasn't as if I had to write in a mad blind panic to meet the deadline, but there were some long, long nights...

Dweller is a sad book, dealing with themes of loneliness and an inability to move forward with one's life, but that's not where I was, mentally, when I was writing it. I was tired as hell but happy!

LC: I'm somewhat hung up on routines and schedules, somewhat of a coping mechanism from my childhood with Attention Deficit Disorder. This is of particular import when it comes to my writing. What's your writing routine like?

JS: Despite my best efforts to change my shameful ways, there's really not much of a routine. I'm very deadline-driven, so when a book is due in two months I'm much less productive than when that particular book is due in two days. There's definitely no "I write from 8:00 to 11:30 each night" schedule, or even "I write for two hours a day" or "I write 1000 words a day." I will occasionally try to set up that kind of thing, and it lasts for maybe...I dunno, a day. The books get done, but there's no pattern to it.

LC: I have a couple of other interests that vie with writing for my attention; luckily for my readers writing usually wins. If you weren't writing books, what other talent would you pursue with similar success?

JS: Well, I don't know if I'd be successful at it, but if I was able to pick the career of my choice, I'd do a daily comic strip. That would be awesome. I desperately wanted to be a cartoonist from probably around age 3 to 16, at which point I decided that my drawing skills really weren't up to par. If I'd continued to work at it, you never know--I'm sure I'd never have reached the artistic level of Calvin & Hobbes, but I could've at least produced something comparable to a Dilbert or Pearls Before Swine.

LC: As we've discussed previously, I sensed a pattern in your last two books. Was this intentional?

JS: Yes. Leisure wanted a second book, and they specifically did not want a horror/comedy. So I'd promoted Pressure as my first "serious" novel, and I promoted Dweller as my second. There won't be a third book that I market that way, because I've blurred the lines too much. My next Leisure book, Wolf Hunt, is not a horror/comedy, but it's a fun gory romp with lots of laughs (and yet some brutal and truly nasty moments), so it's sort of in the middle of my spectrum. And then I have a novella called Kutter which is a horror/comedy in premise (a savage, heartless serial killer finds an adopts a Boston Terrier...and it might just make him into a better person!) but has fewer actual "jokes" than anything else I've written--I played it totally straight.

But even Pressure and Dweller are filled with humor. The difference is that I don't combine the funny moments and the scary moments the way I do in something like Casket For Sale (Only Used Once)--it's more about relief of tension and character empathy than to freak out the reader because they're not sure whether the dismemberment scene should make them laugh or wince.

LC: What's next in the chute?

JS: As I type this, Kutter has shipped, so by the time this interview goes up people will probably have received their copies. Wolf Hunt will be in bookstores in December 2010. My novel Sewn (a way over-the-top horror/comedy) will be out from Delirium sometime in 2011. And there's a lot more stuff after that.

LC: Robots, pirates or ninjas?

JS: Robots. Is it enough to say "robots," or am I supposed to come up with a clever answer? Because I'll do the clever answer thing if you want me to, but you presented this as a simple multiple choice question, so I don't want to do extra work. I will say that if you'd asked me to rank the three in order, it would be 1) robots, 2) pirates, and 3) ninjas. Ironically, that's the exact same order in which you listed them in your question! Could it be that we share the same mindset on this subject?

LC: Any last words?

JS: These days, all of the cool people who own computers are going to www.jeffstrand.comwww.jeffstrand.com.

Thanks for playing, Jeff!

------------

Jeff Strand's books include Pressure, Dweller, Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary), Benjamin's Parasite, The Severed Nose, and a bunch of other stuff. Cemetery Dance magazine said that "No author working today comes close to Jeff Strand's perfect mixture of comedy and terror," a quote that he vowed to relentlessly milk for the rest of his career. You can visit his Gleefully Macabre website at www.jeffstrand.com.

Lincoln Crisler is a United States Army combat veteran and non-commissioned officer and the author of two collections of dark stories, Magick & Misery (2009, Black Bed Sheet) and Despairs & Delights (2008, Arctic Wolf). He lives in Augusta, Georgia with his wife and two of his three children. You can visit his website at www.lincolncrisler.info.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Way of the Barefoot Zombie", (Abaddon Books), by Jasper Bark

In "Way of the Barefoot Zombie", Jasper Bark gives readers a satirical tale about corporate greed, liberation terrorists, voodoo and, of course, gory, flesh eating zombies. This wry novel makes for an interesting and engaging read.

Doc Papa runs an elite motivational getaway for the corporate elite. For a five million dollar stake, participants are flown to the private island of St. Ignatius for an aggressive training course in success. However, instead of blasting each other with paintballs, Doc Papa has his guests study The Way of the Barefoot Zombie. Attempting to harness the power and hunger of their inner zombie, guests are taught to interact with the walking dead to the point that nothing will stand in the way of their quest for power.

Benjamin is a Deathwalker, a child of wealthy parents who emulates zombies to the point of obsession. He and his friends make up the ZLF--Zombie Liberation Front--a group who are determined to upset Doc Papa's enslavement of what they see as "noble creatures." To this end, Benjamin and his girlfriend, Tatyana, infiltrate the camp as two potential students of Doc Papa's, participating in the lessons until they find a time to free the captive zombies and relocate them to freedom.

However, they are not the only ones attempting to foil Doc Papa and his schemes. Miriam Chevalier has also penetrated Doc Papa's background checks, attending the retreat in an attempt to free the zombies. However, unlike the ZLF, her mission is not based upon social justice, but reparation and revenge.

Jasper Bark weaves an intricate tale with enough twists and surprises in the plot to keep readers anticipating the next chapter. While a few of the minor characters lack serious development, Bark's major characters more than make up for it with entire chapters dedicated to their often painful and disturbed back stories; the tale and violent end of Samuel Palmer, CEO of Doc Papa's enterprise, alone makes Way of the Barefoot Zombie and entertaining and gruesome read.

Also, while some zombie purists may find fault with Barks's combination of voodoo zombies and flesh-hungry Romero-esque zombies, the combination of the two works well to propel the underlying satire of the novel. Overall, this was a really fast-paced and entertaining read.

Visit http://jasperbark.net/. Buy it today.

Joshua Gage

Frankenstein vs. the Creature from Blood Cove, (Skullvines Press), by Jerrod Balzer

Frankenstein vs. the Creature from Blood Cove won the 2006 World Horror Convention's "Best Feature" award with its titillating and over-the-top story featuring two classic movie monsters, tongue-in-cheek humor, fun Z-list cameos, and a sensibility obviously inspired by the films of Russ Myer. Jerrod Balzer, author of Fear the Woods and the novelization for William Winckler's Double-D Avenger, manages to capture in print the campy fun of this award-winning homage to the Universal creature feature.

Dr. Monroe Lazaroff and his devoted assistants, Salisbury and Ula Foranti, have been working in secret at their beachside home on Blood Cove to create the ultimate weapon of terror. The Creature, a bio-genetically engineered hybrid of man, fish, and just a dash of cobra, is their latest creation. The chemical brainwashing techniques employed by Dr. Lazaroff have failed and the Creature has escaped into the waters of Blood Cove, supposedly to die.

The scientists, desperate to complete their project, decide to travel to Shellvania to retrieve the corpse of Frankenstein's original monster and resurrect it. In the meantime, Bill, with his associates Dezzirae and Percy, have traveled to Blood Cove to take pictures of bikini models on the beach for Frisky Kitty Kat magazine. Soon, the Creature emerges from the waves and goes on a rampage, sending the photo crew running into the clutches of Dr. Lazaroff and his insane plans to use Frankenstein's monster to destroy the original Creature.

The movie on which this novelization is based is carried primarily by nude actresses, schlocky acting, and campy humor--the plot is purposefully thin. Balzer infuses the novel with the same style of humor while providing more background on the characters and settings without deviating from the plot of the movie. Imagine a less-cerebral Rocky Horror Picture Show and you have an idea of the tone.

The book is very much the child of its source material: neither are high literature. One problem is that one person's camp is another person's offensive stereotype. This is especially true of the character of Percy, the flamboyant make-up artist. While not for everyone, the novelization Frankenstein vs. the Creature from Blood Cove makes a good companion piece for fans of the movie or for readers wanting a fast, fun, politically incorrect, read.

Visit http://jerrodbalzer.com/. Buy it today.

Shedrick Pittman-Hassett is a full-time librarian and part-time writer trying to do that the other way around. He has written reviews for Library Journal and has also had two articles published in the award-winning Knights of the Dinner Table magazine. Shedrick currently resides in Denton, Texas ("The Home of Happiness") with his lovely wife and the obligatory demon-spawn cats. When not writing, gaming, or watching cheezy kung-fu flicks, he can be found in a pub enjoying a fine brew.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lesser Demons, (Subterranean Press), by Norman Partridge


There are many words that be can be used to describe "Lesser Demons", most of which have already been used in recent reviews. To be succinct, here's two: Masterful and Effortless. Partridge's control of his narrative never wavers. He exhibits firm control of every story, but sacrifices neither suspense nor unpredictability.

Also, though most everyone understands that the writing process itself takes great, painstaking effort - which Partridge clearly has taken - these stories read with an effortless ebb and flow. For discerning readers this is of great importance, in an age when so many writers produce "stock and store" stories that require more effort to read than perhaps their creation required. Picking the "best" stories in a collection this fine may be a fruitless task, however...

"Second Chance", a story about a con-man seeking revenge, only to be beaten to it by someone closer to him than he can possibly imagine; "Lesser Demons", a delightful contemporary spin on the classic Lovecraftian trope of summoning the unspeakable from the ether; "Carrion", a tale about a boarded up old house out in the desert, a house brimming with a dark evil from a twisted world that infects the soul of all who encounter it; "The Fourth Stair Up From the Second Landing", a tale sporting a rich narrative about a woman and son who can never escape the shadow of the father...until the son takes final, permanent action; "Road Dogs", a werewolf tale with a decidedly American flavor; "The House Inside", a story that resonates with a delightful Bradbury-esque strangeness in a world where the sun has flamed out of control, killing all humans and bringing to life OTHER things and finally "The Iron Dead", an introduction to a monster killer with a hand forged in hell, a classic, hard-bitten character that hopefully will stand on his own soon in a longer, separate work.

Like Bradbury's "The October Country", "Lesser Demons" features stories of a wide and diverse nature, and Partridge himself displays a unique sense of lyricism. Also, for a collection of "dark fiction", Partridge still manages to infuse several of his tales with hope and a sense of resolution, if not happy endings, which is hard to find in horror and noir fiction, something that makes enduring the darkness worthwhile.

Visit www.normanpartridge.com and americanfrankenstein.blogspot.com. Buy it today.

Dweller, (Leisure Fiction) by Jeff Strand

Adrift on a sea of clich├ęd, over-used, beaten-to-death premises, devices, and creatures, Jeff Strand chose a unique route with this particular novel. Well written, suspenseful, sickening- yet truly heart-felt - Dweller stands out from the crowd.

Toby Floren is your average eight year old. He loves comic books; especially ones that focus on science fiction and monsters. In the massive woods behind his house, he re-enacts Martian invasions, alien battles, and whatever else his imagination can conjure. His hand mimics a laser-gun that he uses to shoot at multitudes of imaginary creatures… until one actually steps outside of a cave.

Years pass and we find Toby an adolescent trying to make friends and avoid bullies in high-school. Considered “weird” for his love of the obscure and his artistic renderings of such, the memory of his first encounter with the creature still haunts him. He sneaks out of the house one night with a flashlight and his dad’s shotgun for closure. Following the same path to the best of his memory, he finds the creature’s cave and is amazed when it comes into view.

Obviously frightened, Toby speaks to it in a frantic attempt to save his life. It must want to eat him, right? When the thing gets too close for comfort, Toby raises the shotgun. The creature covers its face and whimpers like a dog that piddled on the carpet. When he takes the barrel off of him, the creature seems as he did before, imposing, yes, but surprisingly docile.

After a few visits, Toby befriends the creature and names him Owen. Having such a creature as a friend is truly amazing, but Toby’s troubles with the bullies and his inability to make friends are more pressing matters. Especially when the bullies get the drop on him one day on his way to visit Owen. On that day...everything changes for Owen and Toby. Forever.

"Dweller" spans Toby’s life and chronicles the ups and the downs throughout. The beauty of this novel and what truly makes it unique is Strand’s use of allegory and device. Yes, we have a creature, but Owen is no monster. Who's to blame for the blood that's spilled? Engaging characters, prose that entangles the reader, and truly heart-breaking, poignant moments take a backseat to the moral that is the underlying mantra: You’re only as sick as your secrets.

Visit jeffstrand.wordpress.com. Buy it today.

Ben Eads is a dark fiction author of short stories and longer fiction. His work tends to represent modern horror coupled with what he likes to call: “Imagination-tickling elements”. Ben is also a huge fan of dark fiction and dark movies. At the age of ten he wrote his first story. Taking writing seriously in early 2008, Ben Eads has published numerous short dark fiction stories in various magazines, anthologies, and E-Zines.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Occasional Demons, (Cemetery Dance), by Rick Hautala

From the fertile mind of one of horror's most prolific writers comes a wide array of diverse, fun tales. From haunted Maine lighthouses to vaguely Lovecraftian beings living in woodland lakes to dystopian visions of the future, Hautala consistently entertains. In an often folksy narrative he spins tales worthy of countless re-tellings around the campfire. Among the most memorable are:

“The Nephews”, in which a writer too curious for his own good vanishes while investigating an abandoned lighthouse, leaving behind nothing but cassette tapes playing eerie dead-air; “Non-returnable”, about a damned book with a taste for blood – and lives; “Dead Legends”, a cautionary tale about the dangers in pursuing fame at any price; “I've Been Thinking About You”, about that first love who holds on...forever; “Toxic Shock”, a dystopian future where 'Right to Life' takes on new meaning; “The Call”, a lightly Lovecraftian story about an ancient darkness that claims the rights to a father's heritage; “Every Mother's Son”, about a hen-pecked, timid man haunted by ghosts that won't go away, even as the world falls apart around him and finally “The Compost Heap”, a tale of biodegradable murder and proof that love and devotion can survive almost anything...even decomposition.

Perhaps the most satisfying section of “Demons” is Hautala's myth-telling of “Unticigahunk – Stories and Myths of the Little Brothers”. Many authors have utilized myths to tell contemporary stories of fantasy and horror, and Hautala is at his sharpest with these. Beginning with a Micmac Indian creation myth of how the “Old One” was tricked into creating an inferior version of humanity and then how a jealous Brother Wolf tricked this creation into believing its role was to feed on all the Old One's creations, Hautala weaves several loosely connected stories detailing the movement of this creature through modern times.

“Chrysalis” begins with the discovery of a strange, leathery egg at a construction site which births something hungry; “Love on the Rocks” features an escaped convict and two archeologists who encounter something older than time itself, something that has spawned. Next is “To Deal with Devils”, in which an awful pact has been made to protect livestock, followed by “The Birch Whistle”, where a couple grieving over their recent miscarriage discover something that will end their woes – permanently. Ending this cycle is “Oilman”, about a little girl who makes a last stand against the things that killed her daddy.

In many ways, a review doesn't do justice to the breadth and width of the stories contained in this collection. Whatever your tastes, Hautala satisfies – and surprises – with each turn of the page.

Visit www.rickhautala.com. Buy it today.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

RAIJU, (Tokusatsu Press), by Karen Koehler

"Tokusatsu" is a Japanese term meaning "special effects," and usually applies to movies featuring giant monsters, robots, superheroes, spaceships, and so on. Aptly, Karen Koehler's Raiju, from Tokusatsu Press, is one of those rarest of animals -- a novel about giant monsters (daikaiju, as they are known in Japanese). Yes, there be monsters here, but the greater part of the book chronicles the day-to-day struggles of Kevin Takahashi, an angst-ridden, Japanese-American teenager whose life issues run a tad deeper than those of your average 21st-Century kid.

After a giant landshark called Karkadon demolishes San Francisco -- in the process killing Kevin's mother -- Kevin and his father move to New York City. Kevin, however, doesn't mesh well with his new environment. The school he attends is populated by more than its fair share of bullies, and most of them consider him an appealing subject for abuse. At least there's Aimi, an exotic and rebellious high-school girl, also Japanese, with whom Kevin immediately falls in love. Complicating matters further, however, is Aimi's father, who runs a mysterious organization evidently related to the genesis of the giant monsters.

Soon enough, a monstrous, centipede-like creature called Qilin attacks New York and destroys much of Kevin's neighborhood. However, no sooner has the critter begun its gleeful smash-fest than an even bigger, dragon-like beast known as Raiju appears and gives its smaller kindred some serious what-for. Much to his shock, Kevin discovers he shares a psychic bond with said beast, and that his destiny and Raiju's are entwined in bizarre, troubling fashion.

One of the biggest obstacles for the literary treatment of daikaiju is that so much of their appeal lies in sheer spectacle: massive explosions, toppling buildings, tooth-and-nail battles between giants; all the things for which Japanese monster movies are best known. Ms. Koehler's treatment of the big critters is appropriately respectful, and the depictions of urban destruction strike a good balance between visual description and emotional narrative from the characters.

That said, the monsters spend most their time in the background, rarely venturing forth. Their origins are rooted in a mythology similar to that realized in Godzilla - Mothra - King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, Toho's 2001 re-imagining of Godzilla's own origin, so that the beasts are more than just rampant forces of nature. The revelation of their relationships with the human characters unfolds through a series of dramatic encounters, so there's no sudden info dump about what's really going on.

However, there's only so much overwrought teenage angst a narrative can support, and Raiju pushes it to the limit. To be fair, the novel ostensibly targets young adults, and to this end, Kevin may be just the sort of protagonist with whom Ms. Koehler's readers most relate. More objectively, however, the novel suffers from a significant number of spelling, grammar, and usage errors, which add a needless level of discomfort to the experience. Put it all together, and Raiju is a package that is alternately compelling and a bit taxing. It's not very long, though, so it's a quick read, and the monster parts are definitely fun.

Three out of five mangled skyscrapers.

Visit http://khkoehler.wordpress.com/. Buy it today.

Stephen Mark Rainey is the author of the novels Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark (with Elizabeth Massie, HarperCollins, 1999), Balak (Wildside Books, 2000), The Lebo Coven (Thomson Gale/Five Star Books, 2004), The Nightmare Frontier (Sarob Press, 2006, and in e-book format by Crossroads Press, 2010), and Blue Devil Island (Thomson Gale/Five Star Books, 2007); three short story collections; and over 80 published works of short fiction. Stephen lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with a passle of Damned housecats, and over the past year have become an avid Damned geocacher. For updates on what's happening currently, visit The Blog Where Horror Dwells and/or the News page.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fear the Woods, Book One: How to Make a Vampire, (Skullvines Press), by Jerrod Balzer

The dreaded "V" word. With the vamp market in the state that it is, many dyed in the wool horror fans will drop a book and run away, shrieking in horror the moment they see it on the cover. Worse still when it hangs beneath a bland and borderline cheeseball title. But those who run away from this book will be missing an entertaining little romp.

The forest surrounding Tapperville have a few issues that hikers and nature enthusiasts would do well to keep in mind. The most obvious are the angry locals and the serial killing whack-job wandering from house to house in the guise of a pizza delivery boy but there are much more subtle and sinister forces hiding among the trees. Be sure to watch your feet for the scurrying toes of a headless, undead gerbil and those limbs swaying against the breeze may very well be from a vampiric tree.

If you haven't guessed already, How to Make a Vampire does not take itself all that seriously. If you think of a slightly more restrained version of the Evil Dead 2 (which is directly referenced along with a Wizard of Floyd-style of viewing that I have to try some time) at one point, then you are on the right track. The whole story possesses that crazy "why not?" attitude that encapsulated some of the better cult films of the eighties. The result is a fast, fun read that has me hooked for the follow up.

The characterization is a tad thin and there is no real development of either plot or character to speak of. Of course, this is merely the first part of a serialized novel, so readers shouldn't expect more than they would get out of the first few chapters of a complete story.

Overall, How to Make a Vampire mixes a little bit of silliness in with its scares and it works fairly well, but impatient readers might be better off waiting until more is ready before jumping in.

Visit http://jerrodbalzer.com/. Buy the print version or Kindle version today.

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at antoncancre.blogspot.com. No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Joyride, (Leisure Fiction), by Jack Ketchum

Jack Ketchum is one of those guys whose work is either 100% pure hellfire on wheels or it slumps to the floor with a resounding “meh.” For every world destroying, soul crushing work like The Girl Next Door or “The Box” there is an equally unaffecting work like Hide and Seek or “Megan’s Law”. Those last ones aren’t particularly bad, but they lack the depth and liveliness that make the great stuff so damn brilliant. Unfortunately, Joyride falls on the meh side of the road but “Weed Species”, a presumably tacked-on page-filler, makes up for it in a scant 43 pages full of “Glory Be” and “Hallelujah”.

The blurb on the back makes Joyride out to be a harrowing tale of two people, driven to murder by desperation and fear, who find themselves in over their heads when an absolute psychopath decides that they should all be friends and go for a little drive. However, the story itself comes across more like a standard serial killer yarn with the occasional splash of a police procedural. While this isn’t a problem in and of itself, serial killer stories live and die by the reader’s interest in the killer and Wayne gives us no reason to be interested in him. He’s a one-note psycho who destroys everything around him because… well… because he’s crazy. And that is what crazy people do. The only matter of interest is the escalating extremity of his actions, which reduces the whole experience to little more than the violent pornography Jack’s detractors accuse him of.

Then there is “Weed Species”, the plot of which focuses on the exploits of a de rigueur serial killing and raping waste of air. Nothing special there, but the story stands as a thesis on the spread of evil, like and infection or an invasive weed, choking out all that is good and pure in the world. Peppered throughout this chain of terror and pain are little reminders of the horror that occurs daily as a part of the surrounding world, his way of reminding the readers that nothing occurs in a vacuum. Yet there are also reminders of good in the world (a cat repeatedly going into a burning building to save her kittens and tireless attempts to save lives of those on the receiving end of the violence) and even a spot of hope in one victim’s attempt to stop the cycle within herself. This is the type of story Ketchum has built his reputation upon.

Superficially, both of these tales are similar enough orgies of violence and death, but Jack works best when dealing with what lies beneath the surface. On that level, “Weed Species” is the only one that truly satisfies.

Visit www.jackketchum.net. Buy it today.

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at antoncancre.blogspot.com. No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

"Book of Souls", (Harper Fiction), by Glenn Cooper

Glenn Cooper's "Book of Souls" is a conspiracy-thriller about the United States data-mining an ancient library of books listing the names, births and death of everyone throughout time. Cooper's second installment tracks a long ago missing book from the library, etched with the date 1571 and how it influenced important figures of the past including Nostradamus and Shakespeare.

Cooper's protagonist Will Piper is former FBI, an alcoholic and somewhat reformed womanizer. His second wife is his former partner, Nancy Lipinski, and they have a newborn son, Phillip. Will reveals early on he is not the nurturing type, allowing a babysitter to watch his son while he tries to find ways to entertain himself. Members of the 2027 Club contact him, because the missing book from the library has appeared in England, at an auction from the Cantwell Estate. He declines to help at first, but becomes enthralled after the courier, who delivered the book to the club members, is found dead.

Cooper's writing is tight and well researched. The story elements of international conspiracy, all-knowing government agents, and a mystery spanning hundreds of years mixed well, but seem trite and often predictable. The mystery itself is solved too easily by Will and the Cantwell's linguistic young heiress. The sections involving Shakespeare, Nostradamus, The Cantwell family and the founding of the library are very well done. The story is Dan Brown-esque in content but the characters and settings are better developed.

Visit www.glenncooperbooks.com. Buy it today.

Reviewed by Timothy Remp.

THE MAN OF MYSTERY HILL, (Quake Publishing), by Tracy Carbone

Tracy Carbone's The Man of Mystery Hill is the story of Abby McNabb and her slightly unusual father, Andy. Abby is your everyday fourth grade student, living with her mother in the town of Bradfield, Massachusetts. Her father lives only a few streets away but has always been considered the town eccentric, especially after the divorce. He's a famous author who's written about things like aliens and ghosts and insists to anyone who will listen that they're real.

Andy believes in aliens, ghosts and other things that Abby thinks are make-believe, until one day he takes Abby and her friends to America's Stonehenge and she has a strange experience of her own. That's when she meets Raphael, a ghost from another planet. From there the adventure begins.

After her unusual experience Abby and her friends, Claudia and Chase, begin to suspect that Andy is more than he appears and set out to discover the truth about his origins. What they discover is the universe is a whole lot bigger than they thought it was and that aliens really do exist!

The plot of the story is well written, yet it's easy to follow. Mystery Hill also introduces and explains numerous ideas such as peace and harmony, as well as a reminder that some people who are hurtful to others might be in pain themselves. It illustrates the importance of following the law and even includes an anti-drug message near the end.

For more about Tracy Carbone, visit www.tracylcarbone.com. Buy it today.

Reviewed by Christopher Collins