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

Last Update10/19/20

The Agony House by Cherie Priest, Scholastic, 2018

This is a fairly low key haunted house mystery for young adults. Female protagonist solves a perplexing problem connected to supernatural events. The puzzle is fairly interesting and Priest does his usual good job developing her characters. Not as appealing to adults as her other work, but still quite readable. The illustrations, which sometimes include comic book style panels, are by Tara O'Connor and are also good. 10/19/20

Six Guns Straight from Hell 3 edited by David B. Riley & J.A. Campbell, SFT, 2020, $15.95, ISBN 979-8685931115

Another collection of weird western stories involving various elements of the supernatural and just plain strange. As was the case with the previous volumes, the contributors are generally unfamiliar names and it's not likely any of these will be on the Hugo ballot, but the large selection is uniformly well written and ably plotted, and a few of them incorporate intriguing and interesting ideas. I have a special fondness for this genre because I learned to read by means of paperback westerns and I still dip into that genre from time to time. Most of these are serious but some drift toward being whimsical. It's something of a specialized taste and there's not much of it being written, but if you're fond of that subgenre, or just want to try something different, you might want to look at this series. 10/10/2-

The Wolf-Leader by Alexandre Dumas, Myebook, 2017 (originally published in 1857)

Despite the publisher’s name, this was not an ebook. It’s a werewolf novel based on legends that Dumas heard as a child. It follows the usual pattern, with not much overt horror, and a fair amount of adventure. There is also quite a bit of witchcraft and magic in general and one could call it fantasy just as readily as horror. It’s rather slow in spots and some of the characters feel a bit over wrought. Considering his reputation as a writer of adventure novel, this is a surprisingly dull story. 9/6/20

The Hands of Orlac by Maurice Renard, Severn, 1981 (originally published in French in 1920)  

This is the classic horror novel, basis for four movie, in which a pianist loses his hands in an accident and has them replaced by those taken from an executed murderer. But the hands have a will of their own and are soon forcing him to commit violent crimes. His wife tries desperately to save him, but the reader will know very quickly that he is doomed by his situation. A bit ponderous at times and it takes a while for the plot to develop. This is not in print, which I find very surprising given how famous it is. 9/3/20

The Books of Blood Volume 3 by Clive Barker, Berkley, 1984 

Another fine collection, headlined by “Rawhead Rex,” in which an ancient creature finds the modern world a bit too much to handle. Made into a decent low budget movie. There are also stories about a movie theater that becomes haunted by cancer, a morgue shroud that becomes possessed and hunts down a murderer, an uncharted island that is a cemetery for people drowned at sea but never recovered, and a male prostitute who finds himself menaced by a statue that is striving to become human by adopting his appearance and his life. Very strong selection in this volume. 8/19/20

We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone by Ronald Malfi, Journalstone, 2018  

A hefty of short, mostly horror stories by an author we don’t see enough from. Quite a few of these are more than slightly creepy or disturbing. Most of them provide intense looks into the minds of their characters, not all of whom are well balanced. There is quite a wide variety of themes and settings, and the construction varies from one shock horror to very subtle and atmospheric. There were only a couple of stories that didn’t work for me and several that worked very well indeed. This collects, I believe, almost all of his shorter work, and makes me impatient for a new novel. 8/12/20

The Skeleton Melodies by Clint Smith, Hippocampus, 2020, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-286-9

This is, I believe, the author's second collection of short stories. I recall finding the first reasonably enjoyable although none of the stories have stuck in my memory. There are thirteen here, a couple of them original, and all new to me. There is a strong leaning toward traditional horror, although the psychology of his characters is not neglected. Quite a few are not really fantastic, drawing on psychological trauma, murder, ingrained guilt, and other mundane dangers. My favorite is the longest in the book, "Haunt Me Still," a satisfying ghost story. There are touches of dark humor in some of the entries. I've always thought that short stories were the most effective length for horror, and this collection is a good demonstration. 8/10/20

Things That Never Happened by Scott Edelman, CD Publications, 2020, $17, ISBN 978-1-58767-774-8

A new collection of Edelman shorts is always a treat, and this might be my favorite group of his assembled stories. Although most involve supernatural elements or some fantastic element, in many cases that portion is an adjunct to the main story, which is about the protagonist. There may be ghosts or demons but it’s the humans who hold our attention. Mental deterioration, stalkers, and other not entirely unfamiliar characters lurk in the corners. “That Perilous Stuff” is my favorite among these. There is an extensive afterword talking about each story. Very nice throughout. Edelman is one of those writers whose work seems much more impressive when read in batches rather than as isolated stories. 8/7/20

The Books of Blood Volume 2 by Clive Barker, Berkley, 1984 

The second collection in this series includes solid stories. A charity race turns out to have a demon as a contestant, and the world as the prize. A man who tries to force people to confront their deepest fears creates his own. A woman discovers a deadly and self-destructive power. A man traveling through Arizona runs into a parade of monsters, the best story in this volume. There is also a sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” set in modern day France, that was quite good but was marred for me by an unfocused and unsatisfying ending. 8/3/20

The Books of Blood Volume 1 by Clive Barker, Berkley, 1984 

Barker’s debut horror collection instantly made him a major horror figure, although almost everything he wrote in subsequent years was fantasy, however dark. The best in this volume is “The Midnight Meat Train,” which was made into a mediocre horror movie. A serial killer feeds his victims to the creatures that live under the city of New York. “The Yattering and Jack” is an entertaining duel between a man and a kind of demonic poltergeist. The rest are variously entertaining although I found the last entry a bit dull. The six volumes making up this series had a terrific impact when they appeared and most remain effective. 7/20/20

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell by Paul Kane, Solaris, 2016 

A Sherlock Holmes adventure set in the world of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser.  The first half is more traditional, told from Watson’s point of view, and is frankly a bit dull. Then we switch to Sherlock’s perspective and things pick up quite a bit, eventually causing the duo to solve the puzzle that opens the door to Hell. There they discover that Moriarty has become the leader of the Cenobites and is planning an attic on the world of the living. Holmed becomes a cenobite himself in order to stop him. This sounds a lot better in theory than it worked out in practice and there is little sense that the protagonist is actually Sherlock Holmes for the final third of the novel. 7/17/20

Monsters, Movies, & Mayhem edited by Kevin J. Anderson, Wordfire, 2020, $28.99, ISBN 978-1-68057-107-3 

This is an original anthology of stories which, sort of, involve movie-style monsters. I'm a big monster story fan so I was looking forward to this  Most of the contributors are unfamiliar names and it’s no surprise that the better stories are by Steve Rasnic Tem, Fran Wilde, and Jonathan Maberry. They are for the most part familiar themes – by design – although some of the stories manage to find a new twist. They are all certainly well written – not a real clunker among them – but for the most part they did not invoke the desired atmosphere, at least not for me. Your mileage may vary. 7/4/20