Tuesday, March 31, 2009

“Brimstone Turnpike”, (Cemetery Dance), edited by Kealan Patrick Burke

“Brimstone Turnpike”, published by Cemetery Dance and edited by Kealan Patrick Burke, is a chilling collection of five tales that deal with a commonly used motif: A ghostly stranger waiting on a lonely desert highway. In this case, it's the enigmatic Johnny Divine. Neither good nor evil, Johnny exists in all places and all times, and as portrayed by these five finely crafted stories, everyone's road eventually leads to him.

Tom Monteleone's surprisingly positive “The Prime Time of Spenser Golding” begins this collection with the refreshing theme that eventually, everyone has a choice between fortune and their own souls, and sometimes, folks actually pick the later. In this case, after jaded television reporter Spenser Golding takes a wrong turn in the fog and ends up at the broken down, deserted Joe's Gas N'Gulp – tended by a mysterious black man dressed in white, named Johnny Divine – he becomes a changed man and discovers that he can never cover the news the same way again.

“Behold the Child”, by Harry Shannon, is the perfect mix of classic Noir and the supernatural, as a maverick, burned-out cop haunted by his last city case ignores advice from Johnny after he makes a “wrong” turn en route to his retirement gig in the isolated desert town of his youth. A perfect counter to Monteleone's story, “Behold the Child” is dark, brooding, and reminds us that unfortunately, not everyone takes advantage of divine second chances.

Scott Nicholson's “Burial to Follow” is a nice change of pace which not only takes the reader deeper into the mystery that is Johnny Divine, but also muses on the intricate family ties that bind...and sometimes strangle...loved ones in times of grief. In Nicholson's tale, we learn that though Johnny Divine has many people who owe him many things, he himself is not without debt.

Mike Oliveri's “Warning Signs” is perhaps the weakest story in the collection, if only because the setup falls a little flat: that of a couple struggling over one partner's infidelity, seeking respite on an adventure into the desert wilderness. We guess very early that one will become a danger to the other, but because of Johnny Divine's warning and gift, disaster will be averted. Guessing the ending, however, doesn't necessarily take away from enjoying the ride.

The collection saves its strongest tale for last, (though “Behold the Child” gives it a run for its money), in Tim Waggoner's “A Strange and Savage Garden”. In it, Lauren is a wandering, lost young woman called to a home she fled for her father's funeral. Once there, old memories and other deep, hidden things bubble to the surface, as she slowly begins to suspect that nothing around her is what it seems. Also, a menacing thing stalks her in the night, hungry for her blood. As the strangeness grows, so does her realization that nothing about her life is what she believed it to be. In a fine touch, “Savage Garden” also ties off a narrative arc connecting all the stories.

An excellent collection of fine talent, this limited edition, signed hardcover is still available from Cemetery Dance, but order now, while supplies last.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Broken Skin", Nate Southard's First Short Story Collection (Thunderstorm Books)

Nate Southard's limited edition novella "Just Like Hell" is sold out, but there's more Southard fiction to be had. Friday he announced the pre-orders of his first collection of short fiction, "Broken Skin", also published by Thunderstorm Books. Not only does the collection feature an introduction by best-selling author Brian Keene, but Southard and Thunderstorm Books are running a unique contest to promote the collection:

"Author Nate Southard and publisher Thunderstorm Books are marking the announcement of the new Southard collection Broken Skin with an exciting contest. Those pre-ordering this signed, limited edition hardcover will have the chance to win a starring role in a short story that will appear in their copy of the book.

Once per week during the fiction collection’s six week pre-ordering period, Thunderstorm books will draw names from those who have reserved or pre-ordered a copy. The winner of each drawing will have a story written for them by Southard. Thunderstorm will have the story bound in their copy in one of six colors chosen by the author. The earlier you order, the more chances you have to win!

“For my first collection, I wanted to do something special,” says Southard. “With the hardcover’s print run based solely on the number of preorders, I wanted to encourage those who might be riding the fence to take a shot on Broken Skin. It’s a collection I put my heart and soul into, and I want to share it with as many readers as possible.”

Broken Skin’s fifteen stories include nine never-before-published tales, among them the brand new novella Deeper Waters. Brian Keene, author of Kill Whitey and Castaways, provides an introduction.

Reservations start on March 20th and end on May 1st. Broken Skin is scheduled to be released in July 2009. Do not miss this opportunity to own Nate Southard’s first widely available hardcover…it is sure to be a collectible in the future.

Further questions can be addressed by emailing publisher Paul Goblirsch at info@thunderstormbooks.com"

Just Like Hell, (Thunderstorm Books), by Nate Southard

"Just Like Hell" is a hard jab to the gut. Writing with a visceral edge, Nate Southard explores disturbing territory with an unflinching gaze. Readers will feel Dillon’s bruises and cuts, slip in the blood, and then thank everything that’s holy their lives aren’t at the mercy of Southard’s narrative whims (For more on that, see additional post).

Dillon Campbell had everything: a stellar athletic future, waiting scholarships, friends and loyal teammates. He also had something else: a secret he dared share with no one, but which made him feel alive, complete, real – in a way his athletic accolades never had. He thought he’d guarded this secret well…but he was wrong.

Someone knows, and now someone wants him to pay.

Dillon wakes in the dark, bound and gagged. Fear clogs his throat, and he realizes at once: he’s been found out. He will pay a heavy price weighed by someone without mercy or sympathy; a mind unhinged by rage. Before the end, Dillon will bathe himself in blood, and what he does may not be good or noble… but it will be justice.

A work like this is destined to be a future collector’s item. Its truth is harsh but necessary: the world is a dark place, and people do terrible things. The action is intense and Southard’s narrative style is lean, without feeling sparse. From the beginning, he drops the reader into the midst of tumultuous plight and then barrels towards the end, with few breathers along the way. Seeing Southard accomplish so much in such sort space makes the wait for his first full-length novel an eager one.

Visit www.natesouthard.com and www.myspace.com/natesouthard.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Orgy of Souls, (Apex Books), by Maurice Broaddus and Wrath James White

Christian Horror” is a loaded term, and it's been thrown around much as of late. In its worst examples, it describes thinly veiled moral tales short on plot and long on evangelizing. In its best form, it defines a work that utilizes the trappings of horror to consider the spiritual and divine. The term itself is considered controversial; ironically those who utilize it best are reluctant to fall under its categorization, simply because they are artists and wish the work to speak for itself.

Whatever the label's legitimacy, “Orgy of Souls” - a novella co-written by Maurice Broaddus and Wrath James White – certainly uses the horror genre to ponder the nature of the soul, and the best part: it's done so well. The pairing of White and Broaddus is seamless, and it produces an emotional, gut-wrenching tale that will leave the reader pondering eternal questions long after the last page.

Brothers Samson and Samuel are as different as can be. Father Samuel has lived a life of faith and purity, a holy man who has trusted God since entering the seminary. In stark contrast, Samson lives to excess. A wildly successful fashion model, he indulges in every earthly pleasure. Father Samuel, however, has been saddled with a crippling test of faith: he's contracted HIV and his health is failing. Though he knows the words to all the prayers, his own resolve falters in the face of his own mortality and escalating pain.

If there's one thing Samson truly loves in this world, it's Samuel. Not willing to entrust his brother's fate into the hands of a God he hates, Samson takes matters into his own hands and summons dark powers to save Samuel's life. Everything changes forever after a bloody ritual, when Samson hears these enticing words: “Twenty for one”. Twenty souls, in exchange for his brother's life. This pact marks the beginning of a bloody swathe of destruction that has only one end: and it's not anything either brother could ever conceive, even in their worst nightmares.

This is the perfect novella: it's an engaging, lean story that delivers a striking message. Though perhaps neither writer would consider it a work of “Christian Horror”, it certainly provides a powerful template for the spiritual potential of horror and dark fiction.

Visit www.mauricebroaddus.com, www.myspace.com/mauricebroaddus, and wordsofwrath.blogspot.com. Buy it today.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

“Black Cathedral”, (Leisure Fiction), by L. H. Maynard & M. P. N. Sims

“Black Cathedral” is an exciting adventure in the dark fantastic, a dark and twisted “Mission: Impossible”. With this opening tale, Sims and Maynard have crafted an attention grabber that's exciting and frightening. Like The Dresden Files, Department 18 and Robert Carter are sure to attract a loyal following.

It was like any other assignment: an old English suburban house, haunted by noises, strange smells, and a chilling essence that pimpled the skin – an average job for psychic Robert Carter. However, from the moment he enters the house, he senses something amiss, toys with the idea of calling in backup – and doesn't. He's Robert Carter. He handles these things on his own.

In a flash, the house attacks. His assistant Sian Davies is taken – consumed – and Carter finds himself on suspension for negligence, fuming at his superiors, furious at himself. Lingering beneath the surface, however, is the knowledge that the presence in the house knew him, and even more insidious: had been waiting for him.

Meanwhile, on a remote Scottish island, a horrible tragedy has occurred. A corporate management team sent there for a week's worth of “team-building” exercises has vanished without a trace, and so has the helicopter and pilot sent to retrieve them. Mysterious, hidden corporate powers demand that Department 18 handle the case, and even stranger: they demand Robert Carter be assigned. Not one to bow to demands, administrator Simon Crozier refuses and gives the case to easily his second best, Jane Talbot. When she refuses to take the case without Carter – her former lover and confidant – Crozier has no choice but to reinstate him.

From the start, a dark presence looms over the mission. Upon arriving, the team learns of the island's dark, hidden occult history. Powerful forces are brewing, and somehow they're connected to Carter's recent failure and Sian's abduction. Ugly, dark things rear their heads, and team members are picked off, one by one. A nexus of malevolent energy is forming beneath their feet, ushering in an Ancient Enemy whose day has been long in coming.

“Black Cathedral” is a fast-paced read that has all the right pieces: horror, mystery, adventure, and ancient lore. At times it may move too quickly for some readers, because it doesn't waste much space moving from one scene to the next, and perhaps the ending does wrap up a bit quickly. However, it's an enjoyable, engrossing tale, obsessively readable, and sure to spawn a line of equally entertaining “Department 18” and Robert Carter novels.

Visit www.maynard-sims.com, www.dept18.com, and www.myspace.com/maynardsims. Buy it now.