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of Horror Reviews

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

Last Update 5/20/18

Child of the Hunt by Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder, Pocket, 1998

Buffy and the gang have mixed feelings about a Renaissance Faire that has come to Sunnydale. They are also concerned about reports of people killed by some kind of small animal that hunts in packs. Then the Wild Hunt of the Erl King arrives and even Buffy is terrified. The story is okay but some of the characterizations – particularly Buffy and Giles – do not feel loyal to the show. The Erl King is too powerful and so are the bad warlocks, and the ending is a bit of a deus ex machina. 5/20/18

Loot of the Vampire by Thorp McClusky, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1936) 

This is a very routine and not very suspenseful vampire story. A jeweler is killed mysteriously, his body drained of blood, but his body disappears from the morgue and is soon walking around and talking. There is a mysterious count, some missing gemstones, and a beautiful young woman, but there is not much of any plot and the characters are all flat and uninteresting. Originally appeared in Weird Tales.5/16/18

Deep Water by Laura Anne Gilman and Josepha Sherman, Pocket, 2000  

A Buffy the Vampire Slayer novel. Willow finds a selkie on the shoreline and brings her to Giles. An oil spill has caused a pack of merrows – essentially nasty male mermaids – to start hunting prey on land. They are a match for the vampires and the two species begin fighting with each other. Willow finds a magic spell that cures the selkie, who is stuck in human form. The Scooby gang survives repeated attacks by both merrows and vampires before the former are driven back into the ocean. Captures the tone of the show pretty well. 5/10/18

Lost Girl of the Lake by Joe McKinney and Michael McCarty, Grinning Skull, 2018, $11.95, ISBN 978-0-9986912-9-9

This  novella is a reprint of the 2012  Dark Moon edition. The story takes place during the 1960s in Texas. The protagonist meets a girl whom he finds attractive despite her air of unreality. The reader will know right away that something is off.  The plot is quite atmospheric and does a good job of recreating a place and time lost in the past. The story itself is eerie rather than horrifying. I read it when it first appeared and some of its weirdness remained in my memory even over the course of years and before I opened this new edition. 4/20/18

Come to Dust by Bracken Macleod, Trepidatio, 2017   

All over the world, a few children return from the dead. Their hearts beat and they act relatively normally, but they are pale and begin to decompose and many people hate and fear them and consider them to have lost their souls. The protagonist is a rather ineffective man who has been raising his sister’s daughter, Sophie. Sophie is killed by a babysitter but is reanimated at the funeral home. He brings her home, but he is without a job and is about to be evicted. The police are sympathetic but are determined to find out just how Sophie died so that they can prosecute the babysitter.  More complications follow. This is a highly atmospheric and rather depressing novel with no real overt horror but a constant sense of creepiness and impending disaster. 4/15/18

Canoe Cops vs the Mummy by Stephen D. Sullivan, Walkabout, 2016  v

This is more spoof than horror. Two characters who appear recurringly in a series of amusing films are transposed to prose to confront a mummy. It’s an obvious joke so the prose is not particularly polished and the plot relies on farce as much as situation. It’s also written in present tense, which absolutely does not work in suspense, even comic suspense. 4/14/18

Walking Alone by Bentley Little, CD, 2018, $25, ISBN 978-1-58767-617-8

A collection of more than two dozen short stories by the author of some of the oddest horror novels in recent years. I sometimes have a problem with this author's novels because they are so divorced from reality that I cannot really insert myself into the situation. The short stories rarely have that problem. They also vary a great deal in setting and theme. There is an old time western setting in one, a contemporary social gathering in another. One involves a development project and another takes place at a rodeo.  The dangers include possession by an unknown creature, a notebook that can change reality, and other things that appear to be mundane but which have dark secrets. The creepiest for me was "Snow" but I liked at least three quarters of the stories and the rest were at least tolerable. Good value for the money with this collection. 4/11/18

Creep, Shadow, Creep by A. Merritt, Avon, 1934 

Sequel to Burn, Witch, Burn. Lowell is involved with a father and daughter combination who can summon a powerful supernatural presence, although he is not the central character. There is lots of reincarnation, dark spells, elaborate rituals, and such, but the story is marredby overly lengthy conversations that move at a snail’s pace, rampant coincidences, and a complete lack of any real suspense or tension. This was the last novel that Merritt completed before his death. 3/24/18

Burn, Witch, Burn by A. Merritt, Avon, 1932   

A mobster is upset when one of his friends falls into a weird coma and takes him to the clinic run by Dr. Lowell, where he eventually dies. Lowell finds a number of similar cases that do not seem connected at first, but eventually he and the mobster are able to connect all of the victims to a new doll shop whose owner is sinister and mysterious. Not surprisingly, she turns out to be a witch who can animate her dolls from a distance and use them to commit murders, although her motive is never explained. They battle her with bullets and hypnotism but ultimately it is her own creations that bring about her downfall. Filmed in 1936 as The Devil-Doll. Much better than I remembered it. 3/19/18

The Devil and the Deep edited by Ellen Datlow, Night Shade, 2018, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-946-2  

Given the editor, this was obviously going to be a good collection, although it’s not quite what I expected from the title. The sea is only peripherally involved in some of the stories – one in fact takes place in the desert. The stories are quite varied, from creepy to suspenseful to vaguely disturbing. They deal with a man marooned on a tiny island, a cruise for single seniors that does not go as planned for the protagonist, and life aboard a whaling ship. There really aren’t any  monsters to speak of, unless you count some of the human characters. No sightings of phantom ships or other clichés. There was only one story that didn’t work for me and the rest vary from good to very good. Contributors include Christopher Golden, Simon Bestwick, Seanan McGuire, Michael Marshall Smith, Alyssa Wong, and others. 3/16/18

The Collected Sonnets of William Shakespeare, Zombie by Chase Pielak, McFarland, 2018, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-4766-7115-4

This is not the kind of book I associate with this publisher. It's a collection of Shakespeare's sonnets, modified to give them a zombie theme. They are actually quite cleverly done with couplets like "Lord of my guts, to whom finest offal Your merit has most deservedly fit" and "If this be error and upon me proved, I never zombified and never loved." There are introductions and other added material. They do tend to feel more than a little repetitive after a while but some of them are very cleverly done. I hope, however, this does not herald a new wave of this kind of mashup. 3/2/18

Katastrophe by Randall Boyll, Avon, 2001 

Although this longish novel involves reincarnation, it is only horror by courtesy. A college professor submits to hypnosis during which he identifies himself as the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. A sensationalist reporter happens to be present and turns it into an international news story as cultists, neo-Nazis, journalists, and a host of other interested parties all want to talk to our hero. It ruins his family’s life and causes something of a global furor. There is a lot of satire mixed with the suspense. The plot could have used considerable trimming. Several of the subplots really contribute little to the story. 2/17/18

Child of Shadows by John Coyne, Warner, 1990 

Coyne’s last horror novel has some minor problems, but for the most part is quite good. A woman with a troubled childhood takes a feral child found in the New York subways and illegally moves to rural North Carolina. There is a local cult that believes a bald headed boy – the feral child – is a sign that the day of judgment is at hand. A string of deaths occurs, some of them clearly performed by the town’s madwoman, but others seem to implicate the boy, who paints superb pictures of the crime scenes he supposedly has not seen. There are some minor problems – not the least of which is the virtual abduction of the child by the protagonist, but the story moves reasonably well and it is easy to overlook these minor flaws. 2/15/18

Fury by John Coyne, Warner, 1989  

Unfortunately this is a pretty bad book by an otherwise good writer. It mixes ghosts, aliens, and reincarnation, embellishes them with a lot of nonsense, advances the plot by a steady string of coincidences, and features characters whose actions occasionally make no sense. A female lawyer somehow wakens an earlier version of herself and is now possessed of superhuman strength and speed. She is twice attacked over the course of the next few nights and kills three people with her bare hands. There are multiple murders and assaults, but no one ever calls the police and no one is charged. The protagonist turns out to have been the very first human being, whatever that might mean, and her hereditary enemy was the first murderer. Pretty dreadful from beginning to end. 2/13/18

The Hunting Season by John Coyne, Warner, 1987 

An anthropologist, her husband the lawyer, and their two children take up summer residence in a remote part of the Catskills where she plans to study a local community so inbred that there are major physical deformities. But there is something hidden in the community that resists being examined too closely and the husband has a dark secret of his own which will eventually lead to violence and death. This was my least favorite book by this author. Despite some good scenes early on, the climax is unsatisfying and not entirely logical, and sometimes the characters seem to act contrary to their personalities. 2/10/18

The Shroud by John Coyne, Berkley, 1983 

Coyne once again chooses a protagonist who is a priest who is beginning to lose faith in his vocation. There is also some pretty clear criticism of the hypocrisy of the Catholic church hierarchy. Father Ignatius was a foundling and he has been having visions in which an African witch woman tells him that he needs to kill his brother. The parish where he works - which is about to be abandoned for financial reasons - has a lot of homeless people, many of whom have recently disappeared. Both he and a social worker have had glimpses of an apparent homeless man who looks like the priest's twin, and he has also seen the figure inside the rectory, wrapped in a shroud, though the figure always disappears when spotted. He is also concerned about his supervising priest, who is obsessed with the basement which he keeps locked. Somewhat slow moving, but the creepiness grows steadily toward the climax. 2/7/18

For a Glimpse Beyond the Terminus by Jordan R. Anderson, Self Published, 2017, $9.99, ISBN 978-0998354132

A collection of unrelated stories, mostly skewed toward horror. The stories generally involve an individual who has some sort of severe psychological or physical crisis which triggers changes to his or her personality. They are very strong on atmosphere and psychology and avoid overt action, gore, and other characteristics of the genre. There were a few places where the prose goes into more detail than is necessary and this can disrupt the packing, but for the most part they are well told and interesting in their own right. 2/6/18

Widow's Point by Richard Chizmar and Billy Chizmar, CD, 2018, $25, ISBN 978-1-58767-647-5

This is a somewhat old fashioned novella about a haunted lighthouse. So many unexplained deaths occurred there that the building was abandoned and surrounded by a security fence for years. A man who makes a living "investigating" psychic phenomena decides to spend a night there, and the results are not entirely unexpected. The first half of the story, which deals with the history of the lighthouse, is very well done and more than adequately builds the suspense. The second half was not as successful, with an inevitable murky ending. The suspense is diminished, I thought, by having so much of the text being a transcript of the protagonist's recordings, which are mostly short sound bites that could have used a little more substantial formulation to keep the tension high. 1/27/18

Strange Weather by Joe Hill, Morrow, 2017, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-06-266311-5

I was tempted to put this in science fiction because three of the four stories have rationalizations of a sort. One involves a man who finds himself on a solidified cloud that is apparently some sort of vehicle for an alien life form whose maintenance system is desperate for company. Another involves a chemical alteration to the atmosphere which causes rain to fall in the form of sharp, heavy crystals which are lethal to people who are not undercover. A third is about a camera that steals memories when it is used, but even this has a quasi-rational explanation. The fourth, and weakest, is about a gun nut who is inexorably nudged toward committing a series of murders. The other three stories are excellent and the last is quite readable. These are all novellas, a form which is underutilized in every genre. 1/23/18

Hobgoblin by John Coyne, Berkley, 1981

An introverted teenager addicted to a D&D type adventure game called Hobgoblin runs into trouble with the bullies at his new school. His mother, who is writing a history of a local estate that comes complete with an Irish castle, turns up evidence of a strange series of deaths of young women. The elderly caretaker suggests to her son that hobgoblins are real and he - and others - begin to catch glimpses of creatures that should only have existed within the game. The basic plot in this one is pretty good but the pacing is very slow, particularly in the first half.  1/15/18

The Searing by John Coyne, Berkley, 1980 

A new housing development has some unusual associated phenomena. For one thing, children begin dying mysteriously. For another, all of the adult women are being hit with involuntary orgasms as though someone was projecting a force in the area. Is it the CIA man who is working on a secret electronic project in his basement or is it the autistic girl who seems to be present when all of these things are happening? This was more interesting that the author's first two horror novels, but the motivations and reactions of the characters are often unconvincing. Though terrified, no one actually gets up and leaves. The police seem oddly uninterested in the situation. Doctors notice brain damage in the victims but are not inclined to look into the matter. 1/13/18

The Piercing by John Coyne, Berkley, 1979 

A young girl from rural Appalachia begins displaying stigmata and has visions of the Crucifixion even though she is a Baptist. Two very flawed Catholic priests take an interest in her for different reasons while battling their own internal demons. A mysterious neighbor lurks about and the reader is aware that he was the real cause of the girl’s transformation, and it is entirely possible that he is Satan or one of his minions. The two priests react very differently and not always entirely believably. Deaths follow before it is revealed – though it is no secret – that the devil has set up the whole sequence of events in a plan to capture one priest’s soul.  Entertaining, but a bit talky. 1/11/18

Cry Your Way Home by Damien Angelica Walters, Apex, 2018, $14.95, ISBN 978-1937009618

This is a collection of short stories but not specifically horror. There are also stories of SF and fantasy, although the tone is often brooding in those as well. My first impression after reading them was contradictory. On the one hand, the majority of them seemed to me emotionally and often thematically similar, but then I realized that the plots themselves - which involve everything from outer space to Lovecraftian horror and other monsters. I didn't even mind that many of them were in present tense narration - which works much better in short stories than in novels - although the second person narration was too artificial for me. Most of these first appeared in relatively obscure venues so they should be new to most readers. These are more stories of psychology and reflection than action and adventure, but they are often quite tense.1/6/18

Apart in the Dark by Ania Ahlborn, Gallery, 2018, $16, ISBN 978-1-5011-8753-7

This book consists of two unrelated novellas which apparently were previously published as ebooks only. I slight preferred "I Call Upon Thee" which is a rather traditional but quite atmospheric story of a young woman who believed a dark presence hovered over her when she was younger. Now an adult, she decides to return to her home and confront her childhood fears, only to discover that they are not in fact unfounded. The accompanying story, "The Pretty Ones," is set during the reign of terror of the Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, who killed or injured more than a dozen people. The protagonist is a young woman who has trouble making friends, and who may be making the wrong ones even when she does succeed. Both stories are very dependent on characterization, focus on alienation from others and the inter-relationships of families, and the second is somewhat depressing overall. The author makes use of a quieter form of horror, somewhat reminiscent of Charles L. Grant, but what might seem slow pacing will actually insidiously drag you into the story.  1/4/18