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

 Last Update 12/30/08 

Poe edited by Ellen Datlow, Solaris, 1/09, $15, ISBN 978-1-84416-595-7 

The opening story in this collection of stories inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe is by Kim Newman, and it’s one of the most genuinely funny stories I’ve read in years.  Poe’s influence becomes a curse spreading through Hollywood and the world at large.  If I’d stopped after reading it, I’d have considered the collection a success already. Melanie Tem and E. Catherine Tobler follow with two solid stories, and Gregory Frost adds a third that’s even better. Laird Barron’s story is also quite good, although I didn’t find the Poe connection that strong. Sharyn McCrumb has a somewhat low key story which involves the death of a stock car racing drive, with a similarly fragile link to Poe. Glen Hirschberg has a strange story inspired by a Poe I’d never heard of. Barbara Roden has a chilling (pun intended) story of the search for an entrance to the hollow Earth in the Arctic.  I really liked Delia Sherman’s story of two oddly paired pianos, and liked to a lesser extent stories by Steve Rasnic Tem and M. Rickert.  Not surprisingly, Pat Cadigan has one of the best stories in the collection. Lucius Shepard’s story of emotional conflicts at an archaeological site is probably the best in the book, but Suzy McKee Charnas also has a very strong story. The remaining entires by Nicholas Royle, Kaaron Warren, John Langan, David Prill, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch are all entertaining and quite varied.  Not a dull story in the book, a rarity even from experienced editors.  Sure to be one of the best anthologies of 2009. 12/30/08

Persistence of Memory by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Delacorte, 2008, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-385-73437-0 

The author of this young adult vampire novel published her first book while only thirteen, and it was quite good.  Since then there have been several more, of which this is the latest.  This time her protagonist is a teen with a split personality.  When one is dominant, she is prone to fits of anger and even violence.  Then the original learns that her two alter egos are actually separate beings and that one of them is a vampire.  The author’s earlier books have generally featured a version of vampirism uniquely her own, mixed with witchcraft and other supernatural elements.  The prose is a bit light for adult audiences, but the plot is sufficiently intricate to be interesting.  Not her best book but one of the better ones. 12/30/08 

Veil of Midnight by Lara Adrian, Dell, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-440-24449-3 

Red by Jordan Summer, Tor, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-5914-8 

Two new paranormal romances.  First up is the fifth in the Midnight Breed series, which you can almost guess from its name involves a secret race of vampires living hidden among the human race.  Renata is a kind of superhero, more than a match for vampires or evil humans, but she’s relatively powerless against mysterious threats that menace a young relative.  Against her better judgment, she teams up with a nonconforming vampire who flouts the rules of his kind at every opportunity.  Surprise!  They become romantically entangled while solving the problem.  Nicely written, but pretty formulaic.  The second title has some superficial similarities, but it’s about shapechangers rather than vampires.  The protagonist is another quasi-superhuman woman, part of a secret group that fights supernatural evil.  She discovers a secret in a small town that causes her to reconsider her belief system.  An attractive local sheriff also attracts her attention.  The plot on this one is okay but the prose wasn’t as smooth as Adrian’s.  Both should satisfy hardcore fans of this particular sub-genre, but neither says anything out of the ordinary. 12/30/08 

Demon’s Hunger by Eve Silver, Grand Central, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-446-61893-9 1858 

This is the second in yet another paranormal romance series, this one mixing elements of Jim Butcher and Laurell Hamilton.  Dain Hawkins is secretly a sorcerer, a member of a group which protects humanity from incursions by demonic forces.  He is concerned this time with the plight of Vivien Cairn, a normal woman who suddenly begins feeling abnormal sexual urges.  Hawkins decides rightly that she is under the subtle influence of an evil interloper and tries to help, but he isn’t entirely immune to romantic and sensual impulses of his own.  Predictable, though not badly written. 12/30/08

The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion by Alice Kimberly, Berkley, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22460-1

A Veiled Deception by Annette Blair, Berkley, 2009, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22640-7 

The paranormal craze that has swept through fantasy and romance fiction hasn’t completely bypassed mystery novels either.  Both of these involve the supernatural, and I’m listing them as horror, but neither of them is really horrific.  The first title is part of a series about a woman who buys a bookstore that turns out to be haunted by a rather charming ghost in much the style of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.  She and the ghost – who was a private detective when he was alive - go about solving murder mysteries.  This one’s a cute story in which murder and exorcism provide a double threat.  Light but quite amusing.  The second title is more of a light romance than a detective story, but the magical veil which reveals secrets from the past of anyone who wears it is kind of clever, and the story isn’t badly told.  These would be better for summer reading on the patio, but they fared well in the winter as well. 12/30/08

New Dark Voices 2 edited by Brian Keene, Delirium, 1/09, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-934546-06-2

This is a collection of three original novellas by newcomers to the horror field, designed to spotlight new talent.  The opening story is “Sins of the Father” by Brett McBean, a decidedly mixed bag.  The protagonist returns from a business trip to find his home town deserted except for one young boy hiding in a farmhouse.  A mysterious storm apparently electrocuted everyone else in town, an unnatural event connected to the boy’s feelings of guilt.  The first half is quite well done with some good imagery and story development, but it starts to fall apart after that with mud creatures lurking about and uttering the usual B movie dialogue.  I also had a really big problem with the boy’s dialogue, which did not sound at all like a child, particularly one experiencing extreme stress.  Next up is “Eliminate the Improbable” by Nick Mamatas.  Although this one is much better written, it knocks up against one of my prejudices.  I don’t care for extended dream sequences, or stories in which dreams and reality are so mixed that neither the protagonist nor the reader can tell one from another.  This is one of those.  On the other hand, bits and pieces of the character study – and this is almost more a character study than a story – are quite effectively done. Finally we have “Borealis” by Ronald Damien Malfi.  This is the strongest story in the book, a really weird and haunting story of a woman who is clearly not human, and the various men who try to kill her.  This one’s worth the price of the book all by itself.  12/19/08

The Garden of Ghosts by Scott Thomas, Dark Regions, 2008, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-62-2

Little Graveyard on the Prairie by Steven E. Wedel, Eclipse, 2008, $50 

Continuing my current thirst for short stories.  The first of these is a collection of Victorian ghost stories, all original to this book I believe.  I found them to be quite a mixed lot.  A few are just vivid images that don’t have a real plot, and these are sometimes quite effective, but not really as stories.  Some have much stronger plots, but they didn’t feel complete.  For example, one deals with revenge for the neglect of a dying woman by her children, but the doom that comes for them isn’t really explained.  This is a type of supernatural device I find in a lot of horror films, particularly from Japan, but I almost always feel cheated even though it appears that many people do not.  There are also some stories that are quite impressive and worked quite well for me, including “Rush-Bearing”, “Syringa Vulgaris,”, and “Winterberry.”  The second title consists of a novella and two short stories, all nicely written and suitably weird.  In a way this seems a waste because with this very small print run and high price, it’s not going to be widely read. 12/17/08

Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts by Laura Benedict, Ballantine, 2008, $25, ISBN 978-0-345-49769-7 

I very much enjoyed Benedict’s first novel, Isabella Moon, and jumped this new book up to the top of the stack.  I wasn’t disappointed.  It is a deceptively quiet book whose creepiness sneaks up on the reader.  Three young girls were involved in a series of incidents that ended with the destruction of a young priest’s career.  Years later, they remain connected although their lives have gone in different directions.  A new connection arises in the form of Varick, a seductive visitor who seems like a very charming man, but who is something else entirely.  A lot of horror stories use the revenge motif to power the plot, but few of them are as effective in building the suspense so quietly and efficiently that you’re sitting on the edge of the seat without knowing just how you got there.  Highly recommended. 12/15/08

Midnight Call and Other Stories by Jonathan Thomas, Hippocampus, 2008, $15, ISBN 978-0-979806-9-3

Finding Creatures & Other Stories by C. June Wolf, Wattle and Daub, 2008, $15.95, ISBN 978-0-9810658-0-9 1864 

Both of these are from small presses and both are authors whose names I didn’t recognize.  Thomas is a fellow Rhode Islander and this is an expansion of an earlier collection of mostly supernatural stories first published almost twenty years ago.  Although horror seems to be the strongest component, there are fantasies and science fiction here as well, none of which appears to have been published in more accessible form.  Only a couple of the stories failed to hold my attention and but most are quite nicely done and would certainly not have been out of place in Weird Tales, Cemetery Dance, or elsewhere. There’s some nicely macabre humor, as in “Eban’s Portrait.”  The second collection tends more toward contemporary fantasy.  I hadn’t read anything by Wolf either, and most of these stories apparently first appeared in small press and Canadian markets.  They vary from okay to quite good and once again I’m surprised that none of them came from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction or Realms of Fantasy.  I’d rate the Wolf collection as slightly the better written of the two, but the subject matter in Thomas’ book appealed more to my personal prejudices. 12/8/08

Night Falls Darkly by Kim Lenox, Signet Eclipse, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22537-5 

Another paranormal romance novel and first in the Shadow Guards series.  Also a first novel, I believe.  I picked this one out because of its setting in Victorian England.  The two protagonists are Elena Whitney, a young woman who is suffering from partial amnesia and who is the ward to our second major character, Archer, Lord Black, a mysterious nobleman who is actually a member of the Shadow Guards, an organization which protects humanity from the forces of evil.  Yes, it’s another one of those, but at least this one isn’t a contemporary urban fantasy.  In this, their first adventure, they have to clear up the mystery of the Jack the Ripper killings, which are definitely not the handiwork of a normal human being.  The author does a good job of evoking the time period, the mystery is reasonably suspenseful, the characters well conceived and executed, and the romance not overpowering.  I’ll be watching for more in this series. 12/7/08 

Destiny Kills by Keri Arthur, Bantam, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-553-58960-3 

Keri Arthur’s Riley Jensen series is among the best of the current crop of paranormal quasi-romance novels.  This new book is not part of that series, however, and features Destiny McCree.  Although not labeled as first in a new sequence, I’d be very surprised if we don’t see more of this character in the near future.  Destiny wakes up on a beach next to a dead body and with partial amnesia, but enough memory to realize she is being pursued by relentless and inimical forces.  She teams up, rather uneasily at times, with a professional thief, but neither of them are entirely what they appear to be.  It’s another secret society of extraordinary people living within our civilization, a secret you can probably guess very early in the novel.  Despite some overly used plot devices, the story moves crisply and cleanly and I even enjoyed the interactions between the two main characters.  I prefer the Riley Jensen universe, but this wasn’t an unpleasant diversion. 12/7/08

Insatiable Desire by Rita Herron, Grand Central, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-446-19947-6 

Another paranormal romance, from another author I’ve not previously encountered.  The title, frankly, put me off a bit because it sounded like another treacly vampire romance.  It’s not that at all, but it’s another old standard, the psychic detective.  In this case it’s a woman who is troubled by grisly visions connected to a serial killer who has been troubling her small town.  She is teamed up, rather uneasily, with an FBI agent who makes no secret of the fact that he thinks she is a fraud, and rather predictably the two eventually become romantically entangled.  He also discovers not only that her powers are real but that the perpetrator is not an ordinary serial killer at all, but rather a demonic force from another reality.  I found the interplay between the two main characters alternately convincing and unconvincing, an inconsistency that interfered with my enjoyment of the other story line.  There were parts of the book I actively enjoyed, but it didn’t work for me as a whole.  I’d try another by this author, but this one seemed to me to need a rewrite and general tightening. 12/4/08

Water Witch by Deborah Leblanc, Leisure, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6039-6 

Deborah Leblanc has put together a string of quiet horror novels that mix familiar plots with occasional unconventional twists and turns.  Her latest is set in the bayous and involves, superficially, the kidnapping of some children and the efforts by a woman with mild psychic powers (who tries to keep them secret) to locate them.  What appears to be a fairly mundane crime proves to be something else entirely, because the children have been stolen for a specific and evil purpose.  A nice blend of the supernatural with ordinary detective story tropes, but for some reason I found this one less engaging than the author’s previous work.  I suspect it was because I never really grew to like the protagonist. 12/4/08 

The Damned by William Ollie, Morningstar, 2008, $49, ISBN 978-1-935006-03-9 

There has been a handful of post-apocalyptic horror novels of late, providing a somewhat different if rather depressing setting.  This latest, by an author I’ve never heard of from a publisher I’ve never heard of, is the latest.  The protagonist finds himself suddenly in the middle of a world that has been swept by horror and destruction.  Dead bodies are everywhere and evil walks the land. As you might expect, what follows is mostly a survival story with bits of gore sprinkled through the story line as he finds a few fellow survivors and they struggle against nasty biker gangs and other dangers.  The prose isn’t at all bad although at times sentences seem to escape the author’s control and stretch on for far too long.  Ultimately, it’s not a bad example of its kind, but it didn’t seem to have anything new to say. 12/2/08

Ennui and Other States of Madness by David Niall Wilson, Dark Regions, 2008, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-58-5

Shadows and Other Tales by Tony Richards, Dark Regions, 2008, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-61-5 

If you think that the lack of a professional magazine devoted to horror other than Cemetery Dance and the dearth of original horror anthologies is evidence that there isn’t much good short horror fiction being published in recent years, these two thick volumes should demonstrate otherwise.  Together they provide almost forty examples (and 700 pages) of first rate horror fiction.  David Niall Wilson’s high quality output was no surprise at all.  I’d only previously read about a third of the stories here (and some of them are original to the collection), and two of them I remembered distinctly even though it had been a few years.  The stories cover a wide variety of themes and subject matters – Jack the Ripper, food preparation, haiku, Lovecraftian horrors, and so forth.  My two favorites were “The Call of Further Shores” and “The Fall of the House of Escher.” 

I think my first exposure to Tony Richards was The Harvest Bride, back during the horror boom.  I hadn’t really been aware of him as a short story writer although I’ve read more than half of these previously, which is puzzling since they’re uniformly good.  It might well be that the wide variety of settings and themes made it difficult for me to think of them as a body of work until I encountered them in close proximity.  “Discards,” “Hanako from Miyazaki,” “Hamadryad,” and “Misdirection” are particularly impressive.  I’ll be more conscious of this byline when I next run into it in a magazine or anthology.  Both of these titles are well worth their cover price and both authors should be better known than they are.  11/25/08

Fathom by Cherie Priest, Tor, 12/08, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1840-4 

Cherie Priest has very quietly become one of my favorite horror writers.  Her Eden Moore novels are among the best ghost stories I’ve read in the past few years.  This new one is, as far as I can tell, a stand alone which is based on the premise that before God decided to create the world we know, he had peopled the planet with various monsters – for purposes of his own, I guess.  Although they were pretty much eradicated, it appears that God slipped up slightly – maybe on purpose – and allowed a few of them to survive.  After ages of frustration, they have decided to retake the world from us usurping humans and the only ones standing in their way are a handful of unusual humans.  The set up isn’t entirely new, of course, but there are a number of clever new tricks in how the story is developed, including an element of eroticism and some of the more unusual heroes in horror fiction.  I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until horror readers discover that they’ve been overlooking a major talent here. 11/22/08

Just After Sunset by Stephen King, Scribner, 2008, $28, ISBN 978-1-4165-8408-7

Stephen King’s newest collection opens with “Willa”, a low key story about some stranded travelers who discover that they are dead.  “The Gingerbread Girl” is much longer and much more impressive.   A grieving woman runs into a crazed serial killer and bests him.  “Harvey’s Dream” is pretty minor, a bit about a precognitive dream.  “Rest Stop” is a mild wish fulfillment story about a man who runs into an abusive husband at a rest stop.  “Stationary Bike” is much weirder.  An artist becomes obsessed with exercising and begins to mix reality with fantasy. A man is haunted by keepsakes of friends who died in the 9/11 attacks in “The Things They Left Behind.”  “Graduation Afternoon” is a minor piece about people watching a nuclear strike hit Manhattan.  “N” is positively Lovecraftian, a creepy story about a series of standing stones that mark the spot where the border between our universe and a horrible other one is wearing thin.  “The Cat from Hell” is one of his earlier stories, and still one of my favorites, a demonic cat seeking revenge against a pharmaceutical magnate. “The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates” is another minor piece about receiving a phone call from the dead. In “Mute” an angry man speaks of his wife’s iniquities to a deaf mute hitchhiker who turns out not to be deaf after all and murders the woman, an entertaining but still rather minor story.  “Ayana” seems to me the weakest in the collection, a story of miraculous healing.  Last up is “A Very Tight Place”, gross out story about an encounter with a madman.  It was pretty good.  In general, a well written collection but one that lacks the impact of King’s earlier short fiction. 11/18/08

The Devil’s Due by Jenna Black, Bantam, 11/08, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-440-24492-9  1614 

Morgan Kingsley, exorcist, returns for a new romantic adventure battling demons and magic.  Morgan is host to a demon who lives inside her, a relationship that is variously benevolent and parasitic.  Unfortunately, their relationship not only affects her own life – which is dangerous and frantic – but involves her in a power struggle among the demons, a situation which is also dangerous and frantic.  There’s a hunky boyfriend to add the romantic elements, but their relationship is troubled, which is also typical of the genre.  Black actually writes as well or better than most of her peers in paranormal fantasy – or whatever we’re calling it this month – but this one felt a bit hastily written and didn't engage me as much as previous books of hers that I’ve read. 11/16/08 

Devil May Ride by Wendy Roberts, Obsidian, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22565-8 

The second adventure of Sadie Novak, a crime scene cleaner who can communicate with ghosts.  She and her employee and mild romantic interest Zack are in hot water again when their latest job ends up with a violent motorcycle gang on their trail.  It seems that the bad guys were dealing drugs and there’s a large amount of cash missing, and guess who they think has it?  I thought the first in this series was a bit slow moving, but there’s a lot more action this time around.  Not much mystery, although that’s how it’s being marketed.  I’m starting to like the two protagonists a bit, but we still need to learn more about them as people.  The supernatural element is relatively minor this time around.  Should appeal to fans of The Ghost Whisperer.  11/16/08

The Essential Tales of the Zombie Volume 1, Marvel, 2006, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-1916-7

 Back in my Marvel comic reading days, I never bothered with the horror comics, even though as a kid I’d been fond of Vault of Horror and its fellows.  I’ve recently worked my way through volumes of their Dracula and Werewolf titles, and found them below Marvel’s usual quality levels.  That holds true even more for this series, which mixes a continuing story about a man turned into a zombie who fights monsters and humans to protect his daughter with stand alone stories that vary from pretty good to pretty bad.  There are also items like articles on zombie movies, voodoo rites, and such, and even a few pieces of prose fiction.  Unfortunately, the continuing story is very repetitious, and sometimes the enemies – like the woman turned into a giant spider by an injection – are so silly that there’s no tension in the story.  The biggest problem with the recurring story, I believe, is that the writers decided to treat him as a kind of dark superhero, which didn't work at all. 11/12/08

The Reach by Nate Kenyon, Leisure, 11/08, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6021-1 1611 

Jess Chambers is a promising psychology student who is recruited by her professor to help with the diagnosis and treatment of Sarah, a young girl at a mental institution whom Dr. Wasserman tells her is unique and dangerous.  Jess is outraged by the manner in which Sarah is housed and treated, considering it abusive, and despite arguments from the staff she tries to take action designed to improve the situation.  Little does she know that Sarah is not as inoffensive and helpless as she appears to be.  Sarah has some unusual abilities of her own.  The opening and closing chapters are quite strong. Some of the middle is a bit drawn out, but not fatally so.  Another example of the things-are-not-what-they-appear-to-be suspense novel, and a pretty good one. 11/11/08

Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon, St Martins, 2008, $24.95,  ISBN 978-0-312-36215-7 

I’ve only read a couple of the supernatural romances in the Dark-Hunter series by Kenyon, of which there are over a dozen, and I don’t clearly remember either of the two I’ve read.  I did have a vague recollection of Acheron, a man from the distant past who was originally a kind of demigod but ended up as an immortal human whose destiny is to protect humanity from the supernatural.  I did not, however, have anything like a clear idea of how all of this came to be, and Kenyon has addressed that mystery in this very long paranormal romance novel which alternates between a contemporary story and an historical one that retells his early history.  It’s sort of an origins story, I suppose.  The contemporary story is okay but I was actually much more interested in the other story line, which is well over half of the book.  Good enough that I’ve made a note to pick up more of the series.  Kenyon is one of the best at mixing paranormal and romance without either drowning the other out. 11/7/08

Jake’s Wake by John Skipp and Cory Goodfellow, Leisure, 12/08, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-7076-1 

Pastor Jake is not a nice man, but he was a more effective preacher than his parishioners realized.  When he dies, it is not an end but a beginning, because he returns from beyond the grave and brings with him a legion of demons.  And he’s mad at the people who crossed him in life and plans to get bloody revenge on them all.  You can pretty much guess what’s going to happen after that.  Years ago Skipp and Craig Spector were considered the ultimate in splatterpunk, but it seems to me that the taste for that sort of horror has pretty much migrated to movies and zombie fiction and is much less prevalent in mainstream horror.  In fact, when I read this I thought it felt a good deal like a film treatment, fast paced, well plotted, but with very little depth. 11/6/08 

Black Cathedral by L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims, Leisure, 12/08, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6199-7 

The authors launch their Department 18 series with this one.  Department 18 is an agency within the British government that handles paranormal events.  In this case we have two converging problems.  On a remote island off the coast of Scotland, a group of executives and staff disappear from their retreat after a series of horrifying events.  A rescue chopper sent to find out what happened vanishes in similar fashion.  The second story involves psychic Robert Carter, whose investigation of a haunted house leaves him recovering from a massive psychic attack, during which his partner literally vanished from the face of the earth.  The island turns out to have been the base for a cult which worshipped some mysterious entity and, as you might guess, they have left a dark legacy behind.  Some creepy scenes in this one, but given the immense power of the evil, I wasn’t entirely convinced by their defeat. 11/06/08

Blood Memories by Barb Hendee, Roc, 2008, $14, ISBN 978-0-451-46229-9  1696 

This vampire novel was first published by a small press almost ten years ago.  The protagonist and most of the characters are vampires, amoral rather than evil, I suppose.  She kills her victims infrequently and tries not to make too much of an imprint on the world.  Still, it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for an undead serial killer.  One day a close friend – also undead – commits suicide, leaving a house filled with dead bodies which naturally attracts the interest of the local police department.  Two of them in particular seem intent on tracking down anyone associated with the dead man, and our heroine finds herself in great danger because one of the two has the ability to read minds.  Not bad, but not nearly as good as the author’s Noble Dead series. 10/27/08 

Angel’s Pain by Maggie Shayne, Mira, 10/08, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7783-2498-0  1571 

I somehow managed to read the first two books in this series without realizing they were related, probably a product of having read more than slightly too many vampire and paranormal romances in recent months.  I did recognize the characters this time, though, including Reaper, a kind of vampire policeman who is responsible for hunting down and destroying rogues who don’t play by the rules.  Briar is a recently converted vampire who was sired by one of those rogues, and she is engaged in a personal vendetta to punish him for what he did to her.  Briar and Reaper have a sort of connection, although neither of them calls it love, and Briar is determined to have no ties to anyone, living or undead, once she has finished the task before her.  I have yet to find another writer who does this sort of thing so well so consistently, always managing to get some new twists into what has become a limited formula. 10/27/08

The Taint and Other Novellas by Brian Lumley, Solaris, 2009, $14, ISBN 978-1-84416-637-4 

Brian Lumley has, over the years, written numerous stories set in the Cthulhu Mythos, some of the best of which are collected here.  The opening story is one from very early in his career.  “The Horror of Oakdeene” is clearly imitation Lovecraft.  A worker in an insane asylum gets involved with efforts to invoke a supernatural force in response to the cruelties of another attendant.  It’s nothing out of the ordinary but a good story of its type.  “Born of the Winds” is considerably better, and appealed to my mild fascination with the wendigo legend, even though it is not exactly a wendigo story.  I found “The Fairground Horror” less interesting, a fairly standard Lovecraftian pastiche that never really generated much of an eerie mood.  The title story, the newest of the six included here, is well enough written but seemed to me to move far too slowly.  It’s an Innsmouth type story about people tainted with an inhuman strain.  Lumley acknowledges the sometimes purple prose in most of these stories, but most particularly in “Rising at Surtsey.”  It’s the statement of a man who admits that he killed his brother’s body but asserts that it was no longer his brother who occupied it.  It’s an early piece and not as polished as Lumley’s later work, but still a good tale.  “Lord of the Worms” is the longest story in the book and features Titus Crow, an occult investigator who is featured in several of Lumley’s novels. Crow takes a position as secretary to an occult practitioner who appears to have gone over to the dark side.  It’s my favorite in the book.  Bringing up the rear is “The House of the Temple,” also a good one.  Although in general I prefer Lumley’s non-Lovecraftian stories, this is actually a very good collection. 10/25/08

Passenger by Ronald Damien Malfi, Delirium, 10/08, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-934546-04-8  1604

The premise of this short novel is a fairly simple one.  The protagonist wakes up on a bus, suffering from amnesia.  He eventually finds notes from himself which suggest that this has happened before.  His search for his own past introduces him to a couple of unusual and well drawn characters before he discovers that he has a kind of serial amnesia, that he loses his identity and starts over again every so often.  Just why all this is happening is wrapped in the central mystery.  Nicely written, but even though it is relatively short, I still thought it went on a bit too long and repeated itself a bit.  I started to lose interest in his plight once I had figured out the serial nature of his problem, and from that pont forward the story seemed to flounder almost as much as its protagonist. Malfi's prose is fine but this time at least he needed to work on plot and pacing. 10/24/08

A Dangerous Climate by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tor, 10/08, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1981-4

I’ve lost track of how many adventures of Count St Germain, the vampire hero, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has brought us, but I know this isn’t the first time he has visited Czarist Russia.  As frequently happens, he is traveling under an alias, in this case impersonating a foreign nobleman.  But he has a surprise in store for him on this occasion, because there’s another visitor, and this one is impersonating him.  As usual Yarbro mixes her intrigue with a hint of the supernatural and a great deal of historically accurate detail, in this case about the time of Peter the Great and the development of the city of St. Petersburg.  This series has an unusually broad appeal because it’s a romance without being too romantic, a spy novel, a story of the supernatural, and an historical novel, and it succeeds in each separate facet as well as being a well integrated whole.  Other than Dracula, St Germain may well be the second best known literary vampire of all time, and deservedly so. 10/16/08

By the Sword by F. Paul Wilson, Forge, 2008, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1707-9  

Repairman Jack is back again.  Some of the stories in this series have advanced the main plot while others have been side trips.  This is back on the main road, with lots of subplots but two main converging story lines.  Jack is hired to recover an antique Japanese sword, a katana, that turns out to be made from a mystical metal and which is linked to a possible devastating retribution for the atomic bombing of Japan during World War II.  The second is also a search, a group of cultists who are trying to locate a pregnant woman who, in turn, is being protected by a smaller but equally mysterious organization.  Mix in a few more interested parties, add a couple of visits by a quasi-supernatural messenger, place this all in the context of a battle between two superhuman forces, and you have a recipe for suspenseful adventure.  Wilson has this down to a science now, but he wisely varies his formula from volume to volume to prevent it from getting stale.  10/11/08

The Shadow of Reichenbach Falls by John R. King, Forge, 2008, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1801-5 

Sherlock Holmes meets Carnacki the Ghost Finder in this pastiche that tells us what really happened during that fatal confrontation with Dr.Moriarty which brought Holmes’ career to a close, until Doyle was forced to bring him back to life.   In this version, a young, starving Carnacki finds Holmes suffering from amnesia after the fall and, accompanied by Moriarty’s daughter, rescues him.  But they are pursued by an evil mastermind, and in due course we discover that Moriarty was changed when Jack the Ripper murdered his wife.  He is now possessed by a demonic force and is a victim rather than a perpetrator.  The supernatural element might not please some Holmes fans, but the story moves quickly and smoothly, for the most part, and the author does a reasonable job of bringing to life the late Victorian era.  The story is much more about the Moriarty family than Holmes, but then the villains are almost always the more interesting characters. 10/9/08

An Ice Cold Grave by Charlaine Harris, Berkley, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22424-3  

I never saw last year’s hardcover edition of this one, a Harper Connelly story.  Harper has a unique ability.  She’s a kind of dowser for corpses, and she can discern certain details about the manner and circumstances of their death.  When she responds to a job offer to search for a missing boy, she finds a burial ground with eight corpses, all young boys brutally killed by the same person or persons.  Almost immediately, she is attacked by a hooded figure, presumably the killer.  She also has to face the skepticism of law enforcement officials and the unwanted attention of the press.  Circumstances make it impossible for her to leave the area immediately, and that puts her on a collision course with death.  Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, an interesting set of characters, and a suspenseful story – though not much of a traditional mystery.  The goof that gives away the second killer was pretty obvious but it really didn't make any significant difference to the reading experience. 10/6/08

The Ghost Quartet edited by Marvin Kaye, Tor, 2008, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1251-8  

Four novelettes, all original, involving ghosts, in case you couldn’t figure that out from the title.  Brian Lumley opens with a very atmospheric story set on the moors of Devon.  An artist is strangely affected by one specific area and eventually encounters the ghost of a murderer from the past.  I thought the suspense ebbed quickly once actual contact was made, but it’s still a good story.  Orson Scott Card follows up with a treatment based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which develops the story of the title character’s father’s ghost.  It’s not bad.  Editor Kaye contributes the third story, a series of anecdotes about haunting that reach their climax with the story of a haunted bottle of liquor.  This was the best of the three, but Tanith Lee has the best in the book, another story based on a play, this one by Strindberg.  A vagrant is rescued from the streets by a party of people who seem to be benevolent but who actually hope to sacrifice his spirit to the supernatural.  Four interesting variations of the traditional ghost story. 10/6/08

River Runs Red by Jeffrey Mariotte, Jove, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-515-14477-2 1697 

Mariotte, who wrote a slew of tie-in novels a few years back, has been doing much better now that he’s writing in his own universes.  His latest is a nice thriller in which an archaeologist inadvertently wakens an ancient evil force while exploring Native American ruins in Texas.  Yes, it’s a Native American spirit story, but don’t turn away in disgust.  A group of people with some experience in that area are drawn back several years later and get involved in an age old battle between two supernatural forces that are essentially earth elementals.  Rivers get diverted from their courses, disaster on a wide scale threatens the Southwest, and someone has to save the day.  A bit predictable and familiar, but still a nice supernatural adventure story. 9/28/08

Master of the Moors by Kealan Patrick Burke, Necessary Evil, 2008, $45, ISBN 978-0-9753635-7-7  

A woman is lost on the moors and a search party finds not only her mutilated body but a savagely mauled horse.  One member of the party then becomes mysteriously ill and his two children are terrified that he will die and leave them alone.  Elsewhere, an enigmatic figure appears on the moor and a lowly groundskeeper finds himself caught up in a terrifying supernatural mystery involving inhuman creatures that live just beyond the limits of human civilization.  I've always had a fondness for stories set on the moors, ever since reading The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Daphne Du Maurier's Jamaica Inn as a kid.  Burke evokes the creepy atmosphere beautifully and the gory scenes are done with as much taste as is possible under the circumstances.  Grady is an interesting protagonist whose adventures should capture the attention of most readers who enjoy a touch of the grotesque. I've enjoyed several of the author's short stories in the past and am happy to say that he is no slouch at novel length either.9/27/08

Succubus Dreams by Richelle Mead, Kensington, 2008, $15, ISBN 978-0-7582-1643-4

Richelle Mead has written some interesting paranormal fantasy but this one, third in a series, has some built in problems that I found hard to get around.  For one thing, the protagonist is a succubus who, though not entirely loyal to her Satanic master, is nonetheless not above taking human lives in his service.  Her soft spot is that she has fallen in love with a popular writer, but she can’t have sex with him because that would cost him his life.  Talk about having a good excuse for a platonic relationship.   Anyway, her problems get even more complex when someone starts draining her own lifeforce while she’s asleep.  I would have felt more sympathy for her if she wasn’t a murderous monster, but that’s what she is.  Like the good vampire stories, this gets caught in the trap of trying to make an evil creature sympathetic, bending over backward at times, not entirely succeeding, but also eliminating the fascinating evil aspects that might otherwise have grabbed our attention. 9/24/08

The Dark Ones by Anthony Izzo, Pinnacle, 2008, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-7860-1876-5  1654 

The Guardians are a secret organization which uses mystical powers to battle the forces of evil.  Nothing new there, obviously.  Lars Engel is a minion of Satan whose body has been reanimated so that he can further his master’s ambitions on Earth, a development which attracts the attention of the Guardians.  Meanwhile, the young daughter of one of the Guardians, unaware of her heritage, is about to have an accelerated and unsettling coming of age when she finds herself smack in the middle of the fulminating conflict.  This is the third novel I’ve read by this author.  Like the previous two, it hovers on the verge of being quite good, but doesn’t quite make it over the line.  The opening chapters left me feeling as though I was missing something, and I was never able to identify with any of the characters strongly enough to get emotionally caught up in the book.  It’s better plotted than his previous ones though, and I suspect it’s just a matter of time until he hits on a combination that works across the board. 9/23/08 

Gaslight Grimoire edited by J. R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec, Edge, 2008, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-8964063-17-3  1649 

This is a collection of fantastic adventures involving Sherlock Holmes, written mostly be names unfamiliar to me although the quality level is quite high nonetheless.  The opening selection by Barbara Hambly is good, followed by a less satisfactory but surprising story about Holmes real identity, by Christopher Segueira, and an excellent, longer story in which Holmes investigates a haunted house by Barbara Roden.  M.J. Elliott has Holmes investigating spontaneous human combustion, a mutilated body that appears to have been torn apart from within, and introduces him to Professor Challenger.  Challenger’s lost world appears in Martin Powell’s story.  Chico Kidd and Rick Kennet partner him with William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki, the ghost finder.  Ghosts, winged women, mutilated bodies, mysterious deaths, and other puzzles all fall to Holmes’ superior intellect in the stories that follow.  Kim Newman, Barbara Roden, and Chris Roberson provide the three best in a generally very good collection.  9/23/08

Shadows in the Mist by Brian Moreland, Berkley, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22433-5 

One of my favorite horror novels is The Devils of D-Day by Graham Masterton, which superimposed a supernatural horror on the somewhat less unnatural horrors of war.  That’s the setting for most of this, presumably a first novel, which was previously published by a small press I’ve never heard of.  Sean Chambers is summoned to Germany where his grandfather, a World War II veteran, is apparently dying.  There’s a diary of his experiences during the war, which includes an encounter with dark magic, demonic forces, and golems which were apparently going to be raised to help the Nazis defeat their enemies.  Although the evil force was defeated, there are signs that it may not have been completely neutralized.  The story is set partly in the present, partly during 1944.  For the most part it’s very suspenseful and more than slightly creepy, but once the evil secret has been exposed to view, a lot of the atmosphere dissipates.  I’d like to see more from this author. 9/16/08

Thirteen Specimens by Jeffrey Thomas, Delirium, 2008, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-934546-00-0 

The always unpredictable Jeffrey Thomas provides us with a selection of new, warped, weird, and wonderful visions.  There are living cameras recording the horrors of the war in Vietnam, rooms full of centipedes requiring residents to live suspended on a system of wires, people fascinated with Hindu myths, people who assume the physical characteristics of others, monsters, the administrators of Hades, Korean devils, and unlikely Halloween horrors.  Most of the book consists of three longish stories, and one of them, “The Mask Play of Hahoe Byeolsin Exorcism”, is the best in the book and justifies the cover price all by itself.  “The Burning House” is related to his Hades stories. “Door 7” is indescribable.  I also very much liked the short “Sympathetic Identity Disorder”.  Very nice stuff, and not your ordinary fiction.  9/15/08

Blood Lite edited by Kevin J. Anderson, Pocket, 10/08, $16, ISBN 978-1-4165-6783-7 

The Horror Writers Association looks at the funny side of horror in this new, all original anthology.  Kelley Armstrong opens with a story of a woman who can see and hear irritating ghosts.  Joe Lansdale follows with the story of an intelligent bear who is also a serial killer.  Matt Venne suggests that Elvis might have been a vampire and Charlaine Harris suggests that polluters might be facing a really nasty comeuppance.  Will Ludwigsen’s story of the quest to find a psychopath is one of the funnier entries, as is Eric James Stone’s tale of a ghoul who resents the negative image applied to his kind.  Other stories by F. Paul Wilson, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Mike Resnick, Sharyn McCrumb, Nancy Holder, Nancy Kilpatrick, and others involve incompetent killers, wishful thinking gone bad, a henpecked vampire, cannibalism, spirit guides, and other themes.  The funniest single story is James Butcher’s Harry Dresden short.  Most of the others are worth at least a chuckle or two, although there are a couple that seem to assume that absurdity is by its very nature funny.  It isn’t.  Truth in advertising.  I have a story in here as well.  I think it’s funny.  9/11/08

Brides of the Impaler by Edward Lee, Leisure, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-5807-2

Someone has removed artifacts from the time of Vlad Tepes from their secret resting place near his one time castle.  Years later, a lawyer and his artist girlfriend move into a one-time church owned building in New York City.  Inside the building, they are consumed by uncharacteristic erotic desires, although they don’t recognize that their source might be external.  Around them, a group of homeless women have been recruited by a spectral nun to commit a number of bizarre crimes, and others are found dead, having been impaled while still alive.  You can sort of figure out what’s coming in this one well in advance, but Lee keeps the reader guessing about the details for most of the book.  There are some creepy scenes but I found it less suspenseful than it might have been because I didn’t find any of the protagonists – particularly the egotistic lawyer – at all likable and was perfectly happy to see them lured to their doom. 9/11/08

Break of Dawn by Chris Marie Green, Ace, 2008, $14, ISBN 978-0-441-01629-7 

Dawn Madison, stuntwoman and investigator of the supernatural, returns for another adventure.  She and her friends have survived encounters with a powerful vampire, but she still hasn’t located her missing father, who disappeared into the supernatural underworld.  This time she has more trouble with her relationship with the handsome private investigator she lusts after, and unbeknownst to her, she is about to be betrayed after a fashion by someone she ought to be able to trust.  The vampire society continues to be quite interesting, but there wasn’t as much as a sense of urgency about the plot as in the last in the series.  The snappy dialogue is still quite good though and makes up for most of the slow spots. 9/8/08

Dead Is the New Black by Marlene Perez, Harcourt, 9/08, $7.95, ISBN 978-0-15-206408-2

First in a new series about a family of psychics in the town of Nightshade, California, aimed at young adults.  Daisy Giordano doesn’t share her mother’s psychic abilities and she’s having enough trouble just trying to function as a substitute cheerleader.  Her mother is concerned about a series of attacks on local girls which appear to be the work of a vampire.  Daisy has her suspicions about the culprit, since the head cheerleader has been acting strangely and has acquired a new style of dress that looks vaguely creepy.  But not all is as it seems.  The mystery is standard and unexceptional but the story is helped along by the characterization, which is edgier than usual in YA series fiction and even genuinely funny in spots. 9/8/08

The Devouring by Simon Holt, Little, Brown, 2008, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-316-03573-6 

Young adult horror with some nice touches here.  A young girl finds a mysterious book – surprising how often that happens – and reads about the Vours, supernatural creatures that supposedly can take possession of the living.  She thinks it’s all just a joke or delusion until the kids in the area, including her brother, begin acting very strangely.  Then she realizes that the book is her only hope of saving the kids from the monsters that live inside them. Although this one is aimed at a comparatively young audience, it is in many ways more sophisticated than some young adult novels.  There are some genuinely suspenseful scenes, the kids are more than just rubber stamped characters, and the prose is actually entertainingly written.  9/4/08

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin, Viking, 2008, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-670-01988-5 

Victor Pelevin is a highly regarded Russian writer who has played with supernatural themes in the past, although not in traditional ways.  This novel is a case in point.  A Hu-Li is a very old werefox from Asia who is currently living in Russia.  She meets a Russian intelligence operative who turns out to be a werewolf and the two of them enjoy an intense sexual and intellectual relationship.  That’s the surface story.  Beneath it is a web of subplots including speculation about the inner workings of modern Russian government and business, philosophical questions about reality and perception, and a number of other topics, all wrapped up in a blanket of pointed satire.  At times I was reminded of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margharita, but Pelevin’s creation is distinctly his own.  It’s the first novel specifically about werewolves I’ve enjoyed in quite some time, but then to be honest, it’s not really about werewolves at all.  It’s about the flickering images we all present to the world. 9/2/08 

Lifeblood by Tom Becker, Orchard, 2008, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-03742-6 

This is the second in the Darkside series for young adults, which somewhat resembles the Nightside books by Simon R. Green, except with a darker hue.  Jonathan is the young protagonist, cast adrift in a part of London where the supernatural is real.  Jonathan is looking for his mother, who disappeared many years earlier, and perseveres despite very clear evidence that someone, or something, wants him to stop looking and go away.  His quest is subsumed this time in another investigation, a series of brutal murders.  The prose is a bit too light and airy for my taste at times, but the story itself is intense, intriguing, and well thought out.  I really enjoyed the setting; Becker has a definite talent for presenting a just slightly out of whack version of our world.  The third in the series, Nighttrap, is due out later this year. 9/2/08

 

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