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

Last Update 8/11/22

Last of the Ravagers by Bryan Smith, Deathshead, 2022

A blend of fantasy and horror set in the Old West. A remote desert town is disturbed when a bounty hunter insists that he saw monsters in the desert. Shortly thereafter, a man with magical powers turns up. He wants something from the town, and doesn’t care who dies in the process. Before long they are under siege by the walking dead and other monsters and must fight for their lives. This was actually pretty good, and not as melodramatic as the plot summary might suggest, although it certainly has plenty of physical action. A bit low on suspense, I thought, but otherwise quite enjoyable. 8/11/22

The Lake of the Dead by Andre Bjerke, Valancourt, 2022 (originally published in Norwegian in 1942)

When a friend apparently throws himself into a bottomless lake, a group of his friends travel to his cabin to investigate. There is supposedly an insane ghost who frequents the cabin and a definite insane killer loose in the neighborhood. Despite that, they wander off individually and some of them come to a bad end. It is not entirely clear how much is atmosphere, how much is insanity, and how much is actual supernatural intervention. One of Norway’s most famous movies is based on this but I was unable to secure a copy. 8/10/22

This Creeping Evil by Geoffrey Bennett, Arrow, 1950

Although this starts off as a monster story with a rational basis, it changes halfway through. An earthquake in England releases a kind of giant slug which can create pseudopods that stretch several miles. The slug itself is so big that when it crawls through a city, it destroys literally everything and kills the entire population. The story is narrated by a naval officer who sees it shrug off thousands of bombs and poison. A nuclear weapon blasts it to fragments but they reunite and set off again. The protagonist’s wife is convinced that it is the devil and therefore immune to physical weapons, and eventually we discover that it is indeed a minion of Hell which can only be stopped by praying it away. An okay adventure story becomes progressively sillier. 8/6/22

The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert, Tor, 2006 

Although not badly done in general, this is an overly bloated haunted house story that runs about seven hundred pages, which is about twice what the story deserves. It is full of cliches – the consulting psychic, the grieving mother, cold spots, strange sounds, a cowled figure, etc. This doesn’t say anything new about the plot and takes at least twice as long as usual to do so. I’ve seen the filmed version, and not surprisingly it seems to drag on interminably as well. Herbert had shown hints of originality in the three preceding books, but he abandoned that for a canned plot in this one. 8/2/22

Ash by James Herbert, Tor, 2012  w3161 

Herbert’s final novel completed the Ash trilogy. David Ash is a psychic investigator who has various psychological problems of his own. He is hired to investigate paranormal activity inside a castle that has been repurposed as a kind of sanitarium/refuge for people on the run from the law or with other problems, all of whom are rich or have rich families. The supernatural nature of the events is obvious early on and pervasive. The catastrophic conclusion does not come as much of a surprise because it has become evident early on that the site is essentially damned, even without the legendary curse that was laid on it generations earlier. 8/2/22

The Soul Stealer by Graham Masterton, Head of Zeus, 2022

I was somewhat disappointed by the latest from one of my favorite horror writers. By page fifty I had pretty much figured out the whole story and I was right, including even some minor details. A coterie of Hollywood actors, directors, and producers worship an obscure deity who provides them with success in return for a rather bizarre sacrifice of beautiful young women. The plot is stale and there's really not any new twists. I also had a feeling of unreality for most of the story. The bad guys employ an elite squad from Internal Affairs to enforce their rules, and given that IA tends to be bureaucrats rather than gunmen, I found them implausible. Nor was I convinced that a conspiracy involving scores of people could remain so secret. And the news coverage of the gunfight at a movie studio was unconvincingly shallow. And finally, I found the relationships among the main characters forced and false. 7/31/22

Compulsory Games by Robert Aickman, NYRB, 2016  

Another fine collection of stories most of which avoid explanations for their weird content. The title story is a very odd three way relationship that is very atmospheric but contains no fantastic elements. “Hand in Glove” takes place in a village which is a congregation point for jilted lovers who have apparently killed their former lovers – but they only return there as spirits. “Le Miroir” describes the destruction of a young woman by her mirrors. “No Time Is Passing” is a kind of Rip Van Winkle story set on a riverbank. “Raising the Wind” is a vignette about witchcraft. “Residents Only” is a very strange story about a cemetery that resists change. “Wood” involves people turned into clockwork figures.  “The Strangers” has no explanation of how or why a man’s personality is altered at a peculiar charity gathering. “The Coffin House” suggests that one not take shelter in a strange house. “Letters to a Postman” and the last few very short tales are mostly weird scenes and situations that are never explained. 7/21/22

Nobody True by James Herbert, Tor, 2003  

A man who can travel outside his body returns one night to find that he has been murdered and mutilated by a serial killer who detected his presence and traced it back to his physical form. He wanders around freely, discovers that his wife has been unfaithful, and gives away his identity to the serial killer, who identifies him and attacks his widow and child. The killer can temporarily take control of dead bodies and move them around. The widow manages to kill their attacker and the protagonist animates the body long enough to throw his ex-business partner out of a window. The partner had murdered him as a copycat effort in order to get control of the business. One of Herbert’s better books. 7/18/22

The Late Breakfasters by Robert Aickman, Valancourt. 2016 

The title story in this collection is a novel, mostly a comedy of manners with satiric overtones but also containing elements of the fantastic. It is technically a ghost story, but one might hardly notice. “The Visiting Star” is a fascinating but not entirely resolved story about an aging actress whose two companions do not appear to be human beings. “A Roman Question” is a variation of “The Monkey’s Paw.” A ceremony designed to bring back a man missing in action also brings back his dead friend. “Mark Ingestre: The Customer’s Tale” is a minor piece about a weird hallucination in a barber shop. “Rosamund’s Bower” places a young man in a maze where he confront people he has known and other aspects of himself and learns a good deal about his own character. 7/11/22

The Unsettled Dust by Robert Aickman, Faber, 2014 

Probably the weakest of Aickman’s collections, although it reprints good stories from earlier ones. The title story is also quite inpressive – a kind of haunted manor house in rural England, but with some odd twists. “No Stronger Than a Flower” is a minor piece about a woman who becomes obsessed with her personal appearance, and “The Cicerones” describes a series of hallucinations that affect a tourist in a Belgian cathedral. “The Next Glade” involves a kind of phantom flirter, if not lover. “The Stains” follows the adventures of a man grieving for his wife who finds a mysterious girl on the moors and falls in love, only to discover that she is not what she appears to be.

Once by James Herbert, Tor, 2002 

Although I was glad to see Herbert try something different, this tale of evil fairies is not very good. The first half is too prolonged and some of the scenes are painfully implausible. A man convalescing from a stroke returns to the castle where he spent much of his childhood and has strange experiences in the nearby woods. The fairies eventually help him to battle an evil witch who is using magic and potions to worse the illness of the lord of the manor. The hero discovers he has fairy blood as well and eventually manages to derail the plot. I found this tedious, irritating, unrealistic, and poorly constructed, and the long sex sequences are self conscious and awkward.

The Wine Dark Sea by Robert Aickman, Faber, 2014   

The title story is one of Aickman’s best. A man visits a shunned island in Greece and meets three sorceresses. “The Trains” feels like a ghost story but actually contains no supernatural elements at all. “Growing Boys” is an exaggerated spoof about twin boys who grow so large that they become uncontrollable monsters. “Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen” is quite strange. A man becomes obsessed with a woman he has never met, only spoken to on the telephone. But the calls apparently defy logical explanation. “The Fetch” is actually a banshee, a woman who appears just before there is a death in the family. “The Inner Room” is a doll house which proves to be a reflection of a real building. “Never Visit Venice” is about a pleasant dream that loses its charm when the dreamer tries to make it real. “Into the Wood” is a strange piece about a colony of insomniacs. 7/5/22

Others by James Herbert, Tor, 1999 

This was probably Herbert’s best novel. A damned soul is reincarnated in order to try to redeem himself. As a private investigator, he accepts a case from a woman who claims that her baby was stolen at birth by the hospital, which claimed that it had died. This leads him to track down a midwife, consult with a clairvoyant, deal with his own physical deformities, and experience nightmares and hallucinations in which tortured souls cry out to him for help. There are kidnapped babies, of course, and the doctor heading the operation is using them for a variety of corrupt and perverse purposes. Although the ending is predictable and trite, this was actually the most suspenseful book he wrote, and has the most interesting protagonist Herbert ever created. 7/4/22

Painted Devils by Robert Aickman, Scribner, 1971 

This is partly a cross collection with Aickman’s first two books. “The Houses of the Russians” is about a haunted island in Finland. “Ravissante” is very strange but quite minor – an encounter with the widow of an unusual artist. “Marriage” describes a bizarre sexual interaction, but leaves everything unexplained at the end. “Larger Than Oneself” is a character study rather than a story, set at a gathering of people with religious idiosyncrasies. “My Poor Friend” concerns a politician whose children may not be human. 7/2/22