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

 Last Update 12/28/09

Halloween: New Poems edited by Al Sarrantonio, CD, 2010, $40, ISBN 978-1-58767-205-7

Editor Sarrantonio has gathered here a selection of poems on the subject of Halloween, obviously, by such diverse talents as Gary Braunbeck, Elizabeth Massie, T.M. Wright, Joe Lansdale, Tom Piccirilli, Tom Disch, Peter Crowther, and many others. They are gathered into sections by rough subject matter and include quite a variety of styles and themes.  A couple of them are genuinely creepy, most atmospheric, and a few quite clever.  Nice illustrations accompany them.  This is a collectors' edition so the price is steep, but with Halloween growing in popularity, I'd not be surprised to learn that the demand is increasing.  12/28/09

The Resurrectionist by Wrath James White, Leisure, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6312-0  

After reading the cover copy for this one, I was expecting a pale imitation of the Thomas F. Monteleone novel of the same name.  There are some similarities since both involve a man with the power to bring the dead back to life.  But this one has a very different focus.  The revived dead have no memory – usually anyway – of their death, but one woman has vivid dreams and when she finds physical evidence suggesting that they had some basis in reality, she decides to do something about it.  The set up is intriguing and White runs well with the possibilities inherent in his creation.  My only quibble is that I never really got to like, or even know very well, any of the major characters so the problem that unfolds becomes more academic than personal.  It’s still one of the more interesting horror novels of the year, but not as involving as it might have been. 12/19/09

Ghost Monster by Simon Clark, Leisure, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6179-9  

Although I have enjoyed several of Simon Clark’s horror novels, none of them have ever struck me as particularly scary.  I’m not sure what the problem was with the earlier ones but I think I know this time.  The basic set up is a familiar one.  The spirits of a group of evil people have been imprisoned in an object, in this case a mural, and suddenly circumstances allow them to free themselves.  The town where this all happens is then under siege by malevolent ghosts who can possess the living and dictate their behavior, usually ending in violence.  Where it fell short for me was that we see too much, and get too intimate a look at the villains, who lose their aura of mystery and become just differently enabled bad guys.  There’s a great deal of mayhem and death and the plot moves very quickly.  I found it entertaining, but not once did I feel more than a tremor of anticipation.  It just wasn’t particularly scary. 12/8/09

Thought Forms by Jeffrey Thomas, Dark Regions, 2009, $18.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-71-4  

Here’s an unusual horror novel.  There are two separate stories, the protagonists of which are cousins, and which eventually converges into a single narrative.  Ray has never gotten over the unsolved murder of his parents when he was a child and is fascinated with handguns.  Paul works at a business which seems to collect ghost stories and strange sightings faster than it does customers. Ray is troubled by weird dreams and is living in the house where his parents died; Paul seems less affected even though he himself has seen something that couldn’t have been real.   Ray begins to encounter odd people who may be connected with the murders while Paul finds himself trapped by deadly and possibly inhuman creatures. This one is likely to keep you guessing for a while, and then hit you when you’re not looking.  Thomas is one of the few authors who never seems to run out of new twists and turns. 12/5/09

Gaslight Grotesque edited by J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec, Edge, 2009, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-894063-31-9  

The subtitle on this is “Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes”, which gives you an idea what’s inside.  Holmes actually makes no appearance in the opening story by Stephen Volk, but Watson is there, confessing that there actually was a supernatural solution to The Hound of the Baskervilles which Holmes suppressed.  It’s actually quite a good story.  The rest are a mix of competent to quite nice pastiches, usually but not always with a supernatural twist.  James Moore has a particularly effective story and I also liked the ones by Leigh Blackmore, Barbara Roden, William Meikle, and Mark Morris.  There was only one that struck me as flat and uninteresting.  Several familiar names appear as well including Moriarty, Lestrade, and the Baskervilles.  Should be of interest to more than just Holmes collectors. 12/5/09

They That Dwell in Dark Places by Daniel McGachey, Dark Regions, 2009, $18.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-72-1 

This is a collection of rather traditional ghost and horror stories with a distinctly British flavor.  The supernatural emerges from a variety of places in these stories – from under the ground, from the recesses of an old library, from the sea, from unusual paintings – and there’s a pretty good chance that evil will triumph over good, although usually because of a flaw in the protagonist’s personality that makes him susceptible.  There was only one story I didn’t like; “Shalt Thou Know My Name” just never came to life for me.  But there were several that I liked a great deal, including, “The Shadow in the Stacks” and “The Crimson Picture.”  Note that although this is labeled a collection of ghost stories, that follows the British tradition and includes a number of tales that have no ghosts in them at all.  I’d never read anything by the author before this collection came my way, but I hope it won’t be the last time I encounter his byline. 11/26/09

Sha’Daa edited by Edward F. McKeown, Altered Dimensions, 2009, ISBN 978-0-9821352-4-2 

This is an original anthology with a loosely defined shared world created by Michael Hanson which borrows its concept from H.P. Lovecraft, although very few of the stories seemed to me remotely Lovecraftian.  The title refers to a portal between our reality and another filled with monstrous creatures – not specifically supernatural – which opens periodically to allow entry into our plane of existence.  The stories involve confrontations between varied people from our world and the interlopers from beyond.  The quality of the stories – and I’d never heard of any of the authors – varies only slightly and hovers somewhere above competent but below striking.  I liked the Rob Adams and Jamie Schmidt stories the best.  There’s a brief introduction by Mike Resnick. 11/26/09

Fade Out by Rachel Caine, Signet, 2009, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22866-6  

The latest Morganville Vampire novel does not seem to be packaged as young adult, as was the case with the earlier ones.  Since the protagonist was attending college as of the first volume, that’s not as surprising as it might have been.  In Morganville, a small college town, the human and vampire populations have an uneasy, and uneven, history during the course of the series.  Now that the most recent Big Bad has gone, things seem to be moving in a more peaceful direction. The quiet doesn’t last long, however, when a friend of a friend goes missing under mysterious circumstances. She was involved with an effort to produce a documentary, but one which would have exposed the existence and internal politics of the vampires, an obvious motive to have her out of the way.  So Clare Danvers finds herself investigating, and is promptly in danger herself. A good entry in one of my favorite vampire series. 11/22/09

The Van Alen Legacy by Melissa de la Cruz, Hyperion, 2009, $16.99, ISBN 978-142310226-7  

Fourth in the Blue Bloods young adult vampire romance series.  There’s not a whole lot you can say about a typical installment in a perhaps somewhat atypical series.  There are different kinds of vampires, although the differences are slight.  These are predominantly yuppie vampires with yuppie problems and they seem to almost resent the extra difficulties presented by their inhuman qualities.  There’s a broken love affair, a new love affair, regrets about the old one, worries about the new one, and lots of angst.  De la Cruz writes these as well as anyone – and is a lot more interesting than, say, Stephenie Meyer – but I’ve grown pretty tired of misunderstood, tragic, confused, and resigned handsome vampires and would be happier with a few ugly, evil, and even disgusting revivals of the vampire’s original image. 11/22/09

The Black Train by Edward Lee, Leisure, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6227-7  

The 13th by John Everson, Leisure, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6267-3  

Two recent horror novels, neither of which quite lives up to its promise. The first is a revised edition of Gast, which appeared in a limited edition, and which I have not seen.  Gast is the family name of a man who completed a stretch of railroad in the South during the years just before the Civil War, a project that involved cruelty and murder and mutilation.  In the present, a television personality visits the bed and breakfast once owned by the evil entrepreneur, a building where he finds himself peculiarly sexually alert and where strange sounds and visions appear in the darkness.  Lee’s usual complex and bizarre plotting is in evidence here.  Some of the scenes are genuinely creepy, but I never felt like I was getting inside the skin of the protagonist. Still pretty good, but I’ve read much better from this author. Despite a somewhat creaky opening, the Everson novel also managed to catch my interest.  An old hotel where something terrible and bloody happened is reopened as a slightly oddball facility treating mental illness.  People start to disappear in the nearby town and there’s a room with a special mark on the door at the asylum. What, we wonder, is the mysterious “13th” of the title.  Actually, although this was reasonably suspenseful, only the details of the revelations are obscured.  We know, obviously, that there is some kind of presence directing the actions of at least some of the staff and patients, and it's pretty easy to figure out who's going to live and who isn't.  Everson handles the familiar plot well enough but I felt like I had ordered a fine dark beer on a hot day and was served a Miller Lite.  Still refreshing, but not what I was expecting.  11/20/09

Light of Day by Jeff Mariotte, Pocket Star, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-2227-3  

This is a “30 Days of Night” novel, so you know it’s going to have nasty as opposed to charming vampires. That predisposed me toward this even if it is a tie-in novel. The premise is that the government knows about them and is engaged in draconian measures almost as bad as those of the vampires themselves.  And naturally it’s innocent people who get caught in the middle.  I really prefer my vampires nasty and these are just the kind of vicious animals to cauterize the effects of too many cute, misunderstood, confused, and sexy vampires, who show up in a surprisingly large number of books every month.  This particular novel seemed a shade incomplete to me, probably because the greater part of the problem obviously could not be resolved without ending the series.  But it was a very good antidote to the vampire pablum I see elsewhere. 11/8/09

The Darkly Splendid Realm by Richard Gavin, Dark Regions, 2009, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-73-8

Richard Gavin, whose work reminded me of Algernon Blackwood or Robert Aickman at times, has assembled here thirteen stories - most of them appearing for the first time - in which horror, or at least weirdness originate in the natural world with unnatural consequences.  The results are sometimes vividly unsettling, sometimes frustratingly imperfect.  The opening story, which I thought was one of the weakest, involves a visit to a bizarre funhouse.  Some nice imagery, but the story sort of meanders toward its indistinct conclusion.  "Where the Scarab Dwells" is much better, the fate of a man who sells his soul metaphorically to ruthless developers. "Phantom Passages" is not so good, dealing with a kind of unorthodox return from the dead.  The set-up, involving the sale of a manuscript to an unscrupulous businessman, just didn't ring true.  "Primeval Wood" is the longest, and best, in the book.  A man whose life has been disrupted goes on a vacation and encounters a strange fetish.  "Final Night in Nevertown" is slight but okay, except that the tense of the narration flips back and forth unnecessarily.  I didn't like "Children of the Mound" at all and "Language of the Nameless Region" wasn't entirely successful either, but I did like "The Astral Mask."  Of the remaining three stories, only "Waterburns" was memorable, second best in the collection.  Most of the stories contain some impressive scenes but the plots aren't always robust enough to support them.  At his best, Gavin is impressive; at his worst, he is still readable.  11/7/09

The Shadows of Kingston Mills by David B. Silva, Dark Regions, 2009, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-700-7 

All but one of the stories in this collection are original here, and they’re all set in the same town.  The first – “It’s All Happening on Fillmore Street” - is a variation of “The Lottery” or “Children of the Corn.”  A family stays overnight in a remote town and the father disregards warnings to stay away from Fillmore Street after dark.  Okay, but I did wonder how the protagonist could glance through a bookstore window and decide that the two titles on display “looked suspiciously like remainders.”  Remainders are indistinguishable from those sold. The story is okay but I never understood the rationale.  The protagonist may or may not have killed his wife and he is told that there is no Fillmore Street.   It’s one of those stories that was almost quite good, but didn’t make it.  “Max the Magnificent” is better, the story of a young boy who wants to use magic to bring his mother back from the dead.  He succeeds, sort of.  This one’s a variation of “The Monkey’s Paw.”   There’s a flying monster in the pretty good “The Most Painful Companion of Death” and a man’s high school sweetheart returns to her hometown years later, completely unchanged, because she’s a vampire in “Love Never Lost.”   The best in the book is the single reprint, “Nothing As It Seems”, an unusual alien abduction story.  The remaining stories are all quite readable, but none of them really stand out. 11/4/09

Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris, Berkley, 2009, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-425-23015-2  

Charlaine Harris doesn’t get uniformly better as she goes along but only because she started out so high in the first place.  This is the fourth in her Harper Connelly series, which I actually prefer to her more popular Sookie Stackhouse novels.  Harper can communicate with the dead and she generally gets involved with mysteries involving or affecting ghosts.  This time she’s visiting her own past and solving mysteries involving her childhood.  There is paranormal stuff here and it’s well handled, but frankly I think I would have liked it just as much if it had been a straightforward mystery.  The characters are crisp and believable, their interactions ring true, their problems are genuine, and they solve them in an orderly and convincing fashion.  Who needs vampires when you have Harper Connelly? 11/2/09

Feeding Ground by Sarah Pinborough, Leisure, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6293-2  

I’ve read several novels by this author, which have always been entertainingly written but generally make use of plots so familiar that they fade quickly in my memory.  This one is not likely to do so.  The setting is London in the very near future, but a London transformed.  Mysterious creatures resembling oversized spiders have overwhelmed the city and the majority of the population is dead or has fled.  The streets are full of webs and there is no longer any government.  Small bands of survivors try to avoid the creatures and survive, if not escape.  The novel follows the adventures of one such band who unwisely decide to seek refuge in the London underground.  Frankly, I’d have rather faced the creatures out in the open, but then again I wasn’t there.  Anyway, they descend into the subways only to discover that they’ve jumped directly from pan to fire because this is where the cocooned bodies of the dead and dying are stored.  Frantic, sometimes very creepy action follows.  I was mildly disappointed by the closing chapters, which felt flat, but the story otherwise was quite gripping. 10/31/09

Depraved by Bryan Smith, Leisure, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6292-5  

Shades of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and sundry other stories.  A small, remote town captures and sacrifices casual visitors in order to stave off the effects of a curse which causes those affected to slowly alter physically into monstrous forms.  Naturally not all of the prospective victims go meekly to their fates, and predictably the end involves a turnaround that destroys the monsters and their mysterious master.  Typical small town horror with a few interesting twists, but I really didn’t feel as though this one developed enough suspense, and I didn’t care enough about the fate of the major characters to worry about how it would all come out in the end.  Not badly written but if a tale of gore and horror can be called light weight, then this would be a good example.  10/27/09 

Resurrection House by James Chambers, Dark Regions, 2009, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-69-1  

I had only read a couple of these ten stories previously and didn’t remember either of them, although “Refugees” felt familiar when I re-read it.  The title story, plus “Mooncat Jack” and “Five Points”, this last one original to this book, made the strongest impression on me.  The stories vary quite a bit in tone and treatment but the quality level remains fairly consistent throughout. There are few signs of the novice writer and even the slightly less impressive stories should hold your attention easily.  Chambers has a nice hand at making the situations just strange enough to be eerie without overdoing things to the point where we can no longer accept the story as plausible.  I’d venture to guess that his name will be better known in the near future. 10/27/09

No Doors, No Windows by Joe Schreiber, Del Rey, 10/09, $14, ISBN 978-0-345-51013-6   

The opening premise of this novel of the supernatural is not new.  The protagonist returns to his rural home town to attend his father’s funeral and settle the estate, in the process of which he discovers a concealed manuscript.  It appears at first to be a novel by his father about a mysterious house with rooms that are hidden from view except under certain circumstances.  Then he discovers that the house in question actually exists and is available for rent, although no one seems to feel that it’s anything out of the ordinary.  He decides to rent the house and finish the novel, but by doing so he places himself under the sway of a family curse and discovers that what he believed to be fiction is anything but.  Although this is a horror novel, it is more in the style of the Twilight Zone than Friday the 13th, intelligent and atmospheric rather than relentlessly violent.  I was reminded at times of Jonathan Carroll and at other times of Stephen King.  The suspense if primarily psychological, but it’s just as intense as the physical variety. 10/25/09

The War of the Whisperers by Adam Niswander, Hippocampus, 2009, $20, ISBN 978-0-9824296-1-7 

This is another in the author’s loosely connected series by Native American shamans battling supernatural evil.  In this case, various of their number have been killed in a short period of time, suggesting someone is eliminating them to prevent them from becoming a threat to an as yet unrevealed plan. There’s a kind of cult compound in the area, to which are suspicions are automatically directed.  The protagonists from other novels in the series assemble again to meet this new menace.  The blend of Southwestern America and Native American lore with Lovecraftian horror generates some interesting imagery and situations.  The characters, however, are rather flat and the dialogue is occasionally awkward.  More of an occult adventure than a horror story.  One authorial tick that bothered me, incidentally, was that several of the characters repeatedly address each other by name in casual conversation.  That just doesn’t happen in real life. 10/23/09

Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor, Arthur Levine, 2009, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-05585-7  

Vampire and shapechanger romance for teenagers appears to be here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, and the success of Stephanie Meyers probably means there will be a flood of more or less imitations in the next few years.  Taylor, who has written previous fantasy novels I have not seen, tries to avoid most of the clichés in this new collection of three thematically similar novelettes, with reasonable success.  Each involves a teenaged girl who stands on the brink of romance and must make a dangerous choice.  In the best of the three, a girl who has spent her life as a mute because of a curse must decide whether or not to risk speaking to the boy she is attracted to, despite the consequences. The least interesting is about a girl who discovers that she is linked to a malevolent and magical other world of shapechangers, slavery, and dark magic.  About evenly spaced between them in quality is the tale of yet another girl whose first real romance is fraught with danger. Overall this was much better than I expected and I’ll be watching for the author’s other work. 10/19/09

Frostbite by David Wellington, Three Rivers, 2009, $14, ISBN 978-0-307-46083-7  

Werewolves and zombies are beginning to challenge vampires for primacy in contemporary dark fiction, although as far as I know we have yet to have any zombie romances.  There’s an opening there for someone.  Anyway, Wellington – who has done both zombies and vampires previously – tries lycanthropy for his latest.  A young woman has traveled to the wilds of Canada to search for the shapechanger who killed her father when she was a child. Eventually she tracks him down, gets bitten, is changed into a werewolf herself, and finds herself dependent upon the man/creature she had sought to kill. Her instincts get really confused when a team of entrepreneurs decides to eliminate the werewolf in order to access the oil reserves where he stalks his prey.  First of all, I generally don’t like werewolf stories.  They all seem basically the same to me with a very few exceptions – Guy Endore and Robert R. McCammon come to mind – and even the better written ones feel overly familiar.  This one’s well enough written, but the plot is the same old same old, despite a few twists.  And I suspect it’s the first in a series. 10/14/09

Dead Man Talking by Casey Daniels, Berkley, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23074-9  

Pepper Martin, cemetery tour guide who can speak to the dead, returns for a new adventure. She is particularly upset this time because there’s going to be a reality show created around a cemetery restoration project, and she knows how much that’s going to disturb the unloving residents.  As usual, one of the local ghosts appeals to her for help, this time to clear his name of a murder he didn’t commit.  But there’s more to the story, and his story, than that, and Pepper is going to find herself at risk again.  This is a lest angst ridden series than most of its contemporaries and more of a detective novel than a ghost story.  Enjoyable, but this one seemed more lightweight than usual, or maybe I was just looking for more protein. 10/10/09

The Mall of Cthulhu by Seamus Cooper, Night Shade, 2009, $13.95, ISBN 978-1-59780-127-0  

Here’s an unusual novel for you.  Laura is an FBI agent who, years earlier, was rescued from a den of vampires by a geek named Teddy while she was attending college. Some time later, Teddy discovers a new threat to the world, this time a group of Cthulhu worshippers who are planning to complete the necessary ceremonies to bring the Old Ones back to dominion over the human race. So he gets in touch with Laura, tells her his story, and they’re back in the saddle again.  This is more of a supernatural adventure story than a horror novel and reminded me at times of Dennis Wheatley with more of a sense of humor.  It took me a little while to get into this one, in part I think because the mood seemed to change back and forth unpredictably, but once I got past the first few chapters it was a wild ride to the finish. 10/7/09

Audrey’s Door by Sarah Langan, Harper, 9/09, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-162421-6  

One of the problems with attempting to write a novel length ghost story today is that there are so many excellent examples already – by Shirley Jackson, Peter Straub, and Graham Masterton to suggest a few – that it is pretty much a challenge because the form of the story is already established by its very nature.  Sarah Langan’s third horror novel attempts with notable success to alter that formula enough to provide something new and interesting.  Her protagonist is a professional woman trying to make a new life for herself in a new apartment after a disastrous love affair.  The new tenant device is almost unavoidable, obviously, since part of the fun is watching the characters slowly become aware of what is going on in their new environment.  The supernatural in this case intrudes into her dreams, and she wonders if her bizarre memories and reactions while awake are a product of mental disorder.  She also has some very weird neighbors, reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby.  The plot unfolds with a mixture of both predictable and unpredictable events, enough of the latter to keep me guessing.  Quite suspenseful particularly once the story begins to accelerate.  Recommended. 9/28/09

Ground Zero by F. Paul Wilson, Tor, 9/09, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2281-4  

Repairman Jack is back again.  His last few adventures have been a bit uneven and as the series winds toward its projection close a few years from now, the projected apocalyptic battle between good and evil heats up.  In this one, a brilliant childhood friend has been privately investigating circumstances surrounding the 9/11 attacks, and no this is not really a conspiracy novel, although there’s a conspiracy in it.  The terrorists did launch the attack, but they were being manipulated by the One and his minions.  When the friend posts some of her findings on the internet, she attracts unwanted attention and she appeals to Jack to help her.  What’s a guy to do?  The first half of this one worked quite well for me but there were a few bumps after that.  I think it might be in part that I’m getting impatient for all of this tension to come to a head.  On the other hand, this was a lot more focused than By the Sword.  Readers unfamiliar with the other books in the series might have some difficulty understanding what’s going on at time.  Slightly above average for the series, but not nearly in the first rank. 9/25/09

By Blood We Live edited by John Joseph Adams, Night Shade, 2009, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-59780-156-0  

Vampires are hot in the book business, although most of them lately are heroic, misunderstood, confused, amusing, and such rather than horrifying, mysterious, or deadly.  Editor Adams has here assembled a hefty volume of vampire short stories both new and not so new, and there are some of all those kinds to be found here.  Many of these are old favorites, many more I’d read before but had forgotten, and a few were new to me.  There are no bad stories, but obviously I liked some a lot more than others.  Some of the more interesting, or just more impressive, are the stories by Brian Stableford, Barbara Hambly, Stephen King, Brian Lumley, and Tanith Lee.  I recommend dipping into this one a little bit at a time, to make it last. 9/25/09

Retribution by Jeanne C. Stein, Ace, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01773-7  

From the outset I’ve found the Anna Strong novels to be among the very best of the new crop of paranormal fantasies.  Strong is a bounty hunter turned into a reasonably benevolent vampire, though not one to be toyed with lightly.  She still hasn’t quite adjusted to her new circumstances but she’s well on her way when she learns that several other vampires have recently died the final death, drained of their lives by person or persons or non-persons unknown.  Naturally she’s sucked into the investigation by a handful who want to unmask the killer.  A particularly strong bit of evidence that this is really well written is that I was nearly halfway through before I realized that it was written in present tense, which usually kills a story for me. There are very few writers who can carry this off without sounding pretentious. 9/16/09 

Never Slow Dance with a Zombie by E. Van Lowe, Tor, 9/09, $8.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2040-7   

Here’s another zombie story for young adult readers, although Tor hasn’t put the Starscape imprint on this one.  The story follows the somewhat less than serious adventures of two high school girls who discover that most of the student body has been turned into zombies overnight.  The school administration doesn’t see this as fatal to continuation of the school year.  Live and let live, or, er…  Anyway, the girls see this as an opportunity rather than a problem, even if it does mean they have to be somewhat circumspect about what they say and do.  After all, you don’t want a horde of angry zombies confronting you in the halls, do you?  There’s a good deal of fun in this one, though some of the jokes are pretty obvious.  For those of us who have a twisted sense of humor. 9/12/09

High Bloods by John Farris, Tor, 8/09, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-312-86696-9  

John Farris, who has brought us a number of very fine horror novels in the past, blends the supernatural with urban fantasy for this near future novel in which a plague of lycanthropy has turned many of the citizens of Los Angeles into werewolves.  For the most part, the situation is under control because they only shift when the moon is full, and there is now a special branch of the police who deal with werewolf related problems.  Everything seems to be getting back to normal until some of those affected begin changing even when the moon is not full, and our protagonist is one of the first witnesses to this morphing of the problem.  Farris seems incapable of writing a bad story and even when he approaches a subject matter that has already been written to death by a bookstore full of inferior writers, he manages to bring something fresh and interesting to the subject. 8/23/09

Strange Magic by Gord Rollo, Dark Regions, 2009, $40

One of my favorite novels of recent years was The Prestige by Christopher Priest, in which two magicians engage in a long standing duel.  That’s the premise for this, the first novel from Dark Regions press, although the setting and treatment are entirely different.  Magician number one has retreated from his profession, becoming a broken down alcoholic in a remote Pennsylvania town.  His nemesis has been tracking him down, however, aided by a supernatural force, and when the two meet, it will inaugurate a magical battle that has repercussions on everyone around them.  A few lines of dialogue bothered me a bit, sounding very artificial and/or awkward, but it was only in a few spots.  Rollo's previous novels have all showed considerable promise and I suspect that once he works out some of the kinks, he's going to be a significant talent.  This story is a good example with no glaring faults, moving quickly and efficiently toward the perhaps inevitable conclusion. 8/21/09 

Shades of Blood and Shadow by Angeline Hawkes, Dark Regions, 2009, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-68-4

Dark Regions has started a program of short story collections by writers new to the horror genre, of which this is one.  Most of the dozen stories have been previously published, but in places I’ve never seen and in some cases never even heard of.  I had not read any of the stories previously and three are in any case original to this collection.  The author makes use of a wide variety of geographical and historical settings, and mixes traditional and untraditional horror themes, sometimes in the same story.  “El Reptil Rey” and “All Becomes as Wormwood” resonated the most strongly with me, but several of the others pressed lesser buttons as well.  Deftly written, frequently surprising, always entertaining. Proof if we needed it that a lot of good fiction gets published in out of the way places. 8/21/09

Benjamin’s Parasite by Jeff Strand, Delirium,8/09, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-934546-12-3  

I had read only one previous book by Jeff Strand, a suspense novel that I found unremarkable.  This is considerably different in tone and effect and I liked it much better.  The protagonist is a high school teacher named Wilson, one of whose students suddenly becomes irrationally violent and is killed in the act of attempting to murder his mother.  Other people and animals are affected as well, and then Wilson becomes to have mysterious pains and discovers that he is the host of a dangerous and remarkably versatile parasite.  It’s all part of a nefarious experiment and the brains behind it all wants to dissect Wilson, so he’s on the run with a mysterious woman to save his life and unmask the plot.  This might have been just an okay but predictable thriller except that the author has injected some pretty wry humor into the story as well, the details of which I can’t tell you without spoiling some of the impact.  This one is much better than it probably sounds from the plot description. 8/18/09

Far Dark Fields by Gary A. Braunbeck, Leisure, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6190-4

The nice thing about picking up a book by Gary Braunbeck is that I never have any doubt about whether or not I’ll like the book, only about how much I’ll like it.  This one’s above average, a story that mixes topical stuff like mass murderers who go on killing sprees for no apparent reason and creepy old stuff like bizarre burial sites, legends of a peculiarly unsettling bogeyman, and mixes them into a coherent whole.  The protagonist was the survivor of one mass killing whose life is touched as an adult when one of the students at the school where he teaches engages in another, shortly after watching a film version of the original slaughter.  This second shooter is on his death bed when he agrees to explain his reasons, but only to the teacher, who finds that his answers only lead to more questions, and to dark secrets he had not even suspected existed.  Creepy, compelling, and quite original.  Just what I expected. 8/16/09

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, Scholastic, 2009, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-12326-6  

It's been too hot to do much of anything but read, not that that's a hardship.  For a while now I’ve been noticing that a lot of the most interesting and innovative ideas in contemporary fantasy show up in young adult fiction first.  I’m not sure if this is because YA writers are not as immersed in adult fantasy and therefore don’t find themselves recapitulating old themes, or if there is some other factor at work.  In any case, this is a good example, It’s a kind of werewolf story, and reminded me a little bit of Robert Stallman’s Orphan trilogy.  The protagonist is a young girl who is fascinated with the wolves that inhabit the woods near her home, particularly one wolf with yellow eyes.  The wolf in question is a shapechanger, but only in the sense that for part of each year he is human. They’re star crossed lovers, obviously, but she is determined to see that his human aspect becomes ascendant.  The sentimentality was a little too thick at times, I thought, but not enough to spoil what is otherwise a surprisingly effective story. 8/12/09 

Ruined by Paula Morris, Point, 2009, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-04215-4  

The plot and story elements in this young adult novel were so familiar that I should not have liked it as much as I did.  A young girl comes to live in New Orleans with her aunt, who is into the occult and lives in an atmospheric house.  Rebecca is the outsider, of course, and her new school mates are not at all welcoming, driving her to increasingly isolate herself from others.  But then she does make a friend, and it should be no surprise to anyone that the friend in question is actually a ghost.  There’s also a somewhat attentive boy her age, but Rebecca suspects his motives.  The ghost also has a personal agenda.  Our protagonist has a difficult time at first deciding who can be trusted and who cannot.  There’s a very exciting conclusion and the writing is so good that I completely forgot this was supposed to be a YA novel.   Proof that even familiar stories can be entertaining if told by a talented writer. 8/12/09

The Path of Razors by Chris Marie Green, Ace, 2009, $15, ISBN 978-0-441-01720-1 

Vampire Babylon book five continues what is one of my preferred paranormal urban fantasy quasi-romance series.  How’s that for a mouthful?  Dawn Madison is an ex-stuntwoman, now a vampire hunter, who moved from the US to England in the last book.  She is a particularly effective hunter because she has extraordinary powers and a hint of the vampire urge herself, and when these hints become stronger, Dawn begins to wonder not only about her own future, but whether she has correctly perceived the difference between good and evil.  I’m a reader who likes my vampires evil and creepy, not romantic and handsome, so I’ve enjoyed this series from the outset.  The increasing ambiguity in the character has added a welcome element of complexity and the protagonist is as fascinating as was the early Anita Blake. 8/4/09

Urban Gothic by Brian Keene, Leisure, 8/09, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6090-7  

Brian Keene attracted by attention with a handful of quirky novels about zombies, giants worms, and other subjects.  Alas, his last few have seemed to me less imaginative and less original, and definitely less entertaining.  This latest doesn’t reverse the trend.  It’s about a group of six people returning from a rock concert who get lost somewhere in Philadelphia.  Then their car breaks down in a bad neighborhood and they get chased by a gang, finally finding shelter in an old, apparently abandoned house.  Except the house isn’t abandoned.  No surprise there.  The chief inhabitant is pretty nasty, but I never felt drawn into the story at all and the fate of its characters was of absolutely no interest.  It was okay, but I remembered how good David Morrell’s somewhat similar Creepers was a while back and just felt let down. 8/4/09

Harry and the Pirates by Brian Lumley, Tor, 2009, $23.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2338-5 

This slim volume from Tor includes two novellas and a short story, all original to this collection, drawn from the lost years of Harry Keogh, the Necroscope, who can talk to the dead.  In “For the Dead Travel Slowly” a creature that reminded me of Theodore Sturgeon’s classic “It” has been claiming victims for thousands of years, but a man falsely accused of killing his lover teams up with Keogh to track the creature down and destroy it.  Not a bad story but it felt hastily written.  Much better is the title story in which Keogh communicates with the spirits of the dead, who tell him an entertaining story, but who are hiding something as well.  The short is pretty minor.  I’ve been somewhat disappointed by the later books in this series, but this one’s not bad. 7/26/09

My Rotten Life by David Lubar, Starscape, 2009, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1634-X

The popularity of zombie stories has spread into young readers’ fiction, but so far the emphasis seems to be on humor along the lines of a very underrated film, My Boyfriend’s Back.  In this short book, fifth grader Nathan Abercrombie accident takes a drug that turns him into a zombie.  Once the initial shock is over, he discovers that it’s not necessarily a bad thing.  After all, he doesn’t feel pain, doesn’t need to sleep at night, and he doesn’t see a downside at all, but eventually he decides to search for a cure so that he doesn’t feel like an outsider.  Looks like this one is the first in a series.  Cute, amusing, but the humor is pretty basic. 7/26/09

Undead and Unwelcome by MaryJanice Davidson, Berkley, 2009, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-425-22773-2  

Although I generally shudder at the mildly comic, romantic vampire stories that have sprung up during the past few years and spread like dandelions, I still enjoy this particular series about Betsy, Queen of the Vampires and suburban housewife, although she’s shed a good deal of the latter by this, the eighth in the series.  One of her minions was a werewolf who died in the line of duty, so Betsy is off to Cape Cod to return the body of the woman to her pack for proper burial. She’s not entirely at ease about this because she suspects that her packmates might resent the fact that she was killed and hold Betsy at least indirectly responsible.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, her adopted child is behaving very strangely and her sister has also picked up some bizarre habits.  Like I said, even though this is a kind of book I’d ordinarily pass right by, I’ve enjoyed the series pretty consistently.  This isn’t one of the best, but it’s still fun. 7/21/09

The Bone Factory by Nate Kenyon, Leisure, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6287-1

The Shore by Robert Dunbar, Leisure, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6166-9

Despite some superficial differences, these two recent horror novels are a lot alike.  Both of them involve a mysterious figure, the “blue man” in the former, the Jersey Devil in the latter.  Dunbar’s novel is sort of a sequel to his earlier The Pines, but Kenyon’s is a standalone.  Both are set in small towns which will be the scene of various deaths and other mysterious events.  In Kenyon’s novel, a power plant has just been reopened, which may be connected to the mutilation death, kidnapping of a child, and other events that follow.  An engineer and his family have recently moved there to attempt to rebuild their fractured lives, but they are about to be exposed to more stress than ever.  It’s the long term residents who are in danger in Dunbar’s novel, where a series of mutilated corpses suggest that something big, powerful, and brutal is on a rampage.  Both novels are quite good, but I had some difficulty getting into Dunbar’s, I think in large part because we don’t know the names of most of the characters during the first quarter or so of the novel, which I found very distracting. 7/19/05

Dead Men’s Boots by Mike Carey, Grand Central, 7/09, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-446-58032-8   

Felix Castor is back for his third adventure with the supernatural.  Felix is a freelance exorcist, although at times he has second thoughts about dealing with the evil forces that infest our world.  His allies, however, include a succubus and a zombie, so they’re not all evil.  There’s a strong element of humor in this series, although there’s also considerable darkness.  Think Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden on a bad day.  Anyway, there are several conflicting cases striving for his attention this time.  A grieving widow wants him to protect her husband’s body, which is menaced for reasons not immediately apparent.  There’s another friend whose mortal soul may be in danger.  There’s also a serial killer on the loose, whose methods suggest those of another who died years earlier.  With ghosts, zombies, succubi, and other creatures lurking about, you know it’s going to be a wild ride.  I found this to be a definite step up from the previous novel in the series, and there are at least two more on the way. 7/3/09

The Big Book of Necon edited by Bob Booth, CD Publications, 7/09, $40, ISBN 978-1-58767-202-6  

Necon is an annual, rather informal get together for horror professionals and fans, held annually in Rhode Island.  The program pamphlets and other materials have contained a number of original stories, poems, essays, artwork, and other material by some of the biggest names in the genre.  I’ve seen some of these listed on Ebay for really incredible amounts of money.  Now editor Booth has collected all of these and more into this rather large collection of material from such names as Stephen King, Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman, Brian Keene, Jack Ketchum, and many many others, over fifty contributors in all.  Most of this material is not available anywhere else and it is all of professional quality.  A genuinely rare and unusual as well as entertaining anthology. 7/2/09

The Ghost Road by Tony Abbott, Scholastic, 2009, $4.99, ISBN 978-0-545-03432-4

The Streets of Panic Park by R.L. Stine, Scholastic, 2009, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-439-91880-0 -5 

A pair of horror stories for younger readers, both parts of series.  The Abbott is the more interesting and is for a slightly older age group.  The border between the worlds of the living and that of the dead is eroding and some of the latter have begun possessing the bodies of the former.  The protagonist is a young boy who has been learning the nature of the problem and who, naturally, will be the one to bring it to an end.  More adventure than creepiness in this installment.  The same is true for the Stine novel, set in a magical amusement park where a group of youngsters have been trapped for some time.  There’s a new threat in this one, The Menace, a mysterious figure who wants to keep them from escaping.  This one’s kind of a let down and the Menace isn’t very imposing at all. 7/2/09

Dark Entities by David Dunwoody, Dark Regions, 2009, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-65-3 

Although almost half of the stories in this collection were previously published, I hadn’t read any of them, or in fact anything by this writer.  The author is heavily into monstrous creatures and most of his heroes don’t emerge from their encounters happily, if they emerge at all.  Flesh eaters, demons, lurching figures, and others capable of changing their shapes fill the pages, most of them decidedly unfriendly. Mostly traditional stories with a lean toward the grotesque. The dialogue is good, the descriptive sections sometimes uneven.  My favorites were “The Ambrosia Supper Club” and “Sunset.”  The illustrations by Thomas Moran are excellent.  This is the first in the New Voices of Horror series of single author collections.  Let’s hope subsequent volumes maintain the same standards. 6/26/09

Carpe Corpus by Rachel Caine, Jam, 2009, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22719-5 

There are several current young adult vampire series, most of them at least borderline romance like the ones by Stephenie Meyer.  Rachel Caine sets her sights a little higher, in more ways than one, with the Morganville Vampire series set in a small college town where humans and vampires have been living together for some time in a more or less peaceful fashion.  Unfortunately, the new head vampire – Bishop – is not as amenable to co-existence as he might be, and there are rumblings of dissent from both the human and inhuman population.  Our protagonist is Claire Danvers, a college student who acts as a kind of bridge between the two populations, but who is increasingly forced to choose sides.  Even as it appears that Bishop’s rule may be coming to an end, the characters have to consider whether the consequences of his actions may linger on, at least into the next book in the series.  Well above average. 6/26/09

Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland, Bantam, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59235-1

Moon Burn by Alisa Sheckley, Del Rey, 2009, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-345-50588-0

The problem that I have with a lot of recent urban fantasy is the same problem I have had for the past several years about high fantasy – much of it is competently or even well written, but not very much of it has anything new to say.  I can tolerate this in detective fiction because in many cases that’s how it’s supposed to be, but I stopped reading westerns many years ago because the plots were so similar from book to book.  I’m having that same problem now with stories of feisty females in urban settings who are caught between good and bad vampires/werewolves/demons, get romantically involved with one of the above, solve a mystery or uncover a secret while discovering something about themselves or adjusting to their new status as a vampire/shapechanger halfling/demon child/ghost whisperer.  So with that perhaps daunting caveat, here are two more by writers I haven’t tried before.  Rowland’s protagonist is a police officer who is also a witch, and whose latest conjuration goes wrong just as she is caught up in the investigation of a brutal serial killer.  The combination of police procedural and demonic fantasy is a bit of a twist, but the first person narration made Kara Gillian feel like any of several dozen other urban paranormal fantasy characters.  It kept me reading, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for her next adventure.  Sheckley, who apparently also writes as Alisa Kwitney, features a woman who is coming to grips with the fact that she’s been infected with a werewolf virus, apparently in a previous book which I’ve never seen.  She moves to a smaller town, thank heaven, in order to have some privacy during her transition.  There she meets another shapeshifter, who is concerned about leakage between realities which has resulted in strange appearances in the area.  This one also has a mild twist and the prose is quite readable as well.  But once again I was not so engrossed that I want to know more about Abra Barrow’s problems. 6/20/09

Deeper by James A. Moore, Berkley, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22821-0 

This Lovecraftian horror novel was originally published by Necessary Evil Press in 2007.  The protagonist is a yacht owner who charters his boat to a group searching for both the source of a legend of ghost sightings off the coast of a remote New England town and the true nature of a series of undersea caves where a number of people have disappeared in the past.  There are the usual preliminaries – a mysterious underwater attack, a disappearance, ghostly sightings – after which they manage to capture one of the Deep Ones, linked to the fishmen of Lovecraft’s Innsmouth.  Their captive is lethal, has unusual mental powers, and does not like humans.  Neither do the others of his kind.  Before long the entire expedition is in jeopardy, and perhaps many others not involved at all.  As always, Moore takes us on an increasing tense ride through his imagined world.  This is sort of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, with a lot more claws.   6/16/09

23 Hours by David Wellington, Three Rivers, 2009, $14, ISBN 978-0-307-45277-1 

This is the third and possibly final adventure of Laura Caxton, police officer turned vampire hunter turned convict.  She’s locked up in a high security prison where even human residents could be very dangerous given her career in law enforcement.  When the most ancient vampire in the world starts hunting in the area, the prison looks like a grocery store with all those nice living creatures penned up and unable to run away.  Caxton and the vampire are locked in a duel to the death, or undeath, with foot soldiers between them as the action gets hot and heavy.  I enjoyed this author’s zombie trilogy – much to my surprise – but I have been less impressed with this series, possibly because I have never really warmed up to Caxton.  6/16/09

Reservoir Gods by Brian Knight, Delirium, 2009, $16.95, ISBN 978-1=934546-13-0 

I do enjoy Loch Ness Monster stories and variations thereof, even if they’re only reasonably well done.  This one is more than reasonably well done, though less than brilliant.  A group of vacationers is off on a fishing trip to a reservoir about which there are strange stories including a drowned town – shades of Matthew Costello’s excellent  Beneath Still Waters – and Indian legends of dark magic – shades of too many mediocre horror novels.  Something is in the water, however, something very large and apparently very hungry.  The body count rises as the mystery deepens.  Some very good scenes scattered through this one, although as a whole I had the nagging feeling that it was more of an outline for a much longer novel than complete unto itself.  I wanted to know more about the characters and I thought the creature makes its appearance to soon and too often to be really effective.  Good, but it could have been much better. 6/12/09

Shadow of the Dark Angel by Gene O’Neill, Bad Moon 

This is apparently a very limited edition reprint of a serial killer novel previously published in 2003.  The killer has more than a passing similarity to Hannibal Lecter, although his particular fetish is different though equally disturbing.  The twist in this one is that he is aided by a vaguely described supernatural power that enables him to become quasi-invisible, essentially the power of the Shadow to force people to overlook his presence.  He is opposed by a pair of police officers whose interaction is in many cases the best part of the novel.  Partly police procedural, partly horror novel, this one isn’t bad, but doesn’t really say or do anything new, and Thomas Harris has essentially set a standard that isn’t likely to be surpassed any time soon. 6/12/09

The Sticks by Andy Deane, Delirium, 2009, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-934546-14-7 

I don’t like werewolf novels.  That’s not an absolute rule, of course, and Guy Endore, Robert McCammon, and David Case have surprised me in their various ways, but basically they’re almost all the same.  A series of vicious attacks during which we and the protagonist try to figure out which of the named characters is actually the shapeshifter.  This rather short one is no exception.  Brian is dumped by his girl who promptly disappears.  He teams up with another girl to search for her, and they are promptly attacked by an oversized, slavering, furry monster that pursues them afterwards.  Lots of people get sliced and diced and the creature is so powerful that one wonders how the heroes managed to survive one let alone multiple encounters.  The writing is okay but not extraordinary enough to lift this above the level of a simple slasher story, and the characters are not particularly interesting so we don’t even care much if they live or die.  Enjoyable on a very limited level, but I was not forced to add this title to my list of exceptions. 6/11/09

The Eternal Tomb by Kevin Emerson, Scholastic, 2009, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-545-05805-6

The Red House by Tony Abbott, Scholastic, 2009, $4.99, ISBN 978-0-545-03431-9

Help! We Have Strange Powers! by R.L. Stine, Scholastic, 2009, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-439-91878-7


All three of these are horror novels for younger readers, and all three are parts of ongoing series.  The first is the most interesting, slightly reminiscent of the Darren Shan books.  The protagonist is a young vampire named Oliver Nocturne in a world shared by vampires and humans.  It’s written down a bit, but it’s essentially a story of vampire politics similar in form to many adult novels on similar themes.  Not much actual vampirism in this one and it’s more fantasy than horror.  The second is part of the Haunting of Derek Stone series, in which the spirits of the dead are now coming back to possess the bodies of the living.  Derek’s own brother is one of those thus victimized and he’s trying to find a way to send the dead back where they belong.  His latest attempt involves a visit to a creepy old house.  Moderately suspenseful but nothing really scary in this one.  Finally we have the latest manifestation of the Goosebumps phenomenon.  The most recent one I read in this series was actually not bad at all, probably because I’ve always enjoyed spooky amusement parks.  In this one, two youngsters discover that they have telepathic powers, which predictably attracts the attention of a villainous scientist who wants them as subjects for his experiments.  This one really didn’t work for me. 

Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris, Ace, 5/09, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-441-01715-7   

Sookie Stackhouse is back for her ninth adventure.  Sookie, you may know, was a cocktail waitress in a small Southern town who got involved with vampires, good and bad, and then a variety of shapeshifters as the series progressed.  Now the vampires have come out of the closet, announcing their existence to the general public, and the shapeshifters have decided to follow suit.  As you might imagine, a good deal of the human population is outraged not just by their existence but by the fact that they were fooled by friends and neighbors.  When someone starts killing shapeshifters, it appears at first that vigilantes from this latter group are responsible, but eventually we discover that it’s another party entirely, a surprising new development in Sookie’s ongoing saga.  As always, Harris has given us another smooth, engrossing book that seems almost effortless, which undoubtedly means that it is not.  Harris is still the leader in the current wave of paranormal fantasy/horror writers. 6/4/09

Blood in Electric Blue by Greg F. Gifune, Delirium, 5/09, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-934546-11-6  

Each new book by Greg Gifune has confirmed my belief that he is one of the more interesting voices in contemporary horror/suspense fiction.  His latest is another rewarding novel, probably not his best but certainly better than a lot of other novels I've read recently.  The protagonist s a lonely man who lives with a cat, product of an abusive childhood, troubled by unsettling dreams, disturbed by the recent murder of someone he knows, and increasingly afraid that his life is out of his control.  A possibly chance discovery of a name and telephone number in an odd book causes him to impulsively contact the woman, which will eventually roil his life even more as he discovers the woman’s true nature.  There’s a rather traditional horror story wrapped up in some untraditional packaging in this one, and another thrilling ride for Gifune’s fans. 6/4/09

Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Grand Central, 2009, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-446-58029-8 

I wondered if the authors would retire their frequent protagonist, the enigmatic agent Pendergast, after the previous volume, but he’s back for a ninth.  So are several other recurring characters, one of whom gets murdered in the opening scenes.  What’s really interesting is that his assailant may have been a zombie – the voodoo kind, since he died always two weeks earlier.  The dead man, a reporter, had been writing an article about animal sacrifice, only one of several projects that could have earned him some serious enemies, although the connection to voodoo makes us suspicious right away.  Three potential sources of the problem are subsequently revealed.  One is a very rich, very nasty man with an interest in voodoo.  One is a loose organization of animal rights groups.  The third is a colony of religious fanatics living in a well guarded compound whose religion is partially based on Obeah.  I can’t say too much about the plot without revealing the surprise endings, but it involves additional deaths, sightings of the walking dead, a centuries old secret, and other elements.  As almost always happens with this series, I could not turn away and spent a solid six hours following Pendergast’s investigation.  In retrospect, the plot relies on a few too many coincidences and the almost omniscient powers of the chief villain – some of the things he accomplishes are never even explained.  But you’re not likely to notice much of this at the time.  5/30/09

Bloodletting by Michael McBride, Delirium, 5/09, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-934546-09-3  

Two separate series of events converge in this new title from Delirium, which is more SF than horror actually.  The first involves a brutal serial killer who has been mutilating his victims.  The second concerns the discovery at an archaeological site of several mummified bodies, prepared in the traditional manner for natives of that region, although the bodies prove to be of much more recent vintage.  In all cases, the blood has been completely removed from the victims’ bodies, which suggests a link to savvy FBI agent Paxton Carver.  There is a link, of course, related to a secret government project from the 1940s that has had repercussions during the decades since.  A combination of mystery, horror, and speculative fiction, briskly told.  This is the first title I’ve seen from McBride, and I'm quite sure I'll be reading his subsequent titles as they appear. 5/18/09

Seminole Landing by Colleen Affeld, Bedside, 2009, $22, ISBN 978-1-58982-503-1 

This is a marginally supernatural novel in which a group of kids invokes an evil spirit, but it’s really more of a mystery story with young protagonists.  The narrator is a ten year old who is one of several who try to help a troubled young boy, in the course of which they uncover the secret behind a very adult crime.  After various adventures, they are able to unmask a killer and bring him to justice.  The story has some of the feel of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, and several of the young characters are quirky and original enough to be memorable.  The rural Florida background is also nicely done.  I had two quibbles, however.  First and more significant is that the book is narrated by a ten year old, but it doesn’t feel as though it’s the voice of a child and it could just as easily have been told in the third person.  My other cavil is that in the early chapters, there’s some switching back and forth between present and past tense that I found distracting, although that goes away fairly quickly.  The price tag is a bit steep for a trade paperback novel, but it’s certainly a pleasant read and many of the individual scenes evoke childhood memories - in mood if not specific fact. 5/13/09

The Ace of Spades by Karen Koehler, Skullvines, 2009 

This novella, first in a series, didn’t come with information about price or even format, so I’m not sure if it’s an ebook or print.  The Skullvines website didn’t seem to have that info either.  That said, it plays to one of my stronger interests, a mix of the Old West and the fantastic.  The protagonist is a female bounty hunter who has some image problems.  She’s after Black Jack Derringer, who is responsible for the deaths of entire towns, and she doesn’t intend to let anyone stand in her way, human or mutant.  The writing is quite solid, and the story has that larger than life quality that I liked so much in Max Brand, but with her own little twist.  Worth the trouble to chase it down, in whatever format it eventually appears. 5/8/09

Blood Groove by Alex Bledsoe, Tor, 2009, $13.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-2308-7   

I prefer my vampires evil, which is rowing against the tide lately, but this one’s an odd kind of exception.  Baron Rudolfo Zginski is a genuine traditional undead predator, but he was destroyed nearly a century ago, though he’s brought back to life in contemporary Tennessee.  Zginski has a problem, however.  He is really out of touch with the modern world and feels at a disadvantage, and when he finally finds others of his kind – a band of inexperienced teenaged vampires – he isn’t much better off.  Still, the two sides have a good deal to learn from one another, and a common enemy emerges in the form of a plot that could destroy all of them.  Even though they’re bad vamps, I actually found myself siding with them part of the time.  A very promising horror debut – the author has written mainstream thrillers previously. 5/7/09

The Hound Hunters by Adam Niswander, Hippocampus, 2009, $20, ISBN 978-0-9814888-4-4 

This is a reprint of a 1995 novel, part of a very loose series in which a consortium of Native American shamans get together to battle various supernormal, if not supernatural, menaces to the human race.  In this case, it’s the hounds, an alien race which I suspect are a reference to the Hounds of Tindalos from the Cthulhu Mythos.  The Hounds want to open a gateway into our universe so that they can wreak havoc on Earth.  To do so, they enlist the aid of a human drug dealer, providing him with a substance which, distributed to enough users, will accomplish that goal.   The shamans, obviously, don’t want this to happen.  Lots of excitement and action and a pretty good story.  I do however think it was a strategic mistake to show some scenes from the viewpoint of the Hounds; it kind of dilutes their creepiness.  5/3/09

Death Mask by Graham Masterton, Leisure, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-5792-1 

I’ve liked some Graham Masterton horror novels better than others, but I’ve liked every one of them.  This falls somewhere in the middle of his quality range, a quite inventive story line involving a serial killer who somehow gets duplicated, the explanation of which is fascinating but I can’t tell you here without giving away a key piece of the plot.  He kills and wounds a large number of people in a series of attacks, mostly but not exclusively in elevators, and has an uncanny connection to the chief protagonists, a woman and her daughter in law, both of whom have some magical talents.  In fact, that’s the part I liked least because the older woman’s ability to read palms, coffee grounds, hold séances, and read a version of the Tarot is just a little too extreme to fit in with her supposed humble and ordinary life.  That cavil aside, it’s a wild and violent ride and there’s not a boring scene in the novel as the murder spree escalates and our heroes employ unusual methods indeed to track him down.  A thrilling and unsettling ride, and one of the more inventive of recent horror novels. 4/25/09

Escape from Horrorland by R.L. Stine, Scholastic, 2009, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-439-91879-4   

I read quite a few of the Goosebumps books back when they were very popular.  They were obviously written for kids, didn’t take themselves too seriously, and despite childish themes and silly situations were sometimes mildly charming.  I was vaguely aware that new titles were appearing again and I’ve read a couple of the more recent ones, of which this is the latest.  Horrorland is a kind of subset of the series, involving a magical carnival dominated by evil forces.  Several children get trapped in it in this volume and have various adventures while trying to escape.  It’s almost as lightweight as the originals, but there’s considerably less humor, perhaps because the author is trying for a somewhat more sophisticated audience, perhaps because his vision has darkened.  Macabre circuses and carnivals are a familiar theme in horror literature – most notably Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury – but there’s something so inherently creepy in the concept that even this relatively minor work was able to hold my interest for the half hour or so it took to read it. 4/25/09

The Golem by Edward Lee, Leisure, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-5808-9  

The golem, according to legend, was an artificial creature created through magic which defended its people.  The golem in Edward Lee’s new horror novel is, as you might expect, a different kettle of fish entirely.  Two people recently recovering from problems with addiction hope to make a fresh start on the Maryland coast.  Alas, the area is about to become the setting for a corruption of the original concept of the golem, turned instead into an engine of destruction for innocent and guilty alike.  Lee serves up his usual assortment of thrills and chills, some quite graphic.  As is the case with many of his novels, you’re not likely to think too highly of any of the characters, which I found interfered a bit with my enjoyment this time because most weren’t bad enough for me to enjoy their destruction or good enough to really care about.   Not his best, but a solid novel, and better than the best by many another writer. 4/11/09

As Fate Would Have It by Michael Calvillo, Bad Moon, 2009, $50  

This very twisted love story is being published in a limited edition by Bad Moon.  It’s one of those that straddles the border between horror and suspense, because it involves cannibalism – though tastefully done, pun intended - so I'm going to list it here, although I suppose it's technically mystery/suspense.  It's also quite short.  The protagonist is a talented chef whose romantic interest, sort of, is a drug addicted woman who shares his passion for dishes made with human flesh.  Except that the chef is beginning to tire of the game of harvesting victims, to say nothing of the risks.  Calvillo has a nice, fluid style and sketches in his characters deftly and efficiently.  It’s a shame that this is going to be a limited edition of 150 copies, although I imagine it will be reprinted if it finds its audience. 4/9/09

Sepulchre by Kate Mosse, Putnam, 2008, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-399-15467-6 

I really enjoyed the first novel I read by this author, Labyrinth, so I picked up her next, originally published in England in 2007.  I had tried the first as a break from fantastic fiction, only to discover that it was a fantasy, and the description suggested from the outset that the same was true in this case, although it’s creepy enough – ghosts, premonitions, an escaped demon we almost never actually see – that I’m putting this in horror. The story is split in two.  Part is set during the 19th Century in Paris when a brother and sister get involved in a mystery about which we initially learn very little except that they visit a remote part of southwest France. Eventually we learn that the brother and his lover are being pursued by an obsessed madman. The second also takes place in France, in the present, with a woman researching a biography of Claude Debussy but also trying to uncover her family history, which is clearly linked to the earlier events we’ve just read about.  She also becomes involved with a series of murders committed by a man with an obsession.  There is also a hint of mild magic linked to the Tarot deck, and a search for a lost Visigoth treasure to which a particular deck supposedly can provide directions.  Although this was too long a book to read in a single sitting, I almost managed it because it goes quite quickly and I was hooked early and never had a chance to catch my breath.  If anything, it’s even better than Labyrinth, and one of the best novels of the supernatural I’ve read in years. 4/8/09

Bestial by Ray Garton, Leisure, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6185-0 

I have almost never liked werewolf novels.  I’m not sure why that is the case, although probably because most of them follow the same pattern.  Someone in the area is a werewolf and the protagonist has to discover who it is before he or she ends up as a victim.  Garton steps outside that mold for this one.  Two private investigators travel to  small California town where their some time employer is involved in some unusual research.  Before long they become aware of several violent assaults in the area, believed at first to be animal attacks, although we readers obviously know better.  In due course we discover that this is not just a case of someone who has been turned into a werewolf but rather a contagion of lycanthropy that is sweeping through the entire town, transforming the populace.  This is pretty light weight compared to Garton’s other novels, but it’s certainly not boring.  There is more violence than usual, building to the inevitable climactic battle.  Entertaining, but not topnotch Garton. 4/6/09

Soultaker by Bryan Smith, Leisure, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6193-5 

Jake McAllister is asked to look into the affairs of his much younger brother Trey, after the latter gets involved with a sexy, older than her years girl named Myra Lewis.  Lewis is not what she seems but is actually a centuries old variant of the succubus, who lives off the souls of her lovers.  There’s quite a bit more to the story but that’s the central tension. The author does manage to provide adequate new twists to make this a relatively fresh story, but my enjoyment was hampered by the protagonist, whom I thoroughly disliked.  He’s arrogant, quick to take offense, and sometimes not particularly quick on the uptake.  As with his previous books, Smith threatens to produce a genuinely first rate book, but never quite crosses the line from the merely good to the excellent.  Not that it’s bad to fall into that category either. I imagine it's only a matter of time until he hits his stride. 3/26/09

Crimson by Gord Rollo, Leisure, 3/09, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6195-9   

The blurbs on this one compare it to Stephen King’s It, which is a fair comment, although it sets a high standard since that’s one of King’s best novels.  The plot has a lot of parallels.  A disturbed man dabbles in ancient mysteries and discovers an evil presence.  Although it is bottled up, a group of young boys somehow manage to let it loose and it launches a reign of terror.  Naturally no one believes their explanation and the suspense mounts along with the body count.  Rollo does a fine job of developing the menace and his characters are quite well done.  The only flaw I see in the book is that the Shadowman is on stage just a little too often, which dilutes some of the mystery of his existence.  Otherwise, a definite step up from his previous book, The Jigsaw Man, and one of the better titles from Leisure in several months. 3/23/09

Lord of Misrule by Rachel Caine, Jam, 2009, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22572-6 

This is the fifth in the Morganville Vampires, young adult series.  Morganville, Texas, is a refuge, a place where vampires and humans live in a kind of awkward armistice, a college town where protagonist Claire Danvers is trying to adjust to a world totally unlike the one she imagined previously.  Now that she’s finally settling in, the arrival of a master vampire with an agenda of his own throws her life into further turmoil.  On top of that, the long term undead residents of the town are beginning to vanish and she senses that a crisis is looming over all their heads.  Although I’m overdosed on vampires, particularly non-evil ones, this series has continued to be entertaining throughout, and it manages to straddle the border between young adult and adult fiction closely enough to appeal to both sides of the fence.  Caine's Weather Wizard series is more ambitious, but in some ways I think this series is better written.  3/12/09

Ghouls Just Haunt to Have Fun by Victoria Laurie, Obsidian, 2009, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22630-3 

I had noticed the previous two books in this series – which have equally horrible titles – and had passed it by, but curiosity finally made me try the third.  The publisher is marketing this as a mystery series, but it’s urban supernatural adventure along fairly familiar lines, although at least this time we don’t have romantic vampires around.  The protagonist is a psychic of sorts who deals with haunted houses, and who reluctantly agrees to appear on a television show.  Alas, in doing so she inadvertently releases a demonic force from imprisonment in an artifact, and now she has it to deal with as well as spirits of the dead.  Fairly light hearted much of the time, but not a bad adventure story.  With better titles, this might attract more serious attention. 3/12/09

Kitty Raises Hell by Carrie Vaughn, Grand Central, 3/09, $6.99, ISBN 978-0446-19954-4 

My favorite recurring werewolf protagonist is back for her seventh adventure.  Last time, she and her werewolf boyfriend (who unlike her had not outed himself) were off to Las Vegas for a holiday that turned out to be anything but.  Now they’ve returned to Denver and life as usual.  Unfortunately, life as usual for Kitty includes a liberal dose of the unusual, in this case a supernatural force that doesn’t like shapechangers very much.  Murder and mayhem follow, with a dose of vampires added to the mix.  This time there’s rather less humor in the series than in some of the earlier books, and the more serious tone works well. Since this is clearly not the world we live on, I consider this fantasy rather than horror, a line of demarcation I’ve been trying to refine since I’ve been inconsistent in the past.  On the other hand, the tone is a lot more like horror, so make your own decision if it matters to you.  Whatever term you use, this is a good story. 3/9/09

The Hunger of Empty Vessels by Scott Edelman, Bad Moon, 2009, $15

Here’s another nice chapbook from Bad Moon, a novelette about a troubled man who has been ordered to stay away from his wife and son, the latter of whom appears to be forming from some form of mild autism that makes it difficult for him to comprehend human interactions.  At first our sympathy is with the protagonist, but that starts to slip a bit as we discover just how obsessive he is, spying on his family and clandestinely spiriting the boy away on one occasion.  He is also convinced that a mysterious figure visible only to him is a kind of emotional vampire preying on the family’s dysfunctional grief.  The questions become even greater when we discover that the mother is not without guilt herself, all of which advances the story toward its tragic climax.  Nicely done. 3/4/09

Spores from Sharnoth and Other Madnesses by Leigh Blackmore, P’Rea Press, 2009, $15 

As always, I insist that I really don’t have the vocabulary or background to competently review poetry.  That caveat aside, this is a collection of mostly Lovecraftian related verse.  The author undeniably has a talent for evoking mysterious and sometimes unsettling images and many of the entries – most of which are quite short – do indeed suggest the prose and subject matter of Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and other early Weird Tales writers.  This certainly seemed to me to be superior in quality to most of the other poetry I’ve read in the same vein.  Published in Australia, this might be best found via the internet I’d guess. 3/4/09

Terminal Freeze by Lincoln Child, Doubleday, 2009, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-385-51551-1 

A small scientific expedition studying the retreat of a glacier in the Arctic has been sponsored by a firm that specializes in documentaries.  When they discover a cave containing the frozen body of what appears to be a sabre toothed tiger, their work is disrupted by the arrival of a large film crew led by a couple of obnoxious film makers.  Overwhelmed by legal and practical matters, the scientists wait patiently for it to end, but are dismayed when a dangerous effort is undertaken to extract and eventually thaw the creature.  Unfortunately, it thaws prematurely and disappears.  The bigwigs think it has been stolen – although that’s frankly pretty implausible – but we all know it has come back to life, fulfilling a local Native American legend.  And then the deaths start.  I’ve enjoyed Child’s previous solo novels as well as his collaborations with Douglas Preston immensely, and this is certainly an exciting story.  It does, however, creak a bit.  For one thing, the characters are really flat and some of them – the brainless star brought in to narrate the documentary, the obsessed producer, etc. – are so caricatured that they put me off completely.  The appeal to the local tribe for information has also become a cliché and the creature’s resistance to bullets, electric shock, etc. is more like a Marvel comic than a serious thriller.  The biggest flaw though is that it just never generates any real suspense until almost the end of the book.  The buildup takes too long, the subplot about the mysterious scientist who investigates odd events is irrelevant and distracting, and the revelation about the physical aspect of the creature that nearly drives one soldier insane is very disappointing when described.  This is an exciting and fast moving story, but it’s not in the same league as Child’s other novels. 3/3/09

The Essential Marvel Horror Volume 1, Marvel,

This collection of comics from the 1970s really isn't horror, but more occult adventure along the lines of Doctor Strange.  It opens with a brief sequence involving Ghost Rider, but that's only to introduce Son of Satan, an ambivalent hero who is literally the son of the devil and who battles a variety of godlings and other monsters through most of the book.  The last few segments feature Satana, the daughter of Satan, who is similarly ambiguous and who looks a lot like Vampirella.  I found these generally monotonous and the setting is so abstract that there wasn't even a hint of verisimilitude.  Some of it is visually impressive - though not so much in this black and white reprint - but the story lines just aren't engaging.  3/3/09

A Drop of Red by Chris Marie Green, Ace, 3/09, $15, ISBN 978-0-441-01681-5  

The first three books in the Dawn Madison series – yes, it’s another urban fantasy involving vampires – were a mixed lot.  All three stories were entertaining but there were some clumsy spots here and there.  I remember them chiefly for the crisp dialogue.  After three books, she has pretty much destroyed the vampire community in Los Angeles – and since Green’s vampires are of the nasty variety that’s a good thing.  But now that the ex-stuntwoman has found a new purpose in life, she’s anxious to find more bloodsuckers to destroy.  So she and her fellow vampire hunters are off to England where some recent underground construction has resulted in an unpleasant discovery.  The change of setting is a bit disruptive, but once I adjusted to that, I thought this was easily the best in the series.  I really don’t “get” the fascination with good or angst ridden vampires and much prefer them nasty and dangerous.  Green provides the fix for my craving, and in particularly good form this time around. 2/27/09

Elsewhere by William Peter Blatty, Cemetery Dance, 3/09, $25, ISBN 1-58767-083-1

The author of The Exorcist returns to the literature of the supernatural with this traditional haunted house story.  Realtor Joan Freeboard suspects that the only way she can dispose of an island estate is if she proves that the stories about it being haunted are false.  To do this, she recruits the assistance of a psychic investigator, a psychic, and a magazine writer, all of whom agree to spend several days at the mansion.  But they are almost immediately disturbed by a sense of déjà vu, disorientation, and even hallucinations of priests and other manifestations.  The television and telephones won’t work and the one servant seems to be more than slightly odd.  Although nicely written, this short novel presents nothing really new in the haunted house genre, and the surprise ending was apparent to me about half way through.  I won’t reveal it here for those who might not pick up on the same clues.  Enjoyable, but unmemorable.  Try The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson instead. 2/25/09

Blood and Ice by Robert Masello, Bantam, 3/09, $25, ISBN 978-0-553-80728-8  

This is a rationalized vampire novel whose primary setting is a research station in the Antarctic, the story interspersed with flashbacks to the Crimean War during which a nurse and a soldier contract a disease which makes them immortal, blood hungry, and contagious.  Their secret is discovered while they are voyaging near the South Pole and they are thrown overboard, their frozen corpses revived when discovered by a journalist and a scientist during the present.  They are not evil, but they are dangerous and they turn two other members of the contingent into vampires before things end. Although we don’t learn the details until well into the book, there’s no real mystery about the basics.  I’ve enjoyed all of Masello’s previous novels, but this one had some structural problems that bothered me.  For one thing, it’s too slow to develop.  The bodies aren’t discovered until about 150 pages have passed.  More seriously, I just didn’t buy various reactions after the discovery is made.  There is no way that the station manager would have concealed the existence of the twosome once it was obvious they weren’t dead after all.  Even when he suspects they carry a disease and that the rest of the staff may be infected, he decides that a secretive quarantine is the answer, although the other staff are free to leave.  And the hero even smuggles the nurse out so that she can return to England.  It has its moments, but in general it’s very disappointing, particularly considering how much I've liked Masello's earlier novels. 2/23/09

Johnny Gruesome by Gregory Lamberson, Medallion, 2008, $15.95, ISBN 978-193475545-7 

I am not in general a fan of zombie stories, but this one is actually more of a revenant than a zombie, a vengeful spirit physically back from the dead seeking revenge.  It’s a familiar movie set up – not surprising since this is based on the author’s screenplay.  An acid rock type high school kid has lots of enemies and only a few friends.  When he is found in his car, dead, in a local pond, it appears to be an accident, but that incident sets off a reign of murderous terror.  Much of the text feels almost like a screenplay as well, also not surprising, and the story moves almost too quickly at times, and without any deep insights into the characters. That works against the suspense, because I didn’t really care which of them lived and which of them died. I also balked at the fact that no one notices that the corpse in the car was strangled with a chain rather than killed in the accident.  The marks should have been obvious during the autopsy, and when the doctor dismissed them as having been made by the steering wheel, I got thrown out of the story.  The chain marks would have circled his entire throat.  These cavils aside, the story is a compelling one, which probably explains why there have been so many movies using the same basic set up. I think the author makes a mistake in letting us see so much from the dead boy’s point of view because it would be far more effective if left to our imagination and he would be a far more sinister figure. 2/13/09

The Map of Moments by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, Bantam, 2/09, $12, ISBN 978-0-553-38470-3  

Two of the new heavyweights of horror combine here in this blend of fantasy and supernatural elements.  The protagonist left New Orleans after a troubled love affair with an enigmatic young woman ended badly.  Now it’s even worse because she died during Hurricane Katrina, although the circumstances of her death are not entirely clear.  He returns for the funeral, hoping to put an end to that chapter of his life, but is approached instead by a mysterious man who gives him a map to various significant places in the city and tells him that if he visits them, he might have the chance to meet the dead woman once again.  Haunting and quite mysterious, with a protagonist who is out of the usual mold and therefore interesting in his own right.  Difficult to classify but very easy to enjoy. 2/9/09

Children of Chaos by Greg F. Gifune, Delirium, 2009, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-934546-07-9

Greg Gifune has infiltrated my list of favorite horror writers in a very understated manner.  I hadn’t even realized how much I’ve liked his books until I read this one and then glanced through the titles of his other work.  His plots frequently sound as though they were familiar retreads, which is a shame because they’re usually just the framework over which he has draped something very different.  Much of this effect is due to his evocation of decidedly distinct characters who work in complex ways usually avoided in other horror fiction.  In this case, for example, we have three teenaged boys who encounter a supernatural evil, commit a frightening act, and then grow up in their own separate and individually twisted ways, none of them capable of completely escaping the past.  Then one of them sets out to locate his childhood friend, and that journey will change all of them, and reveal a terrifying truth.  I’m not going to be more specific than that because much of the pleasure of reading this one is the subtle revelation of what’s going on.  2/6/09

The Autopsy and Other Tales by Michael Shea, Centipede Press, 2008, $95, ISBN 978-1-933618-37-1 

I'm calling this horror, although some of the contents are SF, and some are both.  Although the price on this large collection is pretty steep, it’s one of the best single author retrospectives I’ve read in years, incorporating one complete novel and twenty short stories, nearly everything at that length Shea has had published.  The opening story, “The Angel of Death” describes an encounter between a shapechanging alien visitor and a sexually obsessed human serial killer, with unexpected results.  There’s another unexpected encounter in “The Horror on the #33”, wherein an alien masquerading as human harvests the forgotten people.  “Fast Food” is truly bizarre.  A burger chain becomes the instrument by which the world is transformed.  I’d remembered this one quite vividly from having read it first more than ten years ago.  “Grunt XII Test Drive” is a relatively minor satire on our thirst for powerful automobiles. “Salome” is fairly predictable, a cat switching bodies with its owner’s unfaithful lover. 

“Fat Face” first appeared as a chapbook way back when.  It’s an exceptional story that’s hard to describe.  A prescient prostitute encounters a reclusive businessman who is actually a Lovecraftian creature from another reality, with dire consequences.  I must have read “Uncle Tuggs” back when it was in F&SF, but I don’t remember it, which is strange because it’s a very good story.  The protagonist is cutting wood for a family of mean thugs when he discovers that their mechanical devices are conspiring against them.  Best in the collection at this point.  There’s a very unique alien invasion in “Fill It With Regular.”  “Nemo Me Impune Lacessit” provides a nod to Lovecraft, Poe, and others.  “That Frog” is probably my least favorite of Shea’s short stories. 

“Polyphemus” is a novelette that I remember fondly and found just as thrilling this time.  A group of colonists on a distant world encounters a kind of gestalt lifeform unlike anything else in SF.  The next two stories are okay but unmemorable.  The title story, however, is a gruesome, creepy story of a doctor performing an autopsy on several bodies, one of which is host to an alien parasite.  "The Rebuke" is a clever fantasy and "Delivery" a fairly minor story about an unusual birthing. Two more fantasies follow, both nicely done.  "Tsathoggua" is a very fine, very unorthodox Cthulhu Mythos story.

Last in the collection is the novel, The Color Out of Time, a sequel to H.P. Lovecraft's "The Color Out of Space" in which a force from outer space affects everything in the vicinity of its landing place.  This is listed in the table of contents but does not appear in the galley so I don't know if it is actually included in the finished book.  Ditto for the short novel I, Said the Fly. It's an excellent collection, even without those two.  2/3/09

Night of the Loving Dead by Casey Daniels, Berkley, 2009, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22555-4 

Fourth in the Pepper Martin supernatural mystery series.  Martin is a tour guide who specializes in cemeteries and who can communicate with the dead in an obvious bow to the Ghost Whisperer television series, with a touch of Brian Lumley’s Harry Keogh.  Anyway, in this installment in the series, the ghost of a young woman who knew a friend of Martin’s warns her that he is in danger.  The warning, of course, is unspecific and therein lies the mystery.  There’s a light touch to this – common to a lot of modern mystery fiction – and it’s only in horror because it’s a ghost story and I don’t like putting ghost stories in fantasy.  But it’s also a mystery.  Bring whatever predisposition you prefer.  It’s not a world beater, but you won’t be bored. 1/29/09

Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein: Prodigal Son by Chuck Dixon, Del Rey, 2009, $22.95, ISBN 978-0-345-50640-5 

This is a compilation of five previously released comic books with a single story arc.  A detective in New Orleans becomes aware of the fact that someone in the present day is emulating in part the theories of Victor Frankenstein, stealing body parts to construct new life.  But there’s an even more sinister element, because this is part of a plan to create a biologically superior strain of people.  Very well illustrated by Brett Booth, full color throughout, this is a surprisingly implicit rather than explicit horror story and one of the better graphic pieces I’ve read. 1/29/09

Scattered Ashes by Scott Nicholson, Dark Regions, 2008, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-64-6 

I’ve been entertained by several of Scott Nicholson’s vaguely Stephen Kingish horror novels in recent years, but I had only read a handful of his short stories until this collection appeared.  There are more than twenty of them here, and they vary in theme and treatment more than do his longer works.  There’s every kind of horror here from the psychological to the supernatural, atmospheric to explicit, deadly serious to not quite so.  There are several originals in the collection, but most of the stories should be new to most readers as they appeared primarily in small press venues.  It’s hard to pick out a favorite because the stories are uniformly workmanlike, and none of them leap off the page and grab you by the throat.  “Scarecrow Boy” and “The Meek” both left me with persistent after images.  These are more conventional horror than cutting edge, but the majority are quite effective in what they set out to accomplish. 1/27/09

Drood by Dan Simmons, Little Brown, 2/09, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-316-00702-3

 I spent two leisurely days reading this very large novel, narrated by Wilkie Collins and primarily concerned, as you might guess from the title, with his friend Charles Dickens.  Late in his life, Dickens was involved in a terrible train crash during the aftermath of which he encountered a compulsive man, if man he is, named Drood who seems to be busy among the survivors, but perhaps not so much to help them as to help them along. The event has continuing deleterious effects of Dickens mental health so he enlists Collins in his quest to track Drood down. Drood dwells in a part of London where even the hardiest policeman will not venture, is reputedly fond of drugs, and also was supposedly restored to life years earlier after having had his heart cut out during a fight. Dickens and Collins descend into a hidden city in the sewers beneath London in pursuit of Drood. A private investigator named Fields, with a grudge against Drood, blackmails Collins into revealing Dickens’ secrets.  

Drood’s nature is very mysterious.  Dickens never allows Collins to accompany him during his visits, which convinces Collins that Drood is imaginary, or that Dickens is himself Drood.  Inspector Fields believes Drood to be a cunning criminal mastermind responsible for hundreds of murders. Dickens suggests that Drood is a misunderstood practitioner of mesmeric arts who tries to help people, but Collins suspects that Dickens is deliberately lying to him.  In many ways this is a Dickensian novel.  It is full of improbably exaggerated characters and proceeds at a sedate though never ponderous pace, providing extensive background about the major characters.  Simmons also employs an unreliable narrator in that Collins is subject to delusions inspired by his heavy use of narcotics, imagining people living in his house and growing convinced through dreams that Dickens himself has committed a murder.  Much, even most of this is excellently done, but there was actually a bit too much detail about the historical characters, and I occasionally felt as though I was being lectured on the subject.  A very strange and remarkable novel. 1/25/09

Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts by Laura Benedict, Brilliance Audio, 2009, $$29.99, ISBN 978-1-4233-3440-8 

Since I just read this novel recently, I didn’t listen to the entire audiobook, ably read by Emily Durante.  The story involves three disparate women, none of whom I found particularly admirable, who commit a terrible wrong and face supernatural vengeance years later.  I thought this was genuinely creepy and that effect is even more noticeable in the audio version. You can read my original review here.  I also recommend the author’s first novel, Isabella Moon.  The book consists of nine CDs and runs about eleven hours. 1/21/09

Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand by Carrie Vaughn, Grand Central, 2009, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-446-19953-7  

Kitty is back, the sexy celebrity and out of the closet werewolf.  She’s on a kind of vacation this time, having absconded to Las Vegas to marry her lover, Ben, who is also a shapechanger but still closeted.  Unfortunately they pick a hotel where several professional werewolf hunters are staying, and that makes the social atmosphere more than slightly strained. As is the case with the previous books in this series, Kitty’s life grows ever more complicated.  The local vampire community is harboring a sinister secret that could affect her, and she is also drawn into the orbit of a stage magician whose illusions might not be just tricks but examples of actual magic.  And there are some minor plot complications just to stir the mix into an even thicker batter.  Vaughn mixes mystery elements, urban fantasy, romance, adventure, and even some good natured humor in her novels and this new title is every bit as good as the ones that preceded it.  If you haven’t tried visiting Kitty’s world yet, you’re overdue. 1/17/09

Defending Angels by Mary Stanton, Berkley, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22496-4

Although this is the first in a new detective series, it also involves the supernatural, and parts of it are dark enough that I'm putting it here rather than in fantasy.  It reminds me a bit of Charlaine Harris crossed with The Ghost Whisperer.  The protagonist is a lawyer who sets up practice near a graveyard filled with murderers.  Shortly afterward, she receives a mysterious telephone call from a man who is already dead, a billionaire whose demise is, obviously, suspicious.  So Bree the lawyer has a dead man for a client, sort of, and a mystery to solve in social circles to which she is not normally admitted.  There are a few marginally creepy scenes and the mystery itself is not bad at all.  The protagonist is appealing and some of the subsidiary characters are quite colorful.  I'll be watching for the second in the series.  Stanton also writes mysteries as Claudia Bishop. 1/12/09

Evil Ways by Justin Gustainis, Solaris, 1/09, $15, ISBN 978-1-84416-593-3 

Quincey Morris, private investigator, returns for his second occult adventure in this follow up to Black Magic Woman.  He and his partner are involved in an investigation concerning the murder of certain benevolent witches when they discover that the trail leads to the operation of an extremely wealthy businessman with unhealthy obsessions.  Walter Grobius has two preoccupations.  First, he wants to re-establish the supremacy of the Caucasian race over America, and second, he wants to invoke a powerful ancient evil and bend it to his bidding.  Grobius should have read enough horror fiction to know that this is not a good idea and that it would have backfired even if the good guys didn’t catch onto what was happening and foil his plans.  One of the better contemporary horror/adventure series. 1/11/09

Castaways by Brian Keene, Leisure, 2/09, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6089-1

 Brian Keene channels the late Richard Laymon in this novel that is a kind of mini-homage to the Beast House series.  A group of people are transported to a remote island with a film crew as part of a new reality show that is transparently Survivor.  What they don’t realize is that the island is not as uninhabited as it was believed to be.  There is a race of subhuman creatures whose females have become increasingly infertile.  In short order they are killing the men and abducting the women, secretly at first but more openly as the story progresses.  There’s a good bit of violence, some modest sex, and a reasonable amount of suspense.  The problem for me was that Laymon’s first novel in the series was shocking, but I didn’t even care for the sequels because once over the initial shock, it wasn’t all that intriguing.  The pastiche has the same problem.  We see too much of the creatures; they don’t come across as particularly scary.  And there are too many victims as well, making it difficult to care about any of them as individuals.  It’s not a bad book, not even Keene’s weakest, but he has done much better. 1/1/09