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

Last Update 3/27/13

The Romanov Cross by Robert Masello, Bantam, 2013, $26, ISBN 978-0-553-80780-6   

Frank Slater is an epidemiologist recently cashiered from the army after he struck a superior officer. He is immediately enlisted in a government project to investigate the possible unearthing of victims of Spanish Flu, thanks to the melting of the Arctic permafrost, and prevent the virus from infecting the world again. Complicating matters include a small group of treasure hunters, a pack of wolves, and a mysterious elderly woman who lives on the island. For the first hundred pages, it reads like a conventional thriller, but then an animated corpse confronts a grave robber and it moves firmly into the supernatural. There is also a subplot about Rasputin and the fall of the Tsar. Although this is an enjoyable thriller, I don’t think it measures up to most of the author’s earlier work. The tension ratchets up very slowly and the incompetence of almost all of the characters began to bother me after a while. Toward the end, I found some of the actions taken by the characters less than credible.  I lost interest in them and didn’t care what happened. As much as I’ve enjoyed the author’s previous works, I think this one has to be judged a failure. 3/27/13

Hunting Daylight by Piper Maitland, Berkley, 2013, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-425-25069-3

Generally speaking, I dislike anything even close to vampire romances. I like my vampires evil and even vaguely disgusting. Sometimes not so vaguely. This quite long novel is about vampires and romance so I didn't expect to like it, but I was pleasantly surprised. It has more of the feel of a thriller and a good deal of tension, although there still isn't much horror. The female protagonist is the apparent widow of a man who went into the jungle searching for a tribe of vampires rumored to exist in secret, and also rumored to be unaffected by daylight. Although she doesn't know it, her own life is about to change in part because of an ancient vampire who has contracted a violent allergic reaction to sunlight and who resents his loss. Obviously their paths will eventually cross and his past will be revealed. The romantic scenes felt awkward to me and the author's style - light and fast paced - did not seem well matched with the subject matter, which should have been darker and more introspective, but none of this was fatal. 3/25/13

The Shape Stealer by Lee Carroll, Tor, 2013, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2599-0

The third adventure of Garet James and the Watchtower. This series felt like fantasy to me at first but it has become increasingly dark since then. The protagonist's job is to protect the world from supernatural and magical dangers - fairies and vampires and such - but her recent activities have actually precipitated a major crisis. A conspiracy involving a demon and the destruction of the global economy blends ancient and contemporary themes. Garet has her allies in the struggle, but the secret battle between good and evil may not remain so secret for long. There's time travel as well and a few plot twists to keep the reader guessing. I found this one a little bit uneven. At times I thought this might be the best in the series to date, but at other times I found the story less gripping than it should have been. I think I may be praising this with faint damns because I actually liked it quite a bit, even if I thought it could have been even better. 3/12/13

The Hunter from the Woods by Robert McCammon, Subterranean, 2012, $35, ISBN 978-1-59606-536-9

Back in 1989 I read a wonderful book called The Wolf's Hour by Robert McCammon, which followed the adventures of a werewolf working for British Intelligence during World War II. This collection of stories - actually an episodic novel, follows the same man's career starting with his recruitment in Russia, followed by a nicely done story in which he helps refugees escape Nazi Germany - although his shapechanging is not a factor at all in this particular adventure. Later he is shot down in the Libyan desert where he and a German pilot have to cooperate in order to survive. His third major adventure is as an undercover agent trying to neutralize a German counteragent. The stories are all first rate and together they cover essentially his entire career, ending with a short piece more than a decade after the end of the war. McCammon has recently concentrated on historical mysteries, which have been very good, but he is at his best when there is at least a touch of the supernatural. 3/9/13

The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly. Atria, 2013, $26, ISBN 978-1-4767-0302-2   

The latest Charlie Parker novel is squarely in the supernatural camp, which is not always the case with this series. Parker learns of a crashed airplane in the woods of Maine which contains a document that is essentially a ledger book of people who sold their souls to the devil. He also discovers that the fallen angel whom he “killed” in a previous book has returned in the body of a child, just as evil and deadly as ever. The opening chapters are a bit unfocused, jumping among various viewpoints, some of which are clearly connected with the main plot, others of which seem initially to have no direct link. Then Connolly steps on the accelerator and the individual story lines start rushing toward their inevitable junction. The recurring characters are all here, although several only make cameos and one of them dies. We learn much more about the mysterious Collector, a little more about fallen angels, discover a puzzling fact about Parker, and encounter a variety of supernatural entities, not all of them evil. Solid, well crafted writing. 3/4/13

Deep Down by Deborah Coates, Tor, 2013, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2900-4

I really enjoyed the first in this series, Wide Open, so I was happy to see this title turn up. Hallie Michaels returned from Afghanistan with an uncanny ability to perceive the supernatural. After the creepy events of the first novel, her ability seems to have receded and she is slowly beginning to adjust despite some awkward relationships. Then she falls into the orbit of a woman who seems to be the potential prey of mysterious black dogs, perhaps hellhounds, and Hallie's  interest in the case takes a frightening turn when they become aware of her. The atmosphere in this one is tense for only a short time before turning to physical adventure and the plot isn't as tightly focused as in the first. It's a reasonably good sequel but not as effective or gripping as its predecessor after the first few chapters. Still worth reading, and I hope for more. 3/3/13

Wolf Hunter by J.L. Benet, Belfire, 2012, $10.99, ISBN 978-1927580035 

I’m not normally a fan of werewolf novels for the same reason that I’m not really a fan of zombie stories – they all tend to use the same plot. Almost every werewolf novel is a mystery in which we have to figure out which of the various characters is the shapechanger. But there are always exceptions. Robert R. McCammon and Guy Endore come immediately to mind, and now J.L. Benet is added to that list. His werewolf is the result of Nazi experiments to create supersoldiers. After the war, the protagonist emigrates to the US where he tries, unsuccessfully, to keep his secret. A local researched investigating the Nazi experiments stumbles uncomfortably close, and there’s another shapeshifter who is determined to wipe out the German bred lycanthropes. There are bits of wartime thriller, contemporary adventure, and even a kind of urban fantasy motif in this always interesting and sometimes surprising thriller. 2/21/13

Blood and Magick by James R. Tuck, Kensington, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7582-7149-5

Third in the Deacon Chalk series, which the publishers says is urban fantasy. I don't have a problem with that label but it feels more like a horror novel to me. Chalk is an agent of the inevitable organization designed to protect the world from supernatural menaces. In this case, his assignment is to stop three evil witches, among other things. Unfortunately, he doesn't always have a choice about his allies and there is at least one government agent who seems just as nasty as the enemies they face. Chalk is also concerned that he is losing his humanity in the process of protecting it, an echo of the Anita Blake series where the continued use of and exposure to dark magic begins to alter the nature of the protagonist. There's lots of action, a bit of a mystery, betrayals, secrets revealed, and a rousing finish. Average of slightly better of its type. 2/12/13

The Blood Gospel by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, Morrow, 2013, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-06-199104-2   

An earthquake destroys Masada in Israel, revealing a tomb in which an eight year old girl was tortured to death during the famous siege. Rupturing the vault releases a poison gas which kills everyone within range except one young boy, who not only survives but finds that his terminal cancer is gone. A joint American/Israeli team has just entered the subterranean chamber when they are attacked by a squad of ferocious, quasi-human soldiers we are told are strigoi, a kind of prototype of modern vampires. Fortunately, they have a superhuman ninja priest with them so the two main characters – a soldier and a female archaeologist – survive. This is the opening of the first volume in the Order of the Sanguines series. I had problems with this right from the start. The torturers are supposedly on the side of good. Any god that would require this sort of thing is not good and certainly not worth worshipping. And why are the soldiers checking an underground chamber for canisters of poison gas armed to the teeth?  The theology is also murky. If a sin is involuntary, or inflicted upon an individual against his will, how can God hold this against them, even take away their souls? Anyway, the tomb once held a book of magical power, but it was stolen by Nazis at some point.  So our heroes are off to recover it. The second half of the novel is more men’s adventure than mystery, and while I found it more entertaining than many similar novels – there’s less weapons porn but more testosterone – I was a bit disappointed that the creepy atmosphere was dispensed with so quickly and easily.  First in a series. 2/1/13

The Uninvited by Liz Jensen, Bloomsbury, 2012, $25, ISBN 978-1-60819-992-1   

This is an interesting blend of psychological horror and near future dystopia. All over the world, incidents in which children engage in fatal violence are on the increase, and no one knows why.  Is it simply a contagious psychological syndrome or is there some physical change in the children that makes them less inhibited? Our scientist hero has to figure things out and eventually does so after a series of adventures and mysteries which he resolves reasonably well. If this hadn’t been written in present tense, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. 1/30/13

Blessed by a Demon's Mark by E.S. Moore, Kensington, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7582-6874-7

The third Kate Redding novel, which falls somewhere between urban fantasy and vampire romance. Redding's job is to hunt rogue vampires that prey on humans in defiance of the rules set to protect their existence. She is thinking about retiring to a more peaceful life, but her involvement with various vampires, werewolves, and even one malevolent demon makes this problematical. To this end, she has assumed a secret identity into which she can sometimes slip as a respite from her day to day activities, but it turns out even her haven is not proof against the forces of evil. This series has shown steady improvement and while it's not going to replace Anita Blake any time soon, Redding would make a worthy colleague. 1/18/13

Shattered Hourglass by J.L. Bourne, Gallery, 2012, $15, ISBN 978-1-4516-2881-4  

Third in a zombie apocalypse trilogy. Volume two was better than the opener, but neither of them really impressed me. This is another military style assault on the zombies, a desperate mission to shift the balance and allow the living a chance to regain control of the world. The prose seems a little better this time around but remains awkward at times, the dialogue stilted. It’s also really an adventure novel rather than horror. There’s no sense of creepiness about the zombies at all. They’re just enemies to be eliminated. It felt a lot like Clive Cussler meets the undead. For zombie enthusiasts and completists only. 1/7/13

The Green Eyes of Bast by Sax Rohmer, Pyramid, 1970 (originally published in 1920) 

Sax Rohmer’s non-Fu Manchu novels are often overlooked, which is a shame because some of them are excellent, including this one, which opens in the form of a murder mystery. A reporter and a police inspector are looking into the death of Sir Marcus Coverly, whose body was found in a crate marked with a green cat, when they discover that more than human players are in the game. The trail leads to a mysterious doctor, a blighted community, and a duel with supernatural evil.  The end is mildly disappointing as the solution is revealed when the villain confesses rather than through the deductions of the investigators, but it’s still a surprisingly effective thriller. 1/4/13

Gunslingers & Ghost Stories edited by David R. Riley, SF Trails, 2012, $12.95, ISBN 978-0615724840   

For some reason the Old West has always struck me as a good setting for supernatural stories, even though in general I don’t care for historical horror. This all original collection bears out my contention, eleven stories of various things that go bump in the saloon or on the range or at the ranch. Most of the contributors were new to me but there are good stories by John Howard, Laura Givens, and a few others, and the rest are all various degrees of readable without any clunkers. Ghost stories are not generally popular in the US for some reason, so this is likely to be doubly out of the ordinary for most readers. 1/3/13

The Sorcery Club by Eliot O’Donnell, Sphere, 1974 (originally published in 1912)   

Three men on the edge of starvation use a book of Atlantean magic to summon an ancient demon and create a pact. In return for a full serving of psychic powers, they must live together peacefully for 21 months, remain bachelors, and fulfill some other minor conditions. If they fail, they become subject to the will of a supernatural force which apparently is less interested in their souls than it is in being able to dictate their actions. For a while they’re very successful, although we know they won’t succeed in the end. Some of the tricks are clever, some routine. The prose is not scintillating and there is some offensive stereotyping, but the book succeeds despite its many faults. 1/2/13

Night of the Scream Queen by Michael McCarty and Linnea Quigley, Dark Moon, 2012, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-9850290-6-7  s301 

Horror writer McCarty teams up with scream queen Quigley for this over the top homage to cheap horror films, about which both have insider information. There’s an unauthorized  military experiment, reptilian human crossbreeds, Hollywood film people, sexy actresses, soldiers, scientists, rock and roll singers, newspaper reporters, and several supporting characters. The plot is almost irrelevant in this send up of horror film clichés, the movie industry, and everything else that lends itself to buffoonery. Having just watched a couple of dozen “classic” horror romps during the last couple of weeks, I was perhaps particularly prepped to enjoy this. Unsubtle humor but still pointed from beginning to end. 1/1/13