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

Last Update 3/31/16

Witch House by Evangeline Walton, Monarch, 1962 (originally published in 1945)

Occult investigator Gaylord Carew comes to Witch House, a mansion on a small island, in order to investigate phenomena revolving around a nine year old girl. Three cousins are enjoined to live in the house for ten years in order to inherit a large fortune, and they all dislike one another. The girl is afraid of the ghost/influence of the woman who left them the fortune and insists that she sees inhuman figures in the darkness. Things break or move around in her presence, although all but her mother insist that it is just clumsiness and not a poltergeist. This is a remarkably intelligent and thoughtful book. Although there is obviously a good deal of melodrama, it is treated almost intellectually, a duel between two opposing forces for influence over a young child.  Superbly written, this is a minor but definite horror classic. 3/31/16

Voodoo Tales by Henry S. Whitehead, Wordsworth, 2012

Whitehead was a fairly prolific short story writer, most of whose work has slid into obscurity. His best known story is probably “Jumbee”. He spent a good deal of time in the Virgin Islands and acquired some familiarity with voodoo, which shows up in many of the stories. He also has a recurring character named Canevin, transparently Whitehead himself, who is sort of a reluctant psychic detective.  A few of these are actually fantasy and one of them is peripherally part of the Cthulhu Mythos.  The Whitehead stories that are generally recognized as his best seem to me largely to be rather mediocre and it is some of his lesser known work that I found really enjoyable. This is a large collection – almost 700 pages – and I believe it contains his complete work. 3/30/16

The Assassination of Ambrose Bierce by Don Swaim, Hippocampus, 2016, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-154-1 u278 

The real Ambrose Bierce disappeared under mysterious circumstances during the Mexican Civil War. The author here provides a fictional account of his last days, starting with his initial trip to Mexico and his eventual meeting with Pancho Villa, the famous rebel/outlaw. The narrative from this point onward is interspersed with flashbacks and reminiscences of Bierce’s early experiences, particularly during our own Civil War. More adventures follow, and eventually a romantic interlude, but Bierce is also haunted by the specter of Death, which he characterizes as the “damned thing”, a reference to one of his most famous stories. The supernatural elements are more symbolic than actual, but the story is generally quite interesting and other than a couple of spots where I thought scenes were drawn out a bit too long, it held my interest throughout. 3/26/16

Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden, St Martins, 2015, $25.99, ISBN 978-1-250-05732-7

Several people have encounters with either their own doppelgangers or duplicates of people they know. Most of the doubles seem anxious to get away but one is actively aggressive. They eventually find a common link to an attempt to summon a demon several years earlier. Several people died in the attempt and now they are back from the dead, taking on the appearance of living people. These aren’t really ghosts but revenants, since they have a physical form and can be harmed by material forces. Golden cranks up the action steadily and keeps the reader guessing about just what is going on right up until the end, because there is something that even the revenants are afraid of. 3/25/16

Jinn by Matthew B.J. Delaney, St Martins, 2003 

I remembered this as being rather slow but it seemed much better paced a second time through. It’s a long horror novel in which four demonic creatures are reincarnated in the 20th Century after a series of incidents including a sunken World War II ship, serial killings, a violent clash in Bosnia, and others, all of which will eventually be drawn into the explanation. The story is suspenseful and well constructed although I think the author made a strategic mistake by making the demons a little bit too human toward the end. I was moved to look for other books by the author, only to discover that he has not published anything since this debut, although a new title is scheduled for later this year. 3/24/16

The Collected Supernatural & Weird Fiction of Mrs. J.H. Riddell Vol 3, Leonaur, 2012 

Two short novels make up much of this large collection. The Uninhabited House is a haunted house story and is probably the best of Riddell’s weird novels. The Disappearance of Jeremiah Redworth is also a ghost story, but so low key that it fells mundane. There are half a dozen shorter pieces as well, some of them among the author’s best work. The set of three volumes collects most of her known supernatural fiction although she was quite prolific and many other stories may lurk among the magazines of the Victorian era. 3/23/16

The Einstein Prophecy by Robert Masello, 47North, 2015, $14.95, ISBN 978-1477829400  

In the middle of World War II, a mysterious ossuary is captured by American forces before it can be delivered to Hitler himself. It is transported to Princeton where it is to be studied by Professor Athan, who was badly injured at the time it was recovered. Also at Princeton we find Simone Rashid and her father, who originally found the ossuary, which they believe is connected to Saint Anthony of Egypt and which may have a link to supernatural powers. And naturally Albert Einstein is present as well, although he does not seem to have any connection to the main story line until the second half of the book. Strange and unpleasant things occur in the vicinity of the artifact, which has never been opened and is secured by chains.  But then the chains are severed and something is set free. I have never yet been disappointed by this author who always delivers a suspenseful and engrossing story. 3/20/16

Bloodlust by Jody R. LaGreca & Michael McCarty, Whiskey Creek, 2016, $14.99, ISBN 978-1523612918

Sequel to Bloodless. Daniel Peck is a vampire with unusual psychic talents. Peck moves in unusual circles and even Marilyn Monroe is drawn into his bizarre hidden world. Peck’s latest endeavors include a rather unusual romantic triangle and another woman who hopes to use Peck for her own purposes. Nor has Peck escaped the determined interest of an FBI investigator who has personal reasons to want to put an end to his career. The story moves quite fast despite some rather reflective scenes and I didn’t think it was quite as good as the first in the series, though it has much the same feel and is decidedly non traditional. And it’s nice to have evil vampires. 3/19/16

Ghost Music by Graham Masterton, Severn House, 2008 

Although this is an interesting ghost story variation, it depends on the protagonist being unusually obtuse and impulsive. After moving into a new apartment building, he meets a woman who claims to be the wife of the man on the ground floor. Then he sees her in the park with a child even though she told him that her only child died. On their second meeting, they have sex, and on their third he agrees to take two weeks off and travel to Sweden to visit her friends with her, but tells him that they will have to fly on separate planes. He also visits the first floor apartment and sees no indication that the owner is married, and when he arrives in Sweden, he shrugs off what is very clearly an overt and undeniable supernatural encounter with two young girls. He eventually learns that his musical sensitivity makes it possible for him to see events that have occurred in the past – although his direct interactions with some of the apparitions seems to contradict this theory. It is, predictably, an attempt by murder victims to bring their killers to justice. This was okay, but too much of the solution is telegraphed. 3/18/16

The Collected Supernatural & Weird Fiction of Mrs. J.H. Riddell Vol II, Leonaur, 2012

The bulk of this book is a single novel, The Nun’s Curse, written very late in the author’s career. It is accompanied by two unrelated short stories. Terence Conway inherits the family estate, but lacks the financial means to maintain it. Due to the sins of an ancestor, there is a curse which prohibits any Conway who owns the property from prospering but he is unwilling to part with the family land even to end the curse.  His fortunes rise and fall and the curse finally takes its toll, although there is so little supernatural content that it is almost invisible. Two unrelated short stories are also quite minor. 3/13/16

The Spectral Bride by Joseph Shearing, Berkley, 1965 (originally published in 1942 as The Fetch)  

Joseph Shearing was one of the pennames of Gabrielle Margaret Long, who is best known today for her stories as Marjorie Bowen. This one didn’t appeal to me at all. It’s a convoluted and slow moving story that relies too much on coincidence and is much too talky. Two sisters become involved with a man who is obsessed with a crime committed by an ancestor, and who believes that the ghost of his victim has returned for vengeance. Nothing much happens until the final two pages. 3/11/16

Rapture of the Deep by Cody Goodfellow, Hippocampus, 2016, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-155-8

This is a collection of stories related to Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, though sometimes the relationship is fairly distant. They range from relatively subtle to splatterpunk. Some of the stories are quite good, a few are of slighter weight. There are a couple of occasions when Goodfellow seems to be attempting to use Lovecraft's literary style, but only in a few places so that it clashes with the rest of the narrative. This is particularly notable in "The Anatomy Lesson." Most, however, make use of Lovecraft's ideas and themes without any attempt at emulating his style. The title story was my favorite - a pair of remote viewers travel to the ocean floor and discover something they never expected to see.  There are a couple of weak stories, several strong ones, and the bulk are somewhere in between. 3/10/16

The Collected Supernatural & Weird Fiction of Mrs. J.H. Riddell Vol I, Leonaur, 2012

There are two short novels and a few stories in this opening volume of a three book set. The shorts are among her best stories and hold up quite well. The first of the novel, The Haunted House at Latchford, is a standard ghost story. Not much happens and it’s more a novel of manners with a puzzle than a horror tale.  The Haunted River is much better though still low key. A woman paints a man she sees from a distance, and is told that it is the likeness of a man long dead. He begins appearing in her dreams and elsewhere as things accelerate toward a righting of past wrongs. The quietly supernatural story has largely gone out of fashion in recent years and the leisurely style Riddell employs may make some readers impatient. 3/8/16

The Surly Sullen Bell by Russell Kirk, Paperback Library, 1964

Watchers at the Strait Gate by Russell Kirk, Arkham House, 1984

Ancestral Shadows by Russell Kirk, Eerdman’s, 2004

These three collections of stories have a lot of overlap so it makes sense to read them all at once. Kirk was a famous conservative commentator who also wrote three novels and about two dozen short stories, most of which are supernatural. His most famous - and generally his best - are "The Surly Sullen Bell," "Sorworth Place," and "Balgrummo's Hell." They tend to be a bit old fashioned and occasionally he lets his politics show a bit too belligerently. About half of them involves ghosts or revenants, and about half are in England rather than the US. I only found one difficult to finish. Thematically they often involve some sort of balance that needs to be restored, a debt paid or an old sin revenged. Not all of the endings are happy ones. 3/6/16

Black Magic by Marjorie Bowen, Sphere, 1974 (originally published in 1909) 

During the Middle Ages, a young student named Dirk becomes proficient in the use of black magic and lures a friend named Theirry into collaborating. Theirry later becomes enamored of the emperor’s ward and is repelled by the evil magic his friend performs, so Dirk sets about corrupting the ward, Jacobea, as a means of reacquiring his friend’s loyalty. Things accelerate quickly. Dirk engineers the assassination of the emperor, is discovered and forced to flee, but he changes names and in due course is chosen as the new Pope, Michael II. Theirry and the duplicitous empress are the only ones who know the truth, that he is the anti-Christ. Big battle at the end – off stage – and the evil Pope commits suicide rather than be captured. A bit slow at times but generally pretty good. 3/1/16

Good Girls by Glen Hirshberg, Tor, 2016, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3746-7

I recall enjoying an earlier novel by this author, Motherless Child, as well as several short stories, but he is not particularly prolific so I really came to this as though he was a new writer. This turned out to be a sequel to that novel, although it's a complete story in itself. One of the protagonists is a woman who had to destroy her own child after an encounter with a vampire and is now looking after another child who has vampire blood as well. And the vampire that she thwarted in their first encounter wants revenge for his defeat. The pursuit beings them all into the purview of a woman running a crisis center. There is some creepiness in this and a good deal of suspense, but at times it felt more mythic than horrifying. This isn't a traditional vampire story although the plot summary might make it sound that way. Hirshberg has a very distinct approach to the vampire tradition that avoids most of the clichés that one might otherwise expect. The year is young but this is the best new horror novel I've read so far. 2/16/16

Kecksies and Other Twilight Tales by Marjorie Bowen, Arkham, 1976

The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories by Marjorie Bowen, Wordsworth, 2007

There is considerable overlap between these two collections of short stories by Gabrielle Margaret Long under her most popular penname. About half are ghost stories, usually involving a ghost seeking revenge for murder or mistreatment. A couple are psychological with no fantastic content. Bowen tended to be a bit more gruesome and overt than her Victorian predecessors in the short form, though still very tame by contemporary standards. There are a lot of abusive husbands, which is surprising given that she apparently had no such encounters in her own life. The best are "Kecksies," "Crown Derby Plate," "Florence Flannery," and "The Avenging of Ann Leete," The author was best known for her historical fiction and several of these have historical settings. 2/15/16

Night Shivers by J.H. Riddell, Wordsworth, 2008 

This is a large collection of Riddell’s ghost stories. Riddell tended to use a formula – the ghosts cannot be dispersed until the mystery surrounding a death is brought to light. Her two most famous stories are “The Open Door” and “Nut Bush Farm.” Her style is mildly flowery and she has a tendency to drift off into philosophizing from time to time. Riddell married an inept businessman who lost his money and died a few years later, so she wrote more than fifty books to support herself. The majority were not supernatural, but she is best remembered for her haunted house stories. They tend to follow a pattern – the ghost can be laid when its body is found or its murder is solved. This collection includes a complete short novel, The Uninhabited House, which first appeared in 1875. It has the same plot as many of the short stories but with considerable padding. 2/6/16

The Devils of D-Day by Graham Masterton, Pinnacle, 1978 

An American cartographer in France hears stories about a haunted tank left over from World War II and foolishly decides to open it up even though it has been sealed by a consortium of religious and military authorities. There’s a demon inside and it soon has the protagonist and a French woman under its power, forcing them to help track down the other twelve of its kind who were summoned to fight the Germans. A few people get killed along the way. Although the set up isn’t entirely convincing – why would the authorities not monitor such a dangerous entity? – the story is otherwise suspenseful and fast moving. The ending is a rather large deus ex machina as well, but there are signs that the author wasn’t taking the story entirely seriously anyway. 2/1/16

The Beast with Five Fingers by William Fryer Harvey, Wordsworth, 2010 

This is an omnibus edition – more than forty short stories – of which the title story is the most famous, a creepy bit about a man pursued by an animate, severed hand.  Several of these are quite good, and not all are supernatural, although some of those that are not are quite creepy. “The Man Who Hated Aspidistras” is about a man who grows to resemble the plants he despises. Some like “The Tool” and “The Clock” are very understated and more unsettling than frightening. Some are more psychological than physical. “August Heat” and “Miss Avenal” are also excellent stories. There are a few in which it seems likely the author could not think of an adequate conclusion, because they come to an incomplete or unsatisfying ending. The last dozen stories are all mysteries which were published as a separate volume now long out of print. 1/26/16

Snowman by Graham Masterton, Severn House, 1999 

This is a Jim Rook novel, so it is flawed by Masterton’s unfamiliarity with how the US educational system works. His “college” is actually a high school. This one is worse than most because it features a department head who is so over the top awful that he is completely unbelievable. Shortly after a new student arrives from Alaska, another student loses both arms when a handrail freezes solid and other sudden freezing patches appear in the middle of summer. Rook suspects and subsequently proves that the boy’s father made a deal with a demonic creature and these are the unintended consequences. This was one of Masterton’s least interesting novels – the Jim Rook series is consistently subpar – with a few good moments but none really memorable. 1/18/16

In Ghostly Company by Amyas Northcote, Wordsworth, 2010 (originally published in 1921)  u163 

This collection of mostly ghost stories is the only book the author wrote – he died shortly after it was published. The majority of the contents are light tales of the supernatural, competently written, and at least one “Brickett Bottom,” is quite effective. A couple of others are little more than plotless vignettes like “In the Woods”, in which a lonely woman takes comfort by walking in a forest. Some of the ghosts are benevolent, but most are essentially neutral. The stories are all quite short. 1/16/16

The Shadow on the Blind & Other Stories by Louisa Baldwin, Wordsworth, 2007 

This actually consists of two collections of Victorian ghost and horror stories. The second is The Trainer’s Ghost & Other Stories by Lettice Galbraith. Most but not all of the stories involve ghosts. I would say that Baldwin is marginally the better writer but that Galbraith has a slight edge on creating an interesting plot. Some of the stories are slight, but none are bad, and a few of them are quite good, notably “The Shadow on the Blind” by Baldwin and “The Blue Room” by Galbraith. The language dates well except that Baldwin occasionally engages in some very heavy dialect that is a bit difficult to follow. Overall, this was quite a pleasant surprise and I believe it includes the complete fantastic fiction of both authors. 1/13/16

The Monk by William H. Hallahan, Avon, 1983  

Hallahan’s third, final, and least interesting horror novel opens with a recap of the war in Heaven and fall of Lucifer. Now he and Timothy are forced to search the Earth throughout the ages to find children with purple auras. Lucifer wants to kill them and Timothy wants to complete his penance for revolting against God. The first one to survive infancy is a young man with second sight who has various low key adventures before forgiving Timothy and isolating Hell from all the rest of creation. Slow first half, dull second half, and the various angels and demons are so fallible that they are not at all menacing. 1/12/16

The Whistling Ancestors by Richard E. Goddard, Dancing Tuatara, 2009 (originally published in 1936)

This is a very strange though not very good novel about the battle between a megalomaniac who wants to rule the world, sort of, and a sidewalk artist with no particular ambitions.  He uses voodoo, among other things, to advance his program, not to mention vivisection designed to create living effigies of Roman and Greek myths. Yes, this is pretty bad right from the outset. He also plans to exterminate the entire white race. This is an incredibly random hodge podge of plots and subplots and is often almost incoherent. It is only of interest as a curiosity, and I frankly struggled with it more than once. 1/10/16

Keeper of the Children by William H. Hallahan, Avon, 1978 

A Tibetan monk who can project himself out of his body is holding a group of minor children as his followers. Parents who try to interfere get killed when he uses his spirit to animate scarecrows and other objects to kill them. The opening chapters of this are pretty good, but the absence of the police, child services, or any other government agent starts to cut away the verisimilitude, and when the hero learns how to astrally project himself and defeat the villain with a few days training I just groaned. 1/9/16

The Search for Joseph Tully by William H. Hallahan, Avon 1974   

I read this when it first came out and enjoyed it a lot.  The chief protagonist is wakened one night by a loud swishing sound from inside his apartment, but he can’t find any source for the sound. Another man has come from England to search for descendants of Joseph Tully, for reasons we don’t know until quite late in the book. Written in a brisk, bare bones style, the story moves very quickly thanks to its alternating viewpoints and sustained sense of the mysterious. It was a very promising start to a very short career in horror. 1/6/16

Aylmer Vance: Ghost-Seer by Alice & Claude Askew, Wordsworth, 2006 

The Askews were a prolific husband and wife writing team who died when their ship was torpedoed during World War I. This is a collection of their supernatural tales of Aylmer Vance, previously collected by Ash-Tree in 1998. Vance is a psychic investigator, although he really doesn’t do much investigating. His version of Watson is a lawyer named Dexter who is clairvoyant, although there is only one story in which that ability figures significantly. The stories themselves are pleasant but minor. Most of the time Vance figures out what is behind the poltergeist or haunting, but then can’t do anything about it except recommend that the building concerned be torn down and replaced. A couple of the stories would make decent television anthology episodes but none of them are remotely classics. 1/3/16

The Sphinx by Graham Masterton, Pinnacle, 1978 

Politician Gene Keiffer meets a very sexy but mysterious woman, daughter of a recently deceased French diplomat, and becomes fascinated with her when she rebuffs him. He eventually penetrates her defenses and – with the connivance of her mother – convinces her to marry him. But she insists that she is one of the last of a separate strain of humanity, created when a woman mated with a lion, and she has six breasts to prove it. She also has spells when she is superhumanly strong and prowls naked in the night. No good can come of this. Although I thought this early Masterton novel had a less interesting story than its predecessors, it is much more smoothly written, a property found in pretty much all of his later work. 1/2/16

The Crimson Blind & Other Stories by H.D. Everett, Wordsworth, 2006   

Henrietta Everett was a Victorian novelist – although I can only find mention of one novel – who also wrote a number of short stories of the supernatural. This collection – which appears to be an uncredited reprint of The Death Mask and Other Ghosts – apparently contains all of these stories, which are almost modern and tone and generally free of the excesses of most Victorian writers. The ghosts are often cautionary rather than menacing – a handkerchief that takes the shape of a dead woman, a clergyman who can only be seen by the man who seeks to take over his duties – but they do generally convey a sense of creepiness.  This was a very pleasant surprise – I liked every single story to some degree and some are excellent examples of the classic English ghost story. 1/1/16

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