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

Last Update 9/23/17

The Collected Supernatural and Weird Fiction of Mrs. Oliphant Vol 2, Leonaur, 2014 

Two novellas and some long stories, most of them about ghosts although the ghosts are usually friendly. In one of them, an entire city is forced to evacuate by the spirits of the dead so that they will repent their sinfulness, but when the haunting is lifted, they quickly revert to their old ways. A couple of the ghost stories would have been pretty good at half their length. Oliphant pads her stories with long and unnecessary descriptions and lectures about morality and spirituality. It is not hard to understand why she is nearly forgotten. As with volume one, there is a single pretty good story, "The Library Window." 9/23/17

The Collected Supernatural and Weird Fiction of Mrs Oliphant Vol I, Leonaur, 2014

Margaret Oliphant was not one of the major writers of Victorian supernatural fiction, but she used fantastic elements quite often. The bulk of this collection consists of the Little Pilgrim series, not really a novel, in which a woman dies, goes to Heaven, gets shown around, has visions of life on Earth, visits a rather dull Hell, and witnesses a damned soul seeking to redeem itself. "The Secret Chamber" is a traditional and reasonably well done story about a family curse and secret passages. The rest of the stories are comparatively dull. She is particularly inept at ending her plots. Not worth the money for only two good stories. 7/19/17

Ghosts of Manor House by Matt Powers, 2017, $9..99, ISBN 978-1548462741 

Ghost stories tend to be formulaic but this first novel manages a few slight twists. The protagonist is an author whose family is tormented by the death of a son. His wife convinces him that they should accept an invitation to stay at Manor House, but he goes in advance of the rest of the family. It's not long before he becomes interested in the history of the house which is obviously not what it seems to be and encounters the ghosts of its past, almost quite literally. The story is well constructed and reasonably well told, but for me at least it was marred by the present tense narration, which meant there was no real suspense. 9/4/17

Adventure of the Deadly Dimensions by Lois Gresh, Titan, 2017, $14.95, ISBN 97-1785652080

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson cross paths with a cult of Cthulhu worshippers in this adventure. They are looked into a series of bizarre mutilation murders and discover that they are part of an elaborate ritual designed to allow alien entities from another reality to enter our world. So naturally they have to put a stop to it. The two strains of story here did not strike me as a good mix, and although the author does an admirable job of trying to bring them together, it does not always work. The mood is predominantly Holmesian, which I think was a good choice. It's entertaining, certainly, and an interesting experiment. 8/24/17

A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly, Emily Bestler, 2017, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-7189-5

The Charlie Parker series by Connolly is sometimes straight thriller, sometimes has hints of the supernatural, and sometimes is full blown horror. This is one of the last. Parker and friends are looking into the disappearance of a private investigator whose hobby was the supernatural, specifically a series of stories about a group of ghosts who frequently appeared at murder scenes. The ghosts are real. One of them made a deal with a devil to suspend judgment and leave them in limbo, on condition that their descendants periodically kill someone. Parker's ghostly daughter is also around, his living daughter continues to show unusual abilities, and one of his friends may be seriously ill. A recurring characters dies this time as well. Topnotch stuff, the kind that keeps me up till late at night because I have to know how it all turns out. 8/21/17

The Day After Judgment by James Blish, Avon, 1971

The sequel to Black Easter doesn't have quite as much punch, but it works out some of the consequences. Now that God is dead, the demons can come and go on Earth as they please, and although some humans attempt to resist, it's more of a symbolic than a real resistance. The man responsible for the debacle tries to figure out where the future of magic lies. Meanwhile, the demons discover that in the absence of God, they are forced to establish a new structure of good and evil, and therefore conclude that by the very act of winning their ages long battle, they have ultimately lost the war with Heaven. 8/20/17

Black Easter by James Blish, Dell, 1968 

A black magician undertakes a commission from a jaded arms dealer to release several dozen demons from Hell for a single day. The conjuration is a success, but the demons decide to stay because God has died and the old rules no longer apply. Despite the obvious melodrama, most of the book consists of incantations and descriptions of the elaborate preparations for the rituals. Blish also advances the theory that too much knowledge causes humanity to become so terrified that it leads inevitably to a new dark age.  8/15/17

Hands Out of Hell by John H. Knox, Dancing Tuatara, 2012 

The third collection of stories from weird menace magazines apparently draws on the lesser works of a lesser writer. There are more plot holes than ever. Ventriloquists actually throw their voices. Poisonous substances have effects that actually do not happen. Killers use unnecessarily complex and sometimes completely impractical methods to suggest supernatural events rather than just kill their victims. In at least one case, the climax is so drawn out that it becomes funny rather than exciting. Despite titles like "Blood for the Cavern Dwellers" and "Girls for the God of Fire", these are pretty dull. 8/8/17

Bone White by Donald Malfi, Kensington, 2017, $15, ISBN 978-1-4967-0388-0

An apparently deranged man confesses to a series of murders in a remote Alaskan town. The protagonist believes that his brother may have been one of the victims, but by the time he learns that this is not the case, he has become intrigued with a community that seems to have a unique culture and which may be warding off a supernatural menace. There's a twist in this one that I didn't see coming and a creepy atmosphere that clamps down early and never relinquishes its grip. Malfi is one of a handful of writers on my Amazon alert list. 8/4/17

Man Out of Hell by John H. Knox, Dancing Tuatara, 2011

The second of three collections of this author's stories from the weird detective pulps, in almost all of which the supernatural elements are rationalized. A couple of the stories in this selection are pretty racist, not surprising for their time. Mexicans are all superstitious and blacks are just inept. The title story involves a very sophisticated robot, so technically it is SF. The others tend to have more mundane rationalizations, usually villains faking the supernatural to mask what they are actually doing. Despite the effusive introduction, these are mediocre to poor stories.  7/20/17

The Complete Supernatural & Weird Fiction of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, Leonaur, 2013

There are over five hundred pages of short fiction here, most but not all of it supernatural or at least fantastic. One of the best stories is not fantastic at all, "Frozen Margrit." The stories are usually variations of familiar plots, although Baring-Gould was a better writer than most of his contemporary ghost story authors. Almost every story uses first person narration, sometimes nesting one narrative inside another, and several of them have historical settings.  The supernatural elements are invariably low key, sometimes even benevolent, and occasionally ambiguous. "The Haunted Dragoon" and "The Horror on the Stair" are the best of the overtly supernatural stories. 7/13/17

Tales of Moonlight and Rain by Ueda Akinari, Columbia University, 2006 

This is a famous series of lightly supernatural short stories from the 18th Century. Most involve encounters with ghosts and other mythical creatures. They are entertaining, but more fantasy than horror despite their supernatural elements. This was a very influential book in Japan but Western readers may have difficulty because of a lack of background. Fortunately, this edition includes a quite lengthy prologue that provides the necessary information and makes the stories much more effective. I strongly advise reading it before going on to the stories themselves.7/12/17

Reunion in Hell by James H. Knox, Dancing Tuatara, 2010

This is a collection of suspense stories originally published in the weird mystery magazines of the 1930s. In most cases, but not all, the supernatural or fantastic elements are rationalized at the end, not always very convincingly. Knox was not a bad storyteller, but his work is riddled with gigantic plot holes that he obviously felt no compulsion to plug. Some events are unexplained, motives are confused, people act inappropriately in response to what is going on, and the author interjects coincidences and other devices to get his heroes out of trouble. 7/5/17

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