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

Last Update 12/29/15

Valley of Lights by Stephen Gallagher, Tor, 1988 

I was very impressed with this when it first appeared and it holds up very well indeed nearly thirty years later. The protagonist is a police officer who realizes that there is a disembodied entity that can kill its host body and survive so long as there is a brain dead body within range. So it sets out to build a supply of backup bodies. The hero has just begun a romance with a widow and her young daughter, and it’s not long before the daughter has been kidnapped and the policeman has to rescue her as well as finding a way to finally bring the entity’s life to an end. Very suspenseful, very well paced, and with a well designed problem. 12/29/15

The Guns of Santa Sangre by Eric Red, Samhain, 2013, $14, ISBN 978-1-61921-569-6   

This is a cowboys vs werewolves story, written in a terse style that suggests it was the treatment for a movie rather than a novel. The author has written and directed movies in the horror genre, so that’s not a big surprise. Three gunslingers are hired to clean out a town that has been taken over by a pack of werewolves. Almost all of the action takes place in the last ten pages and it is all very predictable. There is almost no sense of location, little physical description of the characters or surroundings, and there are long strings of one line paragraphs. Disappointing. 12/19/15

Bring on the Night by Don Davis & Jay Davis, Tor, 1993 

The second and final book by the Davis brothers was not an improvement. It’s a vampire novel and we see way too much of the rather dull vampire way too soon. A priest/vampire hunter teams up with a homicide detective to track down Nathan Kane and destroy him along with his minions, but the story takes far too long to reach its climax, and the final confrontation is relatively uninteresting. There are too many viewpoint characters and too little actual suspense. As with their first novel, the characterizations are very superficial and the villain a bit too familiar to be menacing. 12/9/15

Sins of the Flesh by Don Davis & Jay Davis, Tor. 1989

When they defy the leader of a satanic cult, a couple are cursed that their firstborn son will be a monster. Fifty years later they have been keeping him locked in a root cellar thanks to the wife’s magical powers, but he escapes when she has a stroke. He is described as a wendigo but essentially he’s a werewolf. After a number of fairly routine murders, his nephew finds the book of spells and manages to destroy him, although the cult leader escapes unscathed. Not nearly as good as I remembered it being, with several clumsy scenes and some very loose plotting. 12/8/15

The House on the Moor by William Meikle, Dark Renaissance, 2015, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-937128-70-8  

An aspiring writer and his girlfriend travel to a remote Scottish manor to interview an elderly man who was once close friends with the author’s grandfather. The two of them were notorious adventurers and romancers in their prime, although the grandfather died forty years earlier. The house is suitably creepy and there are strange sounds in the night. There is also a photograph album that shows the two men engaging in some kind of occult ceremony. Outside, they hear something moving on the moor that seems ominous. The grandfather died during the ceremony, which was performed in the basement of the manor. So naturally the protagonist decides to recreate the ritual hoping to communicate with his grandfather, or perhaps exorcize his ghost. But he misreads the situation badly. A little slow getting going but it moves well after that. Nice illustrations by Wayne Miller. 11/24/15

Night Music by John Connolly, Emily Bestler, 2015, $17, ISBN 978-1-5011-1836-4 

This is the second volume of short stories by Connolly, and it’s a varied and very satisfying lot, opening with a novelette about a magical library and subsequently encompassing horror, suspense, and even high fantasy. There are stories about cursed books, very unusual djinn, unfamiliar haunting, and parallel universes. The high point consists of five interrelated stories about cursed books, including an excellent short novel. There is a very funny recounting of a conversation between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty. The book ends with a very long essay about the horror genre and associated matters. This is an excellent collection from start to finish. 11/19/15

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King, Scribners, 2015, $30, ISBN 978-1-5011-1167-9 

Stephen King’s newest collection opens with one of his stories of children facing peril, in this case an alien that eats people and looks like an old car. It’s quite good. There is also a nifty story about a sand dune that predicts deaths. Another is a novelette about a Kindle that accesses alternate timelines. The stories are quite varied in subject matter – there’s a long one about baseball – but the quality is consistently good to excellent. There’s a story about the end of the world, and a writer whose fanciful obituaries come true, and a demon who takes the form of an obnoxious little boy. Not all of the stories are horror and even the horror stories are somewhat gentler than King’s earlier work. You’re not likely to find nearly five hundred pages of better fiction this year. 11/17/15

The Ghost House by Norman Berrow, St Martins, 1979 

This is a rewritten version of the 1940 original in which a man and his wife take refuge from a storm at a supposedly haunted house which has supposedly been deserted for forty years. They find it occupied by a man and his wife, their surly butler, and two houseguests. They also spot an unconscious man who apparently was in a boating accident and he is added to the household. Their host tells them that the house is indeed haunted but that they shouldn’t worry about it. It is clear from the outset, however, that something is seriously wrong. Some of the incidents that follow might have rational explanations but others – including a mirror that behaves very strangely – are clearly supernatural. 11/8/15

Every House Is Haunted by Ian Rogers, Chi-Zine, 2012

This is ostensibly a collection of horror stories although a few of them are just fantasy. There’s a pretty wide range of subject matter – from traditional haunted places to incomprehensible future apocalypses. The prose is invariably good to excellent; the plots almost always start well but several of the stories come to a stop rather than an ending. Some of them feel like the opening chapters of novels. Others provide a glimpse of something strange but the implications are never worked out.  I particularly liked “The Cat,” “Charlotte’s Frequency,” and “The House on Ashleigh Street.” I got the impression that Rogers has an active imagination that presents him with unusual images and situations, but that he doesn’t always find a narrative to match with them. 11/1/15

The Final Descent by Rick Yancey, Simon & Schuster, 2013, $12.99, ISBN 978-1-4424-5154-4 

The fourth and final book in the Monstrumologist series is shorter than the others and jumps around in time. Will Henry is 13, 16, and in his late thirties. We discover that at some point he abandoned his mentor, or was driven away, that he is romantically involved, that he is bitter about his years as an apprentice. We also see what happens when the last living example of a dangerous species of animal becomes a game piece coveted by scientists, criminals, and others. I was hoping for a somewhat more spectacular end to the series so I was mildly disappointed, but still very well entertained. 10/24/15

Mr. Jakes by Tony Richard, Dark Renaissance, 2015, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-937128-99-9

This novella involves a writer whose career has not been going well. He decides to recapture the conditions under which he wrote his first and most successful book, so he travels to a remote part of England where he finds a hotel that replicates the Victorian era. He is somewhat less than astute in noticing that there is only one staff member and that the other guests are so elusive that it is days before he sees the first of them, and then only fleetingly. No one asks for his credit card, his meals are delivered mysteriously by unseen hands, etc., but he finds himself writing a Jack the Ripper style thriller that he is convinced is his best work ever. I had pretty much figured this out about a third of the way through so it wasn't very suspenseful despite otherwise being quite well written. 10/22/15

The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey, Saga, 2015, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-4169-8453-5  (hardcover in 2011)   

Third in the Will Henry season. The Holy Grail of the monster hunters has never actually been seen, but clues to its existence have been found. When one of these lures Dr. Warthrop to Europe, he leaves his companion, Will Henry, behind. The boy figures out that it is a trap and eventually they are reunited and set out to complete the quest. This takes them to Venice and Aden and then a remote island, while fending of Russian agents and other opponents. They arrive and find an entire village laid waste by the effects of the disease, are reunited with an old enemy, and eventually discover the truth about the fabulous creature. This was not quite as good as the first two and has definite pacing problems, as well as a mildly disappointing ending. Still good reading though. 10/21/15

The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey, Saga, 2015, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4814-2549-0  (originally published in 2010)

Second in the Monstrumologist series. Warthrop travels to Canada to look into the disappearance of an old friend and before long he and his young assistant are wandering the wilds with a comatose man while something inhuman follows them. They return to civilization after various adventures, but the man they rescued has been fatally touched by the wendigo and begins to turn into one of them himself. Warthrop stubbornly refuses to accept a supernatural explanation, even though it is obviously true, and by doing so increases the risk to himself and others. Very explicit at times and with several extremely suspenseful sequences, this doesn't feel like a YA title at all. The two main characters are neither heroes nor antiheroes but lie somewhere in between, and there are no easy answers to some of the questions raised. Looking forward to volume three. 10/17/15

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, Saga, 2015, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4814-2544-5 

First in a four volume series supposedly written for younger readers, although the intensity, prose, and subject matter all seem very adult. Will Henry is orphaned and goes to live with Dr. Warthrop, who studies monsters. A graverobber brings in an anthropophagus, a headless humanoid with a mouth in its belly, and Warthrop recognizes that this means a number of the beings have been introduced into late 19th Century New England from their home in Africa. The creatures massacre a local family while Warthrop is investigating their origin, tracing them to a mysterious shipment from Africa arranged by his own late father. With the aid of a rather repulsive monster hunter, our heroes ambush the bulk of the creatures, then descend into the depths under the cemetery to get the last few. Very intense, extremely well written, and quite original. I am looking forward to the rest of the series. 10/14/15

Awaiting Strange Gods by Darrell Schweitzer, Fedogan & Bremer, 2015, $39.95, ISBN 978-1-878252-75-3 

This is a collection of Schweitzer’s Lovecraftian stories, reprinted from a wide variety of sources and displaying differing tones and narrative styles. The author uses a variety of physical and historical settings – ancient Rome, the Crusades, etc. – and occasionally uses touches of surrealism to enhance the weird atmosphere. One of my favorite stories here is “Hanged Man and Ghost,” set in a remote Pennsylvania town where a new teacher discovers that her charges are not quite what they seem to be. In fact, unlike most authors writing HPL pastiches, Schweitzer frequently employs younger protagonists. “Innsmouth Idyll” is somewhat similar and also quite good. Also worth mentioning are “Spiderwebs in the Dark” and “The Clockwork King, the Queen of Glass, and the Man with the Hundred Knives.” Even the weakest stories are entertaining. 20/7/15

Seize the Night edited by Christopher Golden, Gallery, 2015, $18, ISBN 978-1-4767-8309-3

I really prefer my vampires evil, so this anthology was just what I was looking for.  It opens with a novelette by Scott Smith, and that one story is worth the price of the book.  The victims are suitably disgusting and deserve their fate, which is rapid and brutal. Michael Koryta suggests a rather different cause for vampirism. Charlaine Harris has a very nice story about an energy vampire rather than a blood drinking one. Kelley Armstrong suggests there is a genetic marker for vampirism. Tim Lebbon takes us back to a particularly brutal period of history for his story. John Langan presents a time traveling vampire that can duplicate bodies to ensure it has a steady source of prey. There are also good stories by Joe McKinney, Tim Lebbon, Lucy Snyder, and Brian Keene, plus okay stories by several others. Overall, well above average. Two of the stories feature dogs named Orlando! 10/5/15

Lost Girl on the Lake by Joe McKinney and Michael McCarty, Bad Moon, 2012, $18.95, ISBN 978-0-9851940-4-8

This very short novel is very atmospheric, a kind of coming of age story mixed with something not exactly a ghost. Set during the 1960s in Texas, a young man encounters a girl who seems disconnected from her surroundings but to whom he feels a powerful sense of attraction. Quite obviously she is not what she seems to be. The setting is almost as important as the actual plot, with its underlay of dark superstition and congruence with a world that is not quite as logical and predictable as the one we normally live in. Nicely written, very atmospheric, and quietly suspenseful, this is both scary and emotionally satisfying. 103/15

Brother by Ania Ahlborn, Gallery, 2015, $16, ISBN 978-1-4787-8373-4

By my definition, this really isn't horror because there's no fantastic content. It's about a family of cannibals who chop up people routinely in their remote home. The protagonist is one of the family who wants to get away and live a normal life and doesn't understand why he doesn't fit in, although naturally it's because he isn't really related to the others. There are a few minor surprises along the way and some blood and gore sprinkled through. The writing is certainly fine but I never found the story to be particularly interesting. 9/26/15

Hostesses in Hell by Russell Gray, Dancing Tuatara, 2011 

Russell Gray was a pseudonym used by mystery writer Bruno Fischer for his contributions to the weird pulp magazines, particularly during the period when they preferred mild erotica with a dose of sadomasochism. The title story has a boatload of women stranded on an island where misshapen mutants hunt them down. “The Cat Woman” is a kind of ghost story. “Death Sends His Manikins” is a mildly creepy story about a dead serial killer who may have returned from the dead. “Fresh Fiancés for the Devil’s Daughter” is a terrible story about a woman who avenges herself on her enemies by making them hunt and torment each other’s wives. There is mind control in “The Gargoyles of Madness” and a fake Satanist cult in “Girls for the Pain Dance.” “School Mistress of the Mad” has genuine Satan worshippers who apparently have real supernatural powers. “Song of Evil Love” includes a kind of vampire and “We Who Are Lost” involves animated corpses. None of these are particularly memorable stories but they are good examples of a brief fad in pulp fiction. 9/25/15

Food for the Fungus Lady by Ralston Shields, Dancing Tuatara, 2014   

A collection of ten stories from the weird pulps. Shields – real name John Baxter – wrote only for a short period of time and nothing is known about him. His prose is generally reasonably good; his plots are erratic. “Black Mother of Murder”, for example, is an enjoyable story about a cult with supernatural powers. “Daughter of the Devil,” on the other hand, starts as a kind of ghost story, but when the author rationalizes everything he introduces ridiculous plot elements. “Priestess of Pestilence” seems to be about a witch, but it is also rationalized, somewhat less awkwardly. The title story is much better. A man inherits a house from the widow of a man he killed, only to discover that she is still alive, plotting revenge by means of her husband’s arcane scientific discoveries. “I Summoned Doctor Death’ is about a man who invokes evil magic to save his suicidal wife. “Little Miss Dracula” is an okay vampire story.  There’s a somewhat rationalized vampires in “Mistress of the Blood Drinkers” and “The Blood Kiss.” In “Vengeance of the Living Dead” a dying man moves his personality into another body. Finally, “A Kiss for the Blood Lady” is about brain transplants. It’s not likely that any of these stories would be considered publishable today, but they are better than average samples of their type and time. 9/20/15

Bloodless by Michael McCarty & Jody R. La Greca, CreateSpace, 2015, $14.99, ISBN 979-1514853733

The vampire protagonist of this novel manages to survive the sinking of the Lusitania and the burning of the Hindenburg, then makes a new life for himself in the US working as a substitute teacher (the authors pick and choose which vampire attributes apply). There he turns some of his students into minions and keeps his nature secret from the rest but he perhaps unwisely decides to marry a woman he has turned, and she is determined to be a good vampire. Obviously this is not conducive to a quiet and happy home life, particularly when he adopts the minions. At times this one is quite serious; at other times it feels like a sly spoof of the genre. First in a series. 9/18/15

A Song of Shadows by John Connolly, Emily Bestler, 2015, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-1828-9

The latest Charlie Parker thriller is unusually low key. Parker is recovering from the near fatal wounds he received in the last book and is in constant pain. He is recuperating at a rented house where he makes the acquaintance of his next door neighbors, a woman and her young daughter. Sensing that something is wrong, he tries to get her to talk to him about it, unaware initially that it is linked to a body that washes ashore not far away, and the execution of an entire family, ostensibly by the only son. The villains are not supernatural this time - they are hidden Nazi war criminals living in Maine - but they're still pretty scary. On the other hand, the ghost of his dead daughter is still interposing herself in his life, and his living daughter is beginning to display some supernatural powers of her own. Relentlessly suspenseful, mysterious, occasionally creepy, and all around good reading. 9/13/15

The Silent Terror of Chu-Sheng by Eugene Thomas, Dancing Tuatara, 2014 

This contains two short novels from the 1930s about a Fu Manchu style Chinese mastermind and efforts to foil his plots. There appears to have been at least one book in the series prior to this one but it is not available. Chu-Sheng is a deaf mute who communicates telepathically and has some other supernatural powers. In Shadow of Chu-Sheng, he is in Panama where the US Navy is conducting war games. John Sobieski appears to be a secret agent working for the US government, although it’s not certain, and he is impersonating a naval officer and trying to insinuate himself into Chu-Sheng’s organization. Unfortunately, he runs into two people who know who he really is and the entire mission is in jeopardy. There is also a Chinese prince who is determined to foil the plans of the villain, who is also known as the Tongueless One. In an oddly prescient plot, the story involves a plan to bomb the entire fleet in a Japanese sneak attack while it is trapped inside the Panama Canal. The second novel is Yellow Magic. It’s less ambitious and less interesting. Our villain wants to reverse some of the damage done to his organization in the first book, but a new assembly of heroes defeats him again. These are surprisingly well done for books so completely lost to modern readers. 9/12/15

Ghostwalkers by Jonathan Maberry, Tor, 2015, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7526-1 

Zombies in the Old West isn’t new – Joe R. Lansdale did it way back in 1986 – but Jonathan Maberry adds new twists and turns galore in this tie-in to the Deadlands role playing game. Grey Torrance is a gunslinger in a world where California has been mostly destroyed in an earthquake and an odd mineral with marvelous scientific and supernatural powers has been sprinkled across the Old West. He teams up with a Sioux scientist to help protect a beleaguered town from the depredations of a madman who is using the mineral’s ability to bring the dead back to life. This was great fun – and I learned to read on paperback westerns so I’ve always had a fondness for that setting. This one treads the borderline between horror and fantasy and has a different feel than the superficially similar Clockwork Century novels by Cherie Priest. 9/10/15

Chasing the Dragon by Nicholas Kaufmann, Chizine, 2009, $10.95, ISBN 978-0-9812978-4-2 

Georgia Quincey is the last of a long line of dragonslayers. The dragon is always the same, reincarnated in each generation, moving secretly within the contemporary world. She can track the dragon through her visions, but not precisely, and she often takes drugs to suppress the visions because they are too shocking. The dragon can animate the dead and spreads decay and collapse wherever it strikes. But the final confrontation cannot be put off forever. This is quite short and very well done. The author packs a lot of story into a relatively short space. 9/8/15

Lucid by Jay Bonansinga, Permuted Platinum, 2015, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-61868-531-5  

A teenager is having troubles with nightmares in which an enigmatic door appears. After talking to a counselor, she tries going through the door and discovers a phantasmagoric world that is just as real as our own, populated by people who got lost in their dreams and demonic creatures waiting to possess the living. The dream world is interesting and fun to explore, but the bad things start to sneak into our world and that’s when our protagonist really starts to get worried. The ending is not much of a surprise but otherwise I found this very enjoyable. 9/6/15

The ‘Geisters by David Nickle, Chizine, 2013 

 The protagonist of this novel has been plagued by a poltergeist she calls the Insect since she was a child. Despite therapy and other treatment, her control over the Insect is transitory at best, and it is almost certainly responsible for a plane crash that killed her husband. Shortly after that, she realizes that her ex-husband his patron have both been using her because they want access to the poltergeist. They have experienced them before and their relationship is openly sexual. They prefer them to human women. But this time they may have made a big mistake. Quite original and nicely crafted. 9/4/15

Things Withered by Susie Moloney, Chizine, 2013 

The stories in this collection are largely in the same tone although the subject matter differs. They are mostly about people who find the world to be just a little too much for them.  Sometimes they survive, sometimes they don’t. A few of them are horror, a few more mundane, and a few are portraits rather than actual stories. I thought “The Windemere” and “Poor David, or, the Possibilities of Coincidence in Situation of Multiple Occurrences” were the two best in the book and there was only one I didn’t care for. Moloney has at least three novels, only one of which I have read, but the other two I will be on the watch for. 9/1/15

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