Christmas Trees and Monkeys by Daniel G. Keohane, IUniverse, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-595-25664-3
Daniel Keohane's first collection of short horror fiction comes from a variety of sources – including a few original to this collection - and covers a diverse selection of topics. They include pranks at a crematorium, pygmies, disastrous floods, zombies, visitations, and general creepiness. He avoids splatter and relies on suspense, suggestion, and surprise to generate responses from his readers. The three best stories are "Lavish", "The Doll Wagon", and "White Wave of Mercy". The author has provided an extensive introduction to each story and the proceeds of the collection are going to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Eyes of the Virgin by Thomas F. Monteleone, Forge, 12/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-87874-5
The destruction of a religious monument results in a miraculous object, a piece of glass from the stained glass window depicting the eyes of the Madonna, and through which messages arrive, apparently from Heaven, predicting disasters that can be averted by making use of this information. A secretive group of criminals and businessmen known as the Guild, a society that has existed for almost as long as the Church, has stolen the artifact but cannot decode the messages. They are opposed by a secret operative for the Church, his sister-in-law who has been unjustly accused of murder, and her private detective bodyguard. Their search takes them across the world and eventually will blur the distinction between friend and foe. This is a topnotch action thriller with supernatural overtones, not quite as serious as some of Monteleone's recent novels, but certainly every bit as entertaining.
Eternal City by Nancy Kilpatrick and Michael Kilpatrick, Five Star, 1/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-4960-9
Claire Mowatt and her teenaged son have traveled to Canada to liquidate the estate of her aunt, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances and is assumed drowned. The owner of a nearby resort community wants her to sell the property to him, and evinces some personal romantic interest in her as well. But one of her neighbors insists that the recent spate of accidental deaths is not accidental, and that the resort is behind it. She wants to dismiss his ravings as paranoia, but she is attracted to him as well, and her son is about to discover a hidden access to the resort, and the secret of what lives beneath it. A familiar set up but a surprising resolution. Very strongly drawn characters and believable tension among the various characters, even those not in the employ of evil forces.
Underland by Mick Farren, Tor, 10/02, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30321-3
This is the fourth adventure of Renquist, an unconventional vampire. It opens with his capture by agents of the US government and forcible enlistment into a strange expedition. In previous volumes, Renquist has deal with Cthulhu, rebellious vampires, and a reawakened Merlin, so it's not surprise that this time he descends into the Hollow Earth to confront a lost colony of Nazis, a variant race of subjugated vampires, and the last members of an intelligent reptile species that predates humanity. The Renquist novels are quite unlike any other vampire fiction you're likely to read. He's not a good guy exactly; but he battles people and entities worse than himself, and he has a code of honor to which he adheres closely. This felt very much like an A. Merritt novel to me, proof that there's still life in the old "lost world" story after all.
Keep Out the Night edited by Stephen Jones, PS Publishing, 2002, ISBN 1-902880-55-2
PS Publishing is attempting to revive the spirit of the old "Not at Night" horror anthology series with this new hard cover offering. The stories collected here are all reprints, but they're selected from the more obscure stories of their respective authors, theoretically ones which have been unaccountably overlooked. I'm always suspicious of such claims, which often mean the stories were not very good in the first place, but I'm happy to say this time that only a couple of the stories seemed to me very slight. The contributors include Ramsey Campbell, Tim Lebbon, Neil Gaiman, Brian Lumley, Caitlin Kiernan, and others, most of them relatively recent, which makes one wonder if there has been time yet for the stories to be overlooked. The gimmick aside, this remains a good collection of supernatural fiction, with stories diverse enough to appeal to a wide variety of tastes.
Cowslip by Kirk Sigurdson, Terminus Books, 2003, $14, ISBN 0-9722893-0-5
Echo & Narcissus by Mark Siegel, Aardwolf, 2002, $14.95, ISBN 0-9706225-2-X
Both of these small press first novels of the supernatural feature rock musicians as protagonists, perhaps marking the revival of an old pairing. In the first, Julia Fleischer is a young woman with a troubled past who is finally on the brink of making a name for herself as a musician. Unfortunately, she has also contracted a rare and mysterious illness, one which alters her body and perceptions so that things that happen in her dreams can sometimes affect the physical world, and a shortage of protein in her system makes her able to see and be harmed by demonic creatures invisible to the rest of humanity. Very nicely written as a series of diary entries with a plot that slowly evolves, making the reader care about the protagonist and her problems even before the supernatural events begin. The second is a bit less introspective but almost as rewarding. A rock musician and his wife run into trouble involving witchcraft and voodoo, eventually uncovering a supernatural plot that could menace the entire world. The prose zips right along in this one and you'll be caught up in the story so quickly that you might just read the entire thing standing at a shelf in a bookstore. Two of the most impressive first novels in the horror genre I've read in recent years.
Unidentified by Matthew Costello, Berkley, 7/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-18517-6
Matthew Costello's return to horror is long overdue, but he makes up for the long wait with a really first class terror. A series of bizarre incidents in various parts of the world are somehow connected to a mysterious structure in a remote part of England, not quite a house, although it has much the appearance of a house. The two protagonists are drawn to it through a combination of circumstances, penetrating despite the complete military cordon that has been in place for generations. They are joined by a young child who has a unique insight into the structure, inside of which entire army units have disappeared. Very original, very suspenseful, very satisfying, a cross between Steven King and William Hope Hodgson. This is one horror readers won't want to miss.
The Return by Bentley Little, Signet, 9/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-20687-8
Although I almost always enjoy Bentley Little's novels, several of them including this one have been less suspenseful than they should have been because of small but significant events which make it difficult for me to accept the reality of his created world. This one, for example, involves a young man who abandons his former career to take a temporary job at an archaeological dig, subsequently uncovering a bizarre skull and helping set in motion the return of a supernatural threat from the past, one able to make people – even entire communities – vanish without trace. What follows is a well plotted acceleration toward the ultimate revelation, and for the most part quite effective. But I couldn't quite get out of my mind the unrealistic portrayal of the archaeologists and their project. I can accept that, short handed, they would accept a novice. I couldn't swallow their cavalier attitude toward the site, removing significant finds without making accurate record and photographing them. Even worse, upon seeing the deformed skull, the head of the project concludes that this is the mysterious cause of the disappearance of the Anasazi people. Quite an extrapolation that was. If you can ignore this sequence, the rest of the novel is very well done but it was too big an anomaly for me to swallow it and pass on to the next bite without experiencing an aftertaste.
Darkness Falls by Keith R.A. DeCandido, Pocket, 12/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-6632-2
Matilda Dixon was a strange old woman who collected children's teeth, not by killing them but by paying for them when they fell out naturally. Unfortunately, her life was distorted by a disfiguring accident, after which she was killed by the local townspeople under the mistaken impression that she had killed a couple of children. That might have been the end of an unhappy life, but Matilda hasn't completely gone. Her angry spirit is around and wants vengeance. This is a film novelization and Hollywood rarely does anything new in any field, particularly horror, so it should be no surprise that this is every bit as derivative as the average "B" horror movie. DeCandido does as good a job as is possible with the all too familiar script, and unless the creature effects are really spectacular, I suspect this is going to be one of those films that comes and goes so quickly that if you blink your eyes, you'll miss it.
Second Sunrise by David & Aimee Thurlo, Forge, 11/02, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30441-4
Lee Nez is a Navajo policeman whose life is changed when he stumbles into an attempted hijacking of plutonium during the second World War. He is bitten by a vampire and, although a shaman saves him from some of the more deleterious effects, he becomes long lived, quick healing, sensitive to sunlight, and fond of blood. As the years pass, he switches personas but continues to work as a police officer, hoping to find a chance to track down the vampire who made him. His efforts are complicated by an FBI agent who decides to stick close to him and the attacks of skinwalkers, Navajo shapechangers who can sense his inhuman nature and view him as an hereditary enemy. The familiar vampire detective story is enlivened by the Navajo lore and is quite good, although it suffers from a common problem of this sub-genre. The incidents between him and the Skinwalkers are so blatant, it's very difficult to understand how the existence of either brand of creature could have remained secreted from the human race for so long. This is apparently the opening volume of a series, and despite minor cavils, it promises to be a good one and I'll be waiting for Lee's return.
The Birds and the Bees by Sephera Giron, Leisure, 11/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5085-4
Gabrielle has not been lucky in her love life. After a series of less than desirable men, she finally falls in love, but with a man married to another. She also has acquired a strange obsession, a fascination with recent stories of attacks by bees and birds, a trend which she suspects may be related. This isn't a rewrite of Daphne Du Maurier's "The Birds", however. It's a brooding, intensely perverse, and slowly evolving story of tensions and pressures, sexual and otherwise, and a mysterious woman who has somehow gained the ability to command birds and insects. Giron lures you into her world slowly, and you won't realize how thoroughly your hooked until one of the shocking scenes rears up and bites you. Or stings you, as the case may be.
The Night Class by Tom Piccirilli, Leisure, 11/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5125-7
Cal Prentiss is not having a good college term. He's trapped in a class that he actively dislikes, he just found out that a girl was recently murdered in his dorm room, and then there's a mysterious and frightening telephone call. Inspired to investigate the dead girl, he discovers that she faked her transcripts, a fact apparently missed or considered irrelevant by the police. His obsession and the visions of blood that he experiences color his relationships with others, and eventually he will stumble into a mysterious circle whose existence he never before expected. Complex human emotions and a slow descent into a vortex of dread are the highlights of another fine novel from Piccirilli.
Ramsey Campbell, Probably by Ramsey Campbell, edited by S.T. Joshi, PS, 2002, £30, ISBN 1-902880-40-4
Ramsey Campbell has been one of the most consistent and prolific horror writers over the past few decades, with a shelf full of novels and a long list of short stories. He has also written some of the most interesting essays on the field of horror, its writers, and other aspects of the field, and this is a collection of 140,000 words of those essays and articles, culled from a wide variety of sources, published over a period of about thirty years. Campbell discusses such diverse writers as Robert E. Howard, Stephen King, Poppy Brite, and Thomas Ligotti. He talks about his own work and the work of others, writing in general, horror films, the popular reaction to the field, and sundry other issues. Many of the essays are insightful and provocative, and almost all of them are interesting and educational. Campbell may well be the field's best essaying/writer since H.P. Lovecraft himself.
The Book of More Flesh edited by James Lowder, Eden Studios, 10/02, $16.95, ISBN 1-891153-86-2
Zombie stories have been fairly sparse since Skipp and Spector edited two anthologies based on the "Living Dead" movie universe some years back, but this is the second of two anthologies from Eden Studios that feature the walking dead. There are nearly two dozen original stories in this collection, whose zombie theme is otherwise non-restrictive. We have zombies as villains and even zombies as heroes, with settings ranging from contemporary to the Old West to the war in Vietnam to Victorian England and more. The best stories are by Scott Edelman, Tom Piccirilli, Darrell Schweitzer, David Dvorkin, and J. Robert King. Some are quirky, some suspenseful, some darkly funny. A bit expensive for a paperback, but the contents are quite good. Truth in Advertising: I have a story in this one.
Dark Terrors 6 edited by Stephen Jones and David Sutton, Gollancz, 2002, £12.99, ISBN 0-575-07249-0
The sixth in this series of original horror anthologies lives up to the high reputation of its predecessors. This very large selection – thirty three stories – is diverse in theme and style and the only thing the stories have in common is their overall high quality. The contributors include familiar names in this series – Graham Masterton, Kim Newman, Nicholas Royle, Christopher Fowler, as well as newer talents like Trey Barker, Tim Lebbon, Caitlin Kiernan, and a rare short by Les Daniels. Five hundred pages of chilling suspense, relentless terror, and really fine writing.
Pain & Other Petty Plots to Keep You in Stitches by Alan M. Clark and others, IFD Publishing, 2/03, $16, ISBN 0-9671912-5-4
Here's an unusual book for you. This large format paperback contains thirty extremely strange paintings by Alan M. Clark, and the artwork is worth the price of admission alone. They all involve medical subjects, but distorted in the most bizarre and unsettling fashion you can imagine. Technically I suppose you could call them horror, but they're so obviously over the top that they are more properly darkly humorous satire. Accompanying the art are four stories, collaborations by Clark with other writers to provide a context for the art. His collaborators are Troy Guinn, Randy Fox, Mark Edwards, and Jeremy Robert Johnson. The story written with Fox makes up about half the book, and it's the best, although the short piece by Johnson is nearly as good. This is a strange trip into a bizarre world and you might want to get a tight grip on your sense of reality before plunging in.
The Invoker by Jon E. Merz, Pinnacle, 10/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-7860-1501-2
Resurrection by Karen E. Taylor, Pinnacle, 9/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-7860-1471-7
Although it's nice to see that Pinnacle has revived its horror line, there's not much variety in it, and not a whole lot of horror. Almost all of their recent output has been vampire fiction, much of it with vampire heroes. These two are continuations of series. The first is the second in a series about a Fixer, a vampire whose job it is to police the rest of the undead and prevent any rogues from slipping up and revealing their existence to humans. Volume two is a marked improvement on the first, which was essentially a crime novel with an overlay of vampirism. This one develops the vampire society and introduces some other fantastic elements and the protagonist's situation grows more complex and interesting. Still not particularly horrifying, but an entertaining occult adventure. The plot of Taylor's vampire novel bears some similarities. The vampire protagonist in this case is also a fugitive, fleeing humans as well as some mysterious entities known as the Others. It's a bit creepier than the Merz, but despite a fairly interesting mystery I found it difficult to care about the fate of the undead hero.
Horror Plum'd by Michael R. Collings, Overlook Connection Press, 1/03, $75, ISBN 1-892950-45-6
This is another guidebook to the work of Stephen King, covering his work up to the year 2000. The bibliographic material is extremely detailed – the book runs well over five hundred pages, although part of that is because of the many reproductions of covers. The book covers novels, short stories, non-fiction, poetry, and King works that appeared first as audio or visual works, although movie versions of works previously published are not included. A great guide for collectors and King fans. There is also a more expensive limited edition.
Orangefield by Al Sarrantonio, CD Publications, 10/02, $35, ISBN 1-58767-064-X
This slender little horror novel is set in a small town famous for its pumpkin festivals and Halloween celebrations, but also infamous because of past episodes of mysterious violence. Now something is stirring again, as the evil entity Sam Hain manipulates residents of the town including a wounded veteran with mental problems and a young girl with an interest in magic. But the evil is about to discover that humans, even children, are a lot more resilient than it expected. This is an okay supernatural thriller, but not as good as some other novels I've read by this author. The story never really gains any momentum and Sam Hain never doesn't seem particularly menacing or efficient. It certainly doesn't measure up to the high cover price.
The Cleansing by John D. Harvey, Arkham House, 10/02, $$32.95, ISBN 0-87054-181-1
I can't remember the last time I saw an original novel from Arkham House, particularly one that is openly the beginning of a trilogy. A pack of wolves and wild dogs goes on the rampage in the northwest part of North America, but this is more than just a nature gone wild novel. They are being led by an incarnated Indian spirit named Wanata who has returned to the world for a periodic purging of humans. Efforts by the government to destroy the pack fail miserably, but Indian magic is somewhat more effective, trapping Wanata in his corporeal human form and making him more vulnerable. His campaign grows more widespread, attracting the attention of various characters, including a quite likable female reporter. Although technically a horror novel, I suppose, this has more of the atmosphere of a dark contemporary fantasy, and it would be a shame if its audience was limited to fans of horror fiction.
Lilith's Dream by Whitley Strieber, Atria, 10/02, $25, ISBN 0-7434-5152-X
Whitley Strieber returns to the world of vampires for his latest novel, and provides convincing evidence that despite the virtual flood of undead novels, there's still some original material to be found. Lilith is an ancient vampire who has lived in the labyrinths of Egypt for so long that she's completely out of touch with the modern world. When the thirst for blood drives her to the surface, she finds herself unable to cope with the new shape of civilization and in danger of betraying herself through her ignorance. Then she meets a man who has vampire blood in his heritage. If she can seduce him and turn him to one of her kind, he can provide the knowledge she needs to survive. Unfortunately for her, his father is a vampire hunter who quickly catches on to what is happening. Vampire fiction has almost become a genre of its own in recent years, and in many ways it's difficult to categorize this one as just a horror novel. The blurb even refers to it as "a tale of the vampire life". On the other hand, Lilith is as nasty and menacing a vampire as I've encountered in a while, and while the book is suspenseful enough for an entire shelf full of thrillers.
Decadence 2 edited by Monica J. O'Rourke, Flesh and Blood Press, 2002, $28, ISBN 0-894815-57-2
Erotic horror fiction has long taken advantage of the mental connection between sex and violence. This new hardcover reprints five previously published stories and matches them with fifteen original tales. Some of them are a bit too over the top for me and the horror content is overwhelmed by the sexual descriptions, but most manage to strike a good balance. The best stories are a collaboration between Edward Lee and John Pelan, and stories by Nancy Kilpatrick, Mark McLaughlin, John Everson, Trey Barker, Teri Jacobs, and Gerard Houarner. Obviously not for every taste, but for those who enjoy a tale that makes them squirm in their chair, there are quite a few prime candidates included herein.
Duel by Richard Matheson, Tor, 1/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30695-6
One of the first genre collections I ever read was Third from the Sun, and I was blown away by the power of the stories in that collection. Richard Matheson has been one of my favorites ever since, and this retrospective collection brings together some of the very best of his short stories, including "Little Girl Lost", "Born of Man and Woman", "One for the Books", and perhaps his single most terrifying story, "Duel", basis for the first significant film by Steven Spielberg. Some of these stories are SF, some are more fantastic, and some are perfectly mundane. What they all share, however, is brilliant prose and some of the most organized and effective plotting in all of fiction.
The Heat Seekers by Katherine Ramsland, Pinnacle, 8/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-7860-1435-0
The author of this first novel has previously written a companion book to Anne Rice's vampire novels, and the influence of that author on her own work is obvious. Once again we have clans of vampires, some comparatively good, others thoroughly evil, and once again the act of drawing blood is a not even thinly disguise metaphor for sexual activity. This is in fact a steamy romance novel intertwined with a plot about an attempt by one group of vampires to destroy their rivals. It satisfies both target audiences reasonably well, but as is the case with so much modern vampire fiction, it devolves into essentially a mildly occult adventure rather than a true horror novel.
Wither's Rain by John Passarella, Pocket, 2/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-671-02482-5
Wendy Ward, protagonist of Passarella's award winning novel Wither, returns for a fresh adventure opposing ancient witchcraft. She's a college student with a gift for magic, and she already defeated an evil witch once. But we all know how tough evil really is, and it's back again. Now she's sensitized to the supernatural and she correctly interprets a series of odd events in her town as presaging yet another minion of hell attempting to turn otherwise harmless men and women into its pawns. Passarella is very good at constructing intricate relationships and interactions among his characters, who are generally interesting in their own right, almost independent of the plot. I actually liked the sequel better than the original, which is almost as rare in books as it is in movies.
Cold Streets by P.N. Elrod, Ace, 1/03, $22.95, ISBN 0-441-01009-1
Although I prefer my vampires to be evil and loathsome rather than benevolent, I've always found this series about Jack Fleming enjoyable and sometimes exciting, and the tenth volume is no exception. Jack has opened a nightclub in recent volumes, a very successful one, and a business whose very nature makes it easier for him to justify his nocturnal existence. Unfortunately, nightclubs tend to attract some unsavory characters, including a criminal who knows Jack's secret, and a prominent mobster. These and several other subplots force him to act in his own interests and that of other people in resolving what could be a major disaster both for the club and the city as a whole. I suppose technically this is a horror novel, but with benevolent vampires and nasty humans, it's sometimes hard to justify that label.
Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos edited by Robert M. Price, Del Rey, 10/02, $$14.95, ISBN 0-345-44408-6
I reviewed this collection ten years ago when Fedogan & Bremer first published it, but limited editions don't reach a very wide readership, so it's good to see that Ballantine/Del Rey has given it a second chance. This is a collection of classic reprints of Lovecraftian tales by writers including Henry Kuttner, Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Bertram Russell, August Derleth, and others, including a few that are obscure enough to be new to even seasoned readers. The thing that struck me at the time was how much better these homages are than most similar fiction that appears today. I guess you had to have been there.
Crossings by Mel Odom, Simon Pulse, 6/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-7434-2734-3
Little Things by Rebecca Moesta, Simon Pulse, 8/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-7434-2736-X
Buffy the Vampire Slayer has problems other than the undead in these two new tie-in novels. Both are set shortly after the death of her mother, with Buffy forced to suddenly assume an adult role and become guardian of her younger sister. The first is a competently written but rather predictable story in which a new video game begins to influence the personalities of the people who play it. The second and more interesting of the two has Buffy dealing with a host of mundane problems, including a nagging toothache, while Sunnydale is plagued by a host of tiny evil critters. Both are fun and fairly evocative of the television series, though neither has the witty dialogue that makes the show so good.
Atmosphere by Michael Laimo, Delirium, 2002, $45, ISBN 1-929653-35-2, and Leisure, paperbound, 9/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5041-2
The protagonist of this interesting blend of SF and horror is a police detective who stumbles across the murder and mutilation of two young men under mysterious circumstances. Efforts to identify the perpetrator lead to a startling discovery. All across the US, men of similar appearance, all wearing exclusively black clothing, have been connected to the abduction and disappearance of young men. The visible bad guys are actually "Men in Black", although not as likable as those in the movie of that title, and they're fronting for aliens with a sinister motive. Despite the aliens, it's more horror than SF, and despite an ending that I wasn't entirely happy with, the ride to get there is suspenseful and creepy.
Four Dark Nights edited anonymously, Leisure Books, 10/02, $25, ISBN 0-8439-5098-6
The four novellas that make up this collection share an unusual emphasis on literary styling, but there's not much else that they have in common. Bentley Little opens with a story that is so strange it probably doesn't really work as horror. A housewife is troubled by a mysterious little boy who bursts into her house and defecates diamonds into her toilet, and even odder things in subsequent appearances. Christopher Golden follows with a slightly more conventional tale of the resurrected dead, and the complicated emotional state of the protagonist and her dead father is particularly well done. Tom Piccirilli adds a strange story with an almost mythic feel involving genetic disorders and disfigurements, and Douglas Clegg bats cleanup with a tale of dark religion and magic. Four very unusual and very well done stories for you to read on, presumably, four dark nights.
A Coldness in the Blood by Fred Saberhagen, Tor, 10/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30045-1
Fred Saberhagen's latest vampire novel is an exciting occult adventure of which Dennis Wheatley would have been proud. His vampire hero Matthew Maule has gained a lot of power during the five centuries of his existence, but it is insignificant compared to that embodied in a mystical gem, one with the potential to wipe out the entire human race. He learns of its existence when another vampire comes to him seeking aid, but both visitor and a human ally are neutralized quickly, and Maule is on his own in a race to prevent the wrong parties from acquiring the ultimate power. Saberhagen approaches the vampire novel with an almost matter of fact style that makes his work stand out well above a growing number of other stories of the sympathetic undead.
Warfear edited by James Shimkus, Byron White, and Allen Tower, Marietta, 2002, $27.99, ISBN 1-892669-11-0
This new anthology is a new title from recently turned to print on demand publisher Marietta. It contains thirteen really strange war stories, many of them involving World Wars I and II and most of them dark fantasy or outright horror. The contributors include Mark McLaughlin, James Moore, Jeffrey Thomas, C.J. Henderson, and several promising newcomers, and truth in advertising – one by yours truly. My two favorites were by Jeffrey Thomas and Mark McLaughlin's collaboration with Michael McCarty. Handsomely packaged and sturdily bound. You can order it from www.stillwatersjournal.com or www.mariettapublishing.com.
Darkest Heart by Nancy Collins, White Wolf, 9/02, $11.99, ISBN 1-56504-845-8
Collins announces her departure from fantastic literature with this, presumably the final adventure of Sonja Blue, vampire and vampire hunter, part of which appeared in one of the previous volumes. Sonja falls briefly prey to her inner demon and destroys a young human male whom she admires, after which she relocates and finds herself maneuvered into an alliance with a human vampire hunter, despite her feeling that he is doomed to fail. Together they battle demons and other manifestations of the supernatural in an episodic and rather disappointing climax to a series that started off so well.
Assamite by Stefan Petrucha, WhiteWolf, 9/02, $6.99, ISBN 1-58846-818-6
Silver Fangs & Glass Walkers by Carl Bowen and Tim Dedopulos, White Wolf, 8/02, $6.50, ISBN 1-58846-813-5
The World of Darkness series seems to have returned to life just like the werewolves and vampires who make up most of the characters in its various sub-series. The first of these is another vampire novel, but one with an interesting setting. It's the middle of the Crusades, and the invaders are led by a powerful vampire who is using the campaign as a means of wiping out the Assamite vampire tribe. The battle behind the battle is particularly vicious, as you might expect, and it's well enough written to please fans of dark fantasy as well. The second title consists of two short novels involving the battles among werewolf clans. The first, by Bowen, is somewhat better written, but I liked the story in the second one a lot more. The World of Darkness series is not mainstream horror, and many horror fans won't like them, but they definitely have a following and these, particularly the first one, are well enough written to reach a broader audience.
Fallen Angel by Kim Wilkins, Gollancz, 2002, £6.99, ISBN 1-85798-333-5
A skeptical writer decides to do research for an article on the occult focusing on one specific order of occultists. Her objectivity is shaken by an encounter with a mysterious, possibly mystical figure who tells her the story of three siblings whose lives were altered by the appearance of an evil angel in Victorian England. This novel by Australian writer Wilkins reminded me of some of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's work, in that it is largely an historical novel with a fantastic plot, and more weird than traditional horror. This one could be marketed as fantasy as much as horror, and it should appeal to readers of both genres.
The H.P. Lovecraft Institute by David Bischoff, Wildside, 2002, $34.95, ISBN 1-59224-962-0
Bischoff's latest is a horror novel, but it has more of the taste of Tales from the Crypt than H.P. Lovecraft. The protagonist is a teenager in a small town who takes a job cleaning an old house owned by a mysterious older man. He really needs the money, so he ignores his vague unease about the place, and the admonitions to never venture into the basement, which should have been a dead giveaway, no pun intended. Elsewhere in town, people are dying in various terrible ways, menaced by a variety of monsters including Dr. Hyde, animated skeletons, and the like. Young Tony is also troubled by his alcoholic father, a minister with very strict ideas, and more than one precocious young lady. It's an over the top Grand Guignol thriller with lots of in-genre references, and some of the individual incidents are pretty creepy. As a whole, it loses some of its suspense because the reader becomes more interested in what the next trick will be than in what happens to the characters, but if you're in the mood for some gory fun, this is right up your alley.
My Work Is Not Yet Done by Thomas Ligotti, Mythos Books, 2002, $30, ISBN 0-9659433-7-2
This handsomely produced book contains a short novel and two stories by a writer whose distinct style has already attracted a loyal readership. The short title novel resonated with me particularly, having worked in situations very much like those of the protagonist, although I managed to do so without eventually becoming a supernatural creature of vengeance. Not for lack of wish at times. Ligotti's protagonist is manipulated into resigning and plots revenge, but it doesn't come in quite the form he planned, and this isn't simply another supernatural slasher story. It's a witty, literate, engrossing look into a twisted mind and a moderately twisted universe. The two accompanying short stories are thematically related, and "I Have a Special Plan for This World" is particularly good. I don't often use words like "brilliant" but it seems to apply in this case.
Canvas Bleeding by Mike Bracken, Wildside, 2002, $32.95, ISBN 1-58715-813-2
Ghost stories were once the mainstay of horror fiction, but they've been considerably less popular with the current generation of horror writers and, presumably, readers. Mike Bracken's collection of short horror fiction is predominantly ghost stories, although rarely in traditional forms. Some of his ghosts lurk in the middle of the road at night, but others stand on a quiet corner in daylight or hover around the fringes of their old high school or run quiet little non-existent shops. Other themes include a magical gem that makes imagination real, revenge for child abuse, murder for profit and murder of family members in various grisly ways, the devil getting his due, and a vampire tattoo artist. The stories tend to be short and direct and most rely on a surprise ending, many of them quite effective.
The Frankenstein Archive by Donald F. Glut, McFarland, 11/02, $28.50, ISBN 0-7864-1353-0
The Frankenstein monster is one of the most enduring characters in horror fiction, rivaling Dracula in familiarity to the public. Long time fan Donald Glut collects here a number of his essays on the subject, mostly dealing with the filmed versions, although there are references to the original novel by Mary Shelley and some of the subsequent modern additions to the saga, including his own. The essays vary in interest to the casual reader – some of the subjects are sufficiently arcane that only fanatics would be interested. Others are entertaining and provide information not generally available, including imitation creatures and comic book versions, and benefits from the author's access to inside information from within the film industry. This trade paperback edition is profusely illustrated with black and white photos from the films and elsewhere.
October Dreams edited by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish, Roc, 9/02, $16, ISBN 0-451-45895-8
Just in time for Halloween we have a very big collection of stories interspersed with reminiscences by authors about notable Halloween incidents in their lives. The list of authors included here is impressive, Ray Bradbury, Jack Ketchum, Simon Clark, Gahan Wilson, John Shirley, Lewis Shiner, Yvonne Navarro, Owl Goingback, Peter Straub, and many authors. The stories tend to be short, but the personal pieces are frequently more interesting, if less scary. Attractively packaged, this six hundred page collection will keep you up all night, for more than one night.
Old Ghosts and Other Revenants by J.F. Gonzalez, Prime, 2002, $15, ISBN 1-894815-18-1
Visions Through a Shattered Lens by Gerard Houarner, Delirium, 2002, $45, ISBN 1-929653-33-6
The first of these is a collection of, for the most part, pretty conventional horror stories, only one of which I'd encountered previously, although all but a couple are reprints. Gonzalez is one of the most promising of a new crop of horror writers who have emerged in the small press in the past few years, many of whom rely too heavily on the shock value of explicit violence or sexual imagery and who forget that it's also a good idea to provide a good story as well. "Old Ghosts", "Reunion", and "Playing the Game" were my favorites of this lot. Gonzalez is particularly good at snagging your attention with his opening paragraphs, and once he has his hooks into you, he doesn't let go. The second title is a bit pricey, but the contents are every bit as good, though they have a darker and generally much less traditional cast. There are twenty tales here, about half original, the other half originally published in the small press. Don't let that put you off though. There's not much of a pro market for short horror fiction, so the small press in horror publishes much higher quality fiction that you might otherwise expect. Houarner is one of the best of these, and stories like "Out of the Shadows", "Bone House", "Things I Wish I Had Not Seen", and "Children in the Moonless Night" are particularly good examples of his work.
Lovecraft at Last by H.P. Lovecraft and Willis Conover, Cooper Square Press, 8/02, $28.95, ISBN 0-8154-1212-6
Here's a handsomely produced facsimile reprint of the 1975 book which collected the correspondence between Lovecraft and Conover during the last six months of Lovecraft's life in the mid-1930s, interwoven with articles, pictures, essays, notes and photographs to create a very loose but nonetheless interesting narrative of the horror writer's final days. It includes HPL's history of the Necronomicon and several hand written notes. There's no question that Lovecraft was one of the great letter writers of his time, and it's interesting to watch the interaction between him and the youthful, enthusiastic Conover. This has a much more personal feel than most books about HPL, and since it's first edition was limited to a thousand copies, it was previously very difficult to experience this very close look at the man.
The Hour Before Dark by Douglas Clegg, Dorchester, 9/02, $24, ISBN 0-8439-5044-7
Douglas Clegg's new horror thriller is largely if not completely non-fantastic, although there is some ambiguity about its final revelation. Nemo Raglan is called home when his father is brutally murdered. He finds his sister in shock, his brother stunned, and the local authorities perplexed by the crime. At first there seems to be no motive, and we are led to believe that possibly some evil force resides in the smokehouse where the crime was committed. As time passes, we discover that the Raglan family was not as happy as we once thought, that there are longstanding grudges and grievances which were never resolved, and that not everything is as it appears. Very suspenseful, and as well written as is always the case with Clegg's work.
Realm of Shadows by Shannon Drake, Zebra, 10/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-8217-7227-9
Vampires have become a standard plot device in romance fiction, and while they are often portrayed as romantic figures with very little suspense, a few of the better writers have struck a balance between romance and terror. Shannon Drake is one of the best of these and her new book is the best I've read by her. An ancient tomb is opened and as a consequence a supernatural evil is set loose on the people of contemporary Paris. A young archaeologist encounters a strange man who claims to intend protecting her from a fate worse than death. Often suspenseful, sometimes quite intense, and with the romantic element handled intelligently and deftly. Horror fans shouldn't turn up their noses at this one; it's one of the better horror novels I've read recently.
Along the Midway of the Carnival of Souls and Other Stories by William Relling Jr., Wildside, 9/02, $32.95, ISBN 1-58715-262-2
Back when horror was booming, William Relling produced three of the most clever and suspenseful novels in the genre. Then came the bust and I haven't seen anything by him since except in the mystery field, until this, a collection of short stories, most of which are horror, and all of which are great reading. Much of Relling's fiction involves a really twisted sense of humor that winds among such diverse plots as the end of the world, a television interview with a genuine vampire, self discovery through the performance of a mystical dance, serial killers, poisoned prophylactics, obsessive affairs, serial killers, and the ultimate tasteless comedian. My two favorites are "The Phantom of the Freeway", which is written deadpan serious but is actually a delightful sendup of Darkman and other similar revenge fantasies, and "The Last Temptation of Popeye", which you really have to read to believe. I'm sorry I had to wait so many years for a new Relling horror book, and I certainly it won't be nearly as long until the next one.
Moon on the Water by Mort Castle, Leisure, 7/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5032-3
Mort Castle's horrors don't come in the shapes of the fanged undead, tentacled monsters, or any of the other standard bearers of the genre. For the most part, his horrors come from within the human psyche, originating in the pervasive fear that lurks in the human mind. This collection of his short stories is a distillation of human fears, fear of disease, death, humiliation, personal defeat, dishonor. His plots deal with sibling rivalry, the gap between generations, racism, and professional differences. Castle's style often involves very short scenes and frequent jumps in viewpoint or location, and this gives many of his stories a sense of scale larger than their length would imply. Best in the collection are "Healers", the story of a very unusual cure, "Buckeye Jim in Egypt", and my favorite, "Love, Hate, and the Beautiful Junkyard Sea", in which we meet people who see more than do the rest of us. Most of these stories don't involve any element of the fantastic, but they're perhaps even more effective because they're so distinctly possible.
Breed by Owl Goingback, Signet, 8/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-20567-7
Three would be witches make a nighttime visit to an old cemetery in St. Augustine, and get more than they bargained for. They have opened a gateway through which has come an ancient creature, a shapechanger with a taste for human flesh. One of them dies in the encounter and the others flee without warning anyone of what has happened. A skeptical police detective searches for a conventional explanation for the murders that follow, and disregards the information provided by a young woman who insists she is in contact with the ghost of an ancient Indian who has come to warn the world of its peril. The suspense starts immediately in this one, and doesn't let up for a minute. Goingback avoids the clichés that you might expect from the plot, and includes some really chilling scenes including a haunting encounter in a restaurant. I don't know if you'll want to read this one while you're alone, but you will want to read it.
Vampyrrhic by Simon Clark, Leisure, 7/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5031-5
David Leppington is a doctor who travels to his namesake town while trying to adjust to a broken relationship with a mentally ill woman. Shortly after arriving, he administers care to a man whose hand is freakishly caught in a drain where his fingers are gnawed off, with tooth marks that appear more human than ratlike. Eventually he hears the legend that one of his ancestors was given control of an army of the undead during the days of the Roman occupation, but chose not to use his legions. The reader by now will have realized that the vampire army still exists, buried in caverns beneath the town, awakened by the return of the descendant of the man they were created to serve. This novel, previously published in England in 1998, is one of Clark's better efforts. Even when the reader is able to predict where the story is going next, he manages to keep the level of tension high.
Dark Blood by James M. Thompson, Pinnacle, 7/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-7860-1433-4
I had very mixed feelings reading this vampire novel. On the one hand, it's a competently written contemporary adventure story. The protagonist is a reluctant vampire who gets caught up in complicated issues when a serial killer begins claiming victims in his vicinity. He also encounters a variety of villains, some of whom plan to take advantage of his condition, and who are not interested in his personal quest to find a cure. As an adventure story, it's competently done and occasionally exciting. But it's marketed as a horror novel, and despite serial killers and vampires, it's not really very horrifying, and even the surprise ending isn't much of a surprise. The publishing industry seems intent upon transforming vampires from loathsome and frightening creatures into mere supervillains, and by doing so I suspect that they are leaving out a potentially large audience that would rather be chilled than thrilled.
Clive Barker: The Dark Fantastic by Douglas E. Winter, Harper Collins, 8/02, $34.95, ISBN 0-06-621392-4
Clive Barker took the horror field by storm with a remarkably fast stream of high quality short stories collected as the Books of Blood. His career took an unpredictable course after that, horror novels, fantasy, young adult, plays, and mainstream, as well as an extensive and uneven history with Hollywood. Douglas Winter has written the authorized biography of a man with surprisingly diverse interests and talents. I found his interaction with the film industry particularly interesting, and the very extensive bibliography is worth the price of the book all by itself. There are also a number of photographs reproduced, both black and white and in color, extensive notes on the text, and a good index. Barker might seem a bit young for a major biography, and certainly it is likely that he will accomplish much more in the future than he has in the past, but this is certainly one of the best researched and written literary biographies of recent years.
Guises by Charlee Jacob, Delirium, 6/02, $15.95, ISBN 1-929653-29-8
The quality of the short story horror collections from Delirium has varied a bit, but this new title is definitely at the high end of their line. Charlee Jacob brings together ten short stories and a selection of poems in this handsome looking and decidedly entertaining new trade paperback. Best of the lot are "The Current" and the title story, which is one of three original to this book. Jacob is adept at forming a link between the reader and her protagonists, and her stories are effective because ultimately we care what happens to them. Although I don't consider myself qualified to comment on the quality of verse, I did enjoy this selection, which includes some very evocative and occasionally even disturbing imagery.
The Red Church by Scott Nicholson, Pinnacle, 6/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-7860-1503-9
Twenty years ago the church was run by an apparent madman who believed that there was a second son of God whose purpose was to bring evil to the world. Contradicting his own thesis, the minister sacrificed a child and was lynched by his neighbors. Years later, a mutilated corpse is found in the churchyard by two boys. Although initially it is believed that the man was attacked by an animal, there are other deaths to follow, and persistent rumors about a monster in the church, possibly the ghost of the dead minister. There are enough new twists and turns in this modified satanic cult novel to keep the reader guessing. I found the climax a bit of a letdown but not enough to spoil the book. I believe this is a first novel.
The Wisdom of War by Christopher Golden, Simon Pulse, 7/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-2760-2
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is back, this time plotting to destroy a scaly creature which has recently appeared in Sunnydale. At the last minute, she is told by the Watchers' Council to back off and let Faith take care of it. She does so with some reluctance, wondering why the Council would take the risk of engineering Faith's release from prison. Eventually, and I'm sure to no reader's surprise, Buffy discovers that not is all that it seems, that there isn't just one creature to contend with, and that the Council is playing its usual double hand. Golden is one of the more consistently entertaining authors in this series of tie-in novels, and this is one of his best efforts, with a rousing ending, appearances by a wide variety of Buffy regulars, and best of all a genuine sense of affection for the show.
The Science of Vampires by Katherine Ramsland, Berkley Boulevard, 9/02, $12.95, ISBN 0-425-18616-4
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that this title appeared, but I was. Fortunately, the author is not attempting to make the case that vampires are actually real in the legendary sense, or even possible, although she does deal in considerable detail with the psychological disorders that can result in activities similar to those of Dracula and his kin. These sections are fairly interesting, but I was more entertained by those that speculate about how vampires might actually function if they were real. Ramsland always writes well, and some of the material here would be of great use to those trying to write intelligent vampire fiction.
Angel of Darkness by Charles De Lint, Tor, 11/02, $12.95, ISBN 0-312-87400-6
I previously reviewed this when it first appeared as a Jove paperback original back in 1990 under the name Samuel Key. One of the sad results of the collapse of the horror market in the early 1990s was that De Lint abandoned that form after only three novels, each of which was outstanding and original in concept. This is actually the least unusual in its concept, but remains a very effective thriller. The protagonist is Jack Keller, a one time police officer who becomes involved in a case when he discovers the mutilated body of a young girl in the ashes of a fire. His unofficial investigation leads to the discovery of a supernatural being whose origin and nature are just different enough to keep the reader guessing, as well as sitting on the edge of his or her seat. Maybe enough people will latch onto this reprint to encourage De Lint to add to his horror credentials.
Shadows by Bruce Baugh, White Wolf, 7/02, $6.50, ISBN 1-56504-858-X
Nosferatu by Gherbod Fleming, White Wolf, 7/02, $6.99, ISBN 1-58846-817-8
Let me say up front that I'm not really a fan of the school of vampire fiction into which these books fall. Clashes among clans of vampires sometimes almost in the absence of human society are not my cup of tea. They seem more like dark fantasy than horror, and eventually they acquire the sameness of the Battletech and Shadowrun series. So I approached these two new titles with some trepidation. In the first case, my fears were justified. A female vampire is forced to serve another clan in their quest for power. There's lots going on, but I couldn't identify with any of the characters, and the prose is frequently awkward and stilted. The second title, however, was considerably better. It's set early in the 13th Century, against the backdrop of the fall of Constantinople. The central plot isn't all that different from Baugh's novel, the search for a legendary creature, in this case the legendary founder of the vampire society in that doomed city. But Fleming tells a much better story, his setting is interesting, the plot seems in better control, his prose is significantly better, and he almost made me identify with one of his undead protagonists. Best of all, the vampire world is part of human society, though hidden from it, and there is some genuine tension and suspense in this one.
Domain by Steve Alten, Tor, 6/02, $7.99, ISBN 0-812-57956-9
I really enjoyed Steve Alten's first two novels, but somehow I managed to miss this one when it appeared in hardcover last year. It's much longer and more ambitious, the story of a man locked in an asylum who is the only one who knows that various ancient prophecies are about to be fulfilled, that alien powers from the stars are overseeing humanity's destiny, and that the world will end within weeks unless certain steps are taken. He eventually convinces a young intern that he isn't delusional, and she helps him escape, as all around them the situation deteriorates. A strange signal has been received from space, foreign governments are provoking a crisis that could result in a nuclear war, a bizarre undersea phenomenon of unnatural origin releases a new and disgustingly deadly plague. It's a long and ambitious novel, but it just never quite caught fire for me, although some of the sequences are chilling in themselves. I think the problem is that the protagonist's story is so implausible that I had trouble believing it even when I knew that the plot required that it be true, and the ease with which he convinces the intern was a bit implausible. Also a warning for those who like me have trouble reading novels written in the present tense – that's the case here. A fair thriller from a writer who has previously done much better.
The Cabinet of Curiosities by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Warner, 5/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-446-53022-0
The collaborative team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have turned out a small but steady stream of contemporary thrillers, most of which contain at least some element of the fantastic. The best of these were the first two adventures of FBI agent Pendergast, Relic and Reliquary. This is his third outing , and it also continues the story of Nora Kelly, one of the protagonists of another novel, Thunderhead. The setting is New York City, and the problems begin when a construction project unearths a vault filled with the bones of young people killed and dissected slightly more than a century earlier. Political pressure is brought to bear and the site is quickly cleared, but Pendergast manages a quick inspection first, and he's fascinated by what he finds.
Through examination of documents at the Museum of Natural History and other clues, Pendergast concludes that the murders were committed by an enigmatic amateur scientist named Enoch Leng who was seeking a way to extend his life unnaturally, obviously at the expense of his human victims. Leng disappeared from public view, although there was no record of his death, but the mutilation murders ended as well, which seems to prove that he failed and eventually died. Then a new series of murders begins which echoes the old, and the targets include Pendergast himself and everyone who has helped him. Could Leng have survived after all and, if he did, has he changed his identity?
This is a real nailbiter filled with fascinating little details and flourishes. Pendergast is a somewhat mysterious and bizarre character himself, and even he finds himself in over his head this time. The suspense is unrelenting and there are several nightmarish scenes including the excavation under the floor of an old laboratory and a series of encounters in an apparently abandoned mansion filled with bizarre items. There are some nice red herrings to divert attention from what is really happening, and Pendergast is developed into an almost superhuman character with a surprising link to the mysterious killer. Although I didn't think this was up to the level of the previous Pendergast adventures, that's a standard that would be difficult to maintain for any writer. The Cabinet of Curiosities is, however, a fine combination of creepy settings and events with a cast of very well drawn and sharply differentiated characters. Best read late at night when you're alone in the house. If you dare.
Darkness, Darkness by Peter Crowther, CD Publications, 5/02, $35, ISBN 1-58767-049-6
This is an old fashioned SF horror movie turned into a book, a novella in this case, and the first part of the Forever Twilight series. A small group of people discover one day that most of the rest of the population has disappeared, although they begin reappearing later as puppets of an alien intelligence. You can pretty much guess what happens from there, with the survivors battling the zombielike human captives and eventually leaving in search of a safe haven. Presumably we'll find out more about the parties responsible in later volumes, but the opener leaves us with so many unanswered questions that it is likely to leave readers feeling frustrated and impatient.
Cast in Dark Waters by Ed Gorman and Tom Piccirilli, CD Publications, 5/02, $30, ISBN 1-58767-013-5
This is part of CD Publications' new limited edition novella series. It's a pirate tale with a mix of vampires. The protagonist is a female pirate who is far more competent than any of the characters in the story. She's hired by an older couple who want to find their daughter, who ran away with a rogue and ended up on an obscure Caribbean island. The results are mildly creepy and actively adventurous, but the story would have been much better at greater length with some of the glossed over details filled in and the characters better developed.
The Ferryman by Christopher Golden. Signet, 5/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-20581-2
The Void by Teri A. Jacobs, Leisure, 6/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5024-2
Cathedral of Vampires by Mary Ann Mitchell, Leisure, 6/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5023-4
Mainstream horror seems to be making a cautious come back, primarily through Leisure books – although some of their titles have definitely been out on the edge. Signet has also been publishing a steady string of titles, although primarily by Christopher Golden and Bentley Little. The first of these three is a sort of ghost story, although Golden doesn't resort to the standard devices. The two protagonists are cautiously resuming their love affair, but they are hindered by the interference of the dead. Fairly low key but quite effective horror. Next we have a first novel in which a woman is troubled by nightmares in which she is immersed in a world where Mayan gods and demons are real. The dreams would be bad enough, but it appears that they're spilling over into the waking world, and that they have the power to cause the death of those she loves. I had some difficulty empathizing with the character early on, but it wasn't long before I was thoroughly immersed. A promising new imagination who might well cause a few nightmares among her readers before she's done. Finally we have the latest in Mary Ann Mitchell's series about the vampire De Sade. I'm a little bit overdosed on vampires lately, and this new adventure – in which some of his victims try to track him down – had its ups and downs, and unfortunately the climax was one of the latter. The problem with a series is that the middle books are inevitably anticlimactic, and that's a particularly difficult hurdle to overcome in the horror genre, which almost requires a cathartic ending.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Oz: Into the Wild by Christopher Golden, Simon Pulse, 5/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-0038-0
Want to know what happened to Oz when he left Sunnydale in search of a way to control his lycanthropy? Well, here it is, in a pretty good original novel. Although his friends understand his situation and don't blame him, Oz cannot remain easy with the knowledge that each month he will be turned into a werewolf. He sets out on a trek around the world in this somewhat episodic novel of his quest for salvation, in which ultimately he must learn to accept what he is, or be destroyed by external as well as internal forces. Golden does an exceptionally good job of turning the television character into a real person, and this book fills in one of the most yawning gaps in the Buffyverse.
The Haunted Air by F. Paul Wilson, Gauntlet, 5/02, $50, ISBN 1-887368-57-4
Repairman Jack is back for his fifth and probably his best adventure yet. Jack is a man who lives outside society, supporting himself by helping people whose needs are not possible within the system. But now he's found himself a woman he loves, and he's about to become a father, so it's looking like time that Jack hung up his metaphorical sword and rejoined the mundane world. That's a problem though, because he's been involuntarily enlisted in a battle between two mystical forces that struggle against one another, and he finds himself maneuvered into yet another confrontation. This time he has two problems, initially separate but ultimately linked. While visiting a fake spiritualist, he discovers that the man's home is genuinely haunted, and while taking what appears to be a routine bodyguard assignment, he is forced to rescue a child and runs afoul of a secret cult of immortals who must take innocent lives to preserve their existence. There's a lot of creepy stuff in the haunted house, and the head sorcerer is a genuinely repulsive creep himself. Wilson also ties this series into his other supernatural sequence, which began with The Keep. Good chills, and a satisfying come uppance for the villains.
In the Spirit by P. D. Cacek, Wormhole, 2002, $13, ISBN 1-932030-05-0
Twisted in the Dark by Judith Post, Wormhole, 2002, $13, ISBN 1-932030-03-4
Two nice quality chapbooks each with a color cover and one full color illustration. The Cacek title is a short collection of ghost stories, only one of which is on the scary side. I particularly liked the one in which a seriously ill woman encounters a group of ghosts in a library and gives them what they need. The Post collection includes four mystery stories with no fantastic content. The opening story is the strongest, but the other three seemed more snapshots than stories. You can actually get these at a slightly lower price, shipping included, from the publisher's website, www.wormholebooks.com.
The Blues Ain't Nothin' by Tina L. Jens, Design Image Group, 2002, $15.95, ISBN 1-891946-17-X
This novel is a fixup of four shorter pieces previously published elsewhere. The setting is the Lonesome Blues Pub, a jazz club haunted by a musician who died there tragically and who, along with a few spectral friends, has decided to stick around. Every group that performs there must use his guitar for their opening number if they don't want to find themselves experiencing a series of accidents and miscues. The protagonist starts as a child in the opener, daughter of the club's owner, who grows up during the course of the book and becomes the manager, one of the few who can deal easily with the ghosts. In order to do so, she must help defeat a number of supernatural threats. Despite the melodrama, the book is surprisingly low key and highly effective not only for its quiet treatment of what might otherwise be horrific events but also because of its unique setting and atmosphere. This is easily the best title yet from this publisher of offbeat horror fiction.
The Fixer by Jon F. Merz, Pinnacle, 2002, $5.99, ISBN 0-7860-1500-4
Lawson is a vampire hit man, employed by a shadowy governing council of vampires to destroys those of their kind who threaten to get out of control and reveal the existence of the undead to the human population. His latest assignment is ironic, since he had recommended the termination of the culprit earlier and had been mildly disgraced by his insistence. But Cosgrove is a formidable foe, and he seems to have taken a personal dislike to his would be executioner. This is the first in a series and it's a pretty good story of mobsters and the shadowy underworld. It's not particularly good as a vampire novel though. For one thing, most of the supernatural trappings have been abandoned. They cast reflections, function in daylight, can't change shape, and aren't necessarily repelled by religious objects. Other than their ability to recover from severe wounds and their desire to drink blood, they aren't all that inhuman. As a result, we have an exciting contemporary thriller that hints at the supernatural, but which lacks the suppressed sexuality or creeping terror of the best vampire fiction.
Charmed: Charmed Again by Elizabeth Lenhard, Simon Pulse, 3/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-7434-4264-4
Charmed: Spirit of the Wolf by Diana G. Gallagher, Simon Pulse, 5/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-7434-4255-5
With the departure of Shannon Doherty from the television series, there was a hiatus in the series of tie-in novels as well. These are the first two titles in the revised series, opening with Lenhard's novelization of two episodes of the new series, which established Rose McGowan as the new member of the witchy triumvirate. The series has borrowed from Buffy lately, adding a demon lover and a Watcher equivalent, who help the threesome get over their grief and deal with fresh dangers. The second title is an original novel in which the witches travel to a vacation lodge just in time to find themselves caught up in the conflict between preservationists and developers, whose conflict seems to have attracted some nasty supernatural interest. Gallagher's novel is more interesting and convincing than the few episodes of the program that I've watched. And I still have a peeve about this series of books. The authors' names are not shown anywhere on the cover – only that of Constance Burge who created the show and who didn't even write the episodes in the novelization.
The Fantastic Vampire edited by James Craig Holte, Greenwood, 3/02, $59.95, IISBN 0-313-30933-7
Within horror fiction, vampire stories have almost become a genre by themselves, splitting into vampire detectives, vampire romances, and vampire historicals as well as more familiar contemporary themes. It's not surprising then that the academic community would take increasing note of them, and this is a collection of essays on various aspects of the sub-genre, including pieces by Raymond McNally and others.
The first section consists of discussions of Bram Stoker's original classic Dracula, the second looks at vampires in cinema, the third looks at the leading authors – Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Anne Rice, and the fourth looks at how vampire fiction deals with some contemporary issues. The essays range from quite interesting, particularly the earlier ones, to slightly dogmatic, but they're all well written. Aimed at libraries, but vampire fans might want to give it a try.
Regina's Song by David and Leigh Eddings, Del Rey, 6/02, $26.95, ISBN 0-345-44898-7
I've enjoyed the mainstream fantasy novels published by the Eddings in the past, so I was curious to see how they would handle a contemporary thriller with mild supernatural content. Unfortunately, the results were not what I hoped for. There were a few early warning signs, little errors of fact that were annoying rather than fatal in themselves. For example, the authors seem to believe that the normal Army active duty enlistment during the Vietnam war was six years when in fact it was three. Then there's a supposed psychiatrist who doesn't use the word psychosis correctly. We're told that one of the characters cut a single Hollerith computer card out of piece of cardboard and sent it to an insurance company, where for some reason it was loaded into a computer and erased the company's entire file system, indicating a lack of understanding not only of how companies function but of how computers work.
Some of the errors are more serious because they affect the logic of the story flow. The basis of the novel is that two twin girls were so closely linked that when one is raped and murdered, the other loses her memory and, for various reasons, no one knows which lived and which died. I could manage to accept that despite its unlikelihood, but then the authors tell us that even if the police could capture the killer and prove beyond any doubt that he was guilty of the murder, he might be acquitted because the court couldn't prove who was killed, which is so colossally wrong that I couldn't take anything in the novel seriously afterwards. Later we're told that the police routinely administer sedatives to prisoners to keep them calm, and the courts and defense lawyers never seem to have a problem with this, even though prescribing medication would be a major civil rights and criminal violation. But that's not surprising, since the court scenes bear little resemblance to how real courts work. The judge even has to pause to ask a police officer to explain points of law to her. And the coroner's office performs autopsies on the victims of a serial killer, but never notice that the bodies are full of curare and that they have needle marks on their throats. This oversight, we are told, is because they are overworked.
There's another problem. One of Monty Python's best skits is about the killer joke, the one so funny that anyone who hears it dies laughing. Of course, they never tell us the joke, because that would make the skit totally implausible. In SF, this is often the case with stories about superintelligences. We aren't superintelligent ourselves, so we have to be told or shown only peripherally. At one critical point in the novel, the surviving twin writes a short essay. This essay is so brilliantly written that copies are passed around college campuses and people meet to discuss how marvelous it all is. The authors could have gotten away with this quite easily, but they chose instead to give us the complete text, which is in fact trite, clichéd, and written at average high school level. Score zero for verisimilitude.
The fantasy element consists of the fact that the dead twin is still around, although she only makes one very brief on stage visit. Her presence is in fact so trivial that this could have been done just as effectively as a mundane thriller – more so in fact. Mix all of this with some of the most dreadful dialogue of all time. I had already written "cutesy-poo" in my notes a hundred pages before one of the characters uses that very term. I'll read the next fantasy epic from the Eddings, and I'll probably like it. But if they write another contemporary novel, I'll definitely pass it by.
Shadow Dreams by Elizabeth Massie, Leisure, 5/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-4999-6
This collection of Massie's short fiction was originally published by Silver Salamander back in 1996. It contains seventeen short stories, all previously published between 1985 and 1996, most of them in small press magazines, which means they're likely to be new to most readers. Despite their obscure origin, the stories are almost all of topnotch quality, and although they're technically horror, Massie's conflicts are much more likely to originate in twisted human emotions than in the walking dead or other standard horror motifs. Best of all, her characters are all multi-dimensional, and it is the very fact that they seem so real to the reader that makes them effective, because more often than not we care what happens to them. Now available in a mass market edition, this one should get snatched off bookstore shelves in record time.
Wounds by Jemiah Jefferson, Leisure, 5/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-4998-8
Jemiah Jefferson's second vampire novel is a blend of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Happily, this vampire is not a particularly nice guy. He's an egotist who has acquired contempt for ordinary humans during the long years of his existence, viewing them as a species he can dominate through sheer force of will For the most part he's right, but then he runs into a stripper who isn't as pliable as she should be. Jefferson's previous novel was compared in some quarters to Anne Rice, probably because of the strong sensual undertones, but I didn't see any strong similarities then, and even less with this new book, which is considerably better than its predecessor. Daniel Blum is a fascinating character, although he mellows a bit too much for my taste. Jefferson remains an interesting writer on the brink of producing something very memorable.
Midnight Voices by John Saul, Ballantine, 6/02, $25.95, ISBN 0-345-43331-9
A widow with two children remarries to what seems to be the perfect man, which should have tipped her off that something is wrong. They move into an exclusive apartment house, and the exclusion is for a very specific reason. The elderly tenants are unusually long lived, and they're willing to sacrifice a few younger lives in order to prolong their own existence, which might explain why there are no other children in the building. This isn't a badly written novel, but it's so familiar and predictable that there is very little genuine suspense and more than a slight sense of déjà vu.
Tunnels of Blood by Darren Shan, Little Brown, 2002, $15.95, ISBN 0-316-60763-0
This is the third in the Cirque Du Freak series of vampire novels for young adults. The protagonist was forced to become apprentice to an apparently benevolent vampire after offending him in the opening volume and now, half vampire himself, he is off to explore a strange city. There he discovers that another vampiric creature has less honorable views of normal humans, and his investigation points back to his supposedly benign master. Will he survive? Will he figure out what is really going on? Novels of this type are often written down to what is perceived to be a younger reader's attention level, but Shan avoids most of this nonsense and concentrates on telling a good story. It's not a particularly new story, but it's told well enough to be entertaining.
Dark Demons by Kurt Newton, Delirium, 2002, $15.95, ISBN 1-929653-27-1
Maternal Instinct by J.F. Gonzalez, Delirium, 2002, $15.95, ISBN 1-929653-25-5
Two new collections of horror stories from relatively unknown writers from a publisher determined to change all that. Newton's stories tend to be shorter and have more of a vignette quality to them at times. Many of them concentrate on a particular event or image so exclusively that the reader has to invent his or her own context. In some cases, this works well, providing a nice clear shock to the reader, but in other cases it results in a flat effect. It's hard to care that something horrible is happening to a person we haven't had time to know. The better entries are quite good, the lesser ones just okay. Gonzalez's stories tend to use more mundane horrors, but I found them more effective because of the greater emphasis on his characters, particularly in the title story and in "Tattoos". Neither of these collections is for the faint hearted or weak of stomach, but they should both satisfy those who want to feel their pulse race as they turn each page.
Caliban and Other Tales by Robert Devereaux, Leisure, 3/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-4977-5
My first reaction to this short novel and five unrelated stories was to wonder why it was being published as horror fiction, since there really isn't much of a horror element. But then I tried to figure out exactly what it should be called, and I couldn't think of anything, so horror is as good a label as any. In whatever form, it's a unique and fascinating bit of fiction. My favorite is actually the wonderful spoof of horror movies, "The Slobbering Tongue That Ate the Frightfully Huge Woman". The novel is a strange one, a twisted version of the legendary tale of Caliban, in this case with a contemporary setting and a protagonist who can change his very nature in his pursuit of his enemies. I won't even attempt to describe the strange and often unsettling ways in which Devereaux's mind works, but I will say that if you read this book, you'll find your brain bent in decidedly unusual directions.
The Fury and the Terror by John Farris, Tor, 2/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-34157-3
This is the first of two sequels to Farris' excellent The Fury. I haven't read the original in so long that I it might as well have been a completely independent novel, but I never felt as though I was missing any information. The setting is the near present, but one in which government agencies are well aware of and use people with psychic powers in a series of battles for position within the hierarchy rather than against foreign enemies. Some aspects of the novel appear to be SF, simple psi powers, but there's also clear indications of the supernatural. Some people, including the protagonist, are able to project a doppelganger of themselves. That's a handy ability I wouldn't mind having myself. The main character is a recent college graduate who discovers that not only does she have precognition and a doppelganger, but that she has been chosen as a kind of focal point for a group dedicated to eradicating evil. A big, action packed occult adventure story rather than a traditional horror story, with more thrills to come in the forthcoming sequel.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Sweet Sixteen by Scott Ciencin, Pocket, 4/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-7434-2732-7
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tempted Champions by Yvonne Navarro, Simon Pulse, 3/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-0036-4
Angel: Image by Mel Odom, Simon Pulse, 4/02, $5.99, ISBN 0-7434-2750-5
Pocket continues to issue these two television show tie-in series as young adult books, and the two newest titles even bear their children's fiction imprint. Don't be fooled. The books are written at an adult level. Ciencin and Navarro both get to write Buffy novels that include Dawn as a character. In the former, Dawn makes a new friend at school, an unusual youngster whom Buffy had previously seen successfully battle a demon. She's not another slayer, but she obviously isn't just another teenager. The explanation is not necessarily good news. The latter is more complex and digs deeper into the structure of the show. A new vampire shows up in Sunnydale, one who was formerly a slayer. This gives Buffy the idea of becoming a vampire herself, but one with a restored soul so that she can resume her romance with Angel. Throw in a couple of other subplots that involve Anya, Xander, and Dawn, and you have a pretty good amplification of the series, although viewers will know that the various possibilities raised here are all for naught. Finally we have the latest Angel novel. This one involves a wide variety of monsters and an interesting variation of the Dorian Grey premise. Odom is at his best when writing action scenes, and there's plenty of good ones here.
Red by Jack Ketchum, Overlook Connection Press, 5/02, $44.95, ISBN 1-892950-47-2
Horror writer Jack Ketchum writes predominantly mainstream thrillers, of which this is the latest, and one of the best. The plot is almost a classic. Three troubled teenagers shoot the protagonist's dog out of spite. When he tries to get justice, he discovers that the police can't help him, and the boys' parents are indifferent or actively hostile. The tension between the parties rises steadily, eventually resulting in violence and death. The progression is relentless and the fact that we know in advance that some terrible crisis is coming doesn't do a thing to water down the suspense. If you're looking for a break from the fantastic, this is one you should put high on your list of possibilities.
The Unspeakable and Others by Dan Clore, Wildside, 2001, $19.95, ISBN1-58715-483-8
This is a massive collection of nearly forty short stories and a handful of odds and ends. The stories are for the most part aimed at the same readers who enjoy H.P. Lovecraft, or the darker side of Clark Ashton Smith. They're filled with unspeakable horrors, poetically described terrors, exotic landscapes, and nauseous effulgences. Many of them are very serious in intent; some of them are clearly not, evidence that the author is aware of the stylistic excesses common in this sort of story. Obviously not for every taste, and I recommend dipping into it in small doses at a time rather than reading straight through, but it's one of the better recent titles from Wildside.
Martyrs by Edo Van Belkom, Design Image Group, 2001, $15.95, ISBN 1-891946-13-7
A college professor is puzzled by the lethargic support provided when he suggests excavating the site of a massacre of Jesuit missionaries by Indians three centuries previously. With a band of college students, he perseveres, but a series of minor and then not so minor accidents and misadventures eventually discourages his efforts. It's too late to prevent a greater tragedy, however, because it was a demonic force, not Indians, who killed the priests and now that force is loose in the world again, seeking new and more numerous victims. The plot summary might seem fairly pedestrian but the novel is anything but. I found it consistently suspenseful and far more engrossing than any of Van Belkom's earlier novels, or most others of recent vintage. This is the best title yet from this publisher of consistently interesting horror and thriller fiction.
Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris, Ace, 4/02, $6.50, ISBN 0-441-00923-9
I was quite impressed with the first novel in this series, Dead Until Dark, which is vaguely in the tradition of Laurell Hamilton's excellent Anita Blake series, but which contains enough unusual and distinctive twists to stand on its own. The protagonist is a telepathic cocktail waitress whose life was saved by good vampires in an alternate world where the undead have legal rights, so long as they don't kill unwilling humans. Now she's talked into traveling to the big city to investigate the case of a missing vampire, using her mind reading skills to question humans, but also having to deal with the issue of preventing any illegal feeding by her temporary allies. Harris brings off this blend of mystery and vampires better than most, and I would be surprised if we didn't see further adventures of Sookie Stackhouse.
Reading the Vampire Slayer edited by Roz Kaveney, Tauris Parke, 2001, no price listed, ISBN 1-86064-762-6
Buffy the Vampire Slayer continues to be my favorite television program, despite Senator Liebermann's attempt to portray it as the poster child for everything that's bad with the media, and I was very happy to see this collection of serious, scholarly essays. Some of them reach a bit far to find meaning and artistic intent, but for the most part they're intelligent, well reasoned, fully researched, and sometimes genuinely enlightening examinations of Buffy in the context of other media, as a dramatic form, as an advocate of specific ideas, and elsewise. There's also a very nice episode guide to both Buffy and Angel with titles and brief plot descriptions. Definitely worth the effort to track this one down.
An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Greenwood, 3/02, $75, ISBN 0-313-31578-7
The promotional literature for this new reference book says that "no author of supernatural fiction has captured the public attention like H.P. Lovecraft", which is demonstrably inaccurate, but it cannot be denied that HPL's fans are among the most loyal of any literary figure. Hype aside, this is a very fine and very useful book. It contains detailed plot summaries of every bit of fiction that Lovecraft wrote, considerable though not exhaustive bibliographic information, entries on significant characters and places, entries covering Lovecraft's friends and fellow writers, and other odds and ends. I would have liked to have seen photographic reproductions of some of the magazines where he had cover stories, as well as people and places, but there are no photographs or stills at all, the one shortcoming I see in what is otherwise a very nice volume.
Everything's Eventual by Stephen King, Scribner, 3/02, $28, ISBN 0-7432-3515-0
If Stephen King's recent statements are accurate, this will be the last collection of short stories from King, and there are only four remaining novels, one of which is in the Gunslinger series. King indicated that he wanted to quite writing while still at the top of his form, and there are certainly several stories here that fall into that category. One is "Riding the Bullet", originally published electronically. Another is "The Road Virus Rides North". About half these stories were new to me, and the best are "The Man in the Black Suit", a really scare story of an encounter with the devil, and "LT's Theory of Pets". Others involve the death of John Dillinger, a picture that changes by itself, the fear of being buried alive, a haunted hotel room – sort of, and others, including a short story about his recurring fantasy character, Roland. Whether or not King will actually hang up his word processor for good remains to be seen, but the fact remains that at his worst, King still writes better than the best of most of his competition.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: King of the Dead by Christopher Golden, Pocket, 10/01, $2.99, ISBN 0-7434-1187-0
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Original Sins by Christopher Golden, Pocket, 11/01, $2.99, ISBN 0-7434-1188-9
These are the third and fourth of a four volume novel published as inexpensive separate books. Buffy has traveled into the future, a depressing place where her mentor, Giles, has become ruler of the vampires. With her older but still loyal friends, she has to not only bring about the destruction of the man who trained her, but somehow find a way to return to her own time and prevent that future from ever occurring. This is such a different setting and situation that it lacks much of the feel of the television series, but it's also such an interesting idea that it works anyway.
Phantoms of Venice edited by David Sutton, Shadow Publishing, 2001, 25 pounds, ISBN 0-9539032-1-4
Here's a handsomely produced collection of ghost and horror stories with the common setting of the city of Venice. The stories range from the present to the past, including some traditional ghost stories, and others that are quite innovative. There are phantom hotels and mysterious women who hand out black roses, phantasmagoric figures and the devil himself. The best of the stories are those by Eddy Bertin, Peter Tremayne, Ann Gay, and Brian Stableford, but they're all of quite good quality. The other contributors include the editor, Tim Lebbon, Mike Chinn, Pauline Dungate, Cherry Wilder, and Conrad Williams. This was issued in a very small limited edition, so you'll need to order it soon or miss out on your chance.
Once by James Herbert, Tor, 4/02, $26.95, ISBN 0-765-30285-3
The protagonist of this very strange new novel by James Herbert is recovering from a stroke that has left him weak and uncoordinated, but otherwise mobil. He returns to the mansion where he grew up in order to recover, only to discover that the lord of that place is on his deathbed. He is cared for, sometimes against his will, by a local woman who claims to be a nurse but who is in reality a witch, who will eventually kill as part of her plan to control him. While walking one day, he spies on a mysterious creature and is attacked by a swarm of insects, after which he is able to speak to the fairy folk, who want to protect him from the witch. Throw in quite a few additional complications and you have an exotic blend of fantasy and horror with a distinctly British flavor. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work for me. I started to lose interest when I realized that many of the names of the fairies were titles of Herbert's previous novels spelled backward. I felt no sense of suspense, and the villain was such a caricature that I really didn't dislike her or empathize with her intended victim. I've enjoyed much of Herbert's previous work, but this one doesn't seem to come together.
Dark Testament edited by Shane Ryan Staley, Delirium, 2002, no price listed, ISBN 1-929653-22-0
This new anthology has an interesting concept, although in practice it didn't work out as well as I had hoped. There are a number of incidents in Bible stories which are arguably horror, and the editor has solicited stories here which draw on the Bible as the source for new stories, variations of those in the Bible or extrapolations from them. Most of the results were less than horrifying to me, although several are quite good fantasies. The overwhelming prevalence of stories set in Biblical times rather than translating the stories to contemporary settings may explain part of that. The best tales are by Gerard Houarner, Miriam Auden, Jeffrey Thomas, and Charlee Jacob. Among those characters covered are Abraham, Jonah, Isaac, Job, Lucifer, Lazarus, and Mary. There tends to be a homogeneous quality to most of the stories that means you might want to read these a few at a time rather than in one big bite.
Rituals by Ed Gorman, DAW, 2/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0050-3
One of the more reliably entertaining suspense writers returns to outright supernatural horror with this story of modern witchcraft. Witches, we learn are simply a small minority who have inherited arcane psychic powers, to heal, to alter the nature of things, and in some cases to kill. Although most witches tend to be good people, there is a minority which has become obsessed with the use of magic to increase their power over others. A secret attempt to medically treat some of the latter to keep them civilized breaks down and the rivalry between the two groups grows deadly. Neatly plotted and nicely suspenseful, this has enough action to please adventure oriented readers as well as those who like their suspense to have a supernatural twist or two.
Demons by John Shirley, Del Rey, 3/02, $25, ISBN 0-345-44647-X
John Shirley had the first portion of this novel published a couple of years back by Cemetery Dance. Now it appears in a mass market hardcover edition, along with its longer sequel. The premise is quite simple. In the near future, hordes of demons invade the Earth and quite literally turn it into a variation of Hell. Shirley describes several very different and unpleasant types of demons, which are the primary attraction here, and shows how the human race adjusts to their presence, sort of. The sequel continues the story and shows how the tables are turned, but although it's certainly entertaining, the original short novel is much better.
Dead Ground by Chris Amies, Big Engine, 12/01, 8.99 pounds, ISBN 1-903468-01-9
An archaeological expedition travels to a remote Pacific Island group with plans to excavate an ancient, ruined temple. No sooner do they arrive than the local inhabitants try to warn, scare, and chase them off, citing old legends, psychic visions, and an ancient curse. It doesn't take long before the dead bodies start showing up, and we are introduced to a blend of ghosts and disgusting diseases. This was enjoyable enough if you aren't trouble by the extreme predictability of the plot. Set in the 1930s, it's a kind of throwback to the lost world adventure stories of that time, with a blend of fantasy and horror and high adventure.
Dark Resurrection by John Karr, Barclay, 2001, $15.95, ISBN 1-931402-23-X
A prominent surgeon discovers that there is a secret society of the undead existing among the living, and that they are dominated by a powerful and evil man. Unfortunately, he discovers this when they attempt to recruit him into their number, an addition that doesn't quite take. He has managed to preserve his love for those still alive, and his apparent cooperation is designed to mask the fact that he is secretly plotting to destroy the Holy Evangelical Lady of the Lake (H.E.L.L., get it?). Despite the cutesy name, the story isn't bad at all, although there really isn't much horror involved. Rather, it's a kind of occult adventure story with reasonably heavy characterization and comparatively light suspense and supernaturalism, outside the basic premise. This one should appeal more to those who enjoy medical thrillers than to hardcore horror fans.
Island Life by William Meikle, Barclay, 2001, $15.95, ISBN 1-931402-20-5
A team of archaeologists are working on a dig on an island off the coast of Scotland, a burial mound of unknown origin. They should have known better. Something comes out of the mound and kills several of them, and soon mysterious creatures are moving through the darkness, menacing everyone else on the island. The best part of this novel is the first half, when we don't know what the characters are facing. There are some genuinely creepy scenes and Meikle does a great job of ratcheting up the suspense. Unfortunately, and inevitably, there is a bit of a letdown when we find out what the creatures actually are, so I'm not going to tell you here and spoil the suspense. That said, the second half of the book is still very good, and I had no temptation to set it aside for awhile and read straight to the end, which does contain a surprise or two as well as a satisfying conclusion. For those readers who like nerve wrenching horror stories, this is a nice fix for your habit.
Night Terrors by Drew Williams, Barclay, 2001, $15.95, ISBN 1-931402-24-8
The inhabitants of a small town are troubled by a being that touches their dreams. Despite its normal quiet existence, the town has been troubled by a string of mysterious suicides and a murder, and the local police detective suspects that the worst is yet to come. Not surprisingly, he's absolutely correct. An ancient being who has been imprisoned in a mystical realm has contacted one of the townspeople, and before his status is resolved, the very nature of reality will be twisted. Toys will turn into fearsome creatures and death will lurk in the most commonplace things. There are some nice touches in this first novel, but there are rough spots as well. At times the plot seems to slow down unnecessarily, and some of the phrasing is repetitious. Williams is a good storyteller though, and it would surprise me to discover that his subsequent work shows increased polish and control.
Malachi's Moon by Billie Sue Mosiman, DAW, 1/ 02, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0048-1
DAW seems to be drifting into supernatural fiction once again with this tale of vampires, sequel to the author's previous Red Moon Rising. As with most recent novels of the undead, the vampires are divided into types, some good, some evil, some born to the bloodlust, others converted, and much of the novel deals with the rivalries among the bloodsuckers rather than their efforts to prey on the living. Mosiman throws in some new wrinkles, including a vampire human crossbreed, and concocts an original enough plot to keep the reader guessing and not just mimic the latest World of Darkness variation. I still prefer my vampires less suave and sophisticated, but if you're into the new trend of vampirism, this is one of the best examples you're going to find.
Horror Film Stars by Michael R. Pitts, McFarland, 7/02, $39.95, ISBN 0-7864-1052-3
Some of McFarland's very fine film related reference books strike me as a bit over priced, but that's not the case this time. There's over five hundred pages in this oversized paperback, which provides fairly lengthy biographies of the stars of horror films, both famous and less well known. It covers such vintage luminaries as Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Fay Wray, but also more contemporary stars like Jamie Lee Curtis and Caroline Munro. There's also coverage of many of the stars of "B" films like John Agar, Kenneth Tobey, Tom Conway, Evelyn Ankers, and Gloria Talbott, and the three best known scream queens, Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer, and Brinke Stevens. There are seventy in all, each accompanied by black and white still shots, reproductions of promotional materials, and other odds and ends. Includes a comprehensive index and a listing of genre films for each actor as well. I was only able to find two very minor errors and rate this as one of the most interesting and best written film books I've encountered.
Daughters by Melanie and Steve Tem, IPublish, 2001, $14.95, ISBN 0759550298
Individually and collaboratively, these two writers are best known for their horror fiction, but now they turn their hands to fantasy, although not in any traditional form. The main protagonist is a young woman whose brother is involved in magical plots that prove too much for him, and who befriends a creature that her fellow humans refer to as beasts, although they are intelligent. The beasts have been troubled recently by a kind of plague which has made them restless and aggressive, and the heroine's new friend is on a private mission to avert hostilities between the two species. But life isn't as simple as that. This one takes some twists and turns you aren't likely to expect, and it's as well written as you'd expect from such experienced and skillful writers.
Third Ring by Phillip Tomasso III, Barclay, 2001, $15.95, ISBN 1-931402-11-6
This is a private eye novel in which the protagonist is hired to represent a burglar whose partner was killed in a shootout while they were breaking into a house to steal some magical texts. The owner's son was killed as well, and things look bleak for the man, but there are some extenuating circumstances. Our protagonist is about to discover that witchcraft is not only real, but that it can conjure up diminutive little monsters to make his life, to say nothing of the case, considerably more difficult. I hadn't heard of this imprint and approached this book somewhat skeptically, but it's actually quite well written and held my attention throughout. There are even some nifty little twists along the way.
The Apostate by Paul Lonardo, Barclay, 2001, $15.95, ISBN 1-931402-13-2
Things aren't going so well in the town of Caldera. Something seems to be affecting the local plant and animal life, the citizens are experiencing a very high rate of mental illness, and there are other signs that something momentous is happening. In due course they discover evidence that Satan may have chosen the community as the battleground for the final confrontation on Earth between the forces of good and those of evil. But is that in fact the case, or is the mysterious representative of a secretive group misleading them for reasons of his own. This is an Omen style novel of the supernatural, with a suitably cataclysmic climax. Generally I find this stereotypical Christian Armageddon pretty boring, and despite some reasonably good writing, I wasn't able to care much what happened this time either.
Phantom Feast by Diana Barron, Barclay, 2001, $15.95, ISBN 1-931402-21-3
Erin is a monster, a young girl who murdered her own parents, and who oddly enough doesn't seem particularly worried that two young children witnessed the crime, even though they've promised not to tell. But the town she lives in is about to be overtaken by an even greater evil, a force so powerful that it will change the physical world around them, altering the figures in paintings and other small items at first, eventually reconfiguring the entire landscape. There's some very explicit gore and horror, some done rather well, some not so well. The prose was well enough done, but I never really found myself liking any of the characters enough to care about their fate. There are some very promising things here, but I suspect the book would have benefited from going through one more draft before publication.
Books of Blood by Clive Barker, Stealth, 12/01, $39.95, ISBN 1-58881-040-2
Back in the mid-1980s, Clive Barker was instantly propelled into the front rank of horror writers with the publication of six volumes of stories, the Books of Blood, although some volumes were retitled for their US publication. Stealth has brought the complete set back into print in one very large hardcover edition, over eight hundred pages of some of the most startling, innovative, and disturbing fiction in the horror genre or anywhere else. Although Barker's career would veer away from horror fiction, particularly at shorter lengths, following this series, they had already established his reputation firmly. Here's your chance to own all thirty stories, some of which were the basis for motion pictures, and all of which are first rate and just as chilling now as when they were first published. It's difficult to pick out exceptional pieces from such a uniformly excellent selection, but "The Body Politic", "The Inhuman Condition", "Rawhead Rex", "In the Flesh", and "Babel's Children" are certainly among the best. A long overdue omnibus available at last.
Trauma by Graham Masterton, Signet, 1/ 02, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-20555-3
Bonnie's husband has lost his job and doesn't seem interested in finding another, so she supplements her own income by running a trauma cleaning service in addition to her day job. Her service goes into homes where people have died violently and messily, either by murder or suicide, and cleans up the residue. Her husband's irritability, self pity, and heavy drinking are beginning to get on her nerves, and the revelation that her teenaged son is beginning to mirror her husband's bigoted, narrow minded lifestyle add even more pressure. Then she begins to notice the presence of strange caterpillars at the site of several crime scenes, and learns of an ancient Mexican legend about an evil goddess who uses this form on her quest to force people to kill those she loves best. This comparatively short novel is compelling reading, as we are swept up in Bonnie's own personal spiral toward tragedy. The supernatural element is peripheral and somewhat ambiguous, but the suspense and horror are effective and chilling.
The Mummy in Fact, Fiction and Film by Susan D. Cowle and Tom Johnson, McFarland, 2/02, $45, ISBN 0-7864-1083-3
This is a slim but interesting book that examines three aspects of the mummy, as indicated in the title. The first, and for me the most interesting part, is a brief examination of the mummy in fact, what we know about them, a summary of early archaeological discoveries, etc. Included are some very nice photographs. The third part looks at how the mummy has been portrayed in literature, starting with early classics and even examining authors as diverse as R.L. Stine's young readers' adventures and the works of Anne Rice, Robert Bloch, and others. Although the treatment only brushes the surface, some of the analysis of the individual stories included is of interest. More complete is the center portion, which examines mummies in motion pictures. Included are stills from several of the movies.
Terence Fisher: Horror, Myth & Religion by Paul Leggett, McFarland, 4/02, $32, ISBN 0-7864-1167-8
McFarland adds to its impressive line of film books with this new title, examining in depth the films of Terence Fisher. Fisher was responsible for a considerable number of second level horror films, including The Curse of Frankenstein, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Mummy, The Brides of Dracula, The Devil Rides Out, and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. His science fiction films include Island of Terror and The Four Sided Triangle. His career ran from 1949 to 1973. The author examines many of these films, some in great detail, analyzing themes and treatment as well as providing plot summaries and information about the production and critical success of the individual titles. There are, naturally, a large number of black and white stills. Fisher's work never quite struck me as top notch, but he was a skilled craftsman and all of his films reflect a respect for his craft and an ability to tell a good story. Leggett's commentaries are detailed but accessible, and his observations should deepen your appreciation of the films.
Shadows Bite by Stephen Dedman, Tor, 12/01, $25.95, ISBN 0-312-87783-8
In The Art of Arrow Cutting, Dedman introduced us to Mage, a self effacing young man who discovers that with the aid of a magical artifact called a focus he can teleport, heal, and perform other magical acts. He and his friends went their separate ways at the end of that novel, but they're reunited for this sequel, which involves a bunch of vampires who blend traditional attributes with some interesting new twists. A reclusive magician is frustrated by his son's infatuation with a young woman who has recently become a vampire. When one of the protagonist's burglarizes his house looking for information about a mysteriously missing corpse, he inadvertently frees the vampire who begins making more of her kind with reckless abandon. Mage shows up just in time to get involved with the vampires, to say nothing of a professional assassin hired by an old enemy. It's an exciting story with some really original twists, but I fear Dedman has made Mage a bit too powerful. He can escape from almost any situation, and you know that he and his friends are all going to survive as long as he's around. This will entertain you, but it's not up to the quality of its predecessor.
Nightshade edited by Robert Phillips, Robinson, 12/01, 9.99 pounds, ISBN 1-84119-418-2
The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror Volume 12 edited by Stephen Jones, Robinson, 12/01, 6.99 pounds, ISBN 1-84119-292-9
The first of these two titles is your typical mainstream ghost story collection, drawn from the works of many of the most prestigious writers of the 20th Century. The editor has ranged widely and the collection includes stories by such disparate writers as Joyce Carol Oates, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Edith Wharton, L.P. Hartley, F. Marion Crawford, Henry James, and others. Many of the stories are familiar classics.. Ghost stories are a peculiar subset of horror fiction, not particularly popular among newer writers although readers always seem willing to snatch them off bookshelves. The second is the twelfth in Stephen Jones excellent best of the year series, of particular value to US readers because it includes so many fine stories from the other side of the Atlantic. Contributors this time include Kim Newman, Christopher Fowler, Kathryn Ptacek, Nicholas Royle, Graham Joyce, and Thomas Ligotti, and as always they're drawn from a wide variety of sources, many of which most readers will never have encountered on their own. In their separate ways, these are two very fine, quite large collections of supernatural fiction, both more than worth the asking price.
Salt Water Tears by Brian A. Hopkins, Dark Regions Press, 2001, $12.95, ISBN 1-888923-21-9
Brian Hopkins has quietly built himself an enviable reputation as a short story writer, predominantly horror fiction, although not exclusively. This handsomely packaged collection contains quite a range of stories, opening with the non-fantastic but very effective "North", about a blind boy who must rescue his father in the wilderness. My favorite is "The Baited Night", in which a man encounters a very unusual woman/creature from the sea. "Crocodile Gods" is another non fantastic story, and more a vignette than a tale, but it's based on a true story, which makes it particularly effective. All of the stories have a sea motif of some sort, and they're so widely varied in theme and treatment, everything from historical to contemporary, horror to fantasy to mundane suspense, that's it's hard to come up with an overall, accurate description except that the stories are all very good.
Until She Sleeps by Tim Lebbon, CD Publications, 12/01, $40, ISBN 1-58767-052-6
Tim Lebbon has been popular in England for some time, and now he's emerging in the US market as a major new voice. This short novel is set in a small English village where construction workers inadvertently open the tomb of a good witch, but one who was murdered after she had been helping people by absorbing their nightmares. Now those nightmares are free, and they're altering reality. People get lost in familiar neighborhoods, others drown in an absence of water, or are pursued by dogs made of living fire, or perish in any of several very horrible ways. The protagonist is a young boy who is an early witness to these events, and who is descended himself from the witch and therefore relatively safe from the manifestations. If anything, things happen too fast, because just as I was beginning to realize how much I was enjoying the book, it came to an end. Published here in a limited edition of two hundred copies.
The Book of All Flesh edited by James Lowder, Eden Studios, 10/01, $15.95, ISBN 1-891153-87-0
Here we have a collection of zombie stories, apparently a tie-in to a game system called All Flesh Must Be Eaten, although the parameters are so loose that the stories are potentially very diverse and in many cases contradict each other. Given that looseness, the biggest disappointment is that so many of the stories, even some of the well written ones, are basically the same. Zombies overrun the world, lone holdouts kill them and escape, or don't kill them and die. The bright spot in the collection is Christine Morgan's hilariously funny "Dawn of the Living-Impaired", which play satirizes the whole zombie shtick very skillfully. There are a few other good stories as well, notably those by Scott Edelman, Michael Laimo, Robert Vardeman, Kenneth Lightner, and a collaboration between L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims. Most of the others are at least readable, but I was unable to finish a tediously long piece done as a kind of screenplay. Pick it up for the Morgan story. It's a real winner.
Eden by Ken Wisman, Dark Regions Press, 2001, $4.95, ISBN 1-888993-24-3
This is a novelet published as a chapbook, and based on the introduction, it appears to have been inspired following a series of experiences with a hallucinogenic drug. It certainly reads that way. An expedition travels to a distant world to seed it with life, but the rule is that none of the lifeforms can be predatory. One of the scientists believes they are usurping God's rights and he sabotages the project. The story isn't bad, but it's enveloped in a great deal of New Ageish type rhetoric that distracted me constantly.
4 x 4 edited anonymously, Delirium, 11/01, $18, ISBN 1-929653-20-4
This is an unusual anthology because it includes four writers singly and in various combinations with one another. The authors aren't very well known – Michael Oliveri, Geoff Cooper, Brian Keene, and Michael T. Huyck Jr., and based on this collection, three of them may remain that way. Brian Keene is the exception. "Earthworm Gods" has a few rough spots but it's actually a very good, very creepy story of torrential rains that bring floods all over the Earth, collapse civilization, and give rise to unexpected creatures rising from the soil. His collaboration with Michael Oliveri is nearly as good, the story of a town fighting with monsters who reveal themselves to be just as bad as the creatures they face. His collaboration with Geoff Cooper is less successful, although the juxtaposition of gangsters and zombies is sometimes amusing. The other stories seem to rely more on rough sex and strong language for their shock effect, and although I have no objection to either in fiction, I like a little more substance than I found here.
Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder & Romance by James Dorr, Dark Regions Press, 11/01, $12.95, ISBN 1-888993-22-7
James Door is one of those writers who quietly builds up a substantial body of short fiction but whom you might well not recognize as the quality writer that he is. This is a very varied collection, mystery and suspense, heroic fantasy, ghost stories, historical fantasy adventure, horror and even some mild humor. There are also a handful of the author's poems included. My favorite of the lot is "The Sending", a nifty little supernatural story with a fine ghostly atmosphere, nicely evoked setting, and a believable protagonist. Two of the non-fantastic stories are also quite good – "Vanitas" and "The Wellmaster's Daughter", and there's a pretty good ghost story, "Victorians". Dark Regions has done a good job recently in publishing collections by authors who tend to be unjustly overlooked.
The Collected Ghost Stories of E.F. Benson, Robinson, 11/01, 7.99 pounds, ISBN 1-84119-432-8
E.F. Benson published over one hundred books during his lifetime, and still has an audience for some of his mainstream novels, but he will always be remembered for his ghost and horror stories. This massive six hundred page collection, previously published in 1992, is back in print and contains fifty-four horror stories – not all of them ghosts despite the title. Among the classics here are "Mrs. Amworth", "The Horror Horn", "The Room in the Tower", "Caterpillars", and "In the Tube". Unlike most contemporary horror writers, Benson had to rely on good plots and a well realized atmosphere rather than overt gore, but the stories are no less effective for that.
The Association by Bentley Little, Signet, 9/01, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-20412-3
A horror writer and his wife move into what appears to be the perfect home, until they discover that they are perforce subject to the rules of the local homeowners association, a ruthless, autocratic group which imposes its rules by force, including fines, assaults, and clandestine murders and mutilations. It isn't long before they're in trouble with the group, and the action escalates, added by the growing animosity between the gated community and a nearby town. The first half of the novel is quite good and suspenseful, but it falls apart when the necessity to increase the suspense wanders into unbelievability. Several openly taken actions are clearly illegal – discriminating against blacks, performing involuntary abortions, inspecting private homes without permission, selective enforcement, and others. The author tries to excuse this by having characters pop up from time to time to tell us that incredible though it may seem, these actions have stood up to legal challenges. Sorry, that doesn't fly. The obtuseness of the dissident homeowners in not pursuing legal challenges is not credible. Neither is the string of murders, including children from outside the community, which provoke no attention from the outside world. Within the context of Little's nightmarish fantasy world, the story is suspenseful, but I kept balking at the incredulous events taking place. Even good writers have their bad days, and this is the first book by this author I haven't enjoyed.
Dead Love by Donald Beman, Leisure, 12/01, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-4951-1
A moderately successful writer has long been haunted by memories of the woman he loved, who died tragically and violently many years before. He returns to the scene of her death, seeking an emotional release, and discovers much more than he bargained for. Not only has her spirit lingered, but our hero is about to become involved in a web of visions, possessions, and revenge more exotic than anything he has ever written about. I had a rather mixed reaction to the book. The plot is well conceived, has some unexpected turns, and is resolved in an unexpected fashion. On the other hand, I found myself losing sympathy for and patience with the characters. None of them were particularly likable as people, and they occasionally acted so obtusely or randomly that I couldn't identify with them. On the other hand, it was nice to see a writer doing something new with what is essentially a ghost story.
Candle Bay by Tamara Thorne, Pinnacle, 8/01, $5.99, ISBN 0-7860-1311-7
Pinnacle Books has gotten back into the horror field in recent months, and so far it appears that their offerings will lean very heavily toward vampires. This new title by Tamara Thorne is a case in point. The protagonist is a new employee at a restored hotel who begins to suspect that something odd is going on when she finds occasional traces of blood. Readers will know long before the she does that her new employers are vampires, although they're the good kind. Unfortunately, there are some bad ones around as well, old enemies who have returned for vengeance and to recapture a magical substance. Amanda must decide whether to stay or leave, and to stay means choosing sides and perhaps surrendering her humanity. Vampire romances remain popular, so this should do well since it's quite well written, but I confess that even though I watch Angel on television, I still prefer him and all my other vampires when they're being evil.
Angel: The Summoned by Cameron Dokey, Pocket, 12/01, $5.99, ISBN 0-7434-0700-8
Angel, the reformed vampire, is on the trail of a serial killer who incinerates his victims, aided by Cordelia, in this standard series adventure. There's a connection between the murder spree and a naïve young woman who helps Doyle recover from a particularly powerful vision. There are few surprises after that, although the story is pleasantly enough told. Fans of Doyle (who was killed off in the first season) will welcome this as an expansion of his story, but I can't help wondering when the novels will begin to reflect the current cast of characters and situations. There are far more interesting villains – and heroes – on the show today than appear in the books.