The Reckoning by Jeff Long, Atria, 2004, $25, ISBN 0-7434-6300-5

I've enjoyed two previous novels by Jeff Long, so I went out of my way to find a copy of his new one.  The setting is present day Cambodia.  A female photojournalist has joined an expedition to recover the remains of American soldiers, but the job is considerably more difficult than she expected.  The bones have become a political issue which make life difficult for the US army and the local residents, so when she stumbles on a well filled with bones, some of which are American, she is rewarded with expulsion from the search rather than a thank you.  Expelled with her are two very different men, an archaeologist and an obsessed hunter supposedly searching for a trace of his missing brother.  The threesome are approached by a mysterious young man who offers to lead them to the remains of an entire patrol, but the site is remote, the journey arduous, and at the end they find an ancient ruined city and a supernatural resolution.  I wasn't entirely satisfied with the end, mostly because it did not evolve logically from the events that preceded it, but the story of their search is generally very well done and the disappointing ending did not spoil it for me.

Satan's Daughter and Other Tales from the Pulps by E. Hoffman Price, Wildside, 2004, $15.95, ISBN 0-8095-1118-5

Although I have never found an individual story by E. Hoffman Price that really stood out, the couple of dozen I've read over the years have almost all been well written, and I've wondered more than once in the past why no one has ever collected some of his better short fiction other than one hard to find Arkham House title from almost forty years ago.  That seems to be partially addressed with this volume, which contains thirteen of his stories from the 1930s and 1940s, not all of them fantastic.  There are westerns and mysteries and only occasional supernatural elements.  They are very much in the pulp tradition, melodramatic, narrowly plotted, and sometimes not entirely plausible, but they are also exciting, well constructed, and surprisingly well written given the nature of that market.  Journey back to the thrilling days of yesteryear and investigate dark alleys with one of the early wizards of suspense fiction.

Weird Trails edited by Darrell Schweitzer, Wildside, 2004, $19.95, ISBN 0-8095-1150-9

Although this is designed to look like one of Wildside's pulp magazine facsimile reprints, both in its packaging, titles, and interior illustrations, even going so far as to use actual old time advertisements, it is actually an originally anthology of weird western stories, most of them  intentionally humor.  Mike Resnick, Craig Shaw Gardner, Ray Nelson, Ron Goulart, and others evoke a very warped vision of the traditional old west in the stories, which also contain references to the work of H.P. Lovecraft, ghosts, and other eldritch horrors.  Most of the stories are individually quite funny, but I did think the joke was insufficient to hold up for more than a dozen stories.  You might want to read this one in batches. 

Blade Trinity by Natasha Rhodes, Black Flame, 2004, £6.99, ISBN 1-84416-106-4

Obviously this is the novelization of the third movie in the Blade series.  Blade, for those not in the know, is half human, half vampire, able to walk by day, a relentless enemy of vampires who – I am happy to say – are almost always evil in the Blade universe.  In this installment, Blade has a new enemy who arranges things so that Blade is accused of murder, which forces him into a reluctant partnership with a band of human vampire hunters.  I won't spoil the ending for those who haven't seen the movie yet, but there's another big climax.  This novelization competently retells the story, but certainly doesn't add anything extra.

House of Blood by Bryan Smith, Leisure, 12/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5481-7

I had a very mixed reaction to this very violent horror novel, which felt almost like the outline for a made for DVD movie rather than a book.  Five young people are driving through unfamiliar territory when they take a wrong turn and find themselves at a sprawling old house which, as the reader knows long before the characters realize it, contains a dangerous evil.  The initial chapters are quite suspenseful, but once we begin to experience the main plot, which involves illusions cast up from beneath the ground and a group of shape shifters, things move rapidly to mayhem and gunfire, well before I had time to really get to know the characters.  There are enough good parts to make Smith as a potentially entertaining newcomer, but his debut ultimately left me uninvolved.

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, Black Coat, 2004, $24.95, ISBN 1-932983-13-9

Although nothing fantastic really happens in this classic novel, it has become so closely associated with horror fiction that this new edition, freshly translated by J-M and Randy Lofficier, and presenting the complete text, is very welcome.  I first read this in high school and still remember many of the scenes quite vividly.  The plot, for those who have lived their entire lives in a box, concerns a deformed man living secretly in the Paris Opera House who poses as a ghost, moves mysteriously through the shadows, becomes obsessed with a promising young singer, and eventually kidnaps her into the depths beneath the theater.  The book is much more powerful than any of the film versions.  The book has a large number of black and white illustrations by a whole cast of artists, and a new story by the translators about the Phantom's early life.

Spooks! Edited by Tina L. Jens and John Everson, Twilight Tales, 2004, $15, ISBN 0-9711309-7-3

You're probably not going to be surprised when I tell you that this is a collection of ghost stories.  On the other hand, you might be surprised to know that if you order a copy from their website,, you might be able to get a signed copy.  There are quite a few ghost stories included, more than two dozen, plus some additional material.  Many of the authors are unfamiliar to me, and the quality of the stories varies a bit, although there are no clunkers and a few surprisingly good ones.  Best in the collection for me were the contributions by Jay Bonansinga, Carrie Richerson, James S. Dorr, and Laura Ann Gilman.  There are some humorous bits, but mostly these are serious, suspenseful, and often quite traditional.  And as trade paperbacks go, this is a very good buy for the cover price.

Tales for a Stormy Night, Blackstone Audiobooks, 2004, $56, ISBN 0-7861-9032-9

There are eight hours of classic short horror stories on this 7 CD, 8 hour recording, and the selection is a pretty good one.  The best for me was "The Horla" by Guy De Maupassant, a kind of vampire story and one of the classics of its type.  "The Body Snatcher" by Robert Louis Stevenson is a close second.  Also included are stories by William Butler Yeats, Henry James, I.L. Peretz, Lafcadio Hearn, two by Edgar Allan Poe, Edith Wharton, Dame Edith Sitwell, Ambrose Bierce, H.P. Lovecraft, and others.  A good selection of stories not overly familiar but still good enough to be worth reading, or listening to, again.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Blackstone Audio, 2004, $15, ISBN 0-7861-8492-2

This is a one hour long presentation of a play based on the classic horror film of the same title, rewritten by Yuri Rasovsky and with a cast headed by John de Lancie, best known for his portrayal of Q in the Star Trek television series, although he has done quite a bit of audio work in recent years.  This has much the feel of old time radio and is done with considerably subtlety as well as a distinctive style.  I thought it should have been just a bit longer, but maybe that's because I became so engrossed that I didn't want it to end.  Something different for your listening pleasure.

Dead by Dusk by Shannon Drake, Zebra, 1/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-8217-7545-6

If you haven't had enough vampire romances, here is a new one for you, and one of the best I've seen.  The protagonist is a young woman visiting a picturesque village when a series of attacks leave several young women dead and mutilated, and our heroine soon begins to suspect that she's slated to be the next on the list.  There is also a mysterious man to whom she is attracted, but is he sincere, or is he the very threat she should be fleeing.  Some of this is pretty formulaic, but the first half of the novel in particular does an excellent job of building suspense and a sense of eeriness.  A horror novel with a touch of romance, or a romance novel with a large dollop of horror.

A Vault of Horror by Keith Topping, Telos, 2004, $17.95, ISBN 1-903889-58-8

A retrospective look at eighty British horror movies, all released between 1956 and 1974, and the effect they had on the viewing public.  Topping provides short little tidbits about each, commenting on the cast, continuity problems, production notes, costumes and styles, reviews, and so forth.  There is also a section of full color reproduction of some of the film posters.  I confess I've seen almost every title in the book, so it was a bit nostalgic to read through the descriptions, particularly of the more obscure ones I haven't seen in a long time. 

Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy by Francis Stevens, Bison, 2004, $19.95, ISBN 0-8032-9298-8

Francis Stevens only wrote for less than four years, but her name is still remembered for her fantasies, which often verged on horror.  I believe this collects all but her book length novels, eight stories ranging from the light ""The Elf Trap" to "Sunfire", a lost race story.  Other stories involve a magical island, the future, a bizarre garden, and Egyptian magic.  The stories age remarkably well, and attest to the great loss the field experienced when Stevens abandoned her writing career just as it was getting started.  There is also a lengthy introduction.  This is one of the best classic reprint collections I've seen, and one that has been long overdue.

L.O.S.T. by Debbie Federici and Susan Vaught, Llewellyn, 2004, $9.95, ISBN 0-7487-0561-6

This is a novel of contemporary witchcraft, but with a very different plot from what I was expecting.  A teenager is temporarily stranded in a remote California town, where he discovers that he has been cast in the role of a kind of savior of the good witches in the area, who are menaced by an evil foe known as the Shadowmaster.  A young witch believes that he can save them, and by extension save the world, but she gets romantically involved with him in the process.  A little hard to accept that all of this was going on without stirring things up on a wider scale, but given that suspension of disbelief, this was a pretty good story.

Lord Ruthven the Vampire by John William Polidori, Charles Nodier, and Eugene Scribe, Black Coat, 2004, $20.95, ISBN 1-932983-10-4

The Return of Lord Ruthven by Alexandre Dumas, Black Coat, 2004, $20.95, ISBN 1-932983-11-2

During the same party in which Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein, John Polidori began working on the story of Lord Ruthven, a suave vampire.  The short novel is interesting primarily for historical reasons, but it is accompanied in this new edition with a fragment of a novel by Lord Byron based on the same character, as well as two stage versions written by Nodier and Scribe.  There is also a new short story by Frank Morlock in which Ruthven crossed swords with none other than Sherlock Holmes.  The second title is a very long play written by none other than the author of The Three Musketeers, recording a further adventure of Ruthven, as well as a second story by Morlock.  Together the two volumes provide a considerable history of Ruthven, and a remarkable look at how playwrights made use of the vampire legend in their own work.

The Last Pentacle of the Sun edited by M.J. Anderson and Brett Alexander Savory, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2004, $16.95, ISBN 1-55152-162-8

This is another benefit anthology, the proceeds of which go to the defense fund for three nonconformists who were imprisoned, perhaps unjustly, for the murder of some young boys.  I know nothing about the merits of the case, which I had never heard of.  The contributors include Clive Barker, with several poems, a very good story from Peter Straub, and good stories from David Niall Wilson, Michael Marano, Gary Braunbeck, Brian Hodge, and several others.  This one definitely falls into the horror category, although not every entry involves the supernatural. 

The Resort by Bentley Little, Signet, 9/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21280-0

Bentley Little has found a little corner of modern horror fiction and made it his own.  Most of his recent novels have taken one institution of modern society, a department story, a walled community, a university, and so forth, and used it as a self contained world in which to unleash a story of – if not outright horror – at least considerable weirdness.  This time he targets vacation resorts, and even though you might be able to anticipate some of the terrors, like the thing in the swimming pool, you won't care because Little sweeps you up into his world, which isn't entirely like our own.   It will make you have second thoughts the next time you decide to try a packaged vacation.

The Dark Lord by Patricia Simpson, Tor, 1/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-34861-6

Tor has started a line of paranormal romances and, so far at least, they've been of pretty high quality, including this one by an author of at least one pretty good romantic ghosts story better than ten years ago, recently returned to writing.  This one is more complex and ambitious.  The protagonist inherits half of a fortune, but discovers that her benefactor was killed by supernatural means,  Her investigations turn up demons, the power of Tarot, a love affair, and an age old mystery.  Should appeal to fans of occult detective stories as well as romance readers with a yearning for suspense.

Don't Die Dragonfly by Linda Joy Singleton, Llewellyn, 2004, $4.99, ISBN 0-7387-0526-8

The author of the "My Sister, the Ghost" series starts a new sequence for older teenagers with this, the first volume in the "Seer" series.  The story itself is a fairly straightforward one about a somewhat different teenager trying to fit into a new school after being expelled from her old one and sent to live with her grandparents.  The little idiosyncrasy that makes her different is that she has visions of future events, which she tries to conceal until she begins to catch glimpses of an evil girl who will commit terrible crimes unless she is stopped.  Somewhat predictably, the heroine finds herself being blamed for what happens because she has information that could only be known to the one responsible, but things all work out in the end.  A not unpleasant but not particularly innovative young adult story of the supernatural.

The Devil in Gray by Graham Masterton, Leisure, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5361-6

When police respond to an emergency call and find a woman decapitated and her husband seriously wounded, they assume it was the result of a murderous fight.  When more victims begin showing up, each killed in the manner of a Christian Saint, always by a killer whom no one could see, a self absorbed police detective begins to suspect that there is more to the case than meets the eye, or in this case, that doesn't meet the eye.  His suspicions are buttressed by the appearance of a young girl who claims to be able to see the invisible killer, and evidence from Civil War photographs indicated that someone might have survived from that era, and be engaged on a mission of vengeance against the descendants of those who wronged him in the past.  A fast paced, not for the squeamish thriller with lots of hideous death, a realistic if not entirely admirable protagonist, and a rousing climax.  Masterton delivers another exciting horror thriller.

The Prison by R. Patrick Gates, Pinnacle, 2004, $5.99, ISBN 0-7860-1639-6

Here's a name I haven't seen in a while.  Gates produced a couple of very good horror novels some years back, then apparently succumbed to the decline in popularity of the genre.  Well, he's back, and with a very good re-debut.  The setting is a prison using a facility that once served as an asylum, but an asylum operated in a sadistic and twisted fashion.  A new guard notices something strange about the prisoners, and things get even stranger when a weird fog makes the already claustrophobic community even more introspective.  The spirits of the dead are returning to influence the living prisoners, and the consequences could be disastrous.  Very suspenseful with a really effectively drawn atmosphere.  A story guaranteed to make you look nervously over your shoulder.

Blood Red Dawn by Karen E. Taylor, Pinnacle, 2004, $5.99, ISBN 0-7860-1472-5

Here's the seventh in the Vampire Legacy series, another novel in which vampires aren't necessarily bad.  This series has concentrated on two vampires who have fallen in love and who no longer prey on the living, but someone kidnaps the woman, and her husband is on the blood path in his effort to track her down, a search which takes him to her former homeland in New Orleans.  These are more romantic adventures than horror novels, but Taylor has been doing it for a while and she tells as clever a tale as any other working this particular vein.

The Hidden by Sarah Pinborough, Leisure, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-00699-9

Here's a disturbing little first horror novel for you.  Rachel is recovering from her amnesia quite well, is in fact perfectly happy with what appears to be an entirely new personality.   There are just a few hints at first that something is wrong, but Pinborough slowly ups the ante until things are definitely off the beaten path.  An interesting monster whose nature I won't describe here, but there is a particularly gruesome ending where everything is resolved, not always the way you might expect.  An above average debut and hopefully the sign of even better things to come.

Hunter's Moon by C.J. Adams and Cathy Clamp, Tor, 12/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-34913-2

Although there have been a few werewolf romances, vampires have been the monster mate of choice.  That may start to change with this collaborative debut, in which a woman driven to desperate measures hires a charming hit man, only to find herself falling in love with him, despite the fact that he is a werewolf.  That just gets thing started, though.  It turns out that he has more than a few enemies himself, and not all of them are human beings.  His new love interest is a lot more vulnerable than he is, so life is about to get even more complicated for both of them.  Thrill and spills galore, but not many chills.

With Red Hands by Stephen Woodworth, Dell, 12/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58645-9

Through Violet Eyes, published earlier this year, was a fascinating story set in a version of our world where it is accepted that some people can communicate with the dead, even solve crimes by talking to the victims after they are gone.  Natalie Lindstrom, protagonist of that novel, returns for a new adventure, reluctantly in this case because she has been increasingly exposed by the violence and is now more interested in raising her young daughter free of that taint.  But crime has a way of pulling in the innocent, and she's drawn to a new case that nearly costs her life, and more.  Very suspenseful, though not quite as good as the first.

Arkham House Books by Leon Nielsen, McFarland, 1/05, $39.95, ISBN 0-7864-1785-4

As you might expect by the title, this is a guide to Arkham House books.  The main body of the book is a chronological listing of the titles, with descriptions and contents, often with black and white reproductions of the cover art.  Included are separate sections on Arkham's sub-imprints, a discussion of the pitfalls of collecting them, estimated values and scarcity of various titles, and a brief history.  A valuable tool for collectors and a nice retrospective for readers interested in knowing more about Arkham House and its place in the history of horror fiction.

In the Night Room by Peter Straub, Random House, 10/04, $21.95, ISBN 1-4000-6252-7

Peter Straub invokes ghosts again in his new novel, but as you might suspect, they're not quite the kind of spirits you might be expecting.  Timothy Underhill is a horror writer troubled by ghostly apparitions, but even more frightened when a mysterious fan turns out to be the physical manifestation of a kind of avenging angel.  Apparently he wrote something dangerous in his previous book, which happens to be Straub's own previous book, because he is now caught in a battle that could result in his destruction by supernatural forces.  As if that isn't strange enough, the alternate protagonist, a young woman on the run from a ruthless killer, manifests herself physically in Underhill's world, throwing all previous definitions of reality into chaos.  Delivered with his usual smoothly flowing prose and containing several chilling scenes interspersed with asome very unsettling strangeness.

Ancestral Shadows by Russell Kirk, Eerdmans, 2004, $25, ISBN 0-8028-3938-X

Conservative essayist Russell Kirk also wrote a small but respectable volume of ghost and horror stories, most of which have been previously collected but which are now long out of print.  This is a new, large compendium of the stories, including his very best stories like "The Surly Sullen Bell", "Watchers at the Strait Gate", "Behind the Stump", and "Sorworth Place".  There is also a good essay explaining his rationale for writing horror fiction.  Although he never became a dominant writer, his work is well regarded and it is definitely nice to have them back in print in a readily available edition.

Stagestruck Vampires and Other Phantasms by Suzy McKee Charnas, Tachyon, 2004, $24.95, ISBN 1-892391-21-X

There are a few writers who are distressingly prolific and their are others who are distressingly not.  Suzy McKee Charnas is one of the latter, although her short stories and novels are invariably worth the wait.  I was surprised at how many of these I recognized just by glancing at the table of contents.  Her collaboration with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, bringing their two famous vampire characters together, as well as the short in which hers made his debut, the excellent "Listening to Brahms", "Peregrines", and others.  There was even a story I hadn't read before, and two very good essays.  This isn't a collection of horror stories, or science fiction, or even fantasy.  It's just a collection of extremely good fiction.

Dead Man's Hand by Nancy Collins, Two Wolf Press, 2004, $17.99, ISBN 1-58846-875-5

The weird west is having a flurry of popularity in recent horror fiction, as indicated by this new collection of five stories set in that background.  The longest is Walking Wolf, a previously published novel about a Comanche werewolf who discovers the hypocrisies of the white man's world.  Only available previously in a limited edition.  "The Tortuga Hill Gang's Last Ride" is the best of the remaining stories, one of which is original to this collection. "Hell Come Sundown" is also quite good.

Allies of the Night by Darren Shan, Little Brown, 2004, $15.99, ISBN 0-316-15570-5

Snakecharm by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Delacorte, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 0-385-73072-1

Young adult fantasy and horror seems as healthy as ever.  The first title is the eighth adventure of Darren Shan, the young runaway who becomes a vampire prince, but for the good vampires, of course.  He has already faced the danger of evil vampires, but now he has an even bigger challenge.  He has to go to school.  Somewhat less serious than the previous novels, but still pretty good.  Amelia Atwater-Rhodes made a very young debut with her first vampire novel, written when she was thirteen, and now that she's no longer  teenager she has moved on to fantasy.  This is the second in a series about shapeshifters.  Separate groups are limited and can only change into a specific animal species, but change is coming despite conservative efforts to stop it.  I liked her horror fiction better, but her fantasy isn't at all bad.

Dark of the Sun by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tor, 11/04, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31102-X

It seems as though it has been a long time since the last St. Germain historical fantasy, but the wait is over at last.  This new one goes well back in time to the 6th Century.  The explosion of Krakatoa has had repercussions all through Asia and his continued sojourn there seems less and less advisable.  As usual, there is considerable historical research apparent within the story as he leaves Asia and returns to his homeland in Europe, observing the changes in the climate that resulted from the catastrophe.  Like the last few novels in this series, the pace is deliberate and much of the novel could have existed perfectly well without the fantastic content.  St. Germain continues to be an intriguing character, however, and his observations and reaction to the world around him are always entertaining.

Deathrealms edited by Stephen Mark Rainey, Delirium, 10/04, $50, ISBN 1-929653-62-X

A few years back, when small press horror magazines were flourishing, one of the very best was Deathrealm edited by Stephen Mark Rainey.  The magazine is no longer with us, but Rainey has provided this new anthology of stories in the same tradition, in a hardcover edition limited to 350 copies.  The roster of stories is an excellent one, with fine work from Jeffrey Osier, W.H. Pugmire, Wayne Allen Sallee, Elizabeth Massie, Jeff VanderMeer, and others.  There's also an introductory essay by the editor about the life, and unfortunately, the death of his magazine.  It's too bad this is a collector's edition, because the stories are good enough to deserve a much wider audience and I doubt there will ever be a paperback.

The Vampire Soul and Other Sardonic Tales by Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Black Coat, 2004, $20.95, ISBN 1-932983-02-3

The Scaffold and Other Cruel Tales by Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Black Coat, 2004, $20.95, ISBN 1-932983-01-5

These two collections of short tales, mostly horror, have been translated and annotated by Brian Stableford for these new English language editions.  The title story in the first is a short novel, combining satire, humor, and horror in a sometimes uneasy mix.  The remaining stories in the first volume are all quite short, and rather minor.  The second collection varies considerably in quality, and considerably in thematic material as well.  There is some supernatural fiction, and some stories might even be called science fiction, while others are simply odd or involve surprising changes of direction.  My favorites of the lot were "The Secret of the Scaffold",  "Akedysserill", and "The Stake".  The quality is high enough that I'm surprised that so little of his work has been previously available in genre collections.

Into the Light/Sunrise by Paul A. Woods, Black Flame, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-151-X

I believe that these two adaptations are from the newest version of the Twilight Zone television program, which I never saw, so the stories are entirely new to me.  One of them is about a woman who can tell when someone is about to die because of a change in their appearance visible only to her, and her reaction when she receives a warning of a major disaster.  It's not bad and it feels a lot like the old Twilight Zone.  The second one is about the discovery of an ancient artifact that makes the sun disappear.  Only by sacrificing a human being can the magic be reversed.  This one is also competently written, but I didn't care for the story at all and barely finished it.

Horror Classics edited by Tom Pomplum, Eureka, 2004, $9.95, ISBN 0-9746648-1-2

This is the tenth volume in an excellent set of graphic adaptations of the work of famous writers.  In each, a number of different graphic artists interpret one particular tale or poem in their own unique style, so that each volume presents a varied and sometimes fascinating new look at the author's work.  This time multiple authors are involved, including Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, Jack Ondon, and Edgar Allen Poe.  The styles range from comic book to sophisticated, Most of the stories are quite well known, and Lovecraft's "The Thing on the Doorstep" is probably the best single entry, although all of them are interesting

Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred by Donald Tyson, Llewellyn, 12/04, $17.95, ISBN 0-7387-0627-2

Yes, there's another one coming.  This one isn't a book of spells, but rather a disjointed narrative, the story of Alhazred's wanderings through the ancient world and his exposure to and eventual understanding of the true order of things, including the existence of Cthulhu and his minions.  Author Tyson has incorporated all of Lovecraft' own "quotations" from the Necronomicon.  Chapter titles include things like "Concerning Shuggoths", "The Formula of Yug", and "Walking Corpses Above the Second Cataract".  There are also several illustrations.  No doubt this will lead to another frenzy of addled teenagers insisting that the Necronomicon is real.

Eschersketch by Stephen L. Antczak and James C. Bassett, Big Blind, 2004, $5, no ISBN 

This longish story is published as a chapbook, but the story is better than its fairly plain packaging.  The protagonist is a programming expert and convicted sex offender who is working on a rendering program that converts sketches into actual structures.  He makes the mistake of choosing an Escher drawing as its input and gets trapped in a bizarre structure that seems to contain doppelgangers of himself.  Clever and vaguely chilling toward the end.

Tainted Blood by James M. Thompson, Pinnacle, 8/04, $5.99, ISBN 0-7860-1615-9

This is the fourth in a series of vampire novels that bears some resemblance to the Blood movie series and some to the World of Darkness books, although it explores new territory of its own.  The vampire community has split into two separate groups.  One seeks a cure so that they will no longer have to live parasitically on humans, while the other believes itself to be a superior race, and plots to vampirize enough powerful people to give them effective control of the various world governments.  The good guys discover a way to enhance their own abilities, which gives them the edge, but by the end of the book, the outcome of the battle is still in doubt, so presumably there's still at least one more title on its way.

Broken Sunrise by Yvonne Navarro, Simon, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 0-689-86594-1

The third novel in the Wicked Willow trilogy, an alternate universe derived from the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, providing an alternate resolution to her conversion to the dark side after the death of her lover, Tara.  Willow has used her magic to bend Oz and Spike to her will, a sort of anti-Scooby gang of her own, and she has summoned Tara's ghost to help her with even darker magic.  Then the ghost fails to respond and she realizes that Buffy and her friends are still trying to prevent her from achieving her goals, which pushes her into a fresh set of attacks.  Ultimately the story leads to the same conclusion, but only after some nice shifts and tricks.

The Turtle Boy by Kealan Patrick Burke, Necessary Evil Press, 2004, $35, ISBN 0-9753635-0-6

This is a novella in hardcover, part of a series from this small press publisher.  In this title, two young boys encounter a strange looking child near a pond, after which a series of odd events culminates in the discovery of child abuse and homicide, and the exacting of vengeance for the crime.  The story is well told and certainly professional quality, with some chilling moments.  I'm not sure, however, how healthy a market there is for these limited edition, high priced collectors' items.

So Long Been Dreaming edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan, Arsenal Pulp, 2004, $19.95, ISBN 1-55152-158-X

Powers of Detection edited by Dana Stabenow, Ace, 10/04, $12, ISBN 0-441-01197-7

Murder by Magic edited by Rosemary Edghill, Warner, 2004, $13.95, ISBN 0-446-67962-3

Here's a nice handful of original anthologies for you.  The first is a collection of stories by a number of writers whose names are going to be unfamiliar to you.  The authors tend to be from undeveloped nations, or if not, deal with themes related to those portions of the world.  A few of them are a bit clumsy, but most are quite competently done, and some of the perspectives are quite intriguing. Next up is a collection of stories that mix mystery with magic, a marriage that is difficult to do well although most of these authors manage just fine.  Among the contributors are Anne Bishop, Anne Perry, Sharon Shinn, and Simon R. Green.  Charlaine Harris has a very nice story as well.  Last up is a somewhat similar collection, except these tend more toward the supernatural and are generally darker in tone.  Mercedes Lackey has a particularly effective story, and there are good tales by Jennifer Roberson, Diane Duane, Josepha Sherman, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Laura Resnick and others.  All three provide exceptional value for the money.

Incredible Adventures by Algernon Blackwood, Hippocampus, 2004, $15, ISBN 0-9748789-0-1

Algernon Blackwood's weird fiction is greatly underestimated, and this particularly collection of three novelettes and two short stories was out of print for almost ninety years before Stark House and now Hippocampus brought it back into print.  The lead story features a man whose personal future is given a great boost when he participates in a pagan ceremony, but there are consequences.  There are always consequences.  The second story has an even more ambiguous theme during another personal transformation.  "The Damned" is a superior haunted house variation, without ghosts properly speaking, and another man loses track of his soul in "A Descent into Egypt".  The final, and weakest story, involves reincarnation.

Gifted Children by Christine Morgan, Sabledrake, 2004, $16.95, ISBN 0-9702189-9-0

I generally avoid self published books but there are occasional exceptions which catch my eye, or which pop up at just the right time.  The stack to be read was low so I decided to sample this one, and was pleasantly surprised to find myself reading it with interest.  The story has no radical surprises.  A town where a group of psychically gifted children live is about to be transformed by a malevolent new presence, and much of what follows is fairly predictable.  Morgan has a pleasant prose style, her characterizations aren't bad, and there are moments of genuine suspense.  That's not always true even of novels from major publishers.

Hell Cop by David C. Burton, Silver Lake, 2004, $15.95, ISBN 1-931095-77-9

The protagonist of this very strange supernatural fantasy is a hell cop, that is, his job is to go into Hell to rescue the souls of those who have been sent there unjustly.  The mission is risky, because dying in Hell condemns you to spend eternity there, and lately an awful lot of our hero's peers have been dying.  There's problems in the Underworld as well, including the opening stages of an open civil war.  Burton's novel has an original setting and some unusual imagery, and the plot is interesting.  There are occasional rough spots in the prose, but on the whole, this was a pretty good and definitely out of the ordinary dark fantasy adventure.

Through Violet Eyes by Stephen Woodworth, Dell, 9/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-80337-9

This is a first novel, and it's a surprisingly good one.  First of all, it has an interesting premise, a special ability that allows a small group of people to identify murderers through a kind of psychic connection.  Unfortunately, someone is systematically killing everyone with this power, which manifests itself as a violet colored eye.  Can the killer be caught before he eliminates the talent completely?  Very well paced and construction, with an original concept, and an interesting protagonist, which is the key to making a suspense novel work effectively.

In Ghostly Japan by Lafcadio Hearn, Capricorn, 2004, $14.99, ISBN 0-9753970-2-8

Although there is some ghostly fiction included here, the bulk of the book is actually an examination of different aspects of Japanese legends and cultures.  The book was quite influential when it first appeared, but for some reason it has been out of print for more than a century as far as I can tell.  Hearn examines poetry, philosophy, Buddhism, and unusual proverbs and metaphors as well as providing some entertaining retellings of classic Japanese stories.  This edition reproduces the interior art and diagrams and adds a brief introduction.

Xombies by Walter Greatshell, Berkley, 8/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-19744-1

A new plague sweeps the world, turning everyone affected into a zombie, a disease that is instantly contagious and so unusual that even the separated parts of the affected victim act as though they were alive.  Sounds like something out of one of the Living Dead movies, doesn't it, with maybe a touch of the recent 28 Days?  Well, to some extent this new first novel is just exactly that.  The government collapses and virtually disappears during the first few pages, after which we follow the adventures and misadventures of a young woman who has a genetic condition which makes her immune, although not to mutilation and assault.  With the man she believes to be her father, she finds refuge of a sort aboard a government submarine, escaping in the nick of time and amidst considerable confusion, and accompanies the ship on a voyage up into the Arctic where it may be possible to find a cure and restore the human race.  Greatshell has some surprises at the end, but most of the novel is a straightforward adventure that wisely doesn't spend all of its type chronicling assaults by mindless zombies.  The pace falters occasionally but it's a very good first novel.

Messenger by Edward Lee, Leisure, 8/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5204-0

Edward Lee brings new meaning to the term going postal in his latest.  Someone – or more properly something – is sending mysterious packages to branch post offices.  Whoever makes the mistake of examining the parcels too closely is possessed by a demonic force which turns them into lethal killing machines, who promptly set off on a series of killing sprees, most of which are described quite graphically and some of which contain some particularly memorable images.  Despite those high points, however, the story really seemed too diffused, which killed the suspense, as did my conviction from the outset that while it might be possible for some of the main characters to avoid their immediate fate, the evil was too powerful a force to ever be defeated.  Lee's novels are always interesting, but some more so than others.  This one is fine for casual reading, despite the gore, but it doesn’t measure up to his more effective novels.

Crisscross by F. Paul Wilson, Forge, 10/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30691-3

My favorite scofflaw is back, Repairman Jack, the man who lives outside the system and takes on jobs that can't be dealt with through ordinary – read legal – ways, and which frequently involve the supernatural in some form or another.  He has two cases this time, both of which seem fairly straightforward.  An elderly woman hires him to infiltrate a popular new cult to determine the condition of her son, who has voluntarily joined but whose recent actions seem out of character.  A nun also engages his services, in this case to recover the photographs for which she is being blackmailed, currently in the position of an old acquaintance of his.  Both cases seem rather straightforward, so you know neither of them is going to be as simple as it appears.  Good stuff, with a nasty twist at times, and Jack's usual efficient methods of correction.

Tzimisce by Myranda Kalis, White Wolf, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 1-58846-852-6

Although I've found most of the World of Darkness stories about warring vampire clans to be repetitive, and occasionally badly written, the ones set in the past have generally been well above average.  Although this one, like the others, involves vampires and the battles among their tribes, it feels more like a secret history fantasy than a horror novel.  We see so much of the vampires that they are simply superhumans or hidden aliens rather than undead monsters.  The setting is the Dark Ages where some vampires seek to create their own perfect society, but where conflicting beliefs lead to controversy and outright warfare.  Some of the sequences are quite well done and the author's prose style is clear and concise.  Not for every taste, obviously, but well above the average game tie-in novel.

Wither's Legacy by John Passarella, Pocket, 10/04, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-8479-7

You just can't keep a good witch down, or a bad one either, apparently.  Wendy Ward has defeated an evil witch both while alive and dead, and just when she thinks she's finally rid of her for good, along comes another little reminder, this time an oversized humanoid creature with claws and fangs and determined to strike back at Wendy.  Passarella calls up the spirit of the Wendigo, a creature I've always found particularly creepy, and invokes the terror that arises from the discovery that familiar figures among us might actually be masks concealing a deadly horror.  This one's deceptive.  It seduces you in and then hits you with the rough stuff just when you're not expecting it.  The third volume makes the first two seem tame.

Kiss Me Forever/Love Me Forever by Rosemary Laurey, Zebra, 9/04, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7661-4

Fans of vampire romances will get their money's worth with this volume, which includes two complete vampire novels.  An American woman travels to England, falls in love with a vampiric Christopher Marlowe, and their union threatens both her mortality and his immortality.  The first volume is about their meeting, their tempestuous relationship, and resolution of their early difficulties.  They're both back for the sequel, joined by a one time Roman legionnaire, now also undead, and a long time enemy of Vlad Tepes, the original for Dracula.  He also finds love in the guise of a mortal woman, and in the process threatens to provoke fresh conflict with his old adversary.  The vampires are pretty tame specimens and the romance is occasionally overblown for my tastes, but neither novel is badly written and they're pretty good examples of their particular type.

Five Seasons of Angel edited by Glenn Yeffeth, BenBella Books, 10/04, $17.95, ISBN 1-932100-33-4

Angel, alas, is gone after five seasons, so we won't have the brooding vampire on our screens any more unless we buy the DVDs.  Despite its cancellation, it had a core of admirers, many of whom were genre writers with respectable credentials.  Some of them have contributed articles to this collection of pieces about the program, including Jean Lorrah, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Michele West, and Peter S. Beagle.  The essays cover a wide variety of subjects, several of them concentrating on one particular character, minor or major.  Best of the lot is Beagle's comparison of Angel and Spike and his observations on the way the show evolved. 

The Innsmouth Tabernacle Choir Hymnal by Brother Darrell Schweitzer, Zadok Allen, 2004, $4, no ISBN.

A collection of spoofs of popular hymns, adapted for use in worshipping the Great Old Ones.  I was particularly fond of "Cthulhu Loves His Loyal Minions".  The verses are quite funny, and the illustrations by Allen Koszowski are nice as well.  A little slender for the price, but what the hell, where else can you get such a thing, with pronunciation key and notes as well.

The Vampire As Numinous Experience by Beth E. McDonald, McFarland,12/04, $35, ISBN 0-7864-1947-4

Another scholarly study, this one examining the role of the vampire in British and American literature as a symbol of some spiritual quality, either positively or negatively.  I found this pretty abstruse at times, and the concentration on Bram Stoker and Anne Rice rather circumscribed the topic beforehand.  The sections on Stoker and Dracula seemed better thought out to me, but given that I don't care for the later works of Rice, I might well have missed the point.

The Preserve by Patrick Lestewka, Necro, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 1-889186-43-0

A group of ex-soldiers who shared a common and unforgettable experience in Vietnam are hired by a mysterious individual for a strange mission.  They are to travel to Canada and track down three escaped criminals in the vast wilderness, an odd but apparently straightforward job.  But there's a catch.  Their real quarry is a bit more dangerous than that, and neither is he human but Chaos itself, a malevolent evil entity who toys with his hunters and makes them the prey.  Relentless action, considerable suspense, and a really nasty villain all make this an unusually good first novel.  There is also a limited edition hardcover available for $45.

The Bad Place by Dean R. Koontz, read by Carol Cowan and Michael Hanson, Brilliance Audio, 2004, $42.95, ISBN 1-59355-342-0

This is the unabridged version of Koontz's 1990 thriller about a man who experiences periodic blackouts, after which he finds evidence on his person of violent acts in which he was apparently involved while functioning as a different person.  He hires a security team to find out what is happening while he is absent from his own body, a job which sounds only slightly out of the ordinary but rapidly becomes anything but.  This rapid paced, suspenseful story is ably read in alternating sections by the two readers, which works particularly well given the husband and wife investigating team who serve as the protagonists.  Neither the best nor worst of Koontz's novels from this period, it comes closer to the supernatural than most of his work.

Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison, Harper Trophy, 5/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-057296-5

Laurell Hamilton's Anita Blake series, set in a version of our world except that supernatural creatures – vampires and werewolves and so forth – are real and accepted as such was not original with that author, but the success of the books certainly made it popular enough to spawn imitators like Charlaine Harris.  Now comes Kim Harrison with her novel of a version of Cincinnati that is home to hordes of the undead and other monstrous creatures.  Her protagonists combine make up a vaguely Anita Blake variation, and the story follows predictable patterns, but so did the early Laurell Hamilton's.  It remains to be seen whether or not Hamilton can develop as fully realized a world and set of continuing characters, but at least she's off to a reasonably good start.

Graphic Classics: Robert Louis Stevenson edited by Tom Pomplum, Eureka Productions, 2004, $9.95, ISBN 0-9746648-0-4

This is the latest in a series of graphic adaptations of classic writers, of which previous volumes have deal with H.P. Lovecraft, H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker, and others with connections to the genre.  Each volume includes graphic treatments of several works by the author, usually by different artists and writers so that the style and treatment varies dramatically throughout the book.  The genre connections in this case are less substantial than in some of the earlier collections, but the quality is quite high and of course Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the major story, though "The Bottle Imp" is also a classic.  The selection based on verses and fables is also quite interesting.  Those contributing include Neale Blanden, Robert Crumb, Michael Manning, Tom Neely, and Anne Timmons, along with a virtual convention of graphic artists. 

Honey Is Sweeter Than Blood by Jeffrey Thomas, Delirium, 2004, $40, ISBN 1-929653-53-0

Shadows of Flesh by Scott Thomas, Delirium, 2004, $40, ISBN 1-929653-59-X

Both of these titles, whose authors are brothers, are new limited edition collections of horror fiction due out from Delirium this year.  Both blend their horror with overtly erotic themes, with varying degrees of intensity.  The first title is slightly the better of the two, consisting of mostly original stories and a couple that have only appeared electronically before now.  There is an occasional tendency to let the erotic content overwhelm the story, but in most cases the author stays firmly in control and provides a good balance.  The second collection is split about evenly between new and reprinted material.  The sex is rather more violent and intrusive in many of these, and sometimes the story seemed to get lost in the shuffle.  Delirium may have tailored these books to a specific audience as they seem less likely to appeal to a general horror readership than most of their previous titles.

The Manor by Scott Nicholson, Pinnacle, 2004, $5.99, ISBN 0-7860-1580-2

The creepy old house with lots of rooms and few modern conveniences, hosting a party of varied and sometimes weird guests, has become one of the familiar settings for horror stories, and when you hear that description, you're likely to anticipate a good deal of what the author might do with the theme.  Some of that is true in Nicholson's third novel, but he's going to surprise you with both how well he handles the material, but with the novel twists and turns he has built in to befuddle your expectations.  The house in this case was conceived as a retreat for artists, a place where they could forget about the baggage of modern civilization and get back to basics.  Just because the founder is dead doesn't mean he doesn't still taken an interest in what happens within those walls, and it's entirely possible that someone seeks a form of immortality rather more personal than the artistic form.

American Gothic by Michael Romkey, Del Rey, 4/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-45210-0

Michael Romkey continues his string of generally unrelated vampire novels with this new one, whose protagonist was devastated by events during the Civil War, so disconsolate that he willingly subjected himself to a female vampire.  For several decades, he continued as one of the undead, but during the opening days of World War I, he travels to Haiti and meets a woman for whom he feels genuine affection for the first time since the loss of his original family.  Determined to reject his life as a vampire, he seeks a way to restore his soul and his humanity and make her his own.  His life becomes intertwined with hers during the series of crises that follow, and although he doesn't get everything he wants, he ultimately finds a measure of salvation.  Not much in the ways of thrills and chills, particularly compared to some of the author's previous novels, but there are ample rewards for readers who are fond of the kind of vampirism found in Angel.

What Would Buffy Do? By Jana Riess, Jossey Bass, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 0-7879-6922-2

Even though Buffy the Vampire Slayer is no longer on the air, books making use of its popularity continue to appear.  This is the "vampire slayer as spiritual guide",  which uses incidents and attitudes from the series to suggest resolving questions of anger, fear, friendship, mentoring, self control, and maturity.  None of the advice seems to me either extraordinarily good or bad, and some may find it useful.  Accompanying the main material are several Buffy related items that seem rather inappropriate, though interesting, including a summary of each of the seven seasons, a guide to characters, and most interesting of all an interview with Eliza Dushku, who played Faith.

Double-Dare to Be Scared by Robert D. San Souci, Cricket, 2004, $15.95, ISBN 0-8126-2716-4

I rather enjoyed the stories in the author's Dare to Be Scared, a collection of creepy stories for younger readers, but I think this follow up collection of thirteen new stories is marginally better.  They don't have the intensity of adult horror, of course, but some of them are genuinely creepy, and the source of the menace is quite varied, everything from aliens from other worlds to the revivified dead to oversized insects.  Nicely illustrated by David Ouimet as well.  Read them to your kids with the lights turned low and see which of you is the most creeped out.

Compositions for the Young and Old by Paul G. Tremblay, House of Dominion, 2004, $15, ISBN 1-930997-43-4

Weirdmonger by D.F. Lewis, Prime, 2003, $19.95, ISBN 1-894815-84-X

Take No Prisoners by John Grant, Willowgate, 2004, $13.95, ISBN 1-930008-09-0

I celebrated the arrival of spring with an orgy of short story reading, and had some surprises, most of them pleasant ones.  There are a number of writers whose names are familiar but who I don't connect with any individual story, although I may have enjoyed their work over the course of years.  Sometimes when I read a considerable body of work by a relatively unknown writer, I am more impressed than when I read individual stories, and that was definitely the case with all three of these writers.  I had only read about a third of Tremblay's stories previously, for example, and remembered none of them, but they made a much deeper impression this time.  The stories are unrelated but have been arranged in the book so that the earlier ones deal with younger characters and the later ones with older people, which gives the book an odd sort of unity.  Some of them are horror, some only marginally fantastic if at all, and there is a recurring note of bizarre humor that is sometimes amusing, sometimes unsettling.  The best stories are "Annabel Lee" and "So Many Things Left Out".  D.F. Lewis tends to write much shorter stories, and more than sixty of them are collected here.  His best here include "Salustrade", "The Spigot and the Speech Mark", "Sponge and China Sea", and "Watch the Whiskers Sprout".  Lewis also mixes humor, horror, fantasy and even occasional SF concepts.  His tales tend to be mood pieces, sometimes with a truncated feel, and once again they are more effective read in clusters than individually.  A few of these are original to this collection.  Finally, but certainly not least worthwhile, is an even more varied collection by John Grant.  Grant's stories generally work individually somewhat better than those of Lewis and Tremblay, and lean toward fantasy and dark fantasy.  The best of his work includes "The Machine It Was That Cried" and "Imogen".  Grant has some very funny stories here as well.  Whatever your tastes, if you enjoy good short fiction, you'll find something to like in any of these three selections.

Bride of the Fat White Vampire by Andrew Fox, Ballantine, 8/04, $14.95, ISBN 0-345-48408-7

If you haven't read Fat White Vampire Blues, to which this is a sequel, go out and find a copy right away.  Jules Duchon is a New Orleans vampire whose diet of blood taken from people with high cholesterol has made him overweight.  His first round of adventures were a delicious blend of suspense and humor, and a nice roundabout jab at Anne Rice and her imitators, and the second is more of the same with another problem.  Someone is systematically murdering the vampires of New Orleans.  Is it a vampire hunter or a rogue undead or something even more mysterious?  Throw in a mad scientist and a twisted version of the plot of Bride of Frankenstein and you have the makings for a zany, unconventional, but decidedly entertaining vampire romp.  Here's hoping that Duchon rises again in the very near future.

Murder of Angels by Caitlin R. Kiernan, Roc, 9/04, $14, ISBN 0-451-45996-2

Caitlin Kiernan's latest is a markedly strange novel.  Two women were seriously affected by a strange experience in a deserted house, leaving one dependent upon drugs and driven to extremes to avoid facing her past, the other battling to retain her sanity despite the ministrations of various psychologists.  Inevitably they are unable to escape the after effects forever, which involve communication with the dead, a strange alternate reality with some analogies to our world, and a mystical threat that could effect more than just the two of them.  As usual, Kiernan's intricate prose and vividly described insights into human psychology are the centerpiece in this, her most effective novel to date.

The Darkening by Yvonne Navarro, Simon Spotlight, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-2774-2

Dark Mirror by Craig Shaw Gardner, Simon Spotlight, 2004, $5.99, ISBN 0-689-86701-8

Apocalypse Memories by Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz, Simon Spotlight, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 0-689-86700-X

With the cancellation of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, I have to wonder how much longer the tie-in novels will run, but so far they seem to be doing quite well.  The latest batch is generally quite good, starting with Yvonne Navarro's opening volume of a trilogy set in a kind of alternate version of the Buffyverse.  Her lover Tara has been killed and Willow has turned to evil magic, despite the intercession of Tara's ghost and the efforts of her friends.  The divergence from the original story line is rich in possibilities and I'll be looking forward to the ensuing volumes.  Craig Shaw Gardner adds an exciting and suspenseful mystery to the chronicles of Angel and his crew.  For some reason, doppelgangers of each of them are showing up, intent upon replacing their originals.  Gardner definitely has the feel of the show in this one, which would have made a good episode.  Last, and least is another adventure of Willow, not the evil version this time.  Willow has come back after recovering from her sojourn on the dark side, just as Sunnyvale is threatened with destruction yet again.  She can stop the evil, but only if she uses powerful magic, and she's not certain whether or not she can control the power any more.  Without the snappy dialogue, the characters never really come to life, although the story itself isn't bad.

In this Skin by Simon Clark, Leisure, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5157-5

The Fraternity by Stephen Gresham, Pinnacle, 2004, $5.99, ISBN 0-7860-1538-1

Despite the different settings and different plots, these two recent horror novels felt very much alike to me, although one is very good and the other very bad.  The first is set in a decrepit, abandoned dance hall which is secretly host to a supernatural creature which can take images and objects from dreams and nightmares and manifest them in a manner somewhat similar to the Nightmare on Elm Street movies.  Clark is much more adept at creating a creepy atmosphere, however, and even though I had pretty much guessed how everything was going to turn out quite early, there is an entertaining and thrilling sense of an inevitable rush to chaos.  Gresham, who turned out several quite readable horror thrillers during the boom some time back, examines another elderly institution, college fraternities, in this story of bargains with evil, kidnapping, group rivalries, and personal ambitions.  Unfortunately, he lacks Clark's ability to set the scene and the use of present tense narration is particularly unfortunate for this kind of story.  I couldn't identify with the characters, and I didn't dislike them enough to be anxious to see them meet their doom.

The Lebo Coven by Stephen Mark Rainey, Five Star, 7/04, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-227-0

Stephen Mark Rainey has produced a steady flow of excellent horror fiction, some of which like this one are deceptively unmelodramatic for most of the trip.  Barry Riggs is unofficially investigating the disappearance of his brother, whose behavior in the past has been sufficiently erratic that almost any explanation is possible.  He is helped along by the story's most interesting character, a young woman who is also a good witch of sorts, and who helps to convince him that the disappearance is linked to the supernatural.  They eventually have to evoke their own magical aid to counter the efforts of a man bent on acquiring ancient secrets of sorcery, and naturally there's always a price to be paid for supernatural assistance.  Novels about satanic cults don't often entertain me any more, but Rainey is one of those writers who invariably finds a way to squeeze a new idea out of an old piece of story fruit.

Valley of Shadows by Frank Fradella, Montero, 9/04, $20, ISBN 1-57281-465-9

This is an intriguing book, a first novel from a small press, with a very powerful opening chapter.  The protagonist and his girlfriend are attending the opera when she suddenly bursts into flame, a victim of spontaneous human combustion.  Our hero survives and vows to find out what happened and, eventually, to bring her back from the dead, even if that means descending to Hell itself, which is in fact what ultimately happens.  The novel is not at all badly written, most of the time, but every so often the prose seems a bit off, just slightly artificial, as though it needed one more draft before it was done.  I wouldn't call this an unmitigated success, but I will be curious to see what the author does the next time around.

Tremere by Sarah Roark, White Wolf, 4/04, $6.99, ISBN 1-58846-848-8

The World of Darkness series, warring clans of vampires and werewolves living secretly in the interstices of our world, has become almost a clichι, and many of the recent novels in this ongoing series have been repetitious and uninteresting.  Most of the exceptions are those with historical settings, in which the secret societies seem more plausible.  This is one of them, the second title by this new author, and it's a pretty good one.  The protagonist agrees to help in one of the local battles, but discovers that he has bitten off – pun intended – more than he can easily chew when he discovers that there is a wizard involved as well.  Light on characterization and rather somber in tone, but the historical setting is interesting and the plot moves pretty well.

Memphis & The Pool Guy by Jay Russell, Black Flame, 2004, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-130-7

Upgrade & Sensuous Cindy by Pat Cadigan, Black Flame, 2004, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-131-5

These two volumes each include two episodes from the short lived revival of the classic television series, which I never managed to see.   Rod Serling's original show mixed science fiction, fantasy, and horror indiscriminately, but all four of these are SF.  The two Russell adaptations involve a time traveler who has to decide whether or not to attempt to prevent the assassination of Martin Luther King and a dream clinic whose clientele may be receiving more than they bargained for.  Cadigan's pair involve a virtual reality program that allows the user to cheat on his or her spouse without consequences, or maybe not, and another about a woman whose family is replaced by doppelgangers.  "Sensuous Cindy" is the best of the four.

Summer by Jeff Mariotte, Simon Pulse, 7/04, $5.99, ISBN 0-689-86665-8

This is the first volume of a series of four intended for young adults.  Season Howe is an evil witch who has committed murder and other crimes and who is being pursued through modern California by another witch, this one on the side of good.  The protagonist is a teenaged girl who gets caught up in the conflict when one of her friends becomes a victim, even though that puts her own life at risk when Season stops running and choose to counter attack.  Mariotte, who has written several novels in the Buffy/Angel universe, has a good feel for this kind of story and avoids writing down to his audience.  Although most of this volume is spent setting up the situation and the characters, there's enough action to make its readers impatient for the next installment.

Collected Essays Volume 1: Amateur Journalism by H.P. Lovecraft, Hippocampus, 2004, $20, ISBN 0-9721644-2-1

Collected Essays Volume 2: Literary Criticism by H.P. Lovecraft, Hippocampus, 2004, $20, ISBN 1-9721644-9-9

In addition to his fiction, Lovecraft left behind a substantial body of letters, which have been variously collected, as well as essays, many published in the amateur press of his time.  The first of these two volumes collects this work, some of it very interesting, some of it pretty minor.  Perhaps the most interesting material is that which relates to his feuds with some of his fellow amateurs, and his praise for others.  There is also a reasonably good summary of the history of the amateur press scene during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The second volume is of more general interest, and the fact that it contains the complete, lengthy "Supernatural Horror in Literature" alone makes it worth the cover price.  The accompanying essays cover a variety of literature from weird to obscure poetry.  His essay on science fiction is amusing for its unusual slant.  These probably aren't for the casual reader, but for many this is a unique chance to examine another side of Lovecraft.

The Many Faces of Van Helsing edited by Jeanne Cavelos, Ace, 2004, $14.95, ISBN 0-441-01170-5

Just as the movie Van Helsing is about to debut, we have a collection of all original stories featuring Dracula's nemesis, although the character portrayed here has no connection with the film version, and in fact the stories themselves have very different takes on the Dutch vampire hunter.  Indeed, many of the stories don't even have vampires in them, pitting him against other forms of monsters like gargoyles and mummies.  There's a mix of new and established names, and as you might expect most of the best stories are by the latter, although Chris Roberson's vision of Van Helsing in China is quite well done, and Joe Hill has a good story as well.  Tom Monteleone's contribution is probably the best written, but Lois Tilton's had the most interesting premise.  Thomas Tessier, Tanith Lee, Christopher Golden, and Kim Antieau also had good stories.  I did have one quibble, but it's hard to precisely describe it.  Several of the stories, even the better ones, felt as though they were excerpts from longer works rather than individual stories, although I'm reasonably sure that was not the case.  It was almost as though they were episodes rather than stories.

Gothic Wine by Darren Speegle, Aardwolf, 7/04, $14.95, ISBN 0-9706225-3-8

Although Darren Speegle isn't a household name in horror, but that might well change in times to come.  This collection of more than a dozen short stories, several of which are original to this volume I believe, and the rest from small press and obscure locations, is surprisingly consistent in maintaining a high level of quality for a writer I'd barely heard of.  Many of the stories focus on quite vivid scenes or images, the dialogue is crisp, the plots frequently quite clever, and the prose above average.  I particularly liked "The End of the Line" and "The Lighthouse at Vijk".  His horrors are often subtle ones, but the results are usually powerful.

Crypt Orchids by David J. Schow, Babbage Press, 4/04, $18.95, ISBN 1-930235-26-7

Elvisland by John Farris, Babbage Press, 4/04, $19.95, ISBN 1-930235-21-6

During horror's boom some years back, one of the writers I most consistently enjoyed was David J. Schow.  Although I had already read most of the stories in this collection elsewhere, I never saw a copy of the 1998 edition of this collection from Subterranean Press, so it was nice to get this handsomely produced re-issue, which includes three stories original to the collection.  "Dusting the Flowers" and the three Hollywood stories are my favorites, the short play is interesting, and the introductory material by Robert Bloch is also nicely done.  The Farris collection is new, although many of the stories previously were collected in Scare Tactics.  Farris writes more mainstream horror, and some of his stories are positively brilliant.  "Talking Heads" and "horrorshow" are probably my favorites here, although "Hunting Meth Zombies in the Great Nebraska Wasteland" has some definitely strange moments.  It's nice to see either of these names on new horror books, even if they are reprints.

In Silent Graves by Gary Braunbeck, Leisure, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5329-2

One of the reasons I enjoy Gary Braunbeck's work so much is that from time to time he creates such a subtle twist to reality that it spills over into the real world and for just a moment or two, I expect the bizarre things that happen in the pages to replicate themselves in the real world.  Robert Londrigan is a newscaster whose marriage is having its ups and downs.  His wife is pregnant, but she's already had two miscarriages and is terrified about having a third.  Londrigan comes home one evening to find her lying on the floor, and both she and the baby die at the hospital.  He is devastated, but his life is about to become even stranger when a mysterious masked figure he met earlier assaults him and steals his daughter's body.  And that's just the beginning, as Braunbeck takes us on a guided tour of a world almost ours.  Londrigan is being tested, and he doesn't understand the rules, and reality itself no longer seems solid or predictable.  Snazzy stuff.

Watchers by Dean R. Koontz, Brilliance Audio, 2004, $42.95, ISBN 1-59355-330-7

This 1977 thriller is one of my favorites of Koontz's work, and it inspired a series of three movies, although only the first was particularly good.  Two experimental subjects have escaped from a secret government laboratory.  One is a dog whose intelligence has been enhanced so far that he is essentially a human trapped in an animal's body.  The other is a warped killing machine who hates the dog because of the contrast with his own misshapen body.  The novel is for the most part an extended chase sequence, but the suspense is intense and the relationship between the protagonist and the dog is well developed and emotional without being too sentimental.  This version consists of thirteen CDs and runs about fifteen hours, and that's a lot of first class entertainment for the price.

Mortal Companion by Patrick Califia, Suspect Thoughts Press, 2004, $16.95, ISBN 0-9710846-9-6

The author presents an interesting dilemma in this novel.  The protagonist is a vampire, a moderately villainous one although that's really irrelevant to the story.  Vampires, being predators, cannot tolerate each other's company for extended periods of time, but Ulric, the vampire, is lonely and wants a long term lover.  The only solution is to choose a mortal and treat her as an equal, an unnatural situation even if it didn't cause obvious strains on their relationship.  Complicating matters is another vampire, a woman who hates Ulric, wishes him to suffer, and is even more aggravated by his special treatment of a normal human.  There ensues a fairly complex dance of intrigue and treachery in a fairly interesting and generally well done plot.  The author does a reasonably good job of developing his characters as well.  There were times when the prose struck me as needing a rewrite, some awkward phrases, and an overall flatness that didn't support the emotional content of the plot.  A good first effort, but you might find yourself skipping over some scenes.

The Tolltaker by James Sneddon, Five Star, 6/04, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-146-0

Bobby is a young boy whose life seems far too complex for him to handle lately.  His father has been missing in Vietnam for three years, but Bobby knows that he's alive because he has a magical charm, and as long as that charm is in his possession, his father cannot die.  There are two parallel conflicts in his life.  On the one hand, more mundanely, he has fun afoul of the local playground bully, who insists that Bobby pay a toll in order to cross his path.  On the other, there's a bizarre and menacing figure lurking in a storm grain, an even more dangerous tolltaker who demands that Bobby surrender

Dead Man's Hand by Tim Lebbon, Necessary Evil, 2004, $12.95, no ISBN

One of the most interesting genre mixes for me is the western supernatural like Joe Lansdale's Dead in the West or Mark Sumner's The Devil's Engine.  This novelette is the first in a series of chapbooks in the Assassin series, which apparently will follow the adventures of a single character who appears in various times and places to combat evil.  In the opener, a storekeeper in a small western town is troubled by the arrival of a gunslinger who appears to be demented, insisting that a dead man being prepared for burial is not only alive but actually a demonic force.  Of course, he turns out to be right, and the evil Angel begins affecting the minds of the townspeople, with a climactic battle of epic proportions.  If the rest of the series measures up to the opener, this could be a supernatural classic.

The New Lovecraft Circle edited by Robert M. Price, Del Rey, 4/04, $14.95, ISBN 0-345-44406-X

This collection of new and reprinted stories inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft originally appeared in 1996 from Fedogan & Bremer.  It collects some unusual and hard to find stories, like Alan Dean Foster's "The Horror on the Beach", and includes work by Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell, Karl Edward Wagner, Gary Myers, Richard Lupoff, and others.  Most of the stories are pretty good, but I thought the title somewhat inappropriate since, for the most part, the writers included hardly form any kind of close circle.  That caveat aside, Lovecraft fans will more than get their money's worth.

This Shade of Night by Khrystel Parlin, IUniverse, 2004, $10.95, ISBN 0-595-30945-3

Vampire detective stories are just about the only ones with benevolent vampires that don't annoy me from the outset.  I like my vampires evil.  The protagonist of this one is not only an undead detective, she's also a weretiger.  When she gets involved with a series of brutal murders, her path will lead to witchcraft and other evils.  The dialogue is occasionally awkward, but Parlin tells an interesting story and she has a good sense of pace and plot development.  I wouldn't call this one a clear winner, but it's certainly one of the best titles I've seen from IUniverse, and one of the few I could read through to the end.

Gangrel by Tim Waggoner, White Wolf, 2/04, $6.99, ISBN 1-58846-847-X

In general, I have found that the White Wolf vampire novels in their World of Darkness series have tended to be so repetitive that it's often difficult to distinguish one title from another.  The exceptions have mostly been those with historical settings.  That's the case with this new title, which takes place during the 13th Century and involves clan warfare among humans as well as among the various strains of vampire.  Waggoner evokes more of the spirit of dark fantasy than horror in this story of individual combat, political intrigues, duels, derring do, blood oaths and blood drinkers, and a quest for magical powers.  I was reminded of the best of the Ravenloft series from a few years ago, which included some surprisingly entertaining dark fantasy.

his father's life.  In due course, and somewhat predictably, Bobby comes of age in both contexts, standing up to the bully and to the supernatural figure, who proves ultimately to be a fraud.  There's just enough supernatural content to make the book edgy, and enough serious character development to make us believe in it.

Dead Lines by Greg Bear, Del Rey, 6/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-345-44837-5

Greg Bear has dabbled with the supernatural once before, in Lost Souls, but this time the result is far more chilling.  The setting is the near future and the protagonist is a man nearly crushed by personal adversity, the death of his child and of a close friend, the failure of his career, the corruption of his spirit and integrity.  He is reduced to consulting spiritualists and running errands for a wealthy acquaintance when he is asked to try out a new product, a cell phone that makes use of a previously unknown and possibly limitless capacity.  Unfortunately, after agreeing, he begins to quite literally see ghosts, including the spirit of his own murdered daughter, slowly accepting the truth.  The new technology has tapped into an entirely different reality, the plane of existence which we go to when we are dead, and by doing so it has made it possible for those departed spirits to wield influence on the world of the living.  Genuinely scary at times, and as well written as we have come to expect from Greg Bear.

Horror and Mystery Photoplay Editions and Magazine Fictionizations by Thomas Mann, McFarland, 8/04, $45, ISBN 0-7864-1722-6

Here's an unusual bibliography for you, an annotated list of photoplay editions, that is, book or magazine versions of a film which include stills from the motion picture, in this case limited to mystery and horror movies.  Sometimes – particularly the books – were new editions of the novel upon which the movie was based, sometimes they are novelizations after the fact.  The annotations are brief and descriptive and the titles included are not always consistent, e.g. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea by Theodore Sturgeon is included, which is neither horror nor mystery.  An interesting book, but probably only worth the high cover price to a very limited audience.

Dark Desire by Elaine Moore, Ibooks, 3/ 04, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-7906-8

After Human by Michael Cross, Pinnacle, 2/04, $5.99, ISBN 0-7860-1275-7

Blood Road by Edo Van Belkom, Pinnacle, 3/ 04, $5.99, ISBN 0-7860-1563-2

Vampire novels continue to proliferate.  The first of these was originally published by the small press in 1999, and now returns as the opening volume of a trilogy.  The story is more of a romance than anything else.  A newly turned vampire woman travels around the world, pursued by her vampire lover.  Not much suspense at all, and I didn't feel much chemistry between the two main characters either.  The second title is another familiar story.  Some vampires are dedicated to preventing knowledge of their existence from becoming general, but one of their kind indulges in spectacular bloodbaths and threatens to upset the applecart.  I find it difficult to allow my sympathies to be manipulated enough to identify with one of the undead, so this one didn't really work for me either.  Third and last, but easily the best is Edo Van Belkom's story of a woman who hitches a ride with the most dangerous of all, one of the undead.  The vampire this time is an unmitigated nasty, and that's the way they should be.

Midnight Mass by F. Paul Wilson, Tor, 4/04, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30705-7

This is a greatly expanded version of a short novel first published in 1990, and is not really related to any of Wilson's other books, although it is at times reminiscent of The Keep.  Following the logical pattern of an infection, vampirism has swept across the world and normal humans are in retreat.  In New York, a doubting priest and a determined rabbi become the sparks that ignite the counterattack, but they can only succeed if they knock off the chief vampire in the area.  This is more than just a rewrite of Richard Matheson's classic I Am Legend.  The rabbi is a particularly interesting character troubled by the fact that Christian symbols are apparently effective in repelling evil.  There's considerably more action as well as characterization in this longer version, but I have to admit that some of the additional material didn't seem necessary.

Necropolis by Tim Waggoner, Five Star, 4/04, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-140-1

Sometimes it's very difficult to decide just how to describe a novel.  This one is either fantasy or horror, depending upon how you stretch your definitions.  The protagonist is a human who traveled to another reality, the one to which vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures fled when it became obvious that humans were going to dominate the world.  There he dies and is brought back as a zombie, who supports himself by working as a private detective.  He accepts a commission from a vampire to recover a magical artifact and ends up saving the world – his, not ours – from total destruction by a band of nihilistic werewolves.  Decidedly strange, very inventive, and certainly not just another one of those novels.

The Arcanum by Thomas Wheeler, Bantam, 5/04, $22, ISBN 0-553-80314-X

I don't know if this was in any way inspired by The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but it has much the same texture as the movie, without the misdirected obsession with special effects.  First novelist Wheeler recruits Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, Harry Houdini, and Marie Laveau into an organization of occultists who discover that someone has possession of a missing book of the Bible which has the power in it to change the power structure of the world.  Their efforts to save the world are made even more complicated by personality conflicts, mutual distrust, and a lot of infighting, but Wheeler paints a vivid portrait of their world and the action is sometimes breathtaking.  Conan Doyle seems to be a common fixation of screenwriters turned novelist, because this reminded me at times of Mark Frost's earlier, excellent The List of Seven, which also features Doyle as its protagonist.

Deep Blue by David Niall Wilson, Five Star, 5/04, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-142-8

This is one of those unusual novels for which the term "dark fantasy" is particularly appropriate.  The protagonist is Brandt, an unsuccessful and almost suicidal musician.  Music has often been a significant theme in horror fiction, usually rock music, but this time it's the blues.  Wandering the streets, Brandt encounters a man who teaches him to make a new kind of music, one that will attract an audience and wrap themselves up in a supernatural force, because Brandt can now channel all of the pain and terror in the world and express it in musical form.  The talent isn't an unmixed blessing, however.  He and his friends attract the deadly enmity of a religious fanatic who plots their downfall.  The novel seems to be building toward a crushing, depressing climax, but Wilson and his characters find a form of salvation, although not that promised by the malevolent reverend.  The story is possibly a bit slow paced for readers expecting a horror story, and a bit too dark for those looking for a contemporary fantasy, but for those who like intensity and a touch of evil, this is just what the doctor ordered.

Walk in Shadows by Nicholas Kaufman, House of Dominion, 2003, $15, ISBN 1-930997-36-1

There are no credits for the stories in this collection and I haven't encountered the author's name before, but they certainly don't read as though they were written by an unknown.  They're predominantly horror stories, although written in a somewhat lighter vein than most such, and some of the concepts are quite interesting, like being imprisoned in a taxi cab.  Other stories involve zombies, grave robbing, and other delightful pastimes.  Best in the book are "La Bete est Morte" and "Voir Dire", but they're all worth a look.  A little lightweight for seasoned horror fans, but lively enough for those who prefer their supernatural with a hint of humor.

Possessions by James A. Moore, Leisure, 6/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5171-0

The protagonist of this very strange supernatural adventure story inherits some very unusual bequests when his mother dies.  Although he is reluctant to accept the truth, it appears that they are the source of great occult power, and there are some equally powerful forces intent upon retrieving them.  He and his friends will soon be running for their lives, threading their way through a variety of menaces including malevolent police officers, exploding houses, a treelike creature that sprouts deadly tentacles, grave robbery, and other delights.  This one's more of an occult adventure story than a standard horror tale, but it's a very good occult adventure story.

Deep in the Darkness by Michael Laimo, Leisure, 2/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5314-4

Here's a novel that reminded me a little of T.M. Wright.  A doctor and his family move to a small town which appears to be perfectly ordinary, but of course we suspect otherwise even before things start to get very strange indeed.  There's something in the adjacent woods that is affecting the townspeople, and children are in particular jeopardy.  It's a demonic force, of course, spreading its seed and plotting against humanity.  The first half of the book is particularly suspenseful, and the second thoroughly engrossing though there's something of an inevitable letdown once we begin to understand what is really going on.  Laimo is a fresh young talent in a field that needs some rejuvenation.

Edge of Twilight by Maggie Shayne, Mira, 2004, $6.99, ISBN 0-7783-2022-7

This vampire romance features Edge, a charismatic romantic figure who is determined to stop the career of a man who has dedicated his life to exterminating the immortal creatures in order to discover their secrets.  His quest takes him into the world of a woman who is half human, half vampire, the only one of her kind ever to have lived.  The two have differing agendas that overlap only slightly, but when they pool their resources, they discover a depth of emotion they hadn't previously believed themselves capable of feeling.  This is a romance novel, so readers aren't going to be surprised at the way things begin to turn, but Shayne has a few surprises in reserve, and all things considered, this is a pretty good supernatural romance.

A Choir of Ill Children by Tom Piccirilli, Bantam, 6/04, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58719-6

Sometimes, no matter how good they are at the start of their careers, some writers just keep on getting better.  Based on this new novel by Tom Piccirilli, I'd say he might qualify for membership in that club.  The set up is elaborate, original, and thoroughly engrossing.  The protagonist's brother is actually triplets, that is, he has three separate bodies but only one personality.  Their mother has disappeared and may be dead, but she's still influencing the living, and a host of witches cast spells and wards in an attempt to shape the future.  Our hero has enemies, secret enemies who have designs on the children he has yet to father, and before he finds out just what his part is in all this, he will be involved in murder and torture.  This one's a kind of southern gothic novel with supernatural elements and lots of violence, as though Tennessee Williams had collaborated with Stephen King.  It's also far and away the author's best book so far.

Black Creek Crossing by John Saul, Brilliance Audio, 2004, $36.95, ISBN 1-59086-918-4

John Saul's latest horror novel is so low key and predictable that even his fans are likely to be disappointed this time.  A family moves into a new house, unaware that it is home to various supernatural phenomena.  The teenaged daughter is unhappy with her family and unpopular at school, but she loves the house.  She and her only friend investigate the secrets of the place, find a book of spells, and the best part of the novel is the sequence in which they get magical revenge on some of their enemies.  There's always a price to pay for this sort of thing though, and the novel lurches to its inevitable conclusion.  Ably read by Dick Hill.  This is the unabridged version.

Dark Corner by Brandon Massey, Dafina, 1/ 04, $14, ISBN 0-7582-0249-0

Brandon Massey acknowledges the influence of Stephen King and Dean Koontz on his writing, and it shows up in this, his second novel.  The protagonist is a young man whose father dies in a possibly mysterious accident.  Although he and his father barely knew one another, he feels compelled to visit the man's home, and finds a typical small town, or at least what seems to be typical.  There's something strange going on here, something deadly as well, and before it's over, Richard Hunter is going to discover that the dead aren't necessarily completely dead.  This is an action packed vampire novel in the vein of Stephen King rather than Anne Rice.  Massey's undead are bad guys, not romantic heroes, and his heroes are more than their match.

Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris, Ace, 4/04, $19.95, ISBN 0-441-01167-5

Now that Laurell Hamilton seems to be abandoning the Anita Blake series in favor of fairy erotica, Charlaine Harris seems poised to fill in the vacuum.  This is the fourth adventure of Sookie Stackhouse, the first to appear in hardcover.  Sookie is a cocktail waitress who has telepathic powers, and who has recently sworn off the supernatural after various unpleasant adventures among her vampire and werewolf acquaintances.  Unfortunately, an old friend turns up at an inopportune moment, a vampire missing all of his memories, and she's sucked in once again, both physically and emotionally.  The emotional interactions are complex and convincing and the mystery plot – though not extraordinarily new – has a satisfying resolution.

Risen by J. Knight, Pinnacle, 1/ 04, $5.99, ISBN 0-7860-1612-4

I hadn't read a good zombie novel variation in a long while, so this first effort came just at the right time.  Something strange is taking place in the town of Anderson.  People are killing each other in violent ways, which is bad enough, but the dead are coming back and resuming their life, and that's even worse.  Plenty of creepy scenes and a well developed mystery before we figure out what the mysterious Seth is really doing and why.  The novel is pretty much in the Steven King pattern, but that's a good template to follow, and Knight is a good enough writer to keep me enthralled right to the end.  Horror can always use some fresh blood, if you don't mind the expression.

Bumper Crop by Joe Lansdale, Golden Gryphon, 4/04, $24.95, ISBN 1-930846-24-X

Joe Lansdale has been entertaining us for many years with stories ranging from traditional horror to mainstream suspense, but most of his really striking stories have been so quirky and unusual that it's hard to assign them to preconceived pigeonholes.  This new collection of more than two dozen stories contains only a couple that I hadn't read before, and most of them have been previously collected, but it was like running into old friends when I turned the pages.  If you haven't read "God of the Razors", "Chompers", "Last of the Hopeful", and "Bestsellers Guaranteed", those four stories alone will more than repay the cost of the book, and they've brought a lot of their friends along to play.  And then when you're done, you can go out and track down his other short fiction, and then his novels as well.

The Boys Are Back in Town by Christopher Golden, Bantam, 2/04, $12, ISBN 0-553-38207-1

Christopher Golden's latest reminds me of some of the best of Stephen King's work, although it takes off in a direction King might never have considered.  The protagonist returns for his tenth high school reunion, a  little embarrassed at the way his life has turned out but determined to see it through.  Then he starts encountering anomalies, differences between his memory and others, and between his memories and demonstrable reality.  Somehow, the flow of time has been altered, and someone might be planning to change it even further.  Quite suspenseful, which almost goes without saying in a Golden novel, and with likable characters.

Spicy Mystery Stories for August 1935, Wildside, 2003, $19.95, ISBN 0-8095-9229-0

Here's a facsimile edition of an old pulp magazine, complete with ads and illustrations, and if this is a typical issue, I hope Wildside will be doing more issues.  Other than E. Hoffman Price, most of the authors here will be unknown to most readers, and the stories themselves are fairly crude, but not particularly spicy, at least by modern standards.  They involve vampires, the walking dead, ghosts, and other supernatural phenomena, and the titles are pretty lurid – "Hell Hole of Horror", "The Isle of the Restless Dead", etc. – but despite that I found myself slipping back in time to the point where I actually enjoyed almost all of them.  Life, and fiction, was simpler in those days, and sometimes dripping horrors and screaming victims are just what you need to relax.

Toreador by Janet Trautvetter, White Wolf, 12/03, $6.99, ISBN 1-58846-833-X

Gehenna: The Final Night by Ari Marmell, White Wolf, 01/ 04, $7.99, ISBN 1-58846-855-0

The Puppet-Masters by Tim Pedopulos, White Wolf, 12/03, $6.99, ISBN 1-58846-816-X

Although the World of Darkness series often seems repetitive to me, I've sampled it from time to time and found a few novels that were sufficiently different in construction or well written to keep me looking again when I have a chance.  All three of these are vampire novels.  The first is set during the Dark Ages, and the warring vampire clans are in many ways indistinguishable from the rival humans.  There's a reasonably entertaining story of intrigue, but nothing to set it apart.  Next up is the first volume of a trilogy about the rising of the biblical Cain and his children, creatures who apparently even give vampires reason to pause.  It's an interesting premise, carried off fairly well, but there's not enough of the full story to know whether it will ultimately work.  Last we have the final volume in the Clan Brujah trilogy, which pits an outcast vampire against a global slave ring.  It's the best written of the three listed here, and the most rewarding of the trilogy itself.

Exorcising Angels by Simon Clark & Tim Lebbon, Earthling, 2003, $35, ISBN 0-9721518-9-3

The bulk of this new collectible horror collection is a novelette by the two authors, who show their appreciation of Arthur Machen's fiction by making him one of the two main characters.  During the Blitz, a soldier visits Machen with a strange story of supernatural intervention during World War I, and points out a bizarre connection to one of  Machen's short stories.  Light on horror despite the label, but heavy on atmosphere, and overall quite impressive.  The novelette is accompanied by two shorter pieces, one by each of the collaborators, both also nods to Machen although the connection is more tenuous, and both dealing with men facing a crisis in their lives.  Nicely packaged, and there's another lettered edition that sells for $175.

Mirror Me by Yvonne Navarro, Overlook, 2/04, $37.95, ISBN 1-892950-69-3

Yvonne Navarro's first new non-Buffy horror novel in far too long has a fresh and ingenious premise.  The protagonist is a young woman who was kidnapped and tortured as a child, and who periodically experiences severe spontaneous wounds as an adult.  Her doctor thinks she's psychotic and inflicting them herself, but two police detectives have other theories when another woman is found, fatally wounded in a similar manner.  One remains skeptical, but the other becomes emotionally attached to the tortured woman, whose body heals with startling rapidity.  I won't spoil the mystery by revealing it, but you'll find the story compulsive reading.

Far Below and Other Horrors edited by Robert E. Weinberg, Fax Collectors Edition, 2003, $29.95, ISBN 0-91396-005-5

This is a facsimile edition of the 1974 anthology, and although there's nothing here indicating that the publisher's name has changed, it came with a batch of Wildside books, so I would guess that they're distributing it under the Fax imprint.  The book is a collection of horror stories drawn from the early 20th Century and includes tales by Robert E. Howard, Seabury Quinn, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Mindret Lord, and others, most of them unfamiliar nowadays, regrettably so in several cases.  Most readers will never have had a chance to read these before, and although they're a bit dated in tone, it only adds to their charm.

Deus-X by Joe Citro, University Press of New England, 2004, $15.95, ISBN 1-58465-339-6

I first read this novel ten years ago as a galley from a small press.  The author had had some previous horror novels published, all of them pretty good, but the collapse of the genre truncated many careers, his apparently included.  The other novels have been reappearing though, and now this one – certainly his most ambitious and in many ways his best – is back in print in a handsome trade paperback edition, although you wouldn't know to look at it that it's a horror novel, and the publisher even describes it as psychological suspense.  The menace originates in another reality this time, and it masquerades as something good and virtuous even as a secret government agency and a psychopathic killer blend into the mix.  Intriguing, suspenseful, inventive, and well written, this one has been lurking in the shadows for too long.

Mortal Fear by Scott and Denise Ciencin, Simon Pulse, 9/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-2771-8

Cursed by Mel Odom, Simon Pulse, 11/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-689-86437-X

Buffy may be gone from television, but she lives on in books.  The first of these two titles is set during the sixth season.  Buffy is trying to recover all the fragments of a magical sword, at the behest of a supposed mysterious friend.  Her efforts are complicated by conflicts with the other Scoobies, however, as well as a mysterious plague that forces her to eventually forge a truce with the local vampire population to oppose an even greater and more immediate peril.  Fairly good story but the characters didn't interact as intricately as in the show.  An alliance is pivotal to the second title as well, also set late in the Buffy series although more specifically in the Angel spinoff.  Someone is trying to kill Spike, currently smitten with the Slayer, and he's off to Los Angeles where Angel's current quest is also tied to Spike's fate.  This one strays a bit farther from the usual Buffy/Angel stomping ground, but the story is a pretty good one, and Spike was more convincingly portrayed.

A Midsummer Night's Scream by David Bergantino, Pocket Star, 8/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-5623-8

Clever title on this, the second in a series of young adult horror novels based – rather loosely – on the works of William Shakespeare.  The crux of the plot is the troubled relationships among two pairs of teenagers, whose romances and jealousies are going to turn very serious when a mysterious carnival arrives.  Although this, like its predecessor, is pretty light on horror, as well as characterization, there are some clever twists and the Shakespeare connection is well done.  An amusing if not riveting supernatural adventure.