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

Last Update 12/30/12

Brood of the Witch Queen by Sax Rohmer, Pyramid, 1966 (originally published in 1918) 

This is one of Sax Rohmerís early novels, an occult adventure that certainly falls into the horror category. Antony Ferrara has mastered evil Egyptian magic with which he commits murders, including that of his father after magically forcing him to change his will. An acquaintance and his father are aware of his use of the occult almost from the outset but are initially powerless to do anything about it. The battle moves from England to Egypt when the sorcerer flees there only to reappear with even greater powers. This has the feel of a classic horror film and despite the lapse of a century, it has a surprisingly modern feel. Iím surprised this isnít much better known and more frequently reprinted. 12/30/12

Notes from the Shadow City by Gary William Crawford and Bruce Boston, Dark Regions, 2012, $9.95, ISBN 978-1-937128-40-1 

This is a collection of related poems by either or both of the collaborators, sprinkled with black and white drawings that evoke the same imagery as the text. The Shadow City is a kind of murky, indefinable place where strange figures move across an even stranger landscape. I was impressed by the economy of words Ė the authors frequently develop a situation or snapshot of irreality that prose writers would require many pages to accomplish. If you like a hint of chill in your poetry, this should be just the trick. 12/28/12

Claimed by Francis Stevens, Carroll & Graf, 1985 (originally published in 1920)   

One of the classic weird tales, predominantly horror although it could also be read as fantasy. A mysterious box casts strange spells over everyone who owns it. They are subject to visions of the ocean and compelled to sacrifice white horses in the surf in efforts to avoid their fate. A doctor is called upon to serve as guardian for a rich man who is the current owner but he also experiences the odd phenomena and tries to understand it despite his employerís efforts to keep him in the dark. Genuinely creepy at times. Although the language in this is a bit dated, the story reads quite well and is reminiscent of William Hope Hodgson and H.P. Lovecraft. The author was only active for four years but produced three memorable novels and a handful of short stories. 12/24/12

Black Static 30, 2012, £3.95

Black Static 31, 2012, £3.95

The horror themed companion to Interzone has two new issues out. There are several good but unremarkable short stories in its thirtieth issue. I actually enjoyed the accompanying nonfiction as much as the stories, though theyíre certainly not to be discounted There are good pieces by Christopher Fowler and an interesting selection of book and movie reviews. Excellent production qualities throughout, as has consistently been the case, although I do find the table of contents a bit too busy.  Issue 31 is a slight step upward in fiction, particularly stories by Jackson Kuhl and V.H. Leslie. The articles are entertaining again but not quite as relevant for me. Although most of the contributors are not familiar names in the US, I'm surprised that this hasn't made a deep inroad into the US market since the quality is quite uniformly high and there is, after all, no real competition. 12/2212

Ash by James Herbert, Tor, 2012, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2896-0   

The third novel featuring David Ash, psychic investigator, takes him to a remote castle used as a refuge for rich people who want to escape from the world for one reason or another. He doesnít like the assignment because of the secrecy and his suspicion that most of the people there are either criminals who didnít get caught, insane, or individuals who considered themselves above the law.  Ash senses a presence before he even enters the building, whose residents are variously perplexed, skeptical, or firmly convinced that the supernatural is in play. Some stories of this nature are subtle. This one is not. The manifestations are major, witnessed by scores of people, and are undeniably supernatural. In fact, my only serious problem with the novel is that in the face of such deadly and violent events so little recognition is demonstrated by the people in charge. There's plenty of action because the various characters, most of them pretty nasty to start with, are motivated by the supernatural forces to even more extreme acts of violence. In fact, if anything it's a case of overkill because the last third of the book is so full of activity that there's no time for any suspense. A solid work by Herbert, if not his best.  12/19/12

The Dead of Winter by Lee Collins, Angry Robot, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-85766-272-9   

The Old West has always seemed to me an excellent setting for a horror novel even though I am normally not fond of non-contemporary horror. This first novel deals with a husband and wife team who hunt supernatural creatures for a living and who encounter a creature they cannot even identify, although we eventually learn that it is a wendigo, a human transformed after committing an act of cannibalism. Their campaign to exterminate the creature is complicated by the presence of an ambitious gunslinger and a mysterious barkeeper who secretly has a grudge against the female half of the team. Halfway through the book, the wendigo is killed and a new story starts involving a master vampire whose brood inhabits a silver mine. Itís not as good as the first half, though not bad.  There are a few minor rough spots in the prose but nothing fatal. An uneven but promising debut. 12/17/12

The Werewolf of Ponkert by H. Warner Munn, Centaur, 1976

This slim volume contains two related novelettes first published during the 1920s. The title story is an historical werewolf tale narrated by the werewolf himself, a peasant in Hungary who is transformed against his will by a pack led by a powerful and charismatic leader. When he rebels, he is forced to kill his own wife, which leads him to betray the others, all of whom are killed except for the leader, who escapes to return briefly in the sequel, "The Werewolf's Daughter". She grows up ostracized because of her father, is befriended by a young man traveling with gypsies, then survives an encounter with her father's old master and a horde of enraged villagers. Munn is best remembered for his fantasy but his horror is pretty good as well.  12/15/12

Freek Show by Steve Burt, Burt Creations, 2012, $16.95, ISBN 978-097414073-5   

Follow up to Freek Camp, which I havenít seen. Although this is self published, Iíve read some of the authorís short stories and enjoyed them so I tried this. Itís for younger readers and deals with some kids who have psychic powers. They also encounter some friendly ghosts who come to their assistance in the investigation of a murder. Before long, theyíre engaged in a full scale battle with a serial killer who has targeted some of their number as potential victims. Not badly done at all and only a few rough spots but less satisfying for more sophisticated readers than for its target group. 12/14/12

Blood Riders by Michael P. Spradlin, Harper, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-202309-4 

I believe this is the first adult novel by the author of several popular works for younger readers. It plays to some of my favorite themes since itís set in the Old West and features Allan Pinkerton and other historical characters, as well as Abraham Van Helsing. They recruit a disgraced soldier who claims that his patrol was killed by demonic creatures, securing his release from custody when a similar event takes several more lives. Together they discover a race of beings about which I canít say much without revealing too much. I enjoyed this one quite a lot and wouldnít mind seeing a sequel or two, although thereís nothing here to indicate that more adventures will follow. 12/10/12

Inheritance by Joe McKinney, Evil Jester, 2012, $16.95, ISBN 978-80615690895  

A police officer becomes the focus for a kind of supernatural Armageddon, thanks to his late fatherís plot to wreak a supernatural attack on the world. Popís influence reaches out from the land of the dead and his confused son becomes prime suspect in a series of murders. This is a cross between a quasi-traditional ghost story, a police procedural, and a modern thriller. Iíve read the authorís zombie novels, which have all been well written if somewhat formulaic. This one differs considerably in tone as well as subject matter and I found it far more suspenseful, with better drawn characters, and a less graphic but no less compelling story line. Iím in favor of more McKinney, less zombie. 12/8/12

King of the Dead by Joseph Nassise, Tor, 2012, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2719-2 

The second Jeremiah Hunt novel, an urban fantasy of sorts.  Hunt is blind, part of a deal he made in order to be able to see into the world of the supernatural. Although the authorities are convinced he is a criminal and are trying to arrest him, he travels to New Orleans believing that the city is in serious danger. The barriers between living and dead may be on the verge of coming down. This feels more like urban fantasy than the first, which was more specifically a horror novel.  Iíd put this in that category as well and itís not surprising given the nature of the authorís previous novels. Occult adventure, some creepiness, a hint of apocalypse, and solid, convincing prose. 12/7/12

Tortured Spirits by Gregory Lamberson, Medallion, 2012, $14.95, ISBN 978-160542406-4  

The fourth Jake Helman paranormal investigation returns to the graphic violence of his earlier novels. Helman and a female police detective follow a trail of clues from New Orleans to a remote island where voodoo practitioners have raised an army of zombies. The shambling undead are being used as workers raising an exotic new drug so their masters donít take kindly to outside visitors, even if they are on selfless missions to aid a friend. As if that wasnít bad enough already, a demon has taken interest in their activities and there are more obstacles to overcome before they win through. Of course we know that Jake is going to overcome his enemies in the end, but the route he travels is not so predictable. Although this appears to be a lengthy book, it has large type and is written in a headlong style that will carry you to the end with surprising speed. 11/30/12

Blood of Dawn by Tami Dane, Kensington, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7582-6711-5   

I found the first two books in this horror series, billed as urban fantasy, rather slow moving. The third is a little better in that area. Sloan Skye is a woman working for an FBI unit that specializes in paranormal crimes. This time she visits her alma mater where some mysterious force is stealing the blood of teenage girls with fatal consequences. This time the case is complicated by connections to the FBI itself, as well as the protagonistís inevitably rocky romantic life, which is also less intrusive this time than in the past. Still not my favorite series but its prospects are looking up a bit this time. 11/29/12

Cold City by F. Paul Wilson, Tor, 2012, 25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3014-7   

Well, I didnít really think the Repairman Jack series was over with, and I was right. First we had some YA novels about his teenage years and now we have the first volume in the Early Years trilogy. I enjoyed most of the books in this series, so this isnít really a complaint, but I really wanted to see what Wilson would do with some fresh material, so in that sense this is a disappointment. This one covers his arrival in New York City and the beginning of his career as an investigator/enforcer/thief living off the grid and helping others who have no legal recourse. Although there are supernatural overtones, the story is basically a mainstream thriller involving criminal gangs and racial tensions. Pleasant and exciting but nothing special.11/17/12

Seal Team 666 by Weston Ochse, Thomas Dunne, 2012, $24.99, ISBN 9781250007353   

Iím surprised it took this long for someone to come up with this title but pleased that it was used for a good novel. The team in question is a unit whose purpose is to deal with supernatural menaces. It opens with a new recruit discovering its true purpose, then whisks him off for a series of short supernatural encounters before revealing that a malevolent cult has concocted a plan for Armageddon. In the hands of a less skilled writer, this could have been just silliness but Ochse actually manages to make us take things seriously, and sweeps us along as the plot thickens. An interesting blend of military style thrillers and the supernatural. 11/14/12

I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus by S.G. Browne, Gallery, 2012, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-5767-0872-0

The author of the zombies novel Breathers has an associated book here, a slim little hardcover Christmas story that involves good zombies - they were inevitable - on the run from the evil normal human authorities who want to experiment on them. Efforts to get zombie rights recognized have failed so  our dead hero disguises himself as Santa Claus in order to prevent himself and others from falling into captivity. This is cute rather than scary, and it wouldn't be scary even if it wanted to because it's written in present tense. Had it been longer, I'd have given up long before the end. Present tense is difficult to sustain even for a gifted writer and even then first person present tense is problematic. Browne tries to get the combination to work, but it falls short. 10/27/12

Virgin Vampires by Douglas Brode and Joe Orsak, McFarland, 2012, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-7864-6298-8

This is a longish graphic that might have made an interesting conventional novel. Bram Stoker and J. Sheridan Le Fanu travel to Europe to rescue the woman they love from Elizabeth Bathory, vampire. After thwarting her, they turn their attention to Dracula himself. There's a faintly erotic undertone to the story, which is not entirely out of place, and the two main characters did in fact know one another, so that's plausible as well.  The story is told in a straightforward manner and holds no real surprises, which was mildly disappointing. The artwork is similarly workmanlike but unremarkable and there were no images that really grabbed the eye. The result is an entertaining bit of storytelling that probably won't linger long in your memory. 10/27/12

Mutated by Joe McKinney, Pinnacle, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7860-2929-7 

Fourth in the authorís ongoing series about zombies. As was the case in the later George Romero movies, the undead have started to act strangely. They are no longer simply mindless killing machines but have now learned to act cooperatively in certain circumstances. Iím not sure mutation is the right word to describe this change, but it conveys the situation. Our heroes are also on the run from what passes for the authorities locally, a despotic dictatorship that is in some ways worse and more dangerous than the zombie hordes. Although zombie stories now constitute a mini-flood in publishing, this has proven to be one of the more reliable series. 10/23/12

Ghost Town by Jason Hawes, Grant Wilson, and Tim Waggoner, Gallery, 2012, $15, ISBN 978-1-4516-1382-7 

I suspect this was ghost written by Waggoner with the two actors from Ghost Hunters simply figureheads. Not surprisingly, itís a ghost story. The setting is a town where a natural disaster produced a very large number of perturbed spirits whose existence is celebrated by an annual conference. But this year things are different. A murder and other spooky events suggests that the ghosts are angry and capable of doing something about it, apparently at the instigation of an entity known as the Dark Lady.  Our heroes have some ghostly baggage of their own, an old friend whose spirit may be responsible for setting off the current reign of terror. Not as suspenseful as it might have been - the story actually moves rather slowly - but otherwise it works well. 10/17/12

Home by Matthew Costello, Thomas Dunne, 2012, $25.99, ISBN 978-1-250-01273-9   

This is the immediate sequel to Vacation, which I had never even heard of until the sequel showed up. The books are set in a kind of zombie apocalypse without real zombies. There was some kind of global collapse in the first, after which some of the survivors became essentially predatory beasts preying on the others. This one follows the adventures of a woman and her two children and their desperate attempt to find a safe haven. Their adventures are straightforward and sometimes intense. Costello has always known how to write a good story. I did have a problem with this, however. The vast majority of paragraphs are only one or two lines long. This may help to give a sense of motion to the story but it also feels choppy and sketchy and a lot of the time I had no visual image of what was actually happening. Perhaps I havenít seen enough zombie movies. This one's science fiction but it feels more like horror. 10/5/12

Ghost Key by Trish J. MacGregor, Tor, 2012, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2603-4   

Sequel to Esperanza, which I liked. The colony of malevolent ghosts which menaced the protagonists in that book was wiped out except for their leader, a witchy spirit who moves to Florida to organize a new legion of the evil dead. As the locals fall under the influence of possession, one woman recognizes that something odd is taking place, and not far away a psychic working for the government has strange visions relating to a series of mysterious deaths. This was as good as its predecessor with a really nasty villain and despite my mild aversion to stories of possession I found this gripping and hard to put down. It's nice to discover that at least a few new writers are going for creepy in their supernatural fiction instead of sexy. 9/16/12

Odd Apocalypse by Dean R. Koontz, Bantam, 2012, $28, ISBN 978-0-553-80774-5 

Since Bantam doesnít send me review copies, I had to hunt this down, and it was surprisingly hard to do so since even Barnes & Noble had it hidden away in a corner. Itís the fifth in the Odd Thomas series Ė unless I missed another which is entirely possible. Thomas can see and communicate with the spirits of the dead, and heís met Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra in the past. This time heís investigating the sprawling estate known as Roseland, which predictably conceals a number of disturbing secrets. Oddly enough, no pun intended, I generally like Koontzís rationalized horrors better than his genuinely supernatural work, so while I found this reasonably suspenseful and certainly well worth reading, I donít number it among his better novels. 9/11/12

Dead Mann Running by Stefan Petrucha, Roc, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46474-3

Sequel to Dead Mann Walking, which I have never seen. It's a zombie detective story, in that the detective is a zombie, a not unexpected outgrowth of the zombie craze. The life-challenged members of the population have to undergo periodic testing to ensure that they are not turning carnivorous but otherwise their lives are not all that different. Our hero, who apparently caught his wife's murderer in the first volume, has a new mystery on his hands. A mysterious briefcase shows up and a disembodied but animate arm appears to have a rather personal connection to our hero. Add in a corrupt government and a plot to attack the entire population of the city and you have a fast paced, action packed supernatural detective story. Some of the tough guy conversations struck me as a bit over the top but otherwise this was quite nice. 9/7/12

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