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

Last Update 12/28/14 

The Devil’s Promise by David Stuart Davies, Titan, 2014, $9.95, ISBN 978-1783292707   

Sherlock Holmes is contemplating retirement while vacationing on the shore when he finds a dead man on the beach. He retrieves Watson but in the few minutes of his absence the corpse and all signs of footprints in the sand are gone, leading Watson to wonder if Holmes is suffering from hallucinations. Then he sees the body, which promptly disappears a second time, and in due course they meet the son of an infamous Satanist, presumed dead some years earlier. It is evident that some or all of the villagers are involved in some kind of secret society which he heads. Watson is subsequently kidnapped and then we jump forward in time. They are back in London, Watson has been ill and has lost all memory of their trip, and Holmes is unwilling to enlighten him. Watson then resorts to asking a friend from his club to help him discover what is going on. There is a genuinely supernatural climax to this above average Holmes adventure.12/29/14

The Tangled Skein by David Stuart Davies, Wordsworth, 2006   

This Sherlock Holmes pastiche begins right after the events in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Someone tries to kill Holmes with a booby trap, after which he is lured to a dilapidated house and rendered unconscious. He is rescued by Dr. Watson and we learn that the villain is Charles Stapleton, the murderer from the Baskerville case, who didn’t fall into the bogs as had been believed. While dueling with this enemy, he reads of Van Helsing’s announcement that vampires are real – which he doesn’t believe – and learns of a woman found murdered and drained of her blood. Eventually even Holmes has to accept the truth as he battles Dracula himself. Both villains are eventually dispatched with no help from the characters from Bram Stoker’s novel. Davies is one of the better writers working the Sherlock Holmes vein, and he’s not bad with vampires either. 12/28/14

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Thomas Dunne, 2007 

I had seen and was impressed by the US film version – Let Me In - of this understated Swedish vampire novel and I ordered a copy of the Swedish version along with the book itself. Oskar is a young, troubled boy, bullied in school, preoccupied with fantasies in which he is a ruthless killer. The newcomers in his housing complex seem to be a man and his strange daughter, but the daughter is actually a vampire arrested in childhood and the father is actually her former playmate and now servant, who kills random people and drains their blood. The friendship that develops between vampire and child is fascinating and even touching. She decides to help him fight the bullies even as her adult servant is nearing the end of his willingness to kill for her. I really enjoyed this and promptly ordered copies of the author’s other books available in English. 12/13/14

On Her Majesty’s Behalf by Joseph Nassise, Harper, 2014, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-06-204878-3 

This is the sequel to By the Blood of Heroes, in which the Germans use a special gas to reanimate corpses and, in this volume, a variant which turns people into shredders, essentially undead zombies. I suppose it's SF as much as horror, but zombie apocalypses seem most appropriately listed among the latter. London and Manhattan have been essentially lost to the undead. Major Burke, our protagonist, is part of an American commando unit based in France which is called upon to rescue the royal family from the heart of the shredder infested city. With limited knowledge about the abilities of this new form of zombie – they are stronger, faster, and have exceptional hearing – they must sneak past them in both directions. And time is running out.  Although I’ve overdosed on zombie stories, this series does manage to stand out far enough to be worth noting, although with two years between titles, it may struggle to build a consistent following. 12/12/14

Ship of the Dead by John L. Campbell, Berkley, 2014, $15, ISBN 978-0-425-27264-0 

The zombie novel craze has receded but hasn’t gone away. This is the second in the Omega Days series, in which rationalized zombies – it’s a virus – are rapidly taking over the world. A group of disparate survivors decides to take control of the USS Nimitz on the assumption that it is self contained and can be physically isolated from infected areas. Unfortunately the ship is full of zombies who have to be cleared out of the way first. I’m not sure I accept that premise. Without land based support naval ships would provide only a temporary haven. Fuel, food, water, and medicine would be limited. That caveat aside, this is a somewhat better than average novel of its type, with a few gory scenes, lots of battles, and some effort to make the characters come to life. A third in the series has been announced for next year. 12/2/14

Nyctophobia by Christopher Fowler, Solaris, 2014, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-78108-211-9  

A young Englishwoman and her older Spanish husband buy a remote house in rural Spain whose architecture is designed to admit the maximum amount of sunlight. We learn nothing untoward about the house early on except that the former own became elderly and perhaps senile, the servants are a bit odd, and one of the rooms has been barricaded shut when they first visit. They are told that there used to be a telescope but the mounting for it seems inadequate. There are slight hints that someone else is in the house but nothing overt in the first half of the novel. Haunted house stories generally follow a pattern and this isn’t one of the exceptions. It’s well done, but perhaps a little too slow to develop. The title, incidentally, refers to fear of the dark. 11/27/14

Sustenance by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tor, 2014, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-34-1-5

Saint-Germain is back. This time our vampire hero surfaces in Europe in the aftermath of World War II. Not all of the refugees were fleeing the Axis, however. The infamous House Un-American Activities Committee has hounded some Americans into exile in Europe. When our undead hero forms a close bond with one member of the exile community, it attracts the attention of intelligence agents who are in a lather about the threat of Communism. Saint-Germain prefers that his affairs remain private for - obviously - entirely different reasons. A more immediate concern is the high death rate within the expatriate community, which suggests that someone has targeted them for elimination. Since I don't want to give away the solution, I can't say much more than that about the plot without spoiling things. As always, Yarbro has a well plotted and well written story to tell, and I do prefer the novels in this series set closer to the present. It's not really horror but it's hard to call it fantasy either. On the other hand, it's easy to call it very good. 11/23/14

Revival by Stephen King, Scribners, 2014, $30, ISBN 978-1-4767-5038-3

The protagonist of King's latest novel meets Reverend Charles Jacobs when he is still a child. Jacobs gives up the pulpit when his wife and child are killed in an accident and the two do not meet again for many years, at which time the protagonist is a drug addict and unemployed musician. Jacobs was always fascinated by electricity, used a possible electric placebo to cure the protagonist's brother's trauma induced muteness, and now uses a much more sophisticated version to end the addiction after a single treatment. Jacobs is now performing unusual tricks in sideshows and has become an evangelist of sorts as well. It seems at first as though he is doing wonderful things despite some minor lingering side effects, but the protagonist and the reader both have reservations. Then we begin to discover that some of those effects can be serious, leading to insanity or suicide. As always, King's characters really draw us into the story, but this is still a relatively minor book because most of the overt action takes place in the final fifty pages and it really isn't major enough to justify the long buildup. 11/17/14

Out of the Unknown by A.E. van Vogt & Edith Mayne Hull, Powell, 1969   

Van Vogt rarely ventured into the supernatural. This collects three of those stories, plus four from Hull.  “The Sea Thing” is about an alien from the sea impersonating a human and it’s really SF.  “The Witch” is a boring story about a man contemplating murdering a woman who has some unusual abilities. Everyone in a small town accepts the existence of a dead man in “The Ghost,” and listens to his prophecies of the future. These are not among van Vogt’s best work and the Hull stories aren’t much better. A condemned man summons a demon and wins six wishes in “The Wishes We Make,” but cannot escape his fate. “The Patient” deals badly with destiny for the race as a whole. “The Ultimate Wish” and “The Wellwisher” also deal with wishes gone awry. Quite dull. Neither writer had much of a feel for this kind of story.  11/8/14

Fear City by F. Paul Wilson, Tor, 2014, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3016-1

Final volume of the prequel trilogy in the Repairman Jack saga. As much as I liked the original series, I was pleased to see it draw to a close because I was hoping the author would try something new. Alas, success is something of a trap, so instead we have a trilogy of books set before the main series. The young Jack has already begun to look very much like the character we met earlier and now his character traits are about to be solidified as he battles his way through a host of enemies including terrorists, an ancient secret society, government agents, and random bad guys. It's a fair thriller but the cookie cutter Muslim villains were so irritatingly badly drawn that it spoiled what was otherwise a good ending. 11/4/14

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest, Roc, 2014, $15, ISBN 978-0-451-46697-9   

Here’s an unusual take on the Lizzie Borden story. Inhuman creatures have been appearing in the Fall River area and some of the locals are being transformed. Lizzie Borden and her sister are aware of this but almost no one else is – and that’s why she killed her parents. They have moved across town but they are still besieged, and they know there is some connection to some unusual gemstones as well. This is very atmospheric, interspersed with some violent scenes, and the story is told from multiple viewpoints. Although I really liked the originality of the plot and several of the separate sequences, it does seem somewhat unfocused because of the constantly changing point of view and at times it was a bit slow. 10/20/14

Spawn of the Flames by Wayne Rogers, Altus, 2012 

Three novelettes from the pulps, from a writer whose work I have never read before. He gets off to a bad start in the title story by completely misunderstanding what a poltergeist is. The protagonist, obsessed with fire after a childhood incident in a crematory, begins to believe that he is responsible for a series of arson incidents by generating a doppelganger of himself. It’s all just a gang of madmen with a not very convincing method of fooling him. “The Devil’s Step-Daughters” is about a murderous cult but the monster is just a deformed man and everything is rationalized. “The Mummy Pack Prowls Again” is the closest to actually being fantastic. A new disease leaves people with loose skin – hence the mummy pack – and a mysterious killer strikes against those not affected. I understand, having read these three, why I have never encountered the author’s work before. 10/18/14

Devils in the Dark by Hugh Cave, Altus, 2012  

Two of these three weird crime stories from the 1930s have rational explanations. The first one has a more or less genuine vampire, although it is structured like a murder mystery. The second involves a ghoulish figure who has been murdering people near an inn, and whose plans are disrupted by the arrival of an outsider fleeing the law. All three are much better written than most other weird crime stories of that era that I’ve read, not surprising given that Cave was a much more successful and skilled writer. These are more curios than anything else, however, and are not near the peak of his quality. 10/9/13

The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly, Emily Bestler, 2014, $26, ISBN 978-1-4767-0318-3   

The latest Charlie Parker thriller feels more like Stephen King than usual. The town of Prosperous, Maine, has a secret. They have been abducting people and holding them captive for reasons concealed from the reader during the opening chapters. Their latest victim is the daughter of a homeless man who is killed when his inquiries strike too close to home and when he was just about to ask Parker to look into the case. His first visit to the town in question is viewed with alarm, understandably, but they underestimate his resources, or the trouble they are courting by challenging him. There’s some genuine supernatural content although it’s mostly off stage. There’s also surprisingly little of Parker. We see most of the story from the points of view of various inhabitants of Prosperous and a few outsiders. The Collector also makes a few brief appearances but Parker’s old foe is in an ambiguous position this time. This feels like a collaboration between Robert Parker and Stephen King and it’s an excellent mix. 10/6/14

The Tongueless Horror and Other Stories by Wyatt Blassingame, Ramble House, 2010  

While there are some very good stories buried in the masses of unpublished pulp, and while John Pelan tries to make a case that Wyatt Blassingame is unfairly forgotten, the truth is that his work was uninspired and largely uninteresting. Most of his weird fiction turns out to have a more or less rational explanation. The title story here, for example, appears to be about a supernatural killer demanding protection money, but why would a supernatural creature care about money and sure enough, it’s a man with a special costume.  “Satan Sends a Woman” is actually supernatural. A more than human woman who eats men nearly kills our hero. There’s a cursed island in the okay “Song of the Dead.”  “The House of Vanished Brides” is identified in the table of contents as “Hours of the Vanished Boarder.” I’m not sure if this is a retitle or a substitution. The story has a munane explanation. A doctor is drugging local women and abducting them to be sold into slavery. “Satan’s Thirsty Ones” is about a monster in a cave that turns out to be a man driven mad by contaminated water. The last two stories also have monsters revealed to be humans in disguise. Humdrum at best. 10/5/14

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