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

Last Update 9/29/16

The Family Plot by Cherie Priest, Tor, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7824-8   

A salvage company is given the contract to extract whatever it wants from a large old house that is about to be torn down. It looks like a five day job, but that’s before the salvage crew discovers that the house is not entirely untenanted and that the small private cemetery on the property is not what it appears to be. This is a routine but well told ghost story, although the solution to the mystery was, I thought, rather obvious a bit too early. Some of the scares are very effective. Other than the short, Hollywood style trick ending, I enjoyed this thoroughly. 9/29/16

Six Scary Stories edited by Stephen King, Cemetery Dance, 2016, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-58767-570-6 

Stephen King acted as judge in a story competition and the six best were gathered here as a slim anthology. I thought the first two stories by Elodie Harper and Manuela Saragosa were both excellent – a drowned village and a possibly possessed teddy bear. Two of the others were quite good, by Stuart Johnstone and Neil Hudson, though both are more conventional suspense stories than horror. The remaining two by Michael Button and Paul Bassett Davies were less to my taste. One is about animated toys and the other is set within a North Korean style crazy dictatorship never specified. Pretty good overall. 9/25/16

Thunder Moon Rising by Jeffrey J. Mariotte, Tor, 2016, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7528-5

This is a tie in to the Dead Lands role playing game, which I have never played. The setting is pretty open, an alternate Old West where just about anything goes from mad scientists to supernatural creatures of various sorts. So it can be SF, fantasy, horror, or a blend of one or more. This one mixes a serial killer with cattle mutilations out of the latest UFO hoax. The protagonist is an alcoholic who is recruited into a posse sent to track down the party or parties responsible, and rather predictably he finds himself in the process of finding the answer. Although this is quite long, it felt much shorter. I enjoy Old West fantasies and Mariotte spins a fine tale with equal parts adventure and suspense. 9/17/16

The Wild White Witch by Peter Stafford, Zebra, 1974 

There is some ambiguous magic in this novel of a cult of Ishtar that appears on an island in the Caribbean during the 1830s. A visitor from Scotland who expected to inherit a plantation discovers that his benefactor’s widow is the priestess of a cult who derives sexual pleasure from acts of sadism. Initially seduced he is eventually horrified by what he learns. This is one of the most boring novels I’ve read in years. Peter Stafford, incidentally, is Paul Tabori in his last book length appearance. 9/16/16

The Subjugated Beast by R.R. Ryan, Dancing Tuatara, 2013 (originally published in 1938)

A young woman can only establish her claim to her grandfather’s estate by living for a period of time with her aunt and uncle. The uncle is a scientist, but he is a very unpleasant man, the house operates as though it was a century behind the rest of the world, and the aunt is clearly living in a state of fear. Occult events soon follow. It is fairly obvious that the uncle has designs on the money, and when he takes wife and niece to a remote part of Wales it is clear that one of them is never supposed to return. But his occult experiments have an unexpected result. A little dated but actually quite good. 9/12/16

Lily Dale by Paul Tabori, Belmont Tower, 1972 

This is a very boring story about a young girl who runs away from the circus in Europe and comes to America. After having had several affairs, she meets a man who teaches her how to operate as a fake medium. She abandons that for a while and eventually marries a wealthy doctor, but drifts back into the business as an amusement. Eventually it appears that real spirits are appearing and denouncing her and she commits suicide. 9/8/16

Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! edited by Otto Penzler, Vintage, 2011 

A very large collection of zombie stories – although sometimes the definition of zombie is expanded rather drastically, as in “It” by Theodore Sturgeon, although it’s a great story. There is a mix of older stories from the pulp era and newer ones from just the last few years. There is an informative introduction to each story. Includes work by Stephen King, Hugh Cave, Harlan Ellison, H.P. Lovecraft, Lisa Tuttle, Joe Lansdale, Michael Swanwick, and many others. This is another of those books that sat by my bed and got sampled briefly each evening. Good value for the money. 8/31/16

The Stuff of Dreams by Edward Lucas White, Dover, 2016, $9.95, ISBN 978-0-486-80615-0   

Edward Lucas White was an American who produced several historical novels and various other works, but he is remembered almost entirely now for his handful of weird stories, the most famous of which is “Lukundoo”, which involves a witch doctor’s curse. Some of the other stories here are also quite good, particularly “The Snout,” “The Pig-skin Belt,” and “The Picture Puzzle.” He does have a somewhat ponderous prose style, however, and his endings are often weak. His stories tend to be more reflective and atmosphere driven than plot driven, but he is still worth reading if you’re in the right mood. 8/25/16

Lovecraft Alive! by John Shirley, Hippocampus, 2016, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-178-7 

I’ve read a lot of books by John Shirley, enough so that I never know what to expect when I pick up another. This is a collection of short stories that make use of the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, sometimes in very innovative ways, sometimes more traditionally. All but one of these have been previously published and there were actually only three that I had not previously read. Several of them are set well into the past, which is not something I’ve seen frequently in the HPL pastiches I’ve read. Lovecraft is himself a character in one case. The original story is quite good, but my favorites in the collection are “Buried in the Sky” and “How Deep the Taste of Love.” The stories make no effort to copy the sometimes torturous prose of Lovecraft, so they should appeal even to readers who aren’t that fond of the Lovecraftian school of writing. 8/22/16

Tales of the Metropolis edited by Higashi Masao, Kurodahan, 2012

Third and final volume in a series of anthologies of Japanese horror fiction. These tend to be more modern in tone and all of them are set in Tokyo. They include a story about a doppelganger, a dark comedy, spiders that lay eggs in people, murder by mimicry, and other kinds of villainy. None of these are particularly overt or violent and the supernatural element is usually a source of wonder and vague unease rather than actual terror. The stories by Edogawa Rampa, Endo Shusaku, and Toyoshima Yoshio are particularly good. 8/21/16

Country Delights edited by Higashi Masao, Kurodahan, 2011 

The second volume in a series of three collections of Japanese horror fiction is set in the countryside and includes stories from 1906 through 1992. Some of these stories are based on traditional Japanese folklore, and overall they tend toward the more subtle side of horror. The novella, “Midnight Encounter”, is particularly good, reminiscent of Algernon Blackwood at his best. Some of the stories have unresolved mysteries, which is characteristic of a lot of Japanese horror fiction, and movies as well. Both volumes in this series of anthologies are highly recommended. 8/17/16

Mirror Image by Michael Scott and Melanie Ruth Rose, Tor, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8522-2 

An antiques dealer finds a very old mirror at an auction in the UK and has it shipped to his business in California. The first death is deemed an accident, a worker crushed when the mirror falls over, but the second is either suicide or murder – another employee cuts her own throat while looking into the mirror. And then there’s the scarred man who insists that the mirror belongs to his family. And after that, all record of the sale disappears and the police begin to look at the dealer with suspicious eyes. More deaths follow as the mirror, a kind of living gateway to another reality, begins to gather its powers. This was okay but the undefined nature of the mirror’s powers – which seem unlimited at first – put me off considerably. Anything with this kind of ability to manipulate the living would be impossible to subdue in the first place. 8/14/16

A Time of Torment by John Connolly, Emily Bestler, 2016, $26.99, ISBN 978-1501118326 

The Charlie Parker novels have become increasingly supernatural over the years and this one continues that trend, although most of the conflict has a more mundane cause. An isolated rural community known as the Cut has been dominating the surrounding towns for generations, even though it allows no outsiders to enter without constant supervision. Parker is told of the situation by a dying man who also insists – rightly – that the people in the Cut worship the dead god, an entity which is concealed in a single building. Much carnage follows. The Parker novels are very violent, but they also reflect the conflict between good and evil in a quite specific fashion.  There are real ghosts in the story as well, and they actively intervene in events on the periphery. This one is about average for the series, and the closing chapters are riveting. 8/13/16

The Big Book of Ghost Stories edited by Otto Penzler, Black Lizard, 2012

The blurb on this says that it contains more than a thousand pages of ghost stories, which is false. There are slightly over 800 pages in the book. Still, that’s a lot of ghost stories and since most ghost stories follow one of the very few standard patterns, they get monotonous after a while if you read too many at once. So this has been sitting by my bed for a few weeks so that I could read one or two each night, although I finished the last dozen in one sitting. Most of these are older stories, either from earlier British writers or the American pulps. Not all of the ghosts are unfriendly and there is even a brief section of humorous stories. About half are reasonably familiar if you read much horror fiction, but the other half is comparatively rare. This would be a nice book to keep in a cabin for reading beside a campfire at night. 8/11/16

Tales of Old Edo edited by Higashi Masao, Kurodahan, 2009 

First in a three volume collection of Japanese horror stories, drawn from 1778 through the present. Although there is a different system of myths and legends from which most of these are drawn, they bear considerable resemblance to Victorian ghost stories, in that the supernatural element is not always frightening or malevolent. The translations are excellent and all of the stories read smoothly and naturally. This particular volume consists of historical settings in Japan. They include ghosts, cursed flutes, possession, unexplained abductions, and several other plot elements. The occasional word or phrase needing explanation has a footnote, but these are rare and don’t interrupt the story flow. Looking forward to the next two volumes. 8/4/16

Wraith by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Thomas Dunne, 2016, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-312-65907-3  

A Russian general has entered the US with a team of ghosts who can manifest themselves physically and kill the living without being vulnerable themselves. A rather average policeman gets involved when he becomes the focal point for the ghost of a US government agent who holds vital information which he must extract within four days.  The Russian is a rogue and other agents have been sent to stop him, but no one really knows what his ultimate target might be. Although this is clearly supernatural, it is treated like science fiction – much of the explanation involves quantum entanglement. Lots of action and a relentless pace make this a better than average thriller. 7/30/`6

Dead Heat by Del Stone Jr., Mojo, 1996 

I was in a rare mood in which I thought a zombie novel might be palatable, but I picked one I had read before. The protagonist is a kind of uber zombie, that is, he can still think and plan and act positively despite being dead, unlike all of the others. He gets wind of a neo-Nazi overlord who was a weapon that projects a ray that causes zombies to combust, so he uses a really violent pretext to penetrate the fortress for a series of confrontations with the real villain. Nicely illustrated by Dave Dorman and Scott Hampton. 7/28/16

Tales of Unease by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Wordsworth, 2000

This is a collection of Doyle’s supernatural stories along with a few that are really just suspense. In one, a four thousand year old Egyptian finally finds peace. In another a French aristocrat avenges the death of his son. Vengeance and avarice as the basis for murder recurs in several of the stories, which include deaths by giant cats, mutilations, and other savagery. “The Horror of the Heights” is an excellent though dated story about creatures that live in the upper atmosphere. About a third of the collection are stories of suspense rather than horror and a few are very minor, including some vignettes. This was not really Doyle’s forte, but he did produce a handful of quite readable tales. 7/27/16

Supernatural Buchan by John Buchan, Leonaur, 2006 

John Buchan wrote only a handful of supernatural tales, of which the best are “Skule Skerry,” “The Wind in the Portico,” and “The Grove of Ashtaroth”. Most of the stories take place in rural northern parts of the British Isles and they often involve ancient legends or artifacts, Picts, Romans, and the like. Buchan sometimes had difficulties finding an appropriate ending for his tales and I finished several of these feeling disappointed. “Fullcircle” sets up a very interesting mystery, but the protagonist is called away at the last minute and we never find out what happened or why.  “The Green Wildebeest” is about an African curse and I am quite sure I’ve read the story previously by another title and with another byline, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.  There is a good deal of repetition in the stories as well, and quite a bit of racism as well. 7/25/16

The Dead of Night by Oliver Onions, Wordsworth, 2010 

This largish collection contains the complete short supernatural fiction of Oliver Onions. He is best known for “The Beckoning Fair One,” the story of man who falls under the influence of a haunted house, but includes several others that are excellent, like “The Rosewood Door” and “The Painted Face.” He wrote in a leisurely, witty style that is probably too slow for some modern readers and his stories were generally eerie and unsettling rather than suspenseful or frightening.  A few of his stories are variations of familiar themes and a good many of them have very little supernatural content. They are more inclined to be mysterious or tragic than suspenseful or horrifying. I found that I could only read a few stories at a time because of the slow pacing and I suspect readers more used to the economical prose styles of contemporary horror writers will find some of these tales quite tedious. 7/20/15

The Trail of the Cloven Hoof by Arlton Eadie, Dancing Tuatara, 2010 (originally published in 1935)

Hugh Trenchard is hiking through the moor when he responds to a call for help. A wounded man tells him that he has been attacked by a legendary shapechanging monster that lives in the area, and later Trenchard is also assaulted by a creature that speaks but does not appear to be human. A visit to a local sanitarium is also perplexing because the sinister doctor in charge attempts to make him a prisoner. A heavily edited version of this appeared in Weird Tales. A duel of wits follows, although not a particularly interesting one. There are rumors of a creature half human, half stag, the formula for a gas that turns people into living bombs, a mysterious woman, thugs, and a somewhat tortuous plot, although for the most part it was enjoyable enough. 7/15/16

End of Watch by Stephen King, Scribner, 2016, $30, ISBN 978-1-5011-2964-2 

The final book in the loose trilogy that started with Mr. Mercedes reverts to the openly supernatural. The hospitalized serial killer has discovered that he has a weak form of telekinesis, but more importantly he can interfere in the thoughts of susceptible people and even switch bodies. He is aided by means of a handheld computer game which can trigger hypnosis in a significant number of people. The ex-cop who caught him is his primary target, but things rarely go as planned. This basic plot is not, of course, original with King but it is, as usual, handled in a much more sophisticated manner. Although I didn't find this as suspenseful as some of his other books, I read it in practically a single sitting, so it obviously sucked me into the story anyway. 7/11/16

Darkness, My Old Friend by John Pelan, Fedogan & Bremer, 2016, $34.95, ISBN 978-1-878252-78-4 

 John Pelan is probably best known in the horror field for his work as an editor, but he has also written quite a few short stories. This is his first collection and it covers stories published over a period of about fifteen years. They vary fairly widely in subject matter, everything from occult detection to what might almost be urban fantasy. Some of these stories feel very modern while others are almost Victorian. There are forgotten gods and hauntings and bizarre obsessive collectors and a host of others. My favorites here were “Mystery of the Worm,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” and perhaps “Lord of the Jungle.” Pelan has a nice sense of the macabre and creates some powerful imagery herein. 7/9/16

Ghost Run by J.L. Bourne, Gallery, 2016, $16, ISBN 978-150114197-3   

The latest in the Day by Day Armageddon series, set in a zombie apocalypse. This premise has been so overdone that even in the case of reasonably well written novels like this one, there is little sense of originality. The story this time involves the discovery of a possible cure for the epidemic of zombies. An elite group of soldiers has to acquire the secret of the cure and protect it long enough for experts to put it to use. There’s plenty of carnage, some weapons porn, a lot of running around, and at times it felt more like a computer game than a novel. I think I have thoroughly overdosed on zombies, but if you're not too jaded, this is above average of its type. 7/4/16

Swimmer by Graham Masterton, Severn House, 2001 

A woman’s son is drowned in their pool by a mysterious invisible assailant who leaves only footprints behind. The police obviously won’t believe her so she goes to Jim Rook, whom she knows has psychic abilities. When Rook tries to help, he attracts the unwanted attention of a spirit that manifests itself through water, and attacks on his friends follow in short order. Sometimes it appears as steam or boiling water. Rook consults an expert  and eventually figures out how to banish the demon forever. The Jim Rook stories were not Masterton’s best work and they generally followed an obvious formula, but they are entertaining nonetheless and even occasionally quite creepy. 7/1/16

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