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Books for Review should be sent to: Don D'Ammassa, 323 Dodge Street,  East Providence, RI 02914

Last Update 3/29/15

A Confederacy of Horrors by James Robert Smith, Hippocampus, 2015, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-086-5

This collection of more than two dozen short horror stories includes both new and reprinted stories and I had only previously read about a third of them, spread over more than twenty years. This is infrequent enough that I recalled only one of the stories and had no preconception of whether or not I liked Smith's work as a whole. I am happy to say with only a couple of exceptions that I found the collection quite enjoyable, and pleasantly varied in subject matter and occasionally even stylistically. There are Lovecraftian horrors as well as much traditional ones, visitors from outer space as well as from legend. "Toke Ghost," the one which I remembered, is one of the best in the collection. Others of particular note include "The Old Man's Final Visit," "The Reliable Vacuum Company," and "A Last, Longing Look." I suspect that the dearth of major markets for short horror fiction in recent years is the primary reason why Smith's name is not better known. 3/29/15

Murder by Sarah Pinborough, Jo Fletcher, 2015, $26.99, ISBN 978-1623658663

Sequel to Mayhem, in which a London doctor discovers that Jack the Ripper is controlled by a supernatural entity and kills him, and apparently it, although it's back in this sequel. Dr. Bond is keeping company with the widow of James Harrington, aka the Ripper, who does not know about her husband's guilt and still mourns him. Bond killed the man and thought he had disposed of the evil, but a new set of murders begins to cast doubt upon his conclusion. Pinborough nicely evokes the atmosphere of that time, navigates her well developed characters through a complex series of events, and has some surprises in store for the reader. I think I liked this one slightly better than its predecessor but they are both very good. 3/27/15

The Witch at Sparrow Creek by Josh Kent, Hippocampus, 2015, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-123-7

This debut novel appears to be the first in a planned series about Jim Falk, who battles evil, mostly of the supernatural variety. The setting is an imaginary world that bears considerable resemblance to colonial America. Falk's father was taken from him by agents of Old Bendy when he was just a boy because he had been trying to rid the land of various evils, and now Jim is filling in for him. Those evils include some very nasty gentlemen, a powerful witch, and mysterious forest creatures. He has few allies (and not all of them are human) with which to wage his private war. The plot is pretty good and reminded me at times of some of the later work of Manly Wade Wellman. The violence is somewhat subdued and there is a good element of mystery.  The prose is only rarely a bit awkward and a few scenes are a bit too long for their content, but overall this was nicely done. 3/26/15

Basilisk by Graham Masterton, Severn House. 2009  

The first Nathan Underhill novel introduces him as a scientist who is attempting to recreate mythical creatures. In this case his wife – a doctor – becomes involved with a colleague who has the same agenda, secretly, and who has brought a basilisk to life – a creature which can start destructive fires. Underhill is soon engaged in a desperate battle to save his wife, and others, from the consequences of the madman’s rash act. This one starts well but there was no mystery involved and only marginal suspense and it felt as though the author finished it out of a sense of duty than because of any enthusiasm. 3/23/15

Descendant by Graham Masterton, Severn House, 2006  

During World War II, the Nazis introduced vampires into the occupied countries to infiltrate resistance groups.  An American trained to hunt them down survives the war and returns to the US, but more than a decade later he is forced out of retirement for a secret mission to track down a powerful vampire that has gotten loose in London. He tracks down a nest of vampires but it’s not clear whether or not their master has actually perished. And then there is a series of surprise revelations in the last few pages. I prefer my vampires evil rather than romantic or heroic, so I liked this one just fine. 3/17/15

Darkroom by Graham Masterton, Severn House, 2004

A Jim Rook adventure. Rook, an academic, can see and interact with the dead. As with the last Rook novel I read, Masterton seems to confuse college and high school because Rook teaches a college class that doesn’t feel remotely like an American college.  For example, the instructor of one course cannot dismiss his students from classes taught by other instructors in college, but Rook can do it here. The police consult with him after two college students are burned to ashes even though the fire would have needed to be so intense that the relatively untouched surroundings would have been destroyed as well. At the same time, he is moving into a creepy apartment with a painting of a man whose face is covered by a cloth, a painting which seems to have a life and will of its own. The explanation involves the purity of silver, which separates the good and evil in people, a little bit like Jekyll and Hyde in that it creates two separate beings. A bit below average but still worthwhile.  3/11

Fire Spirit by Graham Masterton, Severn House, 2010 

The authorities are puzzled by a series of mysterious fires which are limited to one or more individuals, with no cause of ignition and little damage to the surrounding area. The fire inspector who is the protagonist of the story is not aware - but we are - that three masked men have been subduing and humiliating people, after which the spirit of a young boy appears and bursts into flame, killing the victim. Her daughter has been having visions of a horde of the dead trying to return to the land of the living.  We are vaguely aware throughout most of the book that they can only be laid to rest if their ashes are set free. The tension escalates with more attacks and direct contact between the chief demon - if that's the right word - and the fire inspector. Masterton consistently delivers some of the most entertaining - and overtly horrific - novels in the genre. 3/8/15

Little Star by John Ajvide Lindquist, St Martins, 2010 

The fourth book I’ve read by this Swedish author is pretty strange and generally somewhat low key. A young child is abandoned in the woods, buried alive, but is rescued by a man who just happens to find her, although it seems likely that this was not just happenstance. The child has a perfect singing voice, but she also has the ability to control the people around her. She does so with the couple who illegally take care of her, then their son after their deaths, and eventually another troubled young girl and various characters around her. A significant element in the story is bullying, echoing Let the Right One In.  Although this was pretty good, I found it less gripping than the first three, perhaps a little too understated, and while the prose is fine, the story moved too slowly at times. One good and three very good novels is not a bad way to start a career. 3/3/25

The Doll Collection edited by Ellen Datlow, Tor, 2015, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7680-0 

Given the editor, it’s pretty much a given that this was going to be a good collection. The theme this time is dolls, which are right there with clowns as a popular if unlikely horror theme. The first story is by Tim Lebbon and is a very atmospheric tale of explorers encountering some kind of doll things in the Antarctic. Stephen Gallagher’s tale of a ventriloquist’s dummy that was the only “survivor” of a fire has no fantastic content and really isn’t horror, but it’s also a very good story. Joyce Carol Oates adds a creepy tale about a very troubled boy. Gemma Files has a solid story of witchcraft followed by a very good, hard to describe tale by Pat Cadigan. There’s an okay story by Seanan McGuire and a better one by Carrie Vaughn. Stephen Graham Jones introduces us to another deeply disturbed youth. There a couple of stories that didn’t work for me, followed by a darkly humorous piece by Richard Bowes.  Genevieve Valentine contributes one of the few present tense stories that I’ve really liked. Thieves break into the wrong house in Richard Kadrey's very good story, Jeffrey Ford has my favorite in the collection and I also enjoyed the stories by Lucy Sussex, Victoria Schanoes, John Langan, and Richard Kadrey.  Above average for a Datlow collection, which is already a high standard. 3/2/15

Garden of Evil by Graham Masterton, Severn House, 2012   

This is a Jim Rook supernatural adventure, perhaps the last since he loses his powers at the end. There’s a new student in his college remedial reading class, purported son of a preacher who seems to have mystical powers. Then people around him begin dying in bizarre rituals and Rook finds his own personality changing, coarsening. It’s a demonic plot to revive the dead and bring about the end of the world and Rook is the only conduit through which the dark deed can be done. The novel is pretty minor Masterton and the plot is often creaky. I’m not particularly fond of story lines in which a person acts out of character because of some external mystical influence and this is a good example of why not. I just didn’t believe what the protagonist was doing. Masterton’s unfamiliarity with American institutions is evident as well. Colleges are not administers by principals and they don’t have recesses. 2/24/15

Forest Ghost by Graham Masterton, Severn House, 2013 

This is a nicely suspenseful horror novel that opens with the suicide of an entire Boy Scout group including their adult supervisors while camping in an extensive and supposedly haunted forest. Two state workers are also found in the area, the result of a murder suicide pact of some sort, although no motive can be found for any of the deaths. The protagonist is the owner of a Polish restaurant whose son – who can predict the future through astrology – knew one of the dead Scouts. He learns that his great grandfather, who disappeared in Poland during the war, also committed suicide while hiding in a forested area. There are some clearly supernatural phenomena including a ghost which he refuses to accept, which I found rather unconvincing given the overwhelming evidence that they are real. The boy’s predictive abilities are also a trifle over the top. Despite that, the story moves well and some of the individual scenes are quite creepy.  I wasn’t entirely happy with the ending, which suggests contradictory things about the nature of the forest ghosts, who are supposedly benevolent despite the horrible things that they do. 2/21/15

Dead Spots by Rhiannon Frater, Tor, 2015, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-4715-3

There's an interesting premise in this book. The protagonist is emotionally disturbed by a recent stillborn child and the breakup of her marriage. She is on her way back to her childhood home when she finds herself in a dead spot, a region where the interface between our world and a kind of surreal otherworld is permeable. There are monstrous and dangerous manifestations geared to the individual experiencing them. Even worse, she can't find a way to return to the real world despite the efforts of herself and others who are trapped there. A variety of creepy creatures and bizarre visions makes life difficult and even death is no escape. The story is quite obviously about confronting one's deepest fears and the protagonist is making a journey of discovery while fighting for her sanity. There are a lot of good scenes in the book but I think it goes on for just a little too long, diluting its effectiveness. 2/17/15

Occult Assassin by William Massa, 2015, $8.99, ISBN 978-1507764961

First in the Damnation Code series, which pits a special forces veteran against evil supernatural forces. Mark Talon has decided to become a civilian again, but his plans for a happy if rather dull future go awry when his girlfriend is targeted by a sort of satanic cult. He learns enough of the truth to identify the organization responsible - which includes a very powerful businessman - and decides to wreak personal revenge. The cult does have access to supernatural powers, so this isn't just a revenge thriller. That means that the ordinary methods Talon is familiar with will not be sufficient and he is going to have to pick up some magical knowledge of his own if he doesn't want to become just another casualty. The prose is a little rough in spots but the action is hot and heavy and there's a satisfying ending - although it's not really an ending since he is scheduled to fight them some more in the sequel. 2/12/15

The Hidden World by Graham Masterton, Severn House, 2003  

Although there is nothing to indicate it, I think this low key horror novel was written for younger readers. The protagonist is a young girl living with her grandparents who hears voices of children calling to her for help from inside the walls. A psychic woman living nearby tells her that there is a hidden world found in the patterns of wallpaper that only some only some people can perceive. She is able to hear them, apparently because she recently suffered a concussion, although for some reason her young friend hears them as well. They find a way in and rescue the prisoners. Very low key for Masterton and not particularly suspenseful. 2/10/15

Phantoms by Jack Cady, Underland Press, 2015, $15, ISBN 978-1-63023-004-3

Jack Cady was a very unusual writer and his career - too short - saw many of his short stories in particular receive high acclaim. There are few familiar horrors anywhere in this excellent collection. Even Cady's ghosts are not quite what we think of when that term is used in general. The border between life and death isn't as sharply delineated as in most fiction. "The Ghost of Dive Bomber Hill" is one I still remembered despite not having read it in many years. "Miss Molly's Manners," "The Twenty Pound Canary," and "Kilroy Was Here" also had a firm grip on my memory. I don't think we realize just how good some short story writers are until we read a collection rather than the individual stories here and there over a period of time. I recalled Cady as being someone whose work I always enjoyed, but I hadn't realized how much until I encountered a bunch of them at once. 2/6/15

Bone Isle in the Charnel House by Rhys Hughes, Hippocampus, 2014, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-087-2

I had only read one of these stories previously so I came to this collection with no preconceptions. The stories here range from conventional horror to almost self parody. The author mixes humor, bizarre and otherwise, with realism and surrealism and readers aren't going to know what to expect from paragraph to paragraph, let alone from one story to the next. I don't think this always works but it does in the majority of cases in this collection. "The Hydrothermal Reich" is one of the best, and the Lovecraftian cast of "Sigma Octantis" is entertaining. My favorites also include the title story, "The Old House Under the Snow," and "The Century Just Gone." I find that his better stories are the longer ones. 2/6/15

The Lovecraft Coven by Donald Tyson, Hippocampus, 2014, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-085-8

This book contains two short novels related to the Cthulhu Mythos. The first, the title story, is the more interesting of the two. Lovecraft himself wakes up in another body nearly a century after his own death and discovers that he is being hunted by supernatural creatures that he portrayed in his fiction. The only way he can escape is to enter the world of his stories, travel to Arkham and other fiction locations, there to track down a stolen copy of the Necronomicon. And in the process he will find a new life for himself. I didn't the protagonist felt much like HPL, but otherwise this was an entertaining quasi-pastiche. "Iron Chain" is not quite as good. A counter culture dropout travels to a remote part of Canada to await the collapse of civilization. He sets up shop on a remote farm, but soon discovers that the farm itself has some very odd properties, and an even odder history. I enjoyed both of these. 1/29/15

The Witch of the Wood by Michael Aronovitz, Hippocampus, 2014, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-066-7

One could argue that this was fantasy rather than horror. An ageing academic becomes involved in a liaison with a much younger woman who turns out to be a member of a group of witches, not the kind who ride around on broomsticks but rather a sort of mystical league who possess knowledge hidden from most of the rest of the world. That would be a pretty stunning revelation in itself, but there's more, including the existence of a power that seeks to destroy the sisterhood of witches, which would have dire consequences for the entire world. So our hero has to raise a small army of his own. Despite that plot summary, this is more humor than horror, more farce than fantasy. It has its moments, but generally speaking I found the tone discouraged any kind of involvement with the story. I've read much better short fiction by this author. 1/26/15

The Face of the Earth and Other Imaginings by Algernon Blackwood, Stark House, 2015, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-933586-70-0 

Mike Ashley has gathered together a bunch of Blackwood’s early weird stories, most of which have never previously been published in book form, along with several essays. I expected these to be well below his standard quality, and while it is true that there is nothing here equal to “The Willows” or Blackwood’s other classic stories, the quality is actually quite high. The stories themselves are predominantly quite short but the title story, “A Mysterious House,” and several others develop a weird atmosphere quite effectively, and I even found some of the essays to be interesting. This publisher has done quite a few other Blackwood books which I have not seen or ever read, and he’s one of the best writers to have had much of his work languish in obscurity in recent years. 1/22/15

Harbor by John Ajvide Lindquist, St Martins, 2012 

A couple and their young daughter walk across the ice to a lighthouse in a remote part of Sweden. The child disappears a short time later, leaving no tracks, as though she had vanished into thin air. Three years later the husband, now separated, returns to the house and its memories. He is puzzled that none of the locals ever suspected he was involved with the disappearance; they almost seemed to have expected it. And then he begins finding messages, apparently left by his missing daughter, or perhaps his sanity is going. The story unfolds very slowly because we are presented with back stories of various other characters – one of whom possesses a magical entity – but it doesn’t drag because the stories are in themselves interesting.  Without revealing too much here I can say that there is a kind of curse on the area, that it requires the occasional human life, and that it’s nature is altering unpredictably.  The second half is a bit too slow for my taste at times but overall it’s very impressive. 1/21/15

The Waking That Kills by Stephen Gregory, Solaris, 2013, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-78108-152-5 

Christopher Beal accepts a job as tutor/companion to a young boy whose obsession with his father – missing in action and assumed to be dead – has endangered his sanity. In fact it seems to affect his mother as well, and Beal notices odd phenomena around the house that hint at but do not quite qualify as supernatural events. The boy is also fascinated with birds, perhaps because his father was a pilot. The story is very claustrophobic and I think it suffers a bit because the mother and son are so odd that they never really seem like actual people. Even Beal seems oddly unresponsive to things that happen around him. There is unquestionably a steady buildup of tension, however, and although I pretty much guessed how it was going to end, it was still a powerful scene when it happened. 1/8/15

The Wolves of London by Mark Morris, Titan, 2014, $14.95, ISBN 978-1781168660 925 

The first volume of the Obsidian Heart trilogy opens with the protagonist, Alex Locke, participating in an armed robbery in 1996. The story then jumps to the present and our hero is now an ex-convict turned psychologist, with a grown daughter by another man’s wife and a much younger one who lives with him. The grown daughter’s boyfriend gets into trouble with a drug dealer and Alex is compelled to look up an underworld friend to put pressure on the thug. He is offered enough money to buy off the problem, but it involves stealing an artifact from an elderly man and he demurs. Then his younger daughter disappears, apparently abducted by the family across the hall from his apartment. Actually, she is in the hands of a secretive group who wants the artifact, which seems impossible given that the abduction was planned before Alex knew anything about it. In any case, he steals the artifact, accidentally killing its owner in the process, but when he reaches the contact point, he finds two dead men who have literally been torn apart. Then things start to get really strange but I can’t reveal much more of the plot without spoiling things. It is, however, not a complete story so you’ll have to wait for the two further volumes to discover how things work out. 1/7/15

The Ninth Nightmare by Graham Masterton, Severn House, 2011  

Fifth in the Night Warriors series. Guests in a Cleveland hotel begin to have visions of other rooms and various murdered women. Among those experiencing odd hallucinations are a pair of twins who venture into a dream world in search of their mother’s ghost and find a creepy freak show camped in a field.  They get recruited into a team of superheroes who invade the dream world to search for the two beings responsible before they bring their nightmare into the real world and bring the world effectively to an end. As one of the characters mentions, this feels a lot like an X-Men comic book with each person, good and bad, having separate super powers. There is some powerful imagery here and there but I have never cared for this series and the latest installment doesn’t really change my mind. 1/2/15

Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Thomas Dunne, 2009 799 

One day all of the electrical devices in Stockholm refuse to be turned off for several minutes, while humans and animals alike all experience intense headaches and a sense of imminent change. Then it ends and the dead begin to return to life, or at least those who have died within the past two months. They are not violent but have no pulse and seem to have only rudimentary intelligence and memories. Most of them seek to return to their former homes, which is obviously unsettling for their families and friends. We see this through the eyes of several people, most of whom have had recent bereavements, including an elderly woman and her granddaughter, both of whom have a vague form of second sight.  People working with large numbers of the reliving begin to have telepathic contact with each other. Fortunately, people who die after the event remain dead. There’s a little bit of melodrama toward the end but it’s actually rather low key and more metaphysical than physical. Not as good as the first book I read by this author but still impressive. 1/1/15

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