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

Last Update 9/29/14

Laughing in the Dark by Michael McCarty, Damnation, 2014, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-62929-126-0   

The marriage of horror and humor has usually proven to be an uneasy one, but sometimes a combination of thrills and chuckles works. Author Michael McCarty demonstrates his talent for arranging successful combinations in the majority of these stories, a blend of new and reprint, mostly quite short. There are two dozen stories here in about 150 pages. Some of the titles hint at the jokes – “The Pet Exorcist Files,” “Stephen King and the Pit Bull from Hell,” and “Wile E. Wanker and the Death by Chocolate Manufacturing Plant.: Roald Dahl, Stephen King, William Peter Blatty, W.W. Jacobs, and Mary Shelley are a few of the writers who provide inspiration for these tales. They’ll tickle your funny bone rather than rip it out of your flesh, metaphorically speaking. 9/29/14

The Jonah Watch by Jack Cady, Underland, 2014, $15, ISBN 978-1-63023-002-9  

I read this when it first appeared in 1981 and had a vague recollection of it being my favorite of Cady’s novels, even though it claims to be based in part on actual supernatural events, which assertion almost always turns me off.  Brace is the newest crewmember aboard a Coast Guard ship stationed in Maine. The ship recently lost a crew member named Jensen at sea during an ill advised salvage attempt.  The first hint of the supernatural is when the man left aboard a ship that is being towed insists that the vessel is haunted. The description of life aboard the ship actually works better than the ghostly bits. Cady employs an unusual, oblique form of storytelling which jumps around in time, relies on anecdotes rather than a unified narrative, and which contains authentic nautical terms and traditions, sometimes without quite explaining them. 9/27/14

Mistress of Terror and Other Stories by Wyatt Blassingame, Ramble House, 2014, ISBN 978-1605437600   

Blassingame was not one of the underrated masters of pulp fiction. His stories are generally formulaic, competently written but with no real flair, and most of the supernatural events are rationalized, though not always very plausibly. This collection – which has one of the worst covers I’ve seen in years – contains ten stories from the 1930s.  The first is genuine horror – a mildly interesting vampire story. “Gods Never Die” is ambiguous as to whether a god manifested itself or not and “And Only Death Shall Save” is rationalized and rather boring. “Prince of Pain” is a routine crime story. The crew of a ship are mysteriously struck blind in “The Invisible Horror”, but most of the weird elements are rationalized. The title story involves a haunted box and has an ambiguous ending. “Dictator of the Damned” is an awful story in which a few dozen criminals declare war on the US in an effort to get their own homeland. There’s a creature on a remote island in “Dark Child of Doom” and desperate criminals in “Dark Face of Horror.” The final story, “The Corroding Death,” involves mysterious but rationalized murder. Although this is the best of the three collections of stories I’ve read by Blassingame, that isn’t saying much. 9/22/14

Who Made Stevie Crye? By Michael Bishop, Fairwood, 2014, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-46-0  

I first read this way back when it was first published during the 1980s. It is essentially a horror novel, although neither of the traditional type nor really of the modern era. The protagonist is a writer living in a small town who begins to experience strange phenomena involving her word processor and the repairman she hires to repair it. She has enough to deal with including grieving for her dead husband and caring for her children, while trying to pursue a writing career, and the addition of a supernatural underlayer. There are elements of parody and humor here as the text becomes self referential. It’s one of the author’s strangest novels and I suspect that some readers who only look for the superficial narrative level are going to be very confused, but if you’re willing to invest some effort, you’ll find layers of story interwoven. This hasn’t been available for a long time and a new edition is very welcome. 9/19/14

Washington Deceased by Lisa Morton, Running Press, 2014, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-7624-5462-4

The zombie novel may have reached its decline but it's not dead yet. Or it's still dead but moving. This appears to be part of a multi-author series created by Stephen Jones, although I've never seen the first title by Mark Morris. It's another rationalized one where a plague has caused the dead to rise, but these dead aren't just shambling killers and they threaten to take control of the world. A secret service agent and others struggle to restore control to the living survivors. This isn't badly written and moves well enough, and the nature of the zombies is sufficiently different to provide a slightly different flavor. It just isn't different enough to really stand out. 9/12/14

Cold Hand in Mine by Robert Aickman, Scribners, 1975   

This collection of eight stories opens with “The Swords,” a very peculiar tale in which a young man encounters a carnival show which features a kind of animated female doll. “The Real Road to the Church,” not one of my favorites, is about a woman on a strange island who thinks about her soul. A German nobleman loses the woman he loves in “Niemandswasser” and has visions of a mysterious boat on a patch of lake water which lies beyond all international zones of control. “Pages from a Young Girl’s Journal” is probably his best known story.  A young English girl traveling in Europe at the time of Byron is bitten by a vampire.  A traveler lost in rural England spends a night at a strange establishment in “The Hospice.”  Two children have an encounter with a mysterious dog in “The Same Dog,” after which one is ill for an extended period of time and the other dies mysteriously. Twenty years later he returns, finds the same dog, and sees a grownup version of his childhood friend staring out a window. “Meeting Mr. Millar” is about an odd businessman whose presence haunts residents in a building where he has his business. The final story is “The Clock Watcher.” A man marries a woman who is obsessed with clocks. As with all of Aickman’s collections, the stories are more suggestive than overt, with atmosphere preferred to action. 9/10/14

Painted Devils by Robert Aickman, Scribners, 1979 

This collection of horror stories includes four previously collected in Dark Entries, which I just recently read.  The first of the new stories is “Ravissante.”  It’s not one of Aickman’s better stories. An art fan has an odd interview with the widow of a minor painter.  “The Houses of the Russians” is a deeply atmospheric piece about a young boy who encounters the ghosts of Russians in an isolated Finnish community. “Marriage” is an enigmatic story about a man who gets involved with both of a pair of roommates, who might also be aspects of his own mother.  A woman is inadvertently invited to a party of mystics and nuts in “Larger Than Oneself.” A member of Parliament conceals the existence of his very strange children in “My Poor Friend.” Although all of these are well written, they are generally low to mid-level Aickman. 9/7/14

Through Dark Angles by Don Webb, Hippocampus, 2014, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-084-1

This is a collection of stories and verse directly or indirectly related to the Mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft. There are a couple of dozen entries here ranging from merely readable to quite good, and several of them capture the feel of a Lovecraft story notably well. I was particularly fond of "To Mars and Providence," "The Man Who Scared Lovecraft," "Sanctuary," and "Wilbur's Brother." Several of the stories date back to the mid-1990s and I was rather surprised to realize they'd never been previously collected. Webb's prose is clear and concise and he does not affect the formal style normally associated with HPL. His stories are more dependent on plot generally and less on atmosphere, although this isn't always the case. It's a very nice collection overall and long overdue. 9/4/14

Dark Rock Chronicles by Marco Guadalupi, Diego, 2014, ISBN 978-0-99264543-1-4  

The members of a rock band unwisely get involved in a burglary attempt which eventually leads to their involvement with a demon. The demon forces them to compete in a battle of the bands that has deadly consequences for the losers. They need to win the tournament and, if possible, outwit the demon. This has the feel of a comic book rather than a novel and English is obviously not the author’s first language, although there’s no problem understanding what’s taking place. The tone is pretty light for a horror novel despite the occasional horrible events but it’s a little too dark to be considered even urban fantasy. 8/31/14

The Wine-Dark Sea by Robert Aickman, Faber, 2014, £8.99, ISBN 978-0-571-31172-9 (originally published in 1988) 

 Aickman’s horror stories are always understated, more strange than horrifying, and in fact they rarely involve violence. The title story of this collection is one of Aickman’s best. A tourist visits a Greek island shunned by the locals and encounters three women who claim to be sorceresses and who tell him the island itself is alive. “Trains”, which is also excellent, involves two young women on a hiking tour who stay one night with a peculiar man obsessed with railway lore.  “Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen” relates the experiences of a man who falls in love with a disembodied voice on the telephone, which turns out to belong to a dead woman. There’s an element of the absurd in “Growing Boys,” wherein two oversized teenagers because a menace to their community.  A man’s life is plagued by tragedy due to the intercession of a spectral woman in “The Fetch.”  A mysterious dollhouse manifests itself as a real building in “The Inner Room.” A man with a recurring dream about Venice makes the mistake of going there and encounters a supernatural being in “Never Visit Venice.” The final and longest story is “Into the Night.”  A woman traveling with her husband in Sweden stays briefly at a hostelry that caters to insomniacs, and develops insomnia herself.  An excellent collection from beginning to end. 8/28/14

Dark Entries by Robert Aickman, Faber, 2014, £7.99, ISBN 978-0-571-31177-4 (originally published in 1964) 

Robert Aickman is one of my very favorite horror story writers despite a relatively small body of work. This was, I believe, his first collection, starting with “The School Friend,” in which a woman encounters someone from her school days who has changed into a very strange and disturbed person, and who has a bizarre and never explained pregnancy.  As is the case with most of Aickman’s fiction, the story paints a picture of the setting so intensely that it feels like I have actually been there, even though this is one of his lesser stories. It is followed by one of his best, “Ringing the Changes.” Two newlyweds are at an inn in a remote town on the night when the local churches ring the bells loud and loud enough to literally raise the dead. “Choice of Weapons” is an enigmatic story about a man who becomes obsessed with a strange woman who claims to be engaged to a man she sees in the mirror, except he sees the man as well, eventually fights him with swords, but after he has dealt the figure a mortal blow, it transforms back into that of the woman. “The Waiting Room” is the weakest in the collection. A man who slept through his stop waits overnight in a deserted train station whose waiting room has been built over the site of an old prison, and he has visions.  In “The View” a convalescing man accepts an invitation to stay at the remote house of a mysterious woman, and he discovers that the view from his window differs from one day to the next.  A woman discovers strange things about her fiancé in “Bind Your Hair.”  A top notch collection. 8/22/14

The Leaping by Tom Fletcher, Quercus, 2010

The Thing on the Shore by Tom Fletcher, Quercus, 2011

The Ravenglass Eye by Tom Fletcher, Jo Fletcher, 2012 

I discovered this British horror writer during my recent trip to London. The three novels are very loosely related – the first two have a common setting and one common character and the third makes some references to events in the others. The first two are rather similar in that they involve groups of young adults who work at a call center and drink a lot when not indulging in their various neuroses, which usually involve troubled feelings about their parents, worry about cancer, and an uncertain sexual life. In the first, two of the characters move to a remote house, then invited the others for a party at which everyone is killed by a rather bizarre variation of werewolf transmogrified by mythology. It’s quite good although it leaves rather a lot of unanswered questions. This latter problem is more evident in the second, which has more vivid imagery but which involves a sinister corporation’s efforts to summon a demonic figure in order to screw up their competitors, which seems pretty paltry stakes considering they’re endangering the entire world in the process. The third is the weakest, and not just because it uses my personal bugaboo, present tense narration. The protagonist is a young woman with second sight who makes a deal with a quasi-satanic figure to have more control of her visions in order to prove that a local man is a murderer. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that she is killing various innocent people in order to obtain her objective, and the present tense is particularly bad when we’re talking about suspense. I will read more by this author, however, if I can find it. One small complaint though. At one point the author explains that oxygen only exists on planets where there is life, because only living things can produce oxygen. What does he think living things were breathing to start with? One should not introduce complicated metaphors concerning things about which one knows very little. 8/21/14

Black Magic Woman by Eric Wilder, Gondwana, 2014, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-9791-1657-5

It's not the author's fault, but when you misspell "malaria" on the back cover, you suggest amateurism. The novel is about voodoo in New Orleans. The city is under a curse which comes to light when the protagonist sees a ghost, mentions it to a voodoo follower, and eventually learns that he is linked to a French aristocrat from the past and that he is the only one who might be able to avert a disaster, and then only if he acts quickly. Other than an occasional choppiness in the dialogue, the prose is quite good and the story was well constructed. Despite the melodramatic plot, this is relatively low key and slower paced than I would have expected, and that provides a chance for more local atmosphere and less thud and blunder. 8/5/14

The Complete Tales of Doctor Satan by Paul Ernst, Altus, 2013  

Doctor Satan was a costumed supervillain who used both scientific and occult powers to advance his plans. In his debut story he uses seeds which are designed to blossom in a matter of hours so that his victims have small trees growing out of their heads. He has an arch enemy, a good guy with similar grasp of extraordinary knowledge, and the stories are mostly about their battles. The stories, which originally appeared during the 1930s, were uniform in length and plot and as the introduction says, they are rather repetitive if read consecutively (I took a couple of breaks). They are also rather poorly written, with less flavor even than Doc Savage, and I’m not surprised the series was unpopular and died quickly. In various adventures he learns how to harness the power of lightning, mysterious fires, and other oddities. This falls somewhere between SF and horror but it’s so formulaic and uninteresting that it deserves its fall into obscurity. 8/2/14

Death Underground by Wyatt Blassingame, Altus, 2012 

This is a collection of three novelettes from the weird menace pulps, which usually had a supernatural feel but often ended up with a mundane explanation. John Pelan’s introduction notwithstanding, Blassingame was not as skilled a writer as Lovecraft. The first is “Ghouls of the Green Death” in which a detective investigates a series of disappearances against the backdrop of a new fatal disease that leaves its victims with green skin.  The second, “We Danced With Death!” is considerably better, describing how a group of people succumb to a curse after witnessing a quasi-voodoo rite. It’s another exotic disease and the last few pages are awful. The title story involves mysterious deaths in a mine and it’s the best of the set, with a reasonably plausible rationalization.  7/25/14

A Plague of Echoes by Maynard Sims, Samhain, 2014, $15, ISBN 978-1-61921-986-1 

Department 18 is a branch of the British government that deals with supernatural events. When an elderly woman is possessed and attempts to assassinate the head of that organization, there is turmoil among the rank and file. Among other things, the possessing force appears to be human and not a demon. As various subplots unfold we discover that a businessman has organized a secretive organization and he is behind the possessions and intimidations aimed at the staff of Department 18. No one knows whom to trust, not even themselves. The duel between the two forces mounts in violence, and there are schisms within both sides as well. More of a crime novel than horror but it's suspenseful and occasionally surprising. 7/5/14