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

Last Update 5/12/21

Ghost Light by Clare McNally, 1983  

A ghostly child novel, perhaps my least favorite horror trope. This one is a child actress who dies in a theater fire due to the negligence of her mother. Years later a new theater is built and the child pops up to kill a few people and startle others. No one seems particularly concerned that an unaccompanied child is running around backstage and the theater atmosphere feels fake. Not surprisingly, this theater eventually catches fire as well. Trite and boring. 5/12/21

Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare, Harper Teen, 2020

I lost interest in this YA thriller very early when the author presents a scene at a local school that was just too much too accept. A teacher explodes after a trivial provocation, confiscates private property, punishes students who don't even know what's going on, and forbids them from attending a local event - which is quite impossible. The teacher would have been suspended in any public school system. Most of the local adults blame the poor local economy on a boy who burned down a rotting factory building that had been closed for years.  So a group of adults don clown costumes and the murders begin. Sorry, but you have to make your fictional world feel like a real place if you expect readers to care about the fate of the characters. 5/8/21

Ghost House Revenge by Clare McNally, Bantam, 1982 

A very inferior haunted house novel gets an even less interesting sequel. Although the same family is involved, they seem to have forgotten much that happened in the first book, so they are skeptical of putting a supernatural explanation to a string of mysterious deaths, visions, dreams, poltergeist activity, and other monotonous events in their house. It’s a different ghost but the agenda is essentially the same. The ghost can drive school buses, scare people to death, and communicate with the living.  None of this is remotely suspenseful or interesting. 5/6/21

Ghost House by Clare McNally, Bantam, 1979   

A relentlessly mediocre haunted house story. New family moves into old mansion. Bodiless voices. Petty damage. Minor accidents. Efforts to discover the history of the house. Death of a neighbor who knows more than she should. Mysterious fires. Children in danger. A phantom kiss. Policeman killed under peculiar circumstances. Poltergeist activity. Pushed down a staircase. Eventual revelation of the truth. Things happen too often and too fast and the author gets non-fantastic things wrong. A minor household accident does NOT require that you file a police report, for example. There is a sequel. 4/28/21

The Voice in the Basement by T. Chris Martindale, 1993   

A haunted house meets The Sentinel. A married couple have barely moved into their new home when they begin experiencing bad dreams and visions of people living in their basement. The basement turns out to be a doorway to Hell and the burial of a number of young boys who were murdered there has created a rift. Plenty of supernatural action, perhaps too much as it becomes more of an adventure story than a suspenseful one. This was the author’s fourth and last novel, presumably a victim of the horror crash in the early 1990s, but I’m surprised he didn’t turn to regular suspense novels. Most of his work is very strong on suspense and occasionally included some surprising innovations. 4/21/21

Demon Dance by T. Chris Martindale, Pocket, 1991  

An evil Native American witch binds several medicine men together in a ceremony which is designed to destroy the entire white race. One medicine man who resisted fears that she will kill his people as well, so he teams up with a pistol packing young woman and a broken down frontiersman – and later a couple of misunderstood outlaws – to battle balloon demons, flying reptiles, herds of undead buffalo, zombies, and creatures that can switch from material to immaterial form. The first half is pretty good but the second half becomes a bit monotonous and there are times when the story seems to drag rather noticeably. 4/17/21

Ghosts and More Ghosts by Robert Arthur, Random House, 1963 

Although marketed for young adults, this is a collection of adult stories ranging from horror to fantasy to mundane. “Footsteps Invisible” is one of the best mummy’s curse stories. “The Rose Crystal Bell” is an interesting variant of “The Monkey’s Paw.” All of the stories are quite good. Arthur wrote mostly for the screen or for young adults – he created and wrote ten of the Three Investigators series – and also was the real editor behind the Alfred Hitchcock anthologies. 4/14/21

Where the Chill Waits by T. Chris Martindale, Warner, 1991 

The wendigo appears infrequently in horror fiction, which is strange because it is a creepy concept. It’s the subject of this very atmospheric novel about four businessmen who go hunting in a remote part of Canada and stumble into a valley that they should have avoided. The wendigo turns its victims into versions of itself, and there are some excellent scenes in the closing chapters of the novel. But for me the best part is the author’s evocation of the stark, deserted woodland, which is quite unnerving even before the supernatural elements are introduced. I recall this as being the best of his four novels, but I still have two more to reread. 4/9/21

Dracula’s Child by J.S. Barnes, Titan, 2020  

This very long epistolary sequel to Bram Stoker's Dracula should have been exactly my cup of tea, and in some ways it is. Seward, the Harkers, etc. have to battle a new rising of vampires in Europe. There are some new characters, not all of them heroic, including the Harkers’ teenage son, who obviously plays a pivotal role given the title. Parts of the novel work very well, but there are some tedious sections and it takes far too long for the actual plot to get underway. I did enjoy it overall, but more than once I was thinking that the author really should have kickstarted the plot with more enthusiasm. I particularly liked the epistolary format and for the most part the text resembles the manners of speech and behavior of the original, but refined to exclude some of its excesses.  4/4/21

Jekyll & Hyde: Resurrection by Alexander Bayliss, 2021, $11

A new look at the Robert Louis Stevenson story. The plot is a close parallel to the original. A contemporary psychologist finds the lost journal of his ancestor, Dr. Jekyll, and begins to develop the formula mentioned therein. Some time later, London is troubled by a series of nasty murders. The police are baffled even though the reader knows the truth. The ending is inevitable, of course, with the evil personality becoming dominant. The prose is quite clear and crisp and the story is quite readable. The only drawback for me was that it was written in present tense and felt artificial as a consequence. If you don't have that hangup, you should find this enjoyable.  3/30/21

Later by Stephen King, Hardcase, 2021

The latest King novel is more restrained than most of his work, but no less entertaining. The young protagonist can see and speak to dead people, whose "ghosts" usually linger only a few days. When a drug addicted police officer drags him into the investigation of a serial bomber, he discovers that worse things are waiting beyond the range of human knowledge, but also that worse things can be found among perfectly ordinary human beings as well. A couple of reasonably good surprises and an exciting ending enliven a very suspenseful story. 3/27/21

Nightblood by T. Chris Martindale, Warner, 1990 

Chris Stiles is a warrior against evil. His dead brother periodically appears to him – it is not clear if he is a ghost or is physically present – and gives him missions. The latest takes him to a small town in the Midwest which has a deserted house, supposedly where horrible murders took place in the past, although no bodies were ever found. As it happens, a master vampire has just broken free of the vault where he was imprisoned, and within 48 hours much of the town is undead and our hero is trying desperately to protect some of the survivors. The second half of the book is more of a war novel than a horror story, but the vampire is finally destroyed by his twin brother, whose existence we never suspected. 3/26/21

The Foundling by Frank Lauria, Pocket, 1984  

A young girl with a third nipple is raised by nuns until she is adopted by a pair of rock musicians. Strange things happen around her. An aggressive man is killed by a freak windstorm. Fires start spontaneously. At first her parents are very affectionate, but then the mother begins to suspect something is wrong, and she dies in a freak accident. Eventually the father realizes that the girl is evil, but when he tries to kill her, a policeman shoots him. The girl returns to the orphanage, but with a hit album, it’s only a matter of time until she is on her own and with a growing following. And that’s where this okay but rather trite story comes to an end. 3/24/21

Melody Dawn by Frank Lauria, Rothco, 2015    

Two FBI agents are checking into a supposed drug case where previous agents have been found with their throats ripped out, among other mutilations. One of them meets Melody Dawn and the two become, sort of, romantically attached before she admits that she is a vampire – but not really one of the bad ones. She only kills people who deserve it. The local Mafia is disturbed because of a mysterious new gang who attack and dismember anyone who challenges them.  Dawn obviously has advantages in fighting the bad guys. Long and convoluted and not particularly exciting. 3/14/21

Demon Pope by Frank Lauria, Rothco, 2014  

Dr. Orient returns to fumble his way through another psychic adventure, the longest in the series. This time the forces of evil have acquired the Spear of Destiny and are zeroing in on the Grimoire of Honorius. Together they will present their owner with unprecedented magical powers. The villain – known as the Architect – employs an ageless man named Hans who gleefully kills several people in the process. The story ranges from Africa to France to the jungles of Brazil, and includes witchcraft, lycanthropy, telepathy, and other occult concepts. It’s not as bad as the earlier books, but it is still far too long for its story. Oh, and it has Nazis trying to bring back the Reich. 3/12/21

The Second Hammer Horror Film Omnibus by John Burke, Pan, 1967 

Four novella length adaptations of classic Hammer films. The Reptile is the best. A scientist conceals the fact that his daughter periodically changes into a serpent and kills people. Dracula – Prince of Darkness is a standard vampire story. Four travelers are lured into a deserted castle where Dracula’s servant hopes to restore him to unlife. Rasputin – the Mad Monk is the least interesting. Historically inaccurate, it assumes that Rasputin had hypnotic and healing powers. Finally there is The Plague of the Zombies, which is not an apocalypse story. A small town in Cornwall is experiencing mysterious deaths which are eventually connected to a voodoo practitioner. 3/7/21

Blue Limbo by Frank Lauria, Avon, 1991 

Doctor Orient returns after a decade of silence, but the story is still pretty much the same. The navy is experimenting with telepathy to replace radio, but the submarine carrying out the experiments is sabotaged by a zombie. There are more zombies later on and Orient almost becomes one himself. Throw in gangsters, drug runners, a voodoo houngan and his queen, and government bureaucracy and you have all the makings of a pretty dull and very much too long novel of the occult. 3/6/21

The Hammer Horror Films Omnibus by John Burke, Pan, 1966

This is a collection of novella length prose versions of four of the classic Hammer horror films. The Gorgon is a fairly low key story about a village plagued by a creature that turns people into stone. The Curse of Frankenstein is a relatively loyal version of the Mary Shelley novel, although it takes some liberties in the second half and the monster is a good deal less monstrous. The Revenge of Frankenstein is the direct sequel. Under a new identity Frankenstein continues his experiments, but a promising start turns into disaster. The fourth story is The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, which follows the usual pattern, although nothing supernatural occurs until the last few pages. The villains are mostly quite human. Burke does a competent job with sometimes uninteresting material. 3/3/21

The Priestess by Frank Lauria, Bantam, 1978 

This Doctor Orient novel is slightly better than its predecessors. The plot pretty much makes sense although a lot of the supporting incidents had me scratching my head, wondering if the author ever actually lived in the real world. A football player is the head of a voodoo cult and an associated organized crime organization. Our hero is on the run from the CIA, which wants to exploit his occult knowledge. He falls in love with a woman whom the cult kills, so naturally he has to cut off its head. 2/24/31

The Seth Papers by Frank Lauria, Ballantine, 1979 

The shortest of the Doctor Orient novels is just as opaque and annoying as the others. Orient is hiding in Tangiers because the CIA wants to use his occult powers, but those powers are not much in evidence as he is once again manipulated by others and only wins out through luck. Orient falls in love with another evil woman, this one armed with a magical talisman. She plans to kill the Pope and use occult powers to transform the Vatican, but he comes to his senses and kills her instead. Boring. 2/18/21

Baron Orgaz by Frank Lauria, Bantam, 1974

Another tedious and illogical occult adventure. A cult derived from the Nazis is ritually executing gay men and using their captured spirits to acquire some unspecified occult power. Dr. Orient’s girlfriend has somehow fallen under their influence and he conducts seances, exorcisms, and lengthy meditations to combatting the menace.  2/8/21

Lady Sativa by Frank Lauria, Curtis, 1973 

The third in the series is somewhat an improvement, but that’s not saying much. Orient receives a grant from a European psychic study group, but almost immediately undergoes a personality change – rage and blackouts – as well as physical alterations – he grows hair on his hands. Yes, he has been infected by a werewolf and has to figure out if he is guilty of a murder, and who is responsible for his infection. Tolerable but endlessly talky and the occult undercurrents are boring and inconsistent. 2/2/21

Raga Six by Frank Lauria, Bantam, 1972  

The second in the Doctor Orient series was decidedly not an improvement over his terrible debut. Orient gives up all of his worldly possessions and joins a comic book style hippie commune, where he discovers that two mediums are possessed by evil spirits and has them exorcized. He then takes a cruise to the Mediterranean and notes that young women appear to be dropping dead of a rare blood disease. He meets a doctor and his wife. The doctor is trying, supposedly, to cure these women and has an island clinic. The wife seduces Orient. The husband eventually goes crazy and tries to kill Orient but dies instead. Orient makes several incredibly stupid decisions before realizing that his new lover – not to mention his previous one – are sacrificing people to make themselves immortal. I have rarely read a more boring novel completely to the end. 1/25/21

The Books of Blood Volume 6 by Clive Barker,  1985 

Also published as Lord of Illusions. A woman becomes fascinated with a mysterious crypt that is to be breached by a new construction project. Shady entrepreneurs in South America kill a child and offend a village, resulting in bizarre retribution. Spies from both sides of the Iron Curtain are caught up in a threat that transcends politics.  This was the weakest volume in the series – the stories are all readable but none are memorable. Barker’s storehouse of ideas may have run low, and he in any case was soon writing doorstop sized novels and never looked back. 1/19/21

The Books of Blood Volume 5 by Clive Barker, 1985 

Also published as In the Flesh. “In the Flesh” is a creepy story set in a prison involving dreams of a city occupied entirely by dead murderers. “The Forbidden” was the basis for the Candyman movies about a supernatural serial killer. Another story features a shady entrepreneur who encounters inhuman creatures in an abandoned hotel. The last story is about a woman who stumbles into an installation where the secret masters of the world are being held prisoner. It’s one of the weaker stories. 1/7/21

Doctor Orient by Frank Lauria, Bantam, 1970  

Opening volume in a series about a kind of occult detective, filled with extraordinary mental powers but presented in such a chaotic fashion that it is often difficult to figure out what is going on and who has what powers. Owen Orient is the protagonist who, with the aid of some telepathic friends, discovers that someone is using black magic somewhere in Manhattan in order to accumulate a massive amount of psychic power. Rather poorly written with doubletalk to smooth over the gaps of logic, new powers revealed whenever they are useful, and a lazy plot that never gains any momentum. 1/5/21

The Books of Blood Volume 4 by Clive Barker, 1985  

Also published as The Inhuman Condition. The story with that title involves a handful of punks who pick on the wrong derelict, one who has magical knots in his pocket. This volume contains “The Body Politic,” in which human hands decide to rebel against the rest of the body. A ghostly interact with an unhappy married couple at a motel where one of them killed the other. The final story – about an experiment that turns a man into a superhuman rapist – is one of the few Barkers I thought was awful. 1/3/21

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