Thursday, July 21, 2011

Central Park Knight

By C.J. Henderson
Published by Tor Books

The cover and back copy of C.J. Henderson’s Central Park Knight can be boiled down to a simple equation of awesomeness: Indiana Jones + Dragons = YAY! Needless to say, I go fairly excited. Unfortunately, the story did not manage to reach my hopes.

You’ve got Professor Piers Knight, a dowdy and somewhat eccentric scholar who works at the Brooklyn Museum and, in addition to having nearly limitless access to arcane artifacts from past cultures and untold knowledge of their every facet is also quite proficient at the use of these sometimes magical artifacts. After saving the world twice in not quite so many months, the good professor finds himself faced with the reemergence of Dragonkind in the world. Worse, one specific dragon wishes nothing more than total subjugation of humanity, and he is perfectly willing to use humanities nuclear capabilities to accomplish this end.

From the start, the protagonist made it very hard for me to get into this book. Piers Knight is too perfect, at least from what we are constantly told. Too assured, too quick witted and too all around effective. Likewise, his initially bumbling intern is quickly revealed to be a genius. From page one, there is no doubt that they will survive and triumph over the cartoonishly single minded big bad. I can’t find it in myself to care about anyone this perfect and it leaves no room for tension in the story and no interest in him as a character.

In addition, Mr. Henderson spends quite a bit of time telling us how much ass his character kicks and how suave he is, without showing us any of it. This dependence upon telling over showing would be grating enough on its own, but gets worse when coupled with lines like the following: “So, tell me young George Rainert, would you care for the chance to be torn apart, burned to death and otherwise pounded into salt by an immortal nightmare beyond understanding, or would you rather we get you back to the city and put you in a cab so you can eat chips and drink diet soda while uploading the story of your day to the internet.” Instead of being suave and cool, this comes across as more self-consciously cumbersome than Quentin Tarantino at its worst. This guy, in real life, would be the dork who tries way too hard to sound aloof and cool while firmly placing his lack of social skills on display. What we are told definitely does not jibe with what we see and I do not get the sense that the author is doing this deliberately in an attempt to make a more complex tale.

Granted, Henderson’s writing style is brisk and moves smoothly and I kinda dug the transmutation of the Cthulhu Mythos into dragons (even if calling them “Great Old Ones” is a bit heavy handed). Heck, the story may have enough to it to make up for the previously listed faults, but the central character is incredibly important to any story and I couldn’t get myself past this one to notice anything else.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Anton Cancre

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 No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Horror Hall of Fame: The Stoker Winners, (Cemetery Dance), edited by Joe R. Lansdale

The Bram Stoker Awards.

Every year, the Horror Writers Association bestows this award upon winners in several different categories. Regardless of how one feels about the debated validity of the Stokers, there's one category in which winners truly stand out, those laboring in perhaps the most challenging form of prose: that of short fiction.

Cemetery Dance's Horror Hall of Fame: The Stoker Winners, edited by Stoker Winner and celebrated author Joe R. Lansdale, brings together a stunning collection of Stoker Award Winners, a volume of short fiction that represents what one should think of in regards to "award-winning." Hard to pick amongst this collection for the best tales, but the following do shine above the rest:

"The Pear Shaped Man", by George R.R. Martin, about that mysterious, filthy, socially challenged obese man we've all seen lurking on the streets or in alleys at one time or another, but in this case, The Pear Shaped Man hides an eerie secret in his cramped home that'll change a young female artist's life...forever.

"The Box", by Jack Ketchum, a haunting story about a husband and father who helplessly watches his family consumed - literally - by an invisible secret, hidden in a bum's empty box.

"The Boy Who Came Back From the Dead", by Alan Rodgers, is a rousing, fun romp about an adolescent boy raised from the dead by aliens, and his difficulties resuming his life on Earth. An excellent example of how some stories, even award winners, should be just plain fun.

"Orange is for Anguish, Blue is for Insanity", by David Morrell, a story about an artist's obsessive quest to understand one of the greatest misunderstood painters of all time, of his friend's mistake in trying to understand his friend's obsession, and the unearthly secret behind it and the painter's genius.

The best story in the collection is undoubtedly
"The Night We Buried Road Dog", by the late Jack Cady. In my mind, it's the perfect example of what a Stoker Award Winning short story should be, because it's not based on a predictable monster or demon or serial killer or any of the usual horror staples, but rather on a life of freedom lived on the open road, behind a growling engine pushing metal down endless black asphalt, how men change and grow but never lose a bit of that young wildness, and how sometimes - most times - the ghosts that haunt us come from within, are of our own creation.

Horror Hall of Fame: The Stoker Winners today.

Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He's currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he's currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Secret of Crickley Hall

by James Herbert
Published by Macmillan

One might think that by now we’d all be tired of the standard horror tropes--vampires, zombies, demons and the like. There’s a couple of these old horror standbys that James Herbert tackles in The Secret of Crickley Hall: ghosts and the haunted house. The novel’s 633 pages seem more like half of that because the story just keeps rolling, and Herbert definitely makes the reader willing to accept these things that might seem to be stale when handled by lesser authors.

This is a story about a family that has been having some difficult times. The Caleighs move into Crickley Hall, a mysterious place in a remote part of England, when Gabe has to do a temporary engineering job. His wife, Eve, hasn’t been the same since their son went missing during a trip to a local park. There are two daughters who move into the house with them, and it isn’t long before bad things start happening all around.

Scary sounds in the middle of the night, doors opening and closing of their own volition, even things that the family starts to think that they are seeing but just aren’t sure: Crickley Hall has all the problems one might expect from a haunted house. When the Caleighs go into town to a store they find out fairly quickly that no tenant has wanted to stay at the Hall for long. A little research shows that it was once a boarding house for orphans that was under the care of siblings Augustus and Magda Cribben. The history of Crickley Hall and the Cribbens unfolds at a rapid pace and soon offers plenty of explanation for the frightening events that surround the house many decades later. Clearly the Cribbens were in the wrong line of work and their treatment of the orphans would understandably create some restless spirits.

James Herbert creates a carefully orchestrated story in The Secret of Crickley Hall. By the time the reader reaches the end, Herbert’s onomatopoetic swish-thwack! is likely to instill more than just a twinge of fear. This is a long novel, and it is still easy to digest because there is plenty of space devoted to developing well-rounded characters. Everyone has a backstory and everyone has a purpose for being in the story, making for a satisfying read that has plenty of shocks and horrors along the way. I found myself paying attention to something I usually gloss over: every chapter has a title. Some chapters are titled after characters, some are just ominous words, but all of them are meaningful and worth taking a look at. All of the plot’s loose ends are tied up nicely by the story’s end; all that the reader has to do is sit back and enjoy the work of a horror author who clearly knows how to build a heart-racing and frightening tale.

An important thing to note: if anyone thinks this is a brand new book, that’s mostly untrue. It’s been readily available in the U.K. for five years but is just making its way to an American release this week.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Christopher Larochelle

Christopher Larochelle spends time reading comics so he can fill some digital space over at his blog all about them. The time is now post-college graduation and things are in a state of flux, but it's certain that there will always be books that need to be read and things that need to be written about. Visitors are always welcome over at

The Worst Thing

by Aaron Elkins
Published by Berkley Hardcover

Everyone knows not to tempt fate. Since the time of the Greeks we have been warned and warned against uttering that magical incantation “what’s the worst that can happen?” Doing so practically guarantees that the poor fool will find out exactly what that “worst” would be. In his latest thriller, The Worst Thing, Edgar-award winner Aaron Elkins tests this theory against an interesting protagonist with decidedly mixed results.

Bryan Bennett is a research fellow and expert in hostage negotiation and corporate security. He has literally written the book on the subject. But memories of his childhood experiences as a kidnapping victim trigger unexpected and potentially debilitating panic attacks, forcing him to walk gingerly around his deepest fears, never testing the limits of his resolve. Drawn to a training seminar in Reykjavik, Iceland with the hope of finally confronting and overcoming his panic attacks, Bryan finds himself drawn into his own worst case scenario. Once again taken hostage and with his life on the line, Bryan is forced to face his terror without the crutch of medication or the comfort of his loving wife.

Throughout The Worst Thing, Elkins displays the skill of an experienced and award-winning author. Bryan’s first-person narrative provides insight into the psychological nature of panic and remembered trauma and Elkins adeptly makes his experience tangible for the reader. The writing is strong, the author maintaining a break-neck pace without sacrificing story or relying on those false cliffhangers that many lesser writers use to sustain interest. However, Elkins makes some critical missteps that ultimately undermine much of the suspense of the novel. Firstly, Bryan’s relatable-yet-acerbic wit ends up taking the sting out of several key scenes. Further, Elkins chooses to alternate the point of the view of the novel from first-person (with Bryan) to third-person (with everyone else), disrupting the flow of the story as well as the steady build-up of anxiety as the conflict progresses. Finally, the author indulges himself with a final twist that is largely unnecessary and ultimately renders all of Bryan’s previous struggles virtually meaningless. When the final page is turned, The Worst Thing can be termed an interesting book, but, unfortunately, not a particularly suspenseful one.

Buy it here.

Visit Aaron Elkins site here.

Reviewed by Shedrick Pittman-Hassett

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.