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

Last Update 5/24/22

The Magic Cottage by James Herbert, Onyx, 1986  

A couple buys a remote cottage after the previous owner, possibly a witch, dies. They experience several odd events, mostly neutral or even pleasant, but their guests are not so lucky and eventually the protagonists also begin to feel a sense of menace. They are also friendly with a cult who live nearby and who are unpopular with the local people. Although initially the reader is likely to sympathize with the cult members, it eventually becomes evident that they have tapped into some occult power that is concentrated on the cottage, and in fact they brought about the death of the previous owner because she would not cooperate. The couple wins the ensuing battle, but it’s not very exciting.  5/24/22

Moon by James Herbert, Onyx, 1985 

This is not the most original plot I have read recently. The protagonist has psychic visions in which he sees an insane serial killer claiming victims, although there is not enough detail to identify him. The killer can also sense his presence and sets out to strike back against the eavesdropper. Very routine incidents follow and they are generally not very well done. Herbert seems not to have had any original ideas at this point and just rehashed, not particularly well, standard horror plots. I struggled to finish this one. 5/21/22

Domain by James Herbert, Signet, 1984 

This completed the Rat trilogy, moving into the future directly following a nuclear war. It’s very predictable and far too long. The survivors in a bomb shelter turn on each other despite knowing that the mutant rats have returned and present an imminent threat. Eventually they break into the shelter and scatter the humans. The protagonists have a series of not very interesting adventures before escaping to relative safety, but at the end we are told that the rats are better suited for the irradiated world and that they will be supplanting humanity. 5/16/22

The Hacienda by Isabel Canas, Berkley, 2022, $27, ISBN 978-0-593-43669-1

This is a haunted house story, but just saying that does it a disservice because it is a lot more as well. The protagonist's father was executed during the overthrow of the sitting Mexican government. Perhaps because of her desperate situation, she agrees to marry a wealthy, respected man despite suspicions about the death of his first wife. Her new husband is away much of the time working for the new government, and the protagonist begins to sense that something is wrong in the house. The staff are uneasy and she has strange dreams. The supernatural elements grow stronger and more threatening as the story progresses. This is in a sense a return to the gothic horror fad of several decades ago, but the basic premise is one that is independent of time. Characterization is the chief asset of the story. The historical setting also adds depth. I have added the author's name to my list of people to watch for. 5/9/22

Shrine by James Herbert, Signet, 1983   

This is a long, tedious, unoriginal story that I struggled to finish. A deaf mute girl has some kind of mystical experience near a tree, after which she is able to perform miraculous cures. No one seems to notice that when she does this, others in the area die prematurely, as if their life force had been drained. The protagonist is a journalist who does some research and discovers that there was once a witch practicing in the area, and it is pretty obvious that she has somehow returned to take possession of the girl. There are a couple of grisly murders and other mayhem before she is forced to return to the domain of the dead. 5/7/22

The Carrow Haunt by Darcy Coates, Poisoned Pen, 2020 

Originally self published in 2018. This is a fairly conventional haunted house story. The house is a tourist attraction because of its supposed ghosts and the protagonist is a tour guide who works there. An unusually severe storm knocks out power and communications and isolates them from the outside world. That’s when the creepy stuff begins to occur in earnest, and with increasing threat to the party of tourists trapped there. No real surprises, competently written, mildly suspenseful, and perhaps a bit too long for its story. Better than the previous books I’ve read by this author. 5/4/22

The Jonah by James Herbert, Signet, 1981 

An undercover police officer is troubled because accidents seem to occur in his vicinity so often that his fellow officers no longer want to work with him. Most of the story involves the investigation of a drug gang and the supernatural content hovers out of sight until the climax. Our hero has a secret “twin,” an inhuman creature resembling a cinematic zombie, and the twin is responsible for the bad luck. She rescues our hero and kills all the bad guys, but he has taken a drug which allows him to remember her existence and compel her to leave him alone in the future. Not a particularly good story. 4/28/22

The Dark by James Herbert, Signet, 1980 

A year after a strange cult commits mass suicide in a house on Willow Road, the neighbors begin to succumb to impulses of murder and destruction. A psychic investigator who does not believe in the supernatural is called in to investigate. The cultists have evolved into a discorporate evil force and are soon terrorizing London by turning people into possessed zombies who maim and kill one another. A small group of people hold out, determined to find a way to disperse the force, and their survival becomes increasingly implausible as the story proceeds.  Not one of his better books. 4/23/22

Master of the Macabre by Russell Thorndyke, Valancourt, 2021 (originally published in 1947) 

A man haunted by strange dreams decides to spend some time in the country. A blizzard wrecks his car and he shelters at a house with two very strange occupants, who not only anticipated his arrival but are actually the people for whom he is carrying a package with unknown contents. There is a stolen antiquity, a cult of Hindus, and some quasi-ghosts that might actually just be residual memories. The best part of the “novel’ is the half dozen stories told by various characters during the course of the framing plot, which are generally grisly and in most cases quite effective. 4/22/22

West of Innsmouth by Kikuchi Hideyuki, Kurodahan, 2021 

It has been my experience that Japanese writers who use the Cthulhu Mythos either have a different purpose or fail to understand the evocation of cosmic horror. This comes closer than most, but it is also set in the Old West. A bounty hunter named Shooter is attempting to track down four outlaws which are actually sort of avatars of Cthulhu. There is a tribe of Comanches who worship Cthulhu, although they call him Sool, and almost everyone else seems to know of his existence. He reluctantly teams up with a Ninja who is on a similar mission for a different reason. Their journey brings them to Doc Holliday and the Earps and the climax is at the OK Corral. I quite liked this, but it still didn’t feel much like HPL. 4/17/22

Floaters by Garrett Boatman, Crystal Lake, 2021 

This is a novella set among the seamier denizens of Victorian London. But there is an even less desirable group of neighbors. Zombies – the movie kind rather than historical ones – have begun to emerge from hidden lairs to attack the living. Mostly routine zombie attacks and evasions and battles follow. Not a bad story, but other than the setting, it doesn’t add much to the long shelf of similar books that have appeared in the last decade. 4/17/22

The Night Road by Kevin Lucia, CD, 2021, $14, ISBN 978-1-68767-815-8

The protagonist of this novella is wrestling with her guilt feelings about her sister, who attempted suicide and is not expected to live for long. These are exacerbated by an aunt who blames her for the situation. She is also a habitual runner, although the release she usually finds in physical activity is beginning to slip away. I can't tell you much more about the plot without revealing too much. The prose is fine and the characterization is strong, but I felt it took rather too long before something concrete happened to pin down my interest. 4/15/22

The Eater of Gods by Dan Franklin, CD, 2021, $40, ISBN 978-1-68767-790-8

The protagonist leads an expedition to Egypt to complete the work begun by his late wife. This involves finding and entering the tomb of a legendary Egyptian queen with a bad reputation. The tomb contains some Indiana Jones type traps, but the real danger appears to be that something has survived. The expedition finds itself trapped inside, and even explosives brought by mercenaries cannot rupture the walls. Even worse, the corridors appear to be changing and the building is actually a labyrinth. The ending is quite unexpected. This was very nicely told but the price should tell you that this is a collectors' item. Hopefully a less expensive alternative will eventually become available. 4/8/22

Hunger on the Chisholm Trail by M. Ennenbach, Death's Head Press, 2020

The Magpie Coffin by Wile E. Young, Death's Head Press, 2020

Both of these are labeled as splatter westerns and both have some merit, but both would have been improved by less splatter and more characterization and atmosphere. The first involves a cattle drive that runs into trouble when the cowboys encounter a mysterious force that thirsts for their lives. It is eventually revealed to be a wendigo. Some of the scenes work pretty well and the plot is pretty basic and hard to ruin. The narration isn't bad at all, but the dialogue is rather bad, which really undercut the characterization. The second title has a more interesting and complicated plot. The protagonist is a larger than life figure decides to avenge the death of a friend, but he has supernatural as well as natural enemies and his own occult powers might not be enough to save him. Pretty good at times, but occasionally awkwardly told. This really could have used a good editor. 4/4/22

Glimpses of the Unknown edited by Mike Ashley, British Library, 2018 

This is a collection of obscure old ghost stories from authors who wrote primarily in other genres. I don’t believe I had read any of them before although I had heard of some of the authors. As is the case with other similar anthologies edited by Ashley, they are almost all excellent stories of their type, and the collection is very entertaining. The definition of “ghost” is a bit flexible so they are not at all monotonous. The contributors include F. Britten Austin, Mary Reynolds, Percy Brebner, Elsie Norris, and other authors of whom you probably have never run into before. There is also an obscure one by E.F. Benson. Another one worth ordering. 4/2/22

Gwendy’s Final Task by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar, CD Publications, 2022, $28, ISBN 978-1-58767-801-1 

The Gwendy trilogy comes to an end with some science fiction thrown into the mix. Gwendy has been caretaker of a kind of ambiguous Pandora’s Box ever since childhood. Now she’s a successful politician who feels the onset of dementia. The box is a potential source of great evil if it falls into the wrong hands, and she is determined that this will not happen. The box cannot be destroyed but perhaps it can be rendered inaccessible. So what’s better than outer space? The series has been low key fun from the outset. The twists in the final volume might be a bit too far for some readers, but I thought this was the ideal ending for the series, given the constraints of the premise. 3/31/23

Litany of Dreams by Ari Marmell, Aconyte, 2021

This is meant to be a tie-in to a game system, but the game is based on Lovecraft and is set in Arkham. An Inuit has arrived searching for a purloined artifact with mystical properties. He discovers that a student and then a faculty member have both recently disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Another student and the head of the library become his allies as he slowly unravels the dark mystery hovering over the area. There are a couple of very effectively creepy scenes set within a decent occult adventure story. 3/25/22

From the Depths and Other Strange Tales of the Sea edited by Mike Ashley, British Library, 2021 

A collection of sea related horror stories, only one of which I had read before, drawn primarily from forgotten writers whose reputation was based primarily on non-fantastic fiction. That said, the quality level is very high. There were only a couple I didn’t actively enjoy, even though they were almost all quite predictable. Sea creatures, ghosts of the drowned, the Sargasso sea, invisible menaces, bizarre curses, and even more bizarre characters. The most enjoyable horror collection I have read in many months. Authors include Morgan Burke, Ward Muir, Morgan Robertson, and many others whom you will probably never have heard of. 3/24/22

Lair by James Herbert, Signet, 1979

The sequel to The Rats covers pretty much the same ground, although the rats have adapted thanks to their mutation. The survivors of the mass eradication in the first book have fled to the country, where they are believed to be living in the sewer. But they have also taken to lurking in trees and dropping onto unsuspecting passers by. Our hero survives two intense personal encounters before the rats are once again largely wiped out, although as before we learn that a few have escaped to breed again. 3/21/22

The Spear by James Herbert, Signet, 1978

A burnt out Mossad agent is talked into spying on an arm maker who may be responsible for the disappearance of another agent. He soon discovers that not only is this true, but that the man has used natural and supernatural powers to kill the hero’s partner and is now planning to provoke a nuclear war so that his secret Nazi society can take over. The bad guys even have Himmler’s mummified body, which they can restore to life by means of a magical spearhead. Much carnage ensues before the good guys manage to foil the plot and wipe out the villains, who include highly placed government, commercial, and military officials. A pretty good thriller and the supernatural stuff is mostly low key. 3/18/22

Dust by Chris Miller, Death Head’s Press, 2020 

Supernatural westerns are rare so I decided to try this publisher, which seems to specialize in them. My first sampling was less than thrilling. The plot involves a larger than life character who seeks a mysterious town where he can overcome supernatural threats to the world. The prose I awkward and there is no suspense at all. The gore is described in a kind of meticulous and boring detail that I can only characterize as self conscious. There are hints that the author might be capable of better work, but if he does, I suspect he will be embarrassed by this one later in his career. 3/12/22

The Survivor by James Herbert, Signet, 1976 

A plane crashes and only the co-pilot survives. The cause of the crash is uncertain but it might have been a bomb. Strange apparitions plague the area in the days that follow, sometimes resulting in insanity or death. The co-pilot, who has amnesia, consults a psychic and discovers that the ghosts of the dead want him to find the person responsible for the bomb. A few creepy scenes, but the logic of the story frequently falters, posing unanswered questions about what is going on. The end is pretty much predictable and anti-climactic. 3/11/22

The Shadow People by Graham Masterton, Head of Zeus, 2021

Someone has been barbecuing people in large numbers in an abandoned factory. People are being snatched off the street and carried off by a cannibalistic cult which appears to worship an ancient Islamic demon. A pair of police officers with experiences of the weird and supernatural are called in to investigate, but the death toll is rising rapidly. The cultists take a strange drug that makes it impossible for them to speak any modern language, although they understand. And the cult has split up into rival tribes, which further complicates matters. First half is quite good, second half merely good, as a lot of the suspense is dissipated when we get to see a great deal of life among the cannibals. Third novel to feature the two protagonists. 3/3/22

Goblin by Josh Malerman, Del Rey, 2017 

Six novelettes, all set in the same peculiar small town. Although the prologue involves the supernatural, the first two of the novelettes actually deal with insanity and have no fantastic elements at all. An obsessed man steals body parts in one and a paranoid historian is terrified that he will be scared to death by a ghost in the second. That pretty much sets the tone for the others. Fantastic content is at the low end of the scale. I only disliked one of the six stories, but neither did I find any of them compelling. The prologue is the best part of the book. 3/1/22

The Fog by James Herbert, Signet, 1975 

A mysterious earthquake in England releases a yellow fog that turns people into homicidal maniacs. Although more skillfully done than the author’s first novel, the logic is severely strained and the fog and its effects make no sense. Sometimes it affects groups of people identically and sometimes it does not. The government is unusually inept and for some reason the protagonist, who recovers and is immune, is asked to gather samples rather than simply have mechanisms to do so. Most of the characters are cannon fodder. Herbert got better but this is a pretty minor effort. 2/25/22

The Rats by James Herbert, Signet, 1974 

Debut novel by the late English horror writer. Pretty standard nature gone wild fare. A mutant gives birth to a strain of much larger strain of rats carrying an invariably fatal disease. They begin attacking people all over London, sometimes in very large numbers. Despite an early biological counterattack, they recover and go on the rampage a second time. The primary viewpoint character is a teacher who is called upon to defend a school full of children from a full scale assault. Not bad, but certainly not representative of his later work. There were two sequels. 2/18/22

The Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson, Ash-Tree, 2003 (originally published in 1909) 

The crew of a sailing ship are beset by phantom figures that sneak aboard the ship at night and play havoc with the equipment, sometimes with fatal results. Although we never get a clear explanation, the narrator suggests that the ship is not haunted but somehow is vulnerable to appearances of an alternate form of existence. Some creepy scenes but like all of Hodgson’s longer works, the story is very episodic. Hodgson was more at ease with short stories. 1/30/22

The Grey Chamber by Marjorie Bowen, Hippocampus, 2021, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-347-7 

A collection of short stories, not all of which are horror, and essays. Her most famous short is “Crown Derby Plate,” although I am really fond of “Florence Flannery.”  “The Avenging of Ann Leete” is also above average. The best story I had not previously read is “Scoured Silk.”  Bowen, who also wrote as Joseph Shearing, was a skilled writer whose horrors are frequently understated. The essays I found varied widely in quality and interest, although they do provide some insights into the author’s personality. I am surprised that her work is so largely forgotten and hopefully this new selection will provide some renewed interest. 1/26/22

Witch-Cult Abbey by Mark Samuels, Hippocampus, 2021, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-352-1

This relatively short novel should be a treat for Lovecraft fans, even though it is not really part of the Mythos. The protagonist is set the task of cataloguing a collection of antique books in a remote English abbey. At first it seems like a mundane task, but he begins to experience particularly vivid and unsettling dreams. The books themselves are largely concerned with the occult and suggest that previous tenants of the site were preoccupied with the subject, and probably with good reason. Other strange phenomena suggest a deadly menace that will ultimately take the form of a physical horror. This is a style of narrative that has largely gone out of fashion, but it still has the power to evoke chills when skillfully employed. 1/23/22

Phantasmagoria by Sir Walter Scott, Hippocampus, 2021, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-354-5 

Sir Walter Scott is best known for the Waverly novels, particularly Ivanhoe, but he did write a handful of weird stories. They would probably be considered dark fantasy today, if they could be published at all. I only managed to read two of his novels even when I was in high school devouring everything. His stories are inflated by long and irrelevant diversions from the plot – not uncommon in his era – and there is not the slightest bit of suspense in any of the five stories collected here, of which “The Tapestried Chamber” was the only one I liked. There is a good selection of his poetry with supernatural themes, but the best part of the book is actually a small collection of essays about gothic fiction – Shelley, Radcliffe, etc. Nice to see the stories collected but they are of historic interest only. 1/18/22

Carnacki the Ghost-Finder by William Hope Hodgson, Pan, 1910 

Carnacki was an occult detective who sometimes found mundane explanations for weird events, sometimes realized they were truly supernatural and used magical objects or rituals to banish them. His nine adventures are collected here. They are actually quite repetitive and only “The Horse of the Invisible” really stands out. The others tend to be variations on the same theme, and three of them turn out to have perfectly rational explanations. “The Haunted Jarvee” has some nice description of life on a sailing ship but the story itself is mediocre. His non-series short stories are generally much better. 1/17/22

Can't Find My Way Home by Gwynne Garfinkle, Aqueduct Press, 2022, $20, ISBN 978-1-61876-212-1

I'm old enough that this somewhat nostalgic ghost story worked exceptionally well for me. The protagonist is a woman who - many years earlier - failed to go with a friend to a protest in which she died under circumstances not entirely clear. Now the ghost of her friend has appeared to her and wants closure. Although this is not a particularly original concept for a comparatively gentle ghost story, it is wrapped around a much more compelling story about the frustrations and contradictions of that era, of protesting in general. It examines how we change views on political matters - or at least tactics - over the course of time and it touches upon the tenuous but real connections we retain to friends, even those no longer alive. The protagonist is compelled to relive that fatal night over and over again, each time with subtle - or not so subtle differences. Very moving story. 1/15/22

The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson, Ace  (originally published in 1908) 

The author’s most famous novel is the diary of a man who discovers his house in remote Ireland is actually a nexus point between realities. Swine creatures besiege him in his house after he has had a mental journey to a mysterious world where ancient gods may still live. He eventually has a trip through time to witness the death of the sun and see other amazing events. His journal comes to an abrupt end when something never described enters the house. Very atmospheric and it is easy to see why Lovecraft valued it so highly. 1/2/22

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