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

Last Update 12/19/11  

The Undying Thing and Others by Barry Pain, Hippocampus, 2011, $20, ISBN 978-0-9846386-2-8

Barry Pain was largely admired as a humorist during his lifetime, but it is his horror fiction which continues to be remembered.  This is a very large collection of pretty much all of his memorable work, and some not so memorable, including "The Moon-Slave", one of my favorites of his work, and several others I had read previously. The vast majority, however, were new to me and vary considerably in quality although there are no real clunkers. Also included is a complete novel, The Shadow of the Unseen, which I hadn't know existed. Although it's a bit ponderous, it has genuine moments of suspense and atmosphere. Pain was probably a minor influence on Lovecraft but he never really developed a distinctive enough voice to be memorable otherwise, but many of these stories compare favorably with a lot of what is being published today. 12/19/11

Double Dead by Chuck Wendig, Abaddon, 2011, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-41-4

Part of the Tomes of the Dead series of zombie novels, by various authors, although this one has a vampire protagonist. He's a little pissed to discover that most of his food source has been converted to the living dead and therefore contain blood that won't nourish him. But they wouldn't mind feasting on him. This is a kind of riff on Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, with three sides rather than two. The vampire is put in the odd position of having to protect the living humans from the dead ones, which is not exactly in his job description. Nothing too deep here but plenty of violent and sometimes almost comic action.  12/13/11

Cosmic Forces by Gregory Lamberson, Medallion, 2011, $14.95, ISBN 978-160542408-8

This appears to be the third in the Jake Helman series, none of which I have previously seen. Helman is a tough private eye who gets involved with mundane criminals as well as their supernatural allies.  In this case the criminals are politicians and corporate executives, which is horrible enough, but in the process of spying on the local mayor he uncovers a secret conspiracy to rule the world.  But even the conspirators might not realize the full horror of their situation as a malevolent entity pursues its own course. The previous novel I'd read by Lamberson was over the top horror, but this one is more restrained. The plot offers few surprises but the prose flows smoothly and there's a kind of inevitable rush toward the conclusion that carried me right along. For a book this size, it goes surprisingly quickly.  12/12/11

Jak Barley, Private Inquisitor by Dan Ehl, Rogue Phoenix, 2011, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-936403-26-9

This one falls somewhere between occult adventure and urban fantasy. The detective is a private investigator who usually handles mundane cases even though there are various supernatural entities roaming about. This somewhat episodic account includes a variety of problems ranging from the creepy to the magical and you could call this fantasy as easily as horror. The prose is a bit sparse at times but not clunky and it moves the plot along quite nicely. There's a light tone that belies some of the events taking place. Nothing earth shaking here but a nice enough light adventure. 12/3/11

Don't Scream by R.L. Stine, Apple, 2011, $5.99, ISBN 978-90545-28937-5

The Goosebumps series seems to be on life support, but there are still occasional titles in the same vein as the earlier ones, although this one has some slightly darker overtones. The young protagonist has dealt with normal bullies but when he finds a mysterious cell phone, his troubles multiply. Someone is calling him and demanding that he do terrible things, and he's afraid not to obey. Slight but not bad. 12/3/11

Hellbent by Cherie Priest, Spectra, 2011, $15, ISBN 978-0-345-52062-3

Novels about feuds among vampire clans living secretly within human society are generally not my cup of tea. Cherie Priest is one of the few who can make the concept work for me and she does so quite nicely in this sequel to Bloodshot, which I enjoyed very much. This time she has two projects to work on. She needs to recover some magical penis bones from a madwoman who plans to use them to magically change history, and she needs to find a way to reconcile her blind vampire friend to the house he theoretically is obligated to support. This latter problem requires her to infiltrate a rival house with a very bad reputation to discover the truth about a vampire's death. And she's also trying to help her cross dressing friend to find his younger sister, who was turned years earlier and subsequently disappeared.  Fast paced action and darned good writing as always. Her protagonist's ethics are somewhat questionable, but she is after all one of the undead and she has mellowed a bit since her first outing.  Enjoyable from start to finish.  11/24/11

The White People and Other Weird Stories by Arthur Machen, Penguin, 2011, $16, ISBN 978-0-14-310559-6 

I read most of Arthur Machen’s short fiction back when I was in high school and have not looked at his work since until now, when this new Penguin collection suggested it was time. I remembered him as being rather longwinded and not particularly interesting, but that no doubt was because I had just discovered science fiction and read primarily fast moving adventure stories. Coming to him again now, I find his prose much more impressive than I did in the past but his plotting less pleasing, but while his horrors are pretty tame compared to even his contemporaries, his stories are on the whole reasonably good.  This selection opens with “The Inmost Light”, whose theme recurs in Machen’s work – the consequences of the quest for forbidden knowledge. In this case a doctor destroys his wife’s mind through an occult experiment, and eventually pays for his sins.  It is somewhat flawed by a bit too much coincidence, another recurring character in Machen’s fiction. Much better known is “The Novel of the Black Seal”, which I vaguely remembered. It reminded me of Lovecraft as its protagonist searches for the key to an ancient race and rushes headlong into disaster.  “The Novel of the White Powder” is disappointing; a drug turns a man into mush, literally. “The Red Hand” is similarly unsatisfactory, depending too much on coincidence and extraordinary leaps of logic as a man tries to decipher an artifact linked to a murder. The title story involves a young woman’s encounter with a mysterious race of people hidden among us. A promising premise is slightly marred by wordiness this time – one paragraph runs on for several pages – but on the whole it’s very good. “A Fragment of Life” is a longish, very effective character study of a parsimonious couple, but there’s not much story to go with it. “The Bowmen” is Machen’s famous but very short story of an apparition cheering British soldiers on the battlefield. “The Soldier’s Rest” is similarly inspirational but a less interesting story. “The Great Return” has the Holy Grail rediscovered.  “Out of the Earth” is an account of a minor supernatural appearance.  The book ends with “The Terror”, a novella, and one of my favorite Machen stories. Something is killing people around England during the Great War.  Most of this is great but I restricted myself to reading no more than two stories a day because of the dense prose. 11/20/11

The Third Section by Jasper Kent, Pyr, 2011, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-531-6

Jasper Kent's historical sequence about vampires in 19th Century Europe has become one of my favorite series, which is very unusual because I normally don't care much for historical horror, although one could read this just as easily as fantasy, though of the darker persuasion.  Previously they were involved in the Napoleonic Wars and the aftermath, but now it's time for the Crimean War and the siege of Sevastopol, which is one of my favorite periods of history. The book picks up the atmosphere of that time wonderfully and does a fine job with the Russian court and other locations as well.  There's a serial killer of sorts - and we know pretty much what sort - as well as court intrigues, battles, heroes and villains, dark secrets, and displays of heroism and incompetence. This is a series you shouldn't allow yourself to miss and I look forward to more.  11/13/11

The Black Angel by John Connolly, Pocket, 2006

This Charlie Parker adventure abandons all pretense that it’s a conventional crime novel. Parker agrees to help his friend Louis investigate the disappearance – actually murder – of his cousin. They promptly find themselves facing a homicidal fanatic who makes statues and furniture out of human bone, and while they dispatch him quite easily, there is a greater danger behind. The Believers are a cult that is searching for a fragment of the soul of a fallen angel, and some of them are also fallen angels as well.  There’s no doubt that the supernatural is involved, and in fact we discover that even Parker is not entirely human. The back story about his love affair is a distraction and the author is clearly maneuvering things to write it out of future books. There’s another disgusting and original villain, a good deal of violence, and a large quantity of genuinely exciting suspense. 11/10/11

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft, 2011, $17, ISBN 978-0-14-310648-7

This selection of stories by H.P. Lovecraft was first published in 1999 but it has a new edition with some really nice cover art by Travis Louie. I sample HPL every once in a while so a few of these stories I had re-read recently but others were less familiar. Some of the stories seem to me his lesser work - I was never fond of "Herbert West, Reanimator" or "He" but the majority are among his most impressive works including the title story, "Dagon," "The Color Out of Space," "Cool Air," and "The Haunter of the Dark." I think there's a tendency to underrate Lovecraft at times because he has been discussed and analyzed so much that it's tempting to think that he was just a shallow pulp writer, and sometimes he does resort to shallow, pulpish techniques.  At the same time, he was superb at creating a morbid, threatening atmosphere and when considered in the context of his contemporaries, he was producing original, almost experimental work.  Not all of his best works are included here, but enough to underscore his importance to the genre.  11/7/11

Redlaw by James Lovegrove, Solaris, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-05-6

This falls somewhere between horror and urban fantasy, and a little outside of both, which is about what I expect from a new Lovegrove novel. The diversity of his output is one of the reasons why I look forward to his new books - they're always going to include some element of surprise. In this one, vampires are an established part of civilization, but they are largely confined to ghettoes where they are referred to as the Sunless. This is largely a metaphor for any group isolated in poverty within a city, and it's no surprise that the vampires are rioting and demanding better living conditions.  The protagonist is a policeman assigned to this district who is trying to keep the lid on things and roust the bad guys, but the job gets more complicated when he learns that someone has decided to solve the vampire problem by eliminating them altogether. This feels more like a contemporary thriller than fantasy or horror, but those elements are essential to the plot.  I have yet to read a bad book by Lovegrove.  11/4/11

The Panama Laugh by Thomas S. Roche, Night Shade, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-290-1

A zombie novel with hints of satire but mostly just creepiness and slaughter. There's been a worldwide outbreak caused by parties partly unknown and the resulting zombies, who can't stop laughing, are killing everyone in sight, except when they're being killed in turn by a variety of characters. Our hero is suffering partial amnesia but he believes he was somehow involved in creating the outbreak. Unfortunately, he's in a Central American jungle and has to fight his way back to the United States, where he encounters both the usual and unusual in zombie fighters. This falls into the category that aren't meant to be taken entirely seriously, but which manage some serious storytelling along the way. It should appeal to zombie groupies as well as the more discriminating reader and it's certainly not a book you're going to forget any time soon.  11/3/11

Eyes to See by Joseph Nassise, Tor, 2011, $22.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2718-5

A college professor performs a magic ritual in an effort to find his missing daughter, as a result of which he loses his normal sense of vision but gains the ability to perceive the spirits of the dead and other supernatural creatures which inhabit our world unseen. He believes that it is in this world that he will find traces of his daughter but for a while it seems he has just destroyed his existing life. Although he earns a living as a kind of low grade ghostbuster, ably assisted by a couple of friendly wraiths, he seems to be making no progress on his original quest. But someone or something has taken notice of his activities because he is framed for a murder and has to extricate himself from that menace as well as the animosity of an evil entity. The ending was not what I was expecting so it may surprise you as well. Nicely written, well paced, and quite inventive. 11/1/11

The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten by Harrison Geillor, Night Shade, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-284-9

This is the second spoof of Garrison Keillor, the first of which involved zombies in a small town of special people.  This time it's vampires. A young woman moves to Lake Woebegotten and becomes involved with a fellow student. She is delighted to discover that he and his family are vampires because that gives her a wonderfully warped and evil idea. Yes, this is a kind of twisted satire of the Stephenie Meyer Twilight novels, and they certainly provide a plethora of hooks for satire.  Some of the jokes are obvious, some pretty clever.  Overall a good deal of fun. 10/27/11

Things That Go Bump in the Night by Patrick Carman, Scholastic, 2011, $12.99, ISBN 978-0-545-38475-9

This is the latest interactive book from Carman, parts of which including a video are on the internet. It's a collection of mildly spooky stories but they read more like sketches than actual fiction and they're much less interesting than most of Carman's other work. I still doubt the utility of a book that depends on the internet, since it's not likely that the content there will remain available indefinitely.  Which is in fact a problem with all electronically published material for that matter. It appears that this is the first in a series. 10/24/11

Zombie Stories edited by J.M. Lassen, Night Shade, 2011, $12.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-312-0

I didn't have a good feeling about this anthology because I figured what little potential zombies had for interesting new stories had been exhausted some time ago. I'm happy to say that I was badly mistaken and in fact this is probably the best of several zombie anthologies I've read.  There are excellent stories by Kelly Link, Jonathan Maberry, Darrell Schweitzer, Scott Edelman, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and very good stories by several others.  They aren't repetitive, or more than nominally derivative, and they range from creepy to funny to thought provoking. Most of them are reprints but I'd only previously read three of them, so it was like finding a new treasure trove.  Gruesome fun. 10/21/11

Candle in the Attic Window edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Styles, Innsmouth Free Press, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-9866864-4-3

Truth in advertising. I have a story in this one.  That said, it's a very interesting collection of gothic style horror and fantasy - and while a couple of them didn't strike me as particularly gothic, they were good stories so I didn't care. Most of the names are not likely to be familiar to most readers, but then again, there's little of a real market for gothic style fiction so that's not surprising.  There are good stories here by James Dorr, Ann Schwader, Ryan Harvey, and many others, most of them very strong on atmosphere. I found the exaggerated style a little over the top occasionally but not to the point of farce, and several of the plots were quite interesting as well. This probably isn't going to show up in Barnes & Noble but you can certainly find it several places on line. 10/21/11

The White Road by John Connolly, Pocket, 2004 

There’s no pretense at ambiguity in this Charlie Parker thriller, even though the most prevalent ghost turns out not to be one after all.  There are others that are obviously real, prescient visions, and the revelation that some really evil people in the world are possessed by dark angels fallen from Heaven. This one is also in large part a continuation of its predecessor because the evil Reverend Faulkner was captured, not killed, and now he strikes out from his prison cell through his minions, sometimes manipulated supernaturally. The new story involves the arrest of a black man accused of killing his white girlfriend, but even that is a mask for a hidden secret – a group of men who committed a horrible crime when they were younger which is now catching up to them, one by one, a theme Connolly reuses in The Whisperers. This isn’t his best book, actually. The plot wanders occasionally, there was inconsistency in Faulkner’s powers, and Kittim, the chief new villain, is not nearly as frightening as some of the author’s other creations.  Still good enough to keep me compulsively turning the pages and almost finishing this in a single sitting. 10/20/11

Mirror Maze by Michaele Jordan, Pyr, 2011, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-529-3

Horror fiction seems to be making a mild comeback, although largely in disguise.  This one looks like a fantasy, for example, but it's a classic horror theme, a demonic curse. A man suffering from the loss of the woman he loved finds another who appears to be her exact double, but there's a dark side to this, an evil force that feeds on human misery. Although it appears that good has triumphed early on, evil is resilient and the web of darkness encompasses more than just this single man, drawing them together to their common doom. But the forces of good are not powerless either and, aided by some supernatural abilities of their own, they confront their fate and  impose their will on the chain of events.  A blend of old fashioned horror, some mild romance, and a bit of occult adventure, all nicely wrapped together. This is a very impressive first novel. 10/9/11

Nightmare Seasons by Charles L. Grant, Doubleday, 1982

This collection of four novelettes won the World Fantasy Award and is probably my favorite of Grant's many books. The stories are all set in his mythical town of Oxrun Station and are loosely connected by subsidiary characters although the supernatural menace in each differs.  Grant was famous for quiet horror, and most of the deaths in the book take place off stage, and those that we see are minimally graphic.  They are more about atmosphere and psychological tension and conflicts within rather than between people. I always preferred his short fiction to his novels and this is a good example why. 10/8/11

Blood and Other Cravings edited by Ellen Datlow, Tor, 2011, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2828-1

One thing I can always be certain of when I start a new anthology edited by Ellen Datlow is that there aren't going to be any bad stories in it. There may be some that don't suit my taste but they will all be competently done and at least reasonably interesting. This new one doesn't break her string of successes. Although the theme is that of vampirelike obsessions, they are not strictly speaking vampire stories except in theme and sometimes atmosphere, although at times there are vampires in them. Instead they deal with compulsive behaviors, the not always metaphorical way in which some people can suck the life out of those around them, and other subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, variations. There is a good mix of authors here as well, established names like Lisa Tuttle, Melanie Tem, and Kathe Koja, and relative newcomers like Margo Lanagan and Michael Cisco. The stories by Tuttle and John Langan struck me as marginally the best, but they win by a nose in a hotly contested race.  If you're tired of vampires, you'll still find this refreshingly new.  10/6/11

Repeaters by Erica Ferencik, Waking Dream, 2011, 14.95, ISBN 978-0-9815741-1-0

This is an interesting variation on the theme of reincarnation. Murder victims are compelled to return to life as a new person in an endless series unless and until they can find a genuine emotional attachment. The protagonist is one such who is aware of her state but whose inability to express genuine emotion has prevented her from passing on permanently. In her current incarnation, she's a beautiful woman, a psychiatrist, and desperate to bring her torment to an end. To accomplish this, she is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone. This brings her into conflict with another young woman and this is the core of the story. Obviously the quest for love is foredoomed because the repeater really doesn't understand what love is in the first place. This isn't a particularly graphic novel and the horror is more in the implication than in the act. It's also much more character driven than most current horror fiction. The restrained style makes this one a pleasant break. 10/4/11

House of Fear edited by Jonathan Oliver, Solaris, 2011, $7.99, ISBN978-1-907992-07-0

I love a good haunted house story even though they are, for the most part, limited to a very few options. When this new collection of original stories arrived, my plan was to read one or two a night, but the stories are so good that I cheated and finished it in four days even though there are nineteen stories included.  Some of the outstanding stories are from people you'd expect - Joe Lansdale, Christopher Fowler, and Tim Lebbon for example - but others are from writers I don't ordinarily associate with horror like Christopher Priest and Eric Brown. I've grown very fond of Nicholas Royle, who has a good story here, and I've always enjoyed the not prolific enough Lisa Tuttle. A few of the bylines were new to me but there were only a couple of times when my interest flagged at all.  A very satisfying compilation. 10/3/11

The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe, Tor, 2011, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2744-4 

The new novel by Alex Bledsoe, whom I recently realized I’ve been enjoying quite consistently recently, falls somewhere between Manly Wade Wellman and Edward Lee.  There is a group of people known as the Tufa living in a remote part of Tennessee, their origin shrouded in mystery. The protagonist has just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq only to discover that she faces as much or more danger at home as she did overseas, although not of the same variety. She has serious problems with an ex-boyfriend that intertwine with a kind of ghost and the prediction that someone close to her will die. Bledsoe almost always manages to drag me deep into his stories and this one kept me up late so I could finish it – because I probably wouldn’t have slept easily otherwise. 10/2/11

The Dark at the End by F. Paul Wilson, Tor,10/11, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2283-8   

Finally Repairman Jack’s battle against supernatural forces come to an end. Jack, we have discovered, is the focus of a supernatural force that will make him something more than human so that he can continue to represent good versus the evil of the demonic Rasalom. It’s a time of shifting allegiances because as the ultimate battle with otherness draws near, it’s not always clear who will benefit from the outcome, regardless of which side wins. There are a couple of subsidiary plots as well which become crucial to the resolution of the main conflict, and while a buildup over more than a decade is likely to lead to at least some letdown at the end, Wilson does a pretty good job of meeting our expectations.  Fans will not be disappointed. 9/30/11

The Book of Cthulhu edited by Ross E. Lockhart, Night Shade, 2011, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-232-1

Here we have a nice big anthology of Lovecraftian short fiction, most of it reprint but drawn from a wide variety of sources. There's quite a range of writers included, among them Gene Wolfe, Ramsey Campbell, Kage Baker, T.E.D. Klein, Cherie Priest, and Joe Lansdale.  Charles Stross has a very unusual take on the Mythos. There are over two dozen stories here, ranging from pretty good to very good and with no clunkers and quite a few were new to me.  While some of the stories are traditional pastiches, many of them move off in entirely new directions and suggest entirely new variations to explore. One of the best reprint anthologies I've seen in the past couple of years. 9/23/11

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, Tor, 2011, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2865-6

For some reason this reminded me of the Silver John stories by Manly Wade Wellman. The protagonist is a young man who travels the country "killing" ghosts, or whatever the relevant term might be. He has magical devices which he inherited from his father, victim of a murderous ghost, as well as a cat who senses the presence of the malevolent dead. He is accompanied by his mother, a witch of sorts. His latest mission is to put to rest the Anna of the title, who kills everyone who ventures into the home where she used to live, but things start to go wrong very quickly, or if not wrong exactly, just not quite right. And there's another ghost as well, a reappearance from the past who hasn't quite finished his business. A clever, smoothly written, and very promising debut novel.  9/20/11

Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman, Ace, 9/11, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-441-02067-6   

Most writers wouldn’t mind being the next best selling horror novelist following in the footsteps of Stephen King, but unfortunately that’s an elusive goal and horror isn’t doing all that well anyway.  But once in a while an author pops up who reminds us of some of the reasons why King and Straub and Koontz became so popular. This first novel is a case in point, although it bears as much resemblance to traditional British ghosts stories. The protagonist moves to a small town to write a book about some terrible events that happened there in the past, but even though generations have passed, there is still a pall over the community that affects the current residents, and our hero and his wife are not exempt. It’s a sometimes vivid variant of the family curse story and very effective at what it does. My only complaint is the sparseness of the prose in many sections. There was a lack of texture and the background never fully came to life for me.  A promising start. 9/12/11

Sympathy for the Devil by Justin Gustainis, Solaris, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-03-2 

Morris and Chastain return for a new adventure, this one involving the candidate from hell. The leading candidate for the Presidency is possessed by a demon and his opponents have been falling prey to accidents, scandals, and even mysterious deaths as in The Hell Candidate by Graham Masterton. Quincey Morris is on the case, however, so we can be confident that good will win out in the end. He plans to exorcise the demon, but even more problematic than the supernatural barrier is how to get past the Secret Service long enough to accomplish his task. This is shaping up into an excellent series. 9/7/11

Rigor Amortis edited by Jaym Gates and Erika Holt, Edge, 2011, $9.95, ISBN 978-189406363-0 

A zombie anthology with an overtly erotic theme, although none of the stories struck me as particularly erotic. Vampire romance I can almost see, but zombies?  Anyway, this is a collection of stories that occasionally veer into uncharted territory by a group of authors almost all of whom are new to me, although only a couple struck me as ineptly written. Annette Dupree, J.R. Campbell, and Kay Holt have pretty good stories.  Some of the titles are clever. Some of the stories as well. 9/7/11

Regicide by Nicholas Royle, Solaris, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-00-1

This is one of those atmospheric horror novels where the reader isn't entirely sure what has happened even when the book is over.  The protagonist is Carl, a rather obsessive, withdrawn man living in contemporary London, whose latest fascination is a woman named Annie. Carl is haunted by memories of his childhood, fascinated with pop music, and has various unusual character traits that become more unusual as the book progresses. He finds a discarded street map which contains names he finds unfamiliar and all of his research is unable to determine what city the map refers to.  It actually refers to London, a kind of hidden neighborhood which can be entered but never exited except by those in power there. He slides further toward that dark place and eventually finds himself trapped. Or is he?  Very effective in creating a creepy sense of weirdness and the story goes really quickly. I was a bit puzzled by an apparent contradiction. If one cannot easily escape, how do Carl and Annie briefly visit the dark place early in the book and find their way out? 9/4/11

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