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

Last Update 6/25/16

The Binding by Nicholas Wolff, Gallery, 2016, $16, ISBN 978-1-5011-0271-4 

Psychiatrist Nat Thayer is visited by a man who claims that each of his three children have in turn come to believe that he is an impostor inhabiting their father’s body. The first committed suicide, the second did the same after committing murder, and the third – his only daughter – is now exhibiting the same symptoms. Police detective John Bailey is troubled by the brutal killing of a local college student. The two are friends so obviously they know a bit about each other’s preoccupations. At his first interview with the daughter, Becca, Thayer is surprised to hear that she also disavows her brothers and insists that she herself has been dead for three weeks. And the corpses start disappearing from the morgue. We only get an inkling of what is happening about half way through so I won’t spoil it here, but it’s a variation on a traditional horror theme. Wolff is supposedly the pseudonym of an unnamed bestselling writer and the prose is certainly evidence of an experienced author. I wasn’t tremendously convinced by Thayer’s characterization but otherwise I thought this was quite well handled, although some of the tension dissipates once it is obvious what is happening. 6/25/16

Liquid Diet & Midnight Snack by Michael McCarty, 2016, $14.95, ISBN 978-1532928949

This consists of two novellas, both poking fun at vampire stories. The first one was published originally in 2008 and the second is, I believe, original here. The older story is the better one. A radio interview with a vampire leads to trouble when a fundamentalist group opposed to anything remotely occult takes umbrage. There is sex and violence and some wry humor mixed together in an enthusiastic and sometimes over the top thrill ride. The sequel is in much the same vein – no pun intended – and is fun as well. I thought at the time that Liquid Diet was the author’s best book, and I still do. 6/10/16

Blood Infernal by James Rollins & Rebecca Cantrell, Morrow, 2015, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-06-234327-7  

Third in the Order of the Sanguines series, in which a prophecy dated from biblical times and a variant strain of vampirism intersect. Events have escalated since the tomb was opened in the first book and now a wave of terrible murders has swept across the world. A satanic figure has emerged as leader of a cult of evil and our heroes must unite once again if the human race is to be saved. There’s rarely a dull moment in this one, and plenty of overt horror. If anything there is a bit too much as it begins to lose its effect after a while. As with the first two volumes, I have occasional problems with the underlying and unstated philosophy – the forces of good don’t seem that much better than their opponents, but the story is lively and inventive. 6/8/16

Zombies! by Juscelino Neco, Gallery, 2016, $12.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-4405-9

This is a coloring book, created by a Brazilian comic book artist with ready to color in drawings of various zombie scenes, each accompanied by an amusing caption. I guess this is for the zombie fan who has everything else. Some of the drawings are quite complex. I am tempted to say this is an economy deal because you only need two crayons - corpse gray and blood red - but I'll resist temptation - or maybe I won't. In any case, if you want to create your own views of the zombie apocalypse, this is the book for you. 6/6/16

The Damned by Tarn Richardson, Overlook, 2016, $26.95, ISBN 978-1-4683-1246-1  

Something is attacking units in trenches in 1914 Europe and it doesn’t seem to be human. The unfolding story of werewolves taking advantage of the chaos of war alternates with that of a disturbed young boy who becomes an inquisitor for the Roman Catholic Church and who is an adult when the outbreak starts. The two stories obvious are destined to intersect. I was of two minds about this. On the one hand, the inquisitor’s story did not appeal to me very strongly. On the other, World War I is one of my favorite settings, and although werewolf stories are generally not very inventive, this one had some interesting twists. This is the opening volume of a trilogy and I will undoubtedly read the next because I found the first entertaining enough and I’m curious about where the author will go from here. 5/9/16

All Saints’ Eve by Amelia B. Edwards, Wordsworth, 2008 

The Collected Supernatural and Weird Fiction of Amelia B. Edwards, Leonaur, 2009

Although there is considerable overlap between these two, there are five stories in the first that do not appear in the second and longer volume, but none of these are supernatural, generally involved madness and/or murder.  Many of Edwards’ ghosts are benevolent or neutral rather than unfriendly and most of them follow the traditional formulas. She has a tendency to mix present and past tense narration in the same story and uses Germany for a setting a great deal of the time. “The Phantom Coach” is her best known story. My favorites otherwise were “Monsieur Maurice” and “The Discovery of the Treasure Isles.” In many of these, the supernatural element does not even appear until the final few pages.  The larger collection includes a story by Charles Dickens that is a direct sequel to one of Edwards’ stories. 5/7/16

The Power of Darkness by Edith Nesbit, Wordsworth,  2006 

Edith Nesbit is, of course, known for her children’s books – she wrote about forty of them. She also wrote a sizeable handful of short supernatural stories for adults, most of which are contained in this collection. Nesbit’s stories are somewhat more explicit than those by most of her contemporaries. “Man-Size in Marble” is quite effectively creepy, as is the walking corpse in “From the Dead.” The other stories vary although there are only a couple that I thought were either minor or too loosely structured.  Several are rationalized or turn out to be hoaxes or madness. Quite readable. 5/4/16

The Monkey’s Paw and Other Tales of Mystery and the Macabre by W.W. Jacobs, Academy Chicago, 1997   

The title story is probably the best known short horror story not written by Edgar Allan Poe. It’s the ultimate story warning us to be careful what we wish for. I was surprised, however, at how good most of the other stories in this collection are. “The Well” is a very atmospheric story of a dead man in a well who may or may not be seeking revenge. Ambiguity is a common theme in Jacobs’ stories.  A lot of his characters are misers. About half the stories in this collection are not fantastic, but they are still of very high quality. I had no idea that he was so consistently good as I had only read a half dozen of his stories in the past, spread over a good many years. 4/26/16

Over Your Dead Body by Dan Wells, Tor, 2016, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8069-2

The demon killers are on the run, both toward and away from others. They are still after the last few of the creatures they have been hunting, but they are also on the run from some of the authorities, who don’t understand or accept that they aren’t killing human beings or who want more control of the situation. The female half of the team is succumbing to psychological problems as well, thanks to her tap into the semi-consciousness of thousands of dead people. This has been a very unusual series ever since it started, so I never know quite what to expect when I pick up the next. And it doesn’t look like this is the last, and that’s a good thing. This one will probably confound your expectations, and it’s a thrilling ride. 4/24/16

A Night on the Moor & Other Tales of Dread by R. Murray Gilchrist, Wordsworth, 2006   

Gilchrist was a fairly prolific British writer whose career began late in the Victorian period. Most of his novels are regionally oriented, but many of his short stories were horror or fantasy, sometimes resembling the work of Lord Dunsany. These are all pretty minor. A few of them are entertaining but unmemorable and several are slow moving – though they are generally quite short. He had a particularly weakness for endings. Several of the stories come to a stop rather than a conclusion, and in others the climax takes place off stage. Not someone you should go out of your way to find. 4/23/16

Couching at the Door by D.K. Broster, Wordsworth, 2007

The title story, in which a poet is bedeviled by a mysterious creature, is the most famous in this collection, but all of them are quite good and a few are excellent. I particularly liked “From the Abyss,” which is one of the best doppelganger stories I’ve ever read, and “The Pestering,” a haunted house story. A couple of them are psychological rather than supernatural and at least one isn’t remotely horror at all, although it is still worth reading. Broster wrote popular historical novels and her short supernatural work was a tiny part of her output, but probably her most enduring. 4/21/16

The Complete John Silence Stories by Algernon Blackwood, Dover, 2013 

John Silence is a psychic detective whose six adventures are gathered together in this collection. In the first, an evil spirit steals the sense of humor from a comedy writer and Silence uses a dog and a cat to draw out the evil and identify it. The second, “Ancient Sorceries,” is one of Blackwood’s best. A man stops over in a small French town and discovers that the entire community is part of a subtle and hostile conspiracy. The remaining four involve a strange sort of lycanthropy, a man who drifts into other dimensions, the lingering effect of a school filled with devil worshippers, and a fire elemental. Two of the stories are minor, three are very good, and one is excellent. 4/17/16

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Tor, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7880-4

The town of Black Spring has a secret, although it has been known to the US government for three centuries. A woman executed as a witch in the 17th Century has returned, sort of, from the dead. She appears physically in town every day, wrapped in chains, her mouth and eyes sewn shut. It is dangerous to listen to her whispering, which will cause the listener to commit suicide. The town has been fitted with security cameras and a control center to monitor where she is and to ensure that no outsiders not already in the know find out about her existence. And anyone who moves to the town or is born there is unable to leave for more than a short trip. Prolonged absences invariably lead to suicide. The town is ruled by a rigid code that confines, punishes, and sometimes kills those who threaten to upset the status quo. And five local teenagers decide that they have had enough and plan to lay the secret open to the world. Not only is this very creepy and very well written, but it's as close to a unique idea as any I've encountered in recent horror fiction. The author is definitely one whom I will be following in the future. 4/11/16

The Doll Maker by Sarban, Ballantine, 1953   

Clare Lydgate is an eighteen year old resident of a restrictive school for girls who becomes acquainted with the people who lived on the other side of a stone wall, Mrs. Sterne and her adult son Niall. Niall fashions puppets, or so he claims, but he is also fond of magic and Clare is drawn mysteriously into his orbit without quite understanding what is happening to her. Eventually she discovers that Niall has been lying to her and that she is in danger. But is it too late? This was the best of Sarban’s three novels, although not as well known as the others. It was also the last thing he wrote, alas. 4/10/16

Ringstones and Other Curious Tales by Sarban, Coward McCann, 1951

The original hardcover edition of the title novel was accompanied by four excellent short stories that were left out of the Ballantine paperback editions. The stories include an encounter with a living mammoth, another with a satyr, a fantasy game that becomes real for its participants, and a precocious bear. The novel is the diary of Daphne Hazel, a student who takes a temporary job as governess/teacher for two children in a remote part of England. She finds the children exceedingly strange and eventually realizes they aren’t human. The diary ends abruptly and the characters from the framing story go to investigate. Hazel tells them it was all a dream, and initially circumstances seem to support her theory, but eventually they uncover evidence that it might have had some basis in reality after all. Very atmospheric, very intelligently written, but perhaps too subtle for modern audiences. 4/7/16

Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber, Berkley,  1952   

This is the classic novel of contemporary witchcraft against which all others have to be judged. A college professor discovers that his wife is using charms and spells and – since he doesn’t believe in such things and is a pompous chauvinist – he insists that she stop. Unfortunately, she has been protecting him from three other faculty wives who have sinister designs on his job, even his life. He learns the hard way that he doesn’t understand how the world works as well as he thinks he does. A personal favorite that never seems to age. 4/3/16

Great Mischief by Josephine Pinckney, Popular Library, 1948 

This is an odd and pretty much forgotten novel of witchcraft in late 19th Century Charleston. A druggist who feels responsible for the death of his sister in a fire leaves the church and begins keeping company with a young girl who is an avowed witch. At first it appears that it is all in his mind, but eventually he attends a sabbat and meets Satan himself. More of an intellectual exercise than a novel, it consists largely of long debates about the nature of good and evil. 4/1/16

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