to Horror Reviews

of Horror Reviews

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

Last Update 2/25/17

The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello, 47North, 2016, $14.95, ISBN 978-1503951198 

A park ranger finds a trunk containing a diary written by Robert Louis Stevenson. The novel alternates between the present and the diary entries. In the past Stevenson resorted to an unorthodox treatment of his tuberculosis which included injections of a substance composed of wolfís blood. In the present, the ranger is troubled by the presence of two thugs whom he suspects may have some connection to the drug trade conducted by a local biker gang. Both plots thicken and although it takes place off stage, we  are able to figure out that the serum Stevenson is taking transformed people into their evil inner selves Ė inspiring Jekyll & Hyde Ė and is also responsible for the Jack the Ripper murders. Not quite as good as most of the authorís previous work, but with a few powerful scenes. 2/25/17

The Wizard of Bernerís Abbey by Mark Hansom, Dancing Tuatara, 2014 

A mysterious and reclusive man who can use his willpower to dominate others dies. But he has vowed to live on, and it is soon evident that his spirit lingers and is capable of possessing and influencing the living. This was not as bad as the other Hansom novels I have read, but that is faint praise. When he wants a character to know something, they figure it out by staring into anotherís eyes or having flashes of inexplicable insight. I very much doubt that the author knew where the story was going when he started writing it and he certainly didnít bother to outline the plot. Originally published in 1935. 2/17/17

The Beasts of Brahm by Mark Hansom, Midnight House, 2001

Although John Pelan praises this novel, it is tripe. The characters constantly have insightful revelations based on no evidence at all, the story occasionally contradicts itself, there is virtually no suspense, it is violently racist, and the prose is so bad that it is positive painful. A man is found murdered and mutilated and some kind of animal is believed to be responsible. The protagonist immediately suspects a foreigner living in the area, simply because heís a foreigner. He eventually figures out that the man can move the souls of animals into humans, at which point they commit horrible crimes. Itís full of factual errors as well. Predators do not always roar when they attack, for one thing, and hypnotism does not work the way he says it does. Really terrible. Originally published in 1937. 2/11/17

The Black Reaper by Bernard Capes, Equation, 1989 

Capes was primarily an author of mysteries and romances, but some of his short fiction involved the supernatural. Hugh Lamb edited this selection of his work. The prose tends to be long winded and wanders from the point at times, but I was also struck with the lack of imagination in many of these stories Ė which involve death personified, a werewolf, a few ghosts, the Wandering Jew, and other standards. I found this rather a chore to finish. 2/10/17

Those Who Went Remain There Still by Cherie Priest, Subterranean, 2008 

This is a novella set in rural Kentucky. Daniel Boone and his friends were troubled by a flying monster which they managed to disable and isolate in a cave. Generations later, a rural town is upset when an old man dies and leaves a testament saying that his will is concealed in that cave, and that various residents - and some no longer resident - should go there to find out the truth. They find more than they bargained for. This feels more like a fairy tale than a horror story. There really isn't much suspense and the multiple viewpoints don't work well at this length. Mildly interesting, but it doesn't measure up to most of the author's other work.

The Collected Supernatural & Weird Fiction of W. C. Morrow, Leonaur, 2012

Morrow was neither particularly prolific or highly skilled as a writer, but his work was praised by Ambrose Bierce and a few of his short stories are quite entertaining. Despite the title, however, not one of these stories involves the supernatural and only a very few could arguably be called weird. The best involves a mutilated man who gets revenge on his enemy. The best known is ďThe Monster-Maker,Ē which is a sort of Frankenstein story but with a very weak ending. The best story however is "His Unconquerable Enemy" in which a man with no arms or legs escape a prison and kills his enemy, all unassisted. 2/6/17

Promenade of the Gods by Koji Suzuki, Vertical, 2008 

Although there are supernatural elements in this novel, it is really a mystery in which a woman and a friend investigate the disappearance of her husband. It appears that he has been secretly a member of a religious cult. So has a prominent television personality, who has also disappeared. Both reappear briefly, but are promptly abducted. This is more successful as a mystery than as a horror novel, although the success of the investigaters is largely due to circumstances beyond their control. 2/3/17

The Dreaming God edited by Akamatsu Ken, Kurodahan, 2006   

This was the fourth and last volume of a collection of Japanese fiction based on the Cthulhu Mythos. The opening story is mildly funny and plays around with the basic premises of the Mythos. The closing entry is actually my favorite in the entire sequence of collections and the one closest in concept and structure to Lovecraftís own work. Overall, I found this series rather disappointing, partly because at least half the stories were just not well written, partly because so few of them were seriously Lovecraftian. 2/3/17

The Supernatural & Weird Fiction of E.G. Swain & Ralph Adams Cram, Leonaur, 2011

This is an omnibus edition of The Stoneground Ghost Tales by Swain and Black Spirits and White by Cram, both of which collect all of the respective authorís supernatural fiction. The Swain stories are all more or less gentle ghost stories. Some of the ghosts are unfriendly but in only one case is anyone actually harmed. They are minor, but hold up well. Cramís are more over, and most of them also involve ghosts, but the living characters often die or are at least terrified by their experiences. The best is ďThe Dead Valley.Ē  2/1/17

The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn, Gallery, 2017, $16, ISBN 978-1-4767-8375-8

A young boy goes missing and after several days of searching, the local people believe that they are unlikely to ever find him, or at least not alive. He isn't the first to disappear, and a number of animals have also vanished into thin air. A friend of the missing boy decides to find out the truth, but he discovers more than he bargained for when he explores the woods on his own. I don't want to reveal too much here, but there are definitely supernatural events involved, though we don't necessarily get a full explanation. The ending is deliberately somewhat ambiguous and I thought it could have been stronger despite the very melodramatic climax, but otherwise it is suspenseful and fast moving. 1/31/17

Dark Water by Koji Suzuki, Vertical, 2005 

This is a collection of eight short stories by the author of the Ring novels, not all of which are horror. The best in the collection, however, are the supernatural ones, specifically one about a phantom ship, which has a clever ending, and another about the ghost of a little girl who haunts an apartment building. None of them are particularly new or unusual, but they are well constructed and suspenseful, and thatís all I ask from a horror short. 1/30/17

Straight to Darkness edited by Akamatsu Ken, Kurodahan, 2006 

Volume three of a collection of Japanese stories set within Lovecraftís Mythos.  This time the mix is very uneven, with a bad stream of consciousness story and a rather funny one about a woman that returns from the dead. The stories tend to be more traditional horror, and they vary from ones genuinely Lovecraftian to more stories that simply adopted some trapping of the Mythos in order to qualify for inclusion.  The title story is the best in the collection. Humans transform to survive in a monstrous apocalypse. 1/28/17

Alan Wake by Rick Burroughs, Tor, 2010

Novelization of a computer game I had never even heard of. Alan Wake is a novelist whose wife disappears when they go on vacation in a rural area. Many of the local people have been taken over by a mysterious dark force and Wake has to survive their attacks in many cases by finding a light source to defeat them. The writing is fine but the story tends to be repetitive and there is never really an adequate explanation of what is going on. 1/26/17

Dreadful Skin by Cherie Priest, Subterranean, 2007

This is essentially a werewolf story involving Spring Heeled Jack, who comes to America and takes passage on a riverboat. There are only a few people aboard but they include a nun who is aware of the manís nature and determined to stop him. Before the story is over, they are all dead and the boat destroyed. This might have been very suspenseful Ė and I love steamboat stories Ė but Priest chose to tell the tale from so many viewpoints that the mood is constantly being interrupted and at times it feels like interlaced stories rather than a single narrative. Still worth reading but not one of her major works. 1/22/17

Inverted Kingdom edited by Akamatsu Ken, Kurodahan, 2005

The second of four volumes of Japanese horror fiction supposedly based on the Cthulhu Mythos. The stories this time are considerably better and several of them are genuinely Lovecraftian, particularly the title story. There are two novelettes, but the shorter pieces are generally more interesting. ďTerror RateĒ is a pretty good haunted house story but it falters when the Lovecraftian references are brought in. After two volumes of this, I have begun to wonder if the Chthulhu Mythos just does not translate well into the Japanese culture. 1/21/17

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell by Paul Kane, Solaris, 2016, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-78108-455-7   

Sherlock Holmes in the world of Clive Barkerís Hellraiser stories. It opens with a man disappearing from a locked room, but since weíve had a preview of Holmes himself with a puzzle box, we readers have a good idea of where he has gone. Unfortunately, this doesnít feel at all like Holmes and Watson. They eventually manage to visit Hell where Holmes has to battle the dead Moriarty and Watson is briefly reunited with his late wife. Itís not a bad story, but it really doesnít add anything to either of its source series and I found the ending inferior to the build up. 1/19/17

Birthday by Koji Suzuki, Vertical, 207   

This is a collection of three novelettes that are associated with the Ring trilogy.  The first is, I suspect, a chapter left out of the first book because it simply illuminates one of the events that occurred off stage and it has no real plot. The second is a prequel that describes the ghost girlís unhappy adolescence and her brief period as member of an acting troupe. The third is an alternate ending to the third book, in which the protagonistís love interest pursues her own independent investigation of a contagious form of cancer and reaches pretty much the same conclusions. Mildly interesting, but not very good as a standalone book. 1/18/17

Night Voices, Night Journeys edited by Akamatsu Ken, Kurodahan, 2005 

This is the first of four volumes of Cthulhu Mythos stories originally published in Japan. The editor opens the first book with a novella of his own, but itís a really bad story about gangsters in Prohibition Era Chicago and the Mythos elements are tacked on and really irrelevant to the plot. The rest of the stories vary in quality, but most of them are only Lovecraftian in a vague way. The creatures encountered donít feel like the ones in Lovecraft and sometimes the only reference is a mention of one of the fictional books or characters. A few of the stories are reasonably good but I didnít think any of them were particularly Lovecraftian. 1/15/17

Loop by Koji Suzuki, Vertical, 2006

Third in the Ring trilogy. A new viral form of cancer is sweeping the world. A young but brilliant researcher discovers that the only person to recover from it visited a place in New Mexico which is the site of a gravitational anomaly. He travels there and undergoes visions that recapitulate the two previous novels and which prove to him that the supernatural curse became a form of life that mutated into the virus.  This was actually rather boring and not remotely suspenseful. 1/13/17

Spiral by Koji Suzuki, Vertical, 2004 

The sequel to The Ring takes the story in a somewhat different direction. A medical examiner investigates the Ring deaths and concludes that it is a kind of virus. The videotape has evolved into a printed book, and the victims give birth to the reincarnated dead. The newly risen Sadako plans to supplant the current human race with revenants, and there appears to be nothing that can be done to stop her. I found the end somewhat disappointing, but the bulk of the book is a quietly suspenseful story that expands upon the original concept. 1/12/17

Hell's Shadows by Dean Klein, Createspace, 2012, $19.99, ISBN 978-1480279100

This is a haunted house story, but it mixes some of the usual tropes that are inevitable with this sort of plot and some new twists that are just enough to keep it interesting. The new occupants discover that they are not alone, and that their roommates are not among the living. There is an escalating series of menaces and strange events that culminate in what is actually a series of climaxes as the secrets of the house are revealed. There is an occasional lecturing tone that I found rather distracting when it occurred, but for the most part the narrative unfolds smoothly and entertainingly. One of the better self published efforts I have encountered. 1/10/17

The Ring by Koji Suzuki, Vertical, 1991

First in the series and inspiration for several movies. The story involves a videotape which kills anyone who watches it exactly one week later, unless they copy it and show it to someone else beforehand. This premise is somewhat undercut in the sequels. The tape originates through the mental projects of a psychic woman who was murdered by her own father. The story is more a mystery Ė uncovering the secret of her death Ė than horror and while it is interesting in its own right, it has a very different atmosphere than do any of the film versions. 1/9/17

The Night Parade by Ronald Malfi, Kensington, 2016, 15, ISBN 978-1-4967-0386-6 

A strange new disease has changed the world, and may have doomed humanity. It causes hallucinations and interferes with logical thought processes. There may be a cure, however, hidden in the body of a nine year old girl. But her father doesnít want her to be sacrificed even for the greater good and the chase is on. Although the story is exciting enough, I didnít think this was as gripping as was most of the authorís previous work, which is generally much more atmospheric and suspenseful. And Iíve read this basic story a few times before so it was hard to get enthused about it. 1/8/17

Master of Souls by Mark Hansom, Dancing Tuatara, 2010, $20, ISBN 978-1605435121 

This obscure horror novel is essentially Dracula without a vampire, although it does have a ghost. The hero encounters a mysterious man and a wraithlike woman when his ship sinks and he makes his way aboard their vessel. They become obsessed with his fiancť and the woman, an Egyptian spirit, seeks to possess her body. Our hero understandably objects to the procedure. Strife ensues at the end of which the villain is dispatched, the ghost sent back to the land of the dead, and the protagonist gets the girl. Not bad, but the imitation is very obvious. 1/5/17

One-Eyed Jack by Lawrence Watt-Evans, Misenchanted, 2011 

The protagonist of this novel has clairvoyant dreams along with the ability to see supernatural creatures invisible to most of the rest of us. His latest involves a boy who is literally being eaten bit by bit thanks to a creature that pretends to be a ghost of a woman who killed her children, but which is actually something else entirely. The plot is straightforward and well conceived, but I found the pace too slow and some of dialogue protracted and unnecessary. Still a good story, but not as efficiently told as the authorís other novels. 1/4/17

Little Heaven by Nick Cutter, Grand Central, 2017, $26, ISBN 978-1-5011-0421-3 

Three mercenaries are hired to discover whether or not a young man has voluntarily or involuntarily joined a cult in a remote part of Mexico. What seems to be a fairly routine job begins to take on ominous overtones, however. There is a presence in the area which is connected to an unusual stone monolith and which is hungry for victims, which does not have to abide by the physical limits of its prey, and which could be deadly to everyone in the area. I canít reveal much more of the plot without giving away too much, but the story is creepy, suspenseful, and the end is not at all what I had expected. 1/1/17

MORE REVIEWS