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

Last Update 6/28/23

The Changing by T.M. Wright, Tor, 1985 

First in a series of four about parapsychologist Ryerson Biergarten, originally published as by F.W. Armstrong. This one is about a werewolf prowling a gigantic manufacturing complex. It’s a fairly standard werewolf novel – the puzzle is to identify which of several characters is the creature, and several of them have glaringly obvious attributes to make them suspicious. The end is rather diffuse and the nature of the lycanthropy involved is never really explained. Starts of well but this one falters in the long term. The author seems to have had a sense of a different kind of werewolf story, but somewhere during the execution it reverted to type, perhaps because his attempt to fool the reader actually had the opposite effect. 6/28/23

Carlisle Street by T.M. Wright, Tor, 1983 

This is a very peculiar and sometimes rather opaquely atmospheric novel about a woman who escapes from an abusive relationship by buying a small house in a small town. Her brother promptly disappears and one of the local police officers thinks she may be responsible – although their interaction is far from realistic. Her travails are interspersed with flashbacks to fifty years earlier when a serial killer lived on Carlisle Street. For some reason, at least one of his victims briefly returns to life. Most of this is a pretty suspenseful story but there are some puzzling scenes that don't seem to fit in with the narrative. 6/10/23

The Waiting Room by T.M. Wright, Tor, 1986 

Sequel to A Manhattan Ghost Story, in which a newcomer to New York discovers that the border between the world of the living and that of the dead is not as distinct as he thought it was. A friend arrives and is infected by the same ability to perceive and interact with the world of the dead. He tries to escape from the situation, eventually leaving New York, but there is no escape. He runs into an entire village of quasi-zombies and a car full of living and dead murderers before finally finding a way to pull his friend back into the world of the living. The ending is rather abrupt and it is not nearly as good as its predecessor, but it was still a sign of Wright’s improvement as a novelist. 6/7/23

A Manhattan Ghost Story by T.M. Wright, Tor, 1984  

This was the first novel by Wright that I actively enjoyed. A photographer moves to New York City where an encounter with a psychic enables him to interact with ghosts, although he has no idea that they are not living people. The first half is quite subtle but not slow moving at all, and the sense of weirdness grows steadily stronger as the story progresses. The ending is a bit weak and it’s not really clear how the ghosts can interact physically and even change the reality experienced by the living, but this is one of those rare cases where the lack of an explanation does not really harm the story’s effect. First in a loosely connected series. 6/2/23

The Playground by T.M. Wright, Tor, 1982 

A small, remote village has become the gathering spot for practitioners of the occult – mediums, psychics, fortune tellers, etc. When a traffic accident causes the death of a dozen children, the occultists decide to pool their talents and bring the children back from the dead. There are vague sightings and ominous hints, and then all of the adults disappear without explanation. And that’s the end of the story. No climax. No explanation. No catharsis. I rarely feel this cheated by a story. 5/22/23

The Woman Next Door by T.M. Wright, Playboy, 1981 

This is one of Wright’s better books, although it is not entirely clear what is going on. An obviously insane woman abuses her child and eventually murders her husband, who has apparently been seduced by a ghost. Her next door neighbor was crippled by a sadistic babysitter when she was an infant. The first woman is claustrophobic and there are things about her house that are supernatural – cold spots, etc. A local boy has visions, particularly when he is near the woman. All of this churns forward with reasonable dispatch to a series of violent events that bring the plot to a close. There are too many unanswered questions for this to be entirely successful, but parts of it are very effective. 5/17/23

The Children of the Island by T.M. Wright, Jove, 1983 

Third in the Strange Seed series. The band of supernatural children has decided that Manhattan belongs to them so they get together and move from their rural home to the island, where they engage in attacks on normal humans, sometimes individual murders, sometimes mass assaults. They underestimate the violence of humanity, however, and the panicking population buys lots of guns and becomes so paranoid that they are more than a match for the children, despite the mental powers that enable them limited control of their enemies. It appears this was meant to end the series, but there were two later books. 5/10/23

Nursery Tale by T.M. Wright, Playboy, 1982 

Second in the Strange Seed series. There is a bit more plot this time and a lot larger cast of characters. The creatures that menace a remote housing development look like children, but they are actually a kind of supernatural predator. The new residents have hallucinations, irrational fear, and a habit of getting into fatal accidents. Several of them, particularly children, disappear entirely. Arson is a recurring problem. The characters are a bit more interesting this time but we still really don’t understand the nature or limitations of the child things.  5/6/23

Strange Seed by T.M. Wright, Tor, 1978 

First in a series. A couple move into the husband’s remote family home, where his father died under mysterious circumstances. A neighbor tries to warn them about the feral children – who aren’t really children but a kind of vampiric creature generated by the earth itself. The children can control the minds of others, eat people, and act mysteriously. There is a good deal of atmosphere in the novel, but not a great deal of plot. The couple eventually decides to flee the area, but it is too late by then and they are killed. It is impossible to understand some of their mental processes even before they fall under the supernatural influence. 4/27/23

Masters of Horror Volume 5 by Thorp McClusky, Armchair, 2023 

McClusky wrote several stories for Weird Tales and a few that appeared elsewhere. He was very traditional and none of his stories are particularly memorable. His plots were particularly weak at times. This collects most of his better work in one volume, which frankly only emphasized for me how minor a writer he was. He never produced an actual novel though he did have a short series about a kind of amateur occult detective. Sometimes there are good reasons why an obscure writer remains obscure. 4/12/23

The House at Phantom Park by Graham Masterton, Head of Zeus, 2022

An abandoned hospital is scheduled to be redeveloped as living space. Two people sent to survey the property are struck down mysteriously and one of them is convinced that he is a soldier wounded in Afghanistan, who has subsequently died. The incidents escalate with exploding bodies, spontaneous human combustion, contagious paralysis, and voices, images, and strange sounds. The supernatural beings native to Afghanistan have decided that all veterans of wars there must suffer forever, and they are determined to destroy anyone who might interfere with their fate. Grisly, relentlessly chilling, and occasionally surprising, this is one of the best of the author's recent novels.

Sherlock Holmes & Mr Hyde by Christian Klaver, Titan, 2022

A series of murders has led to suspicion that Edward Hyde is a serial killer. Dr. Jekyll hires Sherlock Holmes to find the real killer, bur obviously the situation is more complex than even the great detective initially realizes. The author - who has previously matched Holmes with Dracula - adds some further elements including a secret society to give the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel some additional dimensions. This is a better than average period mystery adventure story. 2/7/23

Child of Hell by William Dobson, Signet, 1982

A Stephen King clone by Michael Butterworth, sort of a cross between Carrie and Firestarter. A poorly socialized young boy discovers that he can start fires with his mind and is soon using his power to avenge himself on real and perceived enemies. He eventually manages to burn himself to death. There is surprisingly little empathy for the boy and the plot is too predictable to generate any real suspense. Has the feel of something the author knocked off ocver a long weekend to pay some bills. 2/6/23

Ghostwritten by Ronald Malfi, Titan, 2022

A collection of four novellas, linked only thematically - each of them involves a book. The best is "This Book Belongs to Olo," in which a boy creates a model of his house, with which he can modify reality and shunt people into magical imprisonment. Second best is "The Skin of Her Teeth," wherein a malevolent woman imprints her spirit into the novel her son is writing. The story will not tolerate any alterations, much to the woe of those who try to adapt it for the screen. The other two are readable but not as engrossing. 1/30/23

Lori by Robert Bloch, Tor, 1989

A rare horror novel from Bloch, in which a young woman discovers evidence that she might have lived before. Her parents are murdered by the family lawyer, to cover up his embezzlement, but he is also murdered. A psychic tries to help her and is immediately killed by a malevolent supernatural power. Her dreams show glimpses of another life and she is occasionally paranoid about her doctors and even her boyfriend. The police investigate in the background, though she is not a suspect. This was my favorite Bloch novel. 1/27/23

Strange Eons by Robert Bloch, Pinnacle, 1979

Most of Bloch's novels were straightforward suspense, and this was his first to be overtly horror. A collector stumbles across a painting of a monster which is later identified as the source for Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model." This leads to further exploration and some gruesome deaths as he discovers that Lovecraft was not writing fiction exactly but actually warnings about the danger with which humanity is faced by the possible return of godlike creatures that once ruled the world. There are some clever incorporations of HPL plots into the story, which unfortunately sometimes feels more like a parody than a pastiche. 1/16/23