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

Last Update 12/7/23

Choice Cuts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, 1968 (from the 1965 French edition) 

This is a completely implausible scientific horror story that is told rather tongue and cheek. A condemned man donates his entire body for some experiments in grafting. It is cut up into seven sections and transplanted, intact, into seven accident victims. But the donor is still alive, though now spread through seven individuals. Each of them complains that the implant has a will of its own, and that they cannot always maintain control. Very silly at times, but an amusing idea for a novel.

Such a Good Baby by Ruby Jean Jensen, Tor, 1982 

A teenage virgin gives birth to an odd child that never cries, has spells in which it appears to be dead, and who frightens a series of nurses away. He has obvious occult powers – can touch people physically from a great distance – and eventually begins killing people who offend him. The pace accelerates toward the end and although we never do find out exactly what kind of creature the infant is, there is no doubt in our minds that he is an inhuman monster. This was considerably better than Jensen’s previous novels. 12/7/23

Tales of Fear and Fantasy by R. Chetwynd-Hayes, Fontana, 1977 

A collection of short horror stories, opening with one in which a would-be suicide finds himself in a cursed town that vanished from the world. A bitter man gets hold of a book of spells but does not realize that his boss has even greater knowledge of the occult. A psychic detective deals with a particularly irritating haunting. Several of these are tongue in cheek and more humorous than horrifying. Love transcends death. A traveling salesman has a unique and unsettling encounter with the supernatural. As usual, the author provides readable short stories that all tend to blend together an hour after you finished the book. 12/2/23

The Girl Who Didn’t Die by Ruby Jean Jensen, Foster, 2023 (originally published in 1975) 

A woman purchases a remote building and, along with some friends, turns it into a lodge, billing it as a haunted venue. But the hype might be correct. The owner is the only person to ever survive driving off a nearby bridge – which is somehow connected to a former owner who sought a kind of discorporate immortality. There are several ghostly events although most of them seem to be rationalized. This was the author’s second novel and there are several awkward sequences that sometimes confuse the reader about what is really happening.  12/2/23

The Night-Ghouls by R. Chetwynd-Hayes, Fontana, 1975 

I read this author mostly piecemeal in anthologies and decided to revisit him more directly. This is an uneven collection. The opening story is a very strange one about an organization that brings the dead back to life and refurbishes them, and it’s meant to be humorous. The next is one of those variants in which the people seeing the ghost discover that they are dead and the “ghost” is alive. “Danger in Numbers” is dark humor. A woman who murdered her husband is astonished when he returns from the grave, attempting to resume his normal life. And no matter how many times she kills him, he keeps coming back. But each return is a distinct body and they sometimes argue with one another. In another a man is driven to kill his wife when he falls in love with a ghost.  A stubborn man refuses to enter the afterlife. A suicide finds himself two centuries in the past and in another body. A psychic investigator untangles a confusing haunting.  11/27/23

The Monster Club by R. Chetwynd-Hayes, NEL, 1976 

This is a collection of loosely related horror comedies involving traditional monsters – vampires, werewolves, and ghouls – and hybrid mixtures of the three. I actually didn’t find them particularly humorous and there were too many obvious jokes. This felt almost as though it had been written for children. Not nearly up to the author’s usual standards. Not only are the stories predictable, but they are almost intentionally predictable. There are no surprises, no variations from standard premises about the various creatures, and no original plots. 11/27/23

Evil Reincarnate by Leigh Clark, Tor, 1994 

I don’t recall ever actual liking a story about reincarnation, although there are a few I can tolerate, like Audrey Rose. This one starts when a court appointed psychiatrist is sent to interview a serial killer. He seems to recognize her and both begin having dreams or memories of events in 16th Century Italy. He was an assassin working for a sorcerer, who still somehow controls him. When he escapes from prison, the tension is ratcheted up a little, but I never really felt any sense of menace or suspense. Not badly written, but not my cup of tea. 10/7/23

The Laughing Man by T.M. Wright, Leisure, 2003 

This appeared as Earthmun in 1995. It had more potential than most of Wright’s novels, but it is hopelessly squandered. The protagonist is a police detective who believes that he can gain insights into his cases by means of a kind of psychic bonding with the corpses of the victims. It seems to work. Then he is assigned to investigate a series of cannibalistic murders, but his already strange personal habits become increasingly bothersome, to his co-workers as well as the readers, and he is eventually relieved of duty. The book ends with a long string of unanswered questions. Some very atmospheric stuff, and the early chapters are pretty good, but as a whole, it’s not a success. 10/2/23

Goodlow’s Ghosts by T.M. Wright, Tor, 1993 

The third adventure of Ryerson Biergarten, psychic detective. There are two cases this time. Sam Goodlow was a private investigator who died after being struck by an unknown driver. A second man is distraught because his wife walked into an abandoned building and never came out. The solution to the latter is that the border between life and the Afterlife are not as firm as believed. Goodlow is able to observe people from his past but cannot interact with them, although Biergarten can communicate with him. Much is left unexplained. Wright’s dependence on atmosphere alone probably means that his work will be swiftly forgotten because it rarely had a strong plot to make it stick in the reader’s memory. 9/27/23

The Ascending by T.M. Wright, Tor, 1994 

Wright’s recurring psychic detective, Ryerson Biergarten, travels to Toronto to search for a missing person. While there he has a psychic vision of a serial killer who cocoons his victims and then hides their bodies inside large apartment buildings. His dismal efforts on the missing person case annoy the local police, so they are reluctant to accept his help on an even more serious investigation. Atmospheric and occasional creepy, but the characters are flat and as usual Wright does not provide much of a story upon which to hitch all of the other elements of a novel. Okay climax, but waited too long for it. 9/27/23

Blood Sabbath by Leigh Clark, Zebra, 1991

The second longish novel by this author was much better written than the first, though a bit overlong and certainly not very original. A teenage girl attends a Wiccan summoning that uses Tarot cards to attract the attention of a demon, who possesses the protagonist. Her flowers wilt, strange winds disturb her rest, her favorite doll bursts into flames, and her boyfriend is nearly killed by a mysterious force when he tries to retrieve the amulet she lost in the swimming pool. Some cartoon level teenage thugs show up in time to get invisibly skinned alive, a family servant is boiled to death in the pool, and Mom finally calls in an occult expert to drive off the demon. Readable, but about a hundred pages too long. 9/21/23

Sleepeasy by T.M. Wright, Leisure, 1993

This is one of Wright’s better books, and it’s as much fantasy as it is horror. The protagonist is a fan of movies about private detectives and when he dies, he finds himself working as a PI trying to track down a man’s missing wife in a small and very strange town. In due course he discovers that he is living in his own wife’s afterlife, not his own, and that he has somehow created a kind of supervillain who has managed to pass through the barriers and return to the land of the living, where he can commit murders to his heart’s content. Our hero has to follow and subdue his creation. 9/20/23

Carter’s Castle by T.M. Wright, Critics Choice, 1983

This is really horror only by courtesy and the inclusion of some evidence of reincarnation. For the most part, it's the authors only adventure story. A plane crashes in a remote part of Southeast Asia. The survivors find a cave where is hidden a fantastic treasure hidden from the Khmer invaders in times past. But the immediate problem is not the treasure but surviving in the wilderness and finding a way to return to or at least establish contact with the outside world, They do, but it takes a long time. Not awful, but not very exciting either. 9/7/23

Little Boy Lost by T.M. Wright, Tor, 1992 

This is arguably fantasy rather than horror. A young boy disappears from a parked car while his older brother is sitting in the other sea. The father’s first wife was murdered and he is still a suspect in that case. The brother had a brief glimpse of a forest even though they were parked at a mall, but it went away immediately. He senses that the dead wife was there. The missing boy has gone into an alternate reality, an explanation which the authorities will not accept, of course. They believe the father murdered his son. The brother eventually crosses into the other world to recover his brother. Uneven, but one of this better novels. 9/4/23

The House on Orchid Street by T.M. Wright, Leisure, 2003 

This is a rewrite of the author’s earlier novel, Carlisle Street. The names have all been changed and a few of the details are different, but it is essentially the same story of a woman who decides she wants to live on her own. She buys a house and moves in, and through flashbacks we know that odd things have happened over the years. The lingering effects of those acts will eventually menace her life. There is nothing indicating that this is not a new work. 9/24/23

The Feeding by Leigh Clark, Leisure, 1988 

This verges on being awful despite reasonably good prose. A family is vacationing near some unexplored caverns in an area where people have been vanishing for generations. Body parts pop up at odd times and in odd places. It all involves a demonic creature and a cult of cannibals. What really spoils the book is the completely unrealistic actions of the characters and the implausible situations. No one from the outside comes to investigate when tour groups find chopped off heads, fishermen find floating human feet, and children disappear into a perilous mine. The protagonist refuses to move his family out of clear danger because he is curious about what might really be going on. The conspiracy is so transparent that only an idiot would not have noticed. 8/26/23

Boundaries by T.M. Wright, Tor, 1990 

When his twin sister is murdered, David Case is devastated. When her lover confesses to the crime and commits suicide, Case decides to pursue him and punish him. He attempts suicide himself, but fails, so he turns to an experimental drug that facilitates out of body experiences. Eventually he reaches the other reality and searches for the spirit of his sister, as well as that of the man he believes killed her. But it has been obvious from the outset that someone else killed her and despite a mild red herring, it is also obvious who the real killer is. More plot than is usual in Wright’s work and an actual concrete climax. 8/25/23

The Last Vampire by T.M. Wright, Leisure, 2001 

This is an unconventional vampire story about the last vampire on Earth as the End Times approach. He is a rodeo performer who was changed by a neighbor into one of the undead. Neither he nor the other characters – nor the author – take any of this particularly seriously, and his life is retold in flashbacks and interviews. There is for all intents and purposes no story line at all, and no climax. There is also a great deal of repetition and some misguided attempts at dark humor. This was a positive chore to finish.  8/25/23

The School by T.M. Wright, Tor, 1990 

One of Wright’s best novels, although it follows the same pattern and has a typically low energy climax. A couple whose only son died in an accident purchase an abandoned school to live in. There were several deaths in the school when it was open and the ghosts of those who died are still there. There are also spirits of people who lived and became adults – still alive – whose childlike earlier selves have somehow manifested themselves there. Odd sounds, sights, and events follow. The atmosphere is quite nicely done but Wright seems to have been unable to find an effective way to bring the story to an end. 8/18/23

The People of the Dark by T.M. Wright, Tor, 1985

Part of the Strange Seed series. It's a pretty standard haunted house story without ghosts. A couple buy a remote house and begin having strange experiences. Their personalities begin to change. They find human remains on the property and hear rumors of death and mutilation. Strange groups of children are spotted in the area, but they are more of the children of the earth from the earlier books, not born from humans but created by the soil. And they aren't very nice. The husband eventually becomes reconciled to the transformation of his wife and the peculiarities of their situation. Okay, but kind of bland. 8/16/23

The Place by T.M. Wright, Tor, 1989 

This is probably my least favorite Wright novel, and generally speaking I'm not among his fans anyway. A psychopathic killer is holding a woman and her child hostage. Her other child has a vividly realized imaginary world that is in some sense real. The killer has his own created place and he wants to find the girl so that they can merge their worlds. Even before that, they begin to infringe on each other. The second half of the novel is a series of surreal scenes which replace the plot and lead to a disappointing conclusion. 8/10/23

They Lurk by Ronald Malfi, Titan, 2023

This is a collection of five unrelated novellas, four of which previously appeared separately as chapbooks. The last is new and is merely good, while the others are very good. The disappearance of three teenagers suggests that a legendary creature is real. A man devastated by his wife's departure has the ultimate split personality. A mysterious madman locks himself in someone's car and eats his own arm. A horde of deadly insects causes the end of the world. A stranded motorist battles a homicidal maniac. Good reading throughout. 8/7/23

Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Canas, Berkley, 2023, $28, ISBN 978-0-593-43672-1

I like my vampires to be evil, not romantic, witty, misunderstood, basically good, or funny. This novel is set in the 1840s along the border between the US and Mexico. There have been tensions between the Hispanics and the Anglos for a long time, but when the US army invades Mexico, it comes to a boiling point. At the same time, the conflict provides a great opportunity for the undead to prey on the vulnerable from both sides. The main protagonist is a woman who survived a vampire attack, but who was believed dead by her then suitor. As the war breaks out, they run into one another once again, with extreme reactions from both - amazement that she is alive and resentment at what she sees as his betrayal. But if they are to survive, they need to put aside their differences.  I was delighted to see this after having read her previous, The Hacienda, which is a ghost story set during the Mexican revolution. Historical horror rarely works for me, but this one definitely succeeeded. 8/1/23

The Island by T.M. Wright, Tor, 1988 

Although this has its creepy moments, they come mostly toward the end, a common problem in Wright’s books. In this case several people were drowned when their house on an island sank into the lake, but they are still moving around and planning revenge against the living. A resort owner and a waterskiing instructor team up to discover the truth behind drownings and disappearances. The exact nature of these revenant creatures is never really revealed. 7/9/23

The Devouring by T.M. Wright, Tor, 1987 

This is a horrible sequel to The Changing. It’s a quasi-vampire novel – actually an evil entity is using a child’s weird interpretation of vampirism in order to periodically change her into a fully adult blood drinker. There are several sequences involving the police that are almost insultingly ridiculous. Our hero finds the child suffering from a bullet wound and calls the police. They quickly learn who shot her and under what circumstances and know that the protagonist was not involved. But they lock him up as a material witness – even though he witnessed nothing. And he has to raise bail to get out. This so undercut the mood that I sped through the rest of the book just to get it over with. 7/1/23