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

Last Update 6/29/13

Holes for Faces by Ramsey Campbell, Dark Regions, 2013, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-937128-44-9

Here we have a collection of relatively recent short horror fiction by one of the best known names in the genre. Campbell generally tends toward the quieter, psychologically oriented horror than the more overt type, although he occasional throws us a curve. He finds weirdness in a variety of places, everything from a children's game to an ordinary train station to a mysterious hotel. There are hints of humor from time to time although they're subsidiary and low key. Most of the stories are reprints, but they're from a diverse and often obscure source, and a few of them are original to this collection. Campbell's ability to build atmosphere is better than that of most other writers in the field. Favorites in this particular collection, almost all of which were new to me, include "Peep," "Chucky Comes to Liverpool," and "Holding the Light."  Undoubtedly one of the best single author horror collections of the year. 6/29/13

Return of the Scream Queen by Michael McCarty, Linnea Quigley, & Stan Swanson, Dark Moon, 2013, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-9885569-0-7

Sequel to Night of the Scream Queen, a tribute to B movie horror, as is this follow up. This one is subtitled "Embrace of the Aztec Vampire", which sort of tells you what the story about. An Aztec queen - did they have queens? - is infuriated when European invaders destroy her civilization, and she's back from the dead to have revenge on the present. And she's not human any more. A scream queen is  the perhaps unlikely protagonist who has to rise to the occasion and prevent the apocalypse. This is not to be taken entirely seriously, of course, just as most of the movies in this subgenre are at least partly tongue in cheek. Fun particularly for those of us who still feel the compulsion to watch cheaply made and usually awful horror movies. 6/22/13

Joyland by Stephen King, Hardcase, 2013, $12.95, ISBN 978-1781162644

This is more of a mystery novel than horror, and not much mystery either. The protagonist is a college student who takes a summer job doing scutwork at a small amusement park, which was the scene of a grisly murder several years earlier. The victim supposedly haunts the funhouse, although only a very few - not including the hero - have ever seen her. There is also an elderly woman who has intermittent psychic powers and a dying child who has much stronger and nearly constant premonitions of the future. When our hero gets interested in solving the old case, he is warned by more than one person that he is moving into dangerous territory, and ultimately he finds himself facing death. Low key throughout but entertaining even when it's not being suspenseful. 6/21/13

Affliction by Laurell K. Hamilton, Berkley, 2013, $28.95, ISBN 978-0-425-25570-4

A new Anita Blake novel. I loved the first dozen or so in this series, was put off by a few after that, but have found the more recent ones interesting again. They can be read as alternate world horror, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, or whatever floats your boat. Zombies are relatively benign creatures in Hamilton's world, or at least they were prior to this installment in the series. Something is altering their nature and not in a good way. They are in fact starting to act like George Romero's creatures, except they're fast and strong and smarter than they should be. Some old acquaintances are back as well. This might be the longest Anita Blake novel and, I am happy to say, one of the better ones even if I am more than slightly overdosed on zombies, whatever their flavor. 6/19/13

Carpathian by David L. Golemon, Thomas Dunne, 2013, $25.99, ISBN 9781250013002    

I approached this with trepidation, and indeed almost passed on it entirely. The author has in the past shown considerable ignorance of simple science – in one book he said that Mars originally orbited Earth and he has no idea what light speed is. But the title made me suspect that this time he was moving into the supernatural where that might not make as much difference. It’s part of his Event Group series, which resembles James Rollins in that an elite group of specialists look into unusual problems, and usually solve them by shooting everything that moves. This time someone uncovers evidence that the way the Hebrews escaped Herod was by the intercession of a previously unknown race of warriors, as well as a kind of animal that doesn’t exist in the historical or biological record.  Before our heroes are done they will uncover an ancient artifact of mystical significance, encounter a species of super wolf, and battle an acquisitive villain for the secrets buried beneath Dracula’s Castle. Only a hint of the supernatural. The plot moves at a breakneck pace with no major bumps, which makes this the best of his recent books. 6/17/13

I Travel by Night by Robert McCammon, Subterranean, 2013, $35, ISBN 978-1-59606-537-6 789 

This novella features a newly converted vampire shortly after the Civil War who is searching for the female vampire who created him because only by killing her can he regain his full humanity. Opposed to him is the Dark Society of vampires who lure him to a ghost town in Louisiana to give him a choice between destruction and conversion. Aided by a young woman, he penetrates their lair for a major battle sequence, although his quarry escapes in the confusion. Like all of McCammon’s work, the story is deftly told although not nearly as original as most of his previous work. It also feels very much like an episode excerpted from a larger work – there seem to be things that have happened earlier that we should know about and obviously there are hints of more to come. 6/7/13

Antioch by William E. Harlan, Harlan, 2012, $12.99, ISBN 978-1482099973

There's a somewhat different twist to this novel of the zombie apocalypse. It starts out traditionally enough with a new plague spreading across the world, raising the dead to prey on the living. But it turns out that there is also a secret society of wizards who control knowledge hidden from the rest of the world, knowledge which might be able to control the outbreak. That's pretty appropriate given that the collapse of civilization has led to something that feels a lot like the Medieval age. There's a quest, a testing, some coming of age, a good deal of magic and discussion thereof, and not a whole lot of rampaging zombies or gore. This last is a good thing unless that's the only reason you read zombie stories. The prose is not bad at all. The plot could use a bit of tightening as I found my interest drifting occasionally. 6/4/13

Nyx by D.M. Livingston, Some Peril, 2013, $12.99, ISBN 978-0985874605

What happens when an atypical fairy visits Hell? You'll find out in this often witty, always surprising blend of fantasy and the supernatural, all wrapped up with a lively sense of humor. This is one of those stories that is probably hard to sell because publishers can't decide where exactly to market it. It seems the Hell has spilled over onto Earth and some human witches - not very competent ones - have spilled over into Hell. Nyx, whose sarcasm rubs everyone the wrong way, finds herself in an unlikely alliance with the witches against some of the denizens of the nether regions in a quest to find some magical artifacts that will close the gateway between realities and restore - if not order - at least the previous disorder. And naturally there's another party who wants them to fail. Although ostensibly a quest story, it really doesn't follow the usual pattern. The characters are mostly well drawn, the jokes are almost always genuinely funny, and while it isn't the equal of, say, Terry Pratchett, it's at least living in the same neighborhood. 6/2/13

Tarnished by Rhiannon Held, Tor, 2013, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3038-3   

Sequel to Silver, a werewolf novel that overlaps with urban fantasy. A werewolf couple is searching for a pack to join in order to enjoy both fellowship and protection against the enemies of their kind. Previously the female protagonist narrowly escaped death at the hands of man obsessed with killing shapechangers and she seems to have lost that ability permanently herself despite her heritage. The male half has both anger and image problems which make it difficult for him to convince others of their kind to accept them. The solution may be for him to drop the subordinate role and become a pack leader in his own right, but can he do so and will others follow him? Or is their destiny to be even more unusual?  I thought this one was better written than the first, but with a less interesting story line. Werewolf pack politics has been overdone so much that even a mildly innovative new approach isn’t enough to overcome the familiarity of the struggle. 5/28/13

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, Morrow, 2013, $28.99, ISBN 978-0-04-220057-0 

Joe Hill’s latest is a long novel whose premise is that certain individuals can imbue physical objects with the power to let them make use of a malleable other universe. The chief protagonist, for example, is a young girl named Victoria who can conjure up a bridge that will take her to wherever she needs to be, and the bridge appears physically to anyone at the receiving end who looks toward it. There’s another woman who can use Scrabble letters to learn things otherwise unknown. Unfortunately, not all of these people are good. The villain has created a place called Christmasland to which he lures or kidnaps young children, often after killing their parents. The good guys refer to him as the Wraith. About half way through, and rather predictably, the Wraith kidnaps the Victoria’s son and the pace quickens as she tries to get him back. A lot of this is great stuff although some of it feels like padding.  The multiple scenes in which the villain talks about Christmasland and the series of incidents in which the boy shows signs of succumbing get repetitive after a while. The novel reads very much like some of the work of his father, Stephen King, sort of a cross between It, Christine, and The Stand (Gasmask man instead of Trashcanman) and even has a brief reference to Pennywise. Hill takes some familiar tropes and mixes them with others of his own and the end product is rather different, but displays its influences. 5/23/13

Simulacrum by Jason V. Brock, Hippocampus, 2013, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-055-1    

This is a collection of stories and poems, only one of which I had previously read, that tends toward horror fiction although some of it is not. They also tend to be character studies concerned with psychological extremes and sometimes madness, although I don't mean to imply that they don't have strong plots as well. The stories have the feel of poems at times, although occasionally this feels slightly artificial. The best of the bunch is “Milton’s Children”, the longest story and rather different from the others in that it is more of a straightforward weird adventure. I also liked “What the Dead Eyes Behold,” “P.O.V.,”and “Van Helsing: His True Story.”  The quality is generally good and the flavor of these is different enough to make them worth seeking out. 5/19/13

Candlenight by Phil Rickman, Jove, 1991    

Small town horror in the US usually involves the evil person coming to the nice town. British horror often involves the good person coming to the evil town, as is the case in this one. A journalist’s wife inherits a cottage in a small Welsh town which is clearly home to something malevolent. We learn this by painfully slow increments – bad dreams, suicide, etc. – but in such a determinedly tentative way that it became outright annoying after a hundred pages. Quiet horror is often very effective but in this case it’s not so much quiet as torpid.  It does finally deliver some genuine thrills but not until so much time had passed that my interest had seriously flagged. 5/9/13

Plague Town by Dana Fredsti, Titan, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-0857686350

Plague Nation by Dana Fredsti, Titan, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-0857686367

First two volumes in a zombie series. A virulent form of flu kills its victims, but they return to animation with a hunger for human flesh. The protagonist, Ashley Parker, is immune to the virus but not to having her brains eaten so she joins a group determined to contain the infection and wipe out the zombies. The title of the second book in the series should tell you how effective they were. The plague has spread to lots of other places with the same results. So there's a trip to San Francisco in an attempt to stem the tide before it's too late. There's a good deal of gore, as you might expect, some mildly stilted romance, lots of snappy dialogue that is occasionally a bit too cute for my taste, and plenty of action. The series isn't going to win any awards but if you're not already overdosed on the walking dead, this might be your cup of tea. 4/27/13

Kitty Rocks the House by Carrie Vaughn, Tor, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-6867-6

Latest in a series about a female werewolf and celebrity which is as much urban fantasy as anything else despite the presence of a variety of supernatural beings. In her latest, a newcomer has disrupted the pack, which makes her authority less absolute just when she needs it the most. Her ongoing battle with an evil vampire is reaching yet another crisis point. So also is that of Cormac the bounty hunter, who also has to make big decisions about his relationship to the undead. Vaughn has never written a bad book and the usual mix of humor, intrigue, and overt adventure are all here. Even so, I found this one less compelling reading than the previous books in the series. The new twists are relatively small and a lot of it felt very familiar. It might have been my mood, or it might be that Vaughn has played this series out pretty much to its capacity. 4/11/13

The Wide Carnivorous Sky & Other Monstrous Geographies by John Langan, Hippocampus, 2013, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-054-4

I have become increasing aware of John Langan's short fiction over the course of the last few years despite the fact that I read comparatively little at shorter length. Langan manages to mix traditional themes with modern writing sensibilities more seamlessly than most of his contemporaries and his stories have more of an individually distinctive feel than usual. There are stories here with themes ranging from the Lovecraftian to the psychological, from intense terror to subtle weirdness. I believe this brings together the best of his published fiction including an original novella that is very good indeed but probably could not have found publication elsewhere because of its length. The title story, plus "Technicolor" and "The Shallows" were my favorites from a very good crop indeed.  4/7/13

The Quality of Mercy and Other Stories by William Meikle, Dark Renaissance, 2013, $18.95, ISBN 978-1-937128-91-3   

This is a collection of supernatural stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. There is a minor technical problem; the “author” is listed as Watson but the very first story is narrated by another person entirely. Holmes tries to expose a fake spiritualist event and finds out that it’s genuine, which ends up making him a bit of a minor villain. The second story involves a sea captain who offends a local god. Holmes gets him to confess but not repent, so he is doomed. Number three has his battling an alien lifeform that has infected a brewery, my favorite in the collection. The stories following have a variety of things with claws, curses, and other worldly intrusions. All of them are readable enough, but I didn’t think they felt much like Sherlock Holmes stories, and there was no reason for them to be. The author could have invented his own detective and the stories would have been just as good. Holmes relies on logic and science and since most of these stories involve the supernatural, there is a disconnect that I don’t think can be easily bridged. I’ve noticed this in other efforts to blend the genres. 4/4/13

 

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