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

Last Update 10/23/21

The Howling II by Gary Brandner, Gold Medal, 1978 

The sequel to the first book has no relationship to the sequel to the movie. The protagonist of that book thought that her werewolf husband and his lover were both killed in a fire, but they both survived and they want revenge. Assisted by cooperative gypsies, the two shapechangers track down the protagonist despite more than one attempt to lose herself. When they close in the kill, a number of bystanders die in her place, and eventually she and a friend appear to have killed the horrific duo for good. But there is, of course, a third book in the series. 10/23/21

Gloria by Bentley Little, CD, 2021, $25, ISBN 978-1-58767-789-2

I confess that I sometimes have trouble getting into this author's novels. He frequently creates a world that is just slightly off, and in a direction that for me causes difficulty accepting events as credible. That is not the case in this rather unsettling novel. The protagonist is understandably distraught when her dead mother returns from the grave, not only alive but noticeably younger. Although she recognizes her, most other people do not, which does actually create some degree of unreality. But this is not an isolated break in reality. There is a group of people who apparently have plans for her, plans which will shake her perceptions completely, and her mother is not the only example of a return from the "dead." The difference here  for me is that the protagonist acknowledges and struggles with the flaws in reality whereas in some of the other novels, they ignore them or accept them as perfectly normal. 10/20/21

The Cat People by Gary Brandner, Gold Medal,  1982 

This is a novelization of the remake of the classic movie. There are some changes from the movie, but the basic plot is the same. A brother and sister are actually were-leopards, descended from an ancient mating with feline gods. A zoo keeper gets involved when the brother begins attacking and killing people while in cat form, and further involved when he and the sister – who does not know her nature – begin to feel sexually attracted. There are some awkward elements that Brandner did not correct but it’s not an awful story. 10/16/21

Grave Reservations by Cherie Priest, Atria, 2021, $26, ISBN 978-1-9821-6889-6  

The protagonist of this psychic police procedural is a self employed travel agent who has some psychic talent which usually manifests itself while she’s singing karaoke. When a vague uneasiness causes her to reroute a client – a police officer – she saves him from being involved in a plane crash. Convince that she is genuine, he enlists her help in unraveling a troublesome double murder which seems destined never to be solved. She agrees because she hopes that he will then take a look at the unsolved murder of her fiancé three years earlier. But naturally the two cases are linked. Nothing particularly surprising here except that it is a lot more restrained melodramatically than is most of the author’s other novels. It is, however, a very pleasant book despite the dire subject matter – and some fresh murders. I suspect this is the first in a series. 10/14/21

Hellborn by Gary Brandner, Gold Medal, 1981 

This was pretty routine. A young woman is the reincarnation of one promised to a demon ages ago. The demon is summoned by a local club and begins jumping from body to body in an attempt to claim its bride. There is an occultist, but he does little to help. There’s a boyfriend who doesn’t believe in that stuff, and he does even less. Ultimately it turns out she has more powerful occult abilities than the demon, which is not only a crappy way to solve the problem in literary terms, but makes no sense in that the demon would certainly not have chosen her. 10/7/21

The Color Out of Time by Michael Shea, DAW, 1984 

Shea’s pastiche of Lovecraft is not nearly as good as his Jack Vance. Two aging professors are vacationing at a lake when they discover that the animal and plant life in the area is mutating. They begin to see a previously unknown color – which is impossible – and conclude that the lake water is contaminated. In fact, the two park rangers are seriously ill and both subsequently die.  They team up with a woman who lived in the area as a child and target a well on a farm that is now underwater, and which is the home of the alien being who is causing the problems. They also discuss the Lovecarft story, “The Color Out of Space,” which is supposedly based on an earlier wave of terror in the same region. 10/3/21

Walkers by Gary Brander, Gold Medal, 1980 

A woman drowns in a swimming pool but balks at crossing to the world of the dead. She is warned that the dead will come after her just before she returns to her body and makes a miraculous recovery. Thereafter, freshly dead bodies reanimate themselves and set out to track her down. They can only attack her four times, for some reason, and she is able to avoid the first three quite easily. What she thinks is the fourth attack is, coincidentally, just a living person who is crazed, so the fourth attack is almost successful. Reminded me of the Final Destination movies. 9/28/21

The Haunting of Blackwood House by Darcy Coates, Poisoned Pen, 2020 (originally published in 2015) 

This is a reasonably competent but quite routine haunted house story. A woman who was raised by occult practitioners and is skeptical of the whole idea moves into a house where a terrible murder took place. She discovers she is sensitive to the uneasy spirit that still resides there. Feels as though this was written for young adults. The characters are flat and despite the eerie events - which are nothing out of the ordinary for this kind of story, , there is very little atmosphere. 9/23/21

Blackbone by George E. Simpson and Neal R. Burger, Dell, 1985 

A German submarine officer ingests a djinn shortly before being captured. Possessed, he is sent to a POW camp in Montana that coincidentally is shaped like a pentagram, thus trapping the djinn. It can take the shape of whatever it wants, thus scaring various characters, but can only emerge from the body during the darkness. An archaeologist suspects the truth and is hot on its trail with a pentagram shaped flask and a magical amulet, but one of the guards at the camp is just as evil as the djinn, and his machinations complicate matters. The cover is dreadfully dull and does not identify the genre or anything about the book. It was their last novel even though they lived twenty years afterward. 9/18/21

The Howling by Gary Brandner, Gold Medal, 1977 

This was the inspiration for a series of four movies, the first and fourth of which were loosely based on the novel. A couple moves to a small town so that the wife can over the psychological problems developed after she was raped. Strange events begin to happen around them, and the town has a bad reputation with its neighbors. At first it appears that there is a werewolf involved, but eventually we discover that the entire community consists of werewolves, who are not exactly the same as those in most werewolf movies. The conclusion and a great deal of the detail differ from the movie versions so don’t expect the protagonist to turn into a werewolf on live television, as happens in the first movie. A bit predictable but not badly done. 9/15/21

Bloodless by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Grand Central, 2021

The latest Pendergast novel is SF but has horror elements as well. Two bodies have been found in Savannah, each entirely drained of blood. The investigation reveals that one of the victims had been making a fortune on the stock market and had never once lost money on a trade, even over the course of years. What is the connection to the mysterious woman living in the penthouse of a restored hotel, and why is there a prologue about the famous real life case of D.B. Cooper, who extorted money and jumped from an aircraft, never to be found? I won't spoil the ending but it is definitely science fiction. There are some creepy scenes in a cemetery as well. 9/13/21

The Demon by Jeffrey Sackett, Bantam, 1991  

Aka Grogo the Goblin. A freakish man recently retired from a carnival is lynched after a child is found murdered. Unfortunately for the townspeople, the lynching didn’t work and the grotesque wants revenge for the death of his friend and companion. Murders follow, mostly appearing to be mundane despite their ferocity but eventually we discover that the companion used his mental powers to keep Grogo under control. He is actually a genuine demon and he is on the rampage. Dull. 9/8/21

Mark of the Werewolf by Jeffrey Sackett, Bantam, 1990

A large organization of white supremacists accidentally capture a werewolf and decide to study it so that they can raise an army of invulnerable killers. The werewolf is thousands of years old and cannot be killed by anything, even silver, except supposedly he can die at the hands of a vampire. Lots of flashbacks as they try to figure out his origin. He ends up escaping, killing the bad guys, and in a brief epilogue stows away to another planet. Some surprising twists but very slow moving. 9/6/21

Empty Graves by Jonathan Maberry, Wordfire, 2021, $20.99, ISBN 978-1-68057-223-0 

This is a collection of zombie stories, some related, some not, all drawing on the George Romero version of zombies rather than the voodoo one. It is rather surprising that the author finds so many variations on the theme, but the stories are rarely repetitive and generally more entertaining than I would have expected from a theme that has seen so many books and stories already. There were only a couple that I’d read before, which certainly helped. These do not all have upbeat endings, as you might expect, and some of them are predictable. There are even moments of – mostly bizarre – humor. “Jack and Jill,” “Jingo and the Hammerman,” and “A Small Taste of the Old Country” are all quite good, and I also liked “Son of the Devil.” 9/3/21

Blood of the Impaler by Jeffrey Sackett, Bantam, 1989  

Having done witches and mummies, the author now turns to vampires in this sequel to Dracula.  The heir to the Harker fortune begins feeling a lust for blood, finds sunlight painful, and cannot drink consecrated wine. He reads an old diary that tells him that his bloodline has been contaminated by Dracula. To confirm this, he unearths and reanimated Lucy Westenra. This convinces him that the only way to get rid of the curse is to remove Dracula’s bones from his homeland and scatter them abroad. He manages to do so after some difficulties, but the final page suggests that the curse remains. 9/3/21

Candlemas Eve by Jeffrey Sackett, Bantam, 1988 

This was a rather boring story about a reincarnated witch who dominates a rock musician whose popularity is declining. Her magic allows him to regain his lost stature, but the cost could be terrible for himself and his children. The depictions of the music industry and television interview shows are both unconvincing. The characters are pretty flatly drawn and their motivations are not always apparent. The rock and roll vs horror theme had already become aa cliché when this appeared. Worst of all, it is far too long a book for its story. 8/24/21

Stolen Souls by Jeffrey Sackett, Bantam, 1987 

Seven mummies have been concealed by a British aristocrat for decades, but his heir decides to sell them to an American museum. Unfortunately, these are not ordinary mummies. They are immortals in a kind of stasis, who can be restored to life by drinking the souls of the living. A secretive cult sends an emissary to ensure that this happens. This was a not awful first novel, although there are some awkward spots. It is not nearly as suspenseful as it should have been and the villains are lacking in stature. 8/20/21

Under Twin Suns edited by James Chambers, Hippocampus, 2021, $25, ISBN 978-1-61498-331-6

I'm being somewhat arbitrary listing this as a horror anthology. It's really dark fantasy with hints of both horror and science fiction. The stories are meant to be homages to Robert W. Chambers and the world he created in The King in Yellow, his best known work. I am not particularly an admirer of that book, chiefly because I find the plots poorly structured and meandering. That fault is not present in this collection, which includes work by Linda Addison, John Langan, Darrell Schweitzer, Ann Schwader, and other. They are described as "alternate histories" in that they rather freely adapt Chambers' original vision. Although more than half of the names on the contents list were new to me, I found the quality pleasantly consistent. Particularly good for those who enjoy a tale with a heavily exotic atmosphere. 8/15/21

The Virgin and the Vampire by Robert J. Myers, Pocket, 1977 

A pretty much benevolent vampire in 19th Century Washington is disturbed by some gruesome murders that appear to have been committed by another of her kind. At first it appears this will be a kind of mystery, with the protagonist tracking down the other vampire. His identity is revealed fairly quickly and much of the novel is actually a series of conversations about different types of vampirism and the philosophy of their kind. It becomes progressively less interesting as it goes along. 8/13/21

The Cross of Frankenstein by Robert J. Myers, Pocket, 1975 

The author wrote only three novels over the course of a three year period, then dropped from view although he lived another thirty years. This is the usual variation. Dr. Frankenstein’s illegitimate son becomes a doctor and is enlisted in a plan to make artificial blood for the monster, who is now living in America. The protagonist – who is not a nice person – is kidnapped to Virginia where the monster has gathered a group of followers, although there are divisions there as well. The story ends with the monster apparently drowning in a river, but he was back for a sequel. 8/9/21

The Slave of Frankenstein by Robert J. Myers, Pocket, 1976 

Thirty years after its prequel, Victor Frankenstein is still living in the US. He knows the monster is still alive because he receives occasional threatening letters. Now a direct threat against his daughter demands that he visit Harpers Ferry, where John Brown is about to be hanged. Does the monster plan to rescue or reanimate Brown?  This was actually quite boring. Nothing much happens and everyone talks too much. 8/9/21

Come With Me by Ronald Malfi, Titan, 2021 

The supernatural content in this very fine novel is minimal but that doesn’t mean it isn’t extremely suspenseful and a bit unnerving. The protagonist discovers that his wife – killed in a random shooting incident – was secretly trying to track down a brutal serial killer. He follows in her footsteps despite the opposition of some police officials and the skepticism of various people, aided ever so slightly by what appear to be faint ghostly interventions by his wife. He also discovers that she lied to him about other parts of her life. Her dead mother is still alive, her drowned sister was actually strangled, and she owns a handgun despite her claim to hate such things. Very tightly plotted, it has a puzzle that reveals itself logically and progressively. One of the best suspense novels I’ve read in recent months – perhaps years. Fans of the Mr. Mercedes series by Stephen King should love this. 8/4/21

Mr. Cannyharme by Michael Shea, Hippocampus, 2021 

This vaguely Lovecraftian novel was written forty years ago and I’m not sure why it hasn’t been previously published. The setting is a broken down San Francisco hotel, home to drug addicts, prostitutes, and other broken people. The main character is the night clerk, who writes romance novels and sells drugs. Something evil resides in the hotel, and it won’t take long to realize that Mr. Cunningham – see the title – is the source. His room is bigger inside than it should be. He has lived there for at least seventy years, and he was old and deformed right from the outset. He hands out poems which have strange importance for some people. The night clerk is suddenly drawn into a mesh of weird events – hallucinations, changes of personality, even deaths – while having mundane problems as well, thanks to having quarreled with a pimp who has powerful friends. Very atmospheric and slyly creepy. 8/4/21

Full Throttle by Joe Hill, Morrow, 2020

This collection contains horror and fantasy stories including a couple of collaborations with Stephen King. They vary quite a bit. One is simply a series of tweets, an amusing but not otherwise very interesting story. The collaboration is a riff on Richard Matheson's "Duel," and is very nice. The horror elements are generally understated  and the fantasy is contemporary rather than mythic. Dead dinosaurs, werewolves, and other wonders await you within these pages, which contain a surprisingly varied group of tales. 8/3/21

The Devil’s Coin by Mark Manley, Zebra, 1990  w2580 

A young boy finds one of the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas and acquires various supernatural powers with which he kills the school bully and then others as he is driven to find the other 29. There’s the germ of a good idea lost somewhere in this one, but the delivery is so over the top and single toned that it lacks suspense, and the boy is pretty much a monster even before he is transformed. The story of the coins is implausible as well – stolen by Nazis. This was the author’s final novel insofar as I can tell. 8/3/21

Ghostboat by George E. Simpson and Neal R. Burger, Dell, 1976 

A submarine sinks after a strange disturbance in the water during WW2. One man survives when he is thrown overboard. Thirty years later, the submarine resurfaces in pristine condition but with no one aboard.  The Navy agrees to try to recreate its final voyage to discover what may have happened, a somewhat unlikely scenario, and the new crew slowly becomes possessed by the old one. The ship itself may be displaced in time. Only the survivor can see the actual ghosts of his old shipmates, and he knows the submarine has come back for him, that he should have died that day long before. Very suspenseful and nicely paced. 7/30/21

Sorcerer by Mark Manley, Popular Library, 1988  

A tedious, repetitious, and generally uninteresting story about the battle between two factions of psychics. They can generate very realistic illusions, read minds, and communicate telepathically. One group is roughly good and the other patently evil. A number of people – most of them latent psychics who are desirable recruits – are caught up in the conflict. So much of the story is not “real” that the story itself becomes encumbered by its own premises and verges on becoming outright silly. 7/28/21

Throwback by Mark Manley, Popular Library, 1987  

An absolutely awful novel about a line of women who supposedly give birth from their spines after menopause, and this is supposed to be a throwback to ancient humans where this was common. The woman in question hears inner voices, reacts violently, and the growth – which moves away from a scalpel – regrows almost immediately when it is removed. And she is in telepathic contact with her daughter. Mercifully this was pretty short. 7/26/21

The Closed Circle by Barry Parrish, Playboy, 1976  

The last horror novel by George Wolk – the others appeared as by Heinrich Graat. It’s not very good. A woman suddenly begins to display a second personality at night, and she appears to be psychically linked to the captives and victims of a group of actors who have created a Satanist cult. Her revelations leak to the press and the cult hires an assassin to kill the reporter involved, then one of the psychiatrists in order to gain entry to the clinic. His effort to kill Lila fails and the cult is exposed. Pretty boring despite some explicit sexual content. 7/23/21

Blood Sisters by Mark Manley, Charter, 1985  

Tolerable, but not engaging. Two brothers discover that their mother’s account of their family history is a complete fabrication. She is actually the head of a chain of immortal females who gain their powers through sacrificing male children, husbands, etc. to a demon. They are slated to be victims as well. Although they discover the truth, the coven are too much for them and the bad guys win in the end. This was the author's first novel, but it was also probably his best. 7/23/21

A Place of Demons by Heinrich Graat, Belmont, 1972  

The least interesting of the Ben Camden trilogy, and actually a pretty awful book. The police procedure is ludicrous – you cannot arrest someone simply because a dying victim asks to see him from her deathbed. Camden allows himself to be raped by a woman he has just met in one of the silliest scenes I’ve ever read.  He knows that witchcraft is involved, even though there is no evidence to that effect. Eventually he battles a demonic ghost on the astral plane, gets separated semi-permanently from his body, but recovers with a little help from his friends. 7/21/21

The Devil and Ben Camden by Heinrich Graat, Belmont, 1970   

Professor Ben Camden returns to fight another demon in this very short sequel. He becomes aware that a family in a neighboring town is using sleeping potions and other devices in order to secretly use an old church to raise a female demon. One woman has already died as a consequence and others are in danger. He conjures up the demon’s male counterpart in the climax and the two demons fight and mate and destroy the church and the woman with occult power in the process. The evil son is arrested for her murder. Okay, but there are plot holes. 7/20/21

Into the London Fog edited by Elizabeth Dearnly, British Library, 2020 

An anthology of mostly lesser known horror stories from mostly lesser known writers. The common theme is a London setting. I had only read three before, and I’ve read a lot of early horror fiction. There are a couple of excerpts that I could have done without. The authors include Violet Hunt, Rhoda Broughton, Sam Selvon, and Charlotte Riddle. The short version of “The Lodger” by Marie Belloc Lowndes is probably the best known, and arguably the best story in the collection.  7/18/21

The Revenge of Increase Sewall by Heinrich Graat, Belmont, 1969 

This was a light but entertaining clone of several popular supernatural thrillers of the time. A professor and his wife move to a small New England town and meet their new neighbors. Several of them have formed a clique that readers will realize immediately constitutes a coven of witches. A local woman is the target of a curse by a warlock whose two lovers were hanged by the local people. There is an effort to recruit the professor into the coven and he pretends to agree, but only so that he can reveal arcane amulets at the moment of sacrifice and save the woman’s life. The leader of the coven does in fact transform into a demon so this was definitely supernatural. The professor would return in two further novels. 7/18/21

The Revenge of Frankenstein by Jimmy Sangster and Hurford James, Bear Manor, 2012 (originally published in 1958) 

This is the reprint of the novelization of the Hammer movie and it is not clear who actually turned the screenplay into a novel. The story is an overly familiar one. Frankenstein changes his name after his crimes were exposed. He now works at a sanitarium where he has transplanted the brain of his malformed assistant into a much better body. But the operation was not a complete success and things begin to spiral toward the usual chaos. No real surprises and the writing is competent but uninspired and lacking in atmosphere. 7/15/21

Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge, Tor, 2006 

A small town bases its success on a fantastic annual ritual. The October Boy is a kind of animated scarecrow which appears at Halloween and tries to reach the local church. All of the teenaged boys who are at least sixteen are half starved and assigned to stop him at all costs. But this year something goes wrong. The October Boy is smarter than usual, and two of the local teenagers are rebelling against the tradition. Nonstop action ensues and the reader is almost certain to be cheering on the October Boy, who is not entirely what he appears to be. Excellent story. 7/11/21

Vampire Circus by Mark Morris, Hammer, 2012 

This is a rather belated novelization of the 1972 horror movie, one of the best from Hammer studios, about a circus that is home to a family of vampires. Set during the plague in a small village, the circus at first seems to be a welcome distraction. But then people begin to disappear. Even the animals in this circus are vampires, which leads to some interesting transformations. Lalla Ward – later Romana in Doctor Who – has a small part as one of the vampires. I hadn’t seen the movie in decades so the novel held some surprises for me, and now of course I will have to watch the movie again. 7/11/21

The Harbor Master by Robert W. Chambers, Hippocampus, 2021, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-327-9

I will confess upfront that of all of the classic horror writers from the early 20th Century, the one I find the least readable is Robert W. Chambers. The popularity of The King in Yellow cycle of stories notwithstanding, I find him mostly mediocre and often severely lacking in basic composition. This leaves aside his occasional casual antisemitism and racism. One of his most famous, "The Repairer of Reputations," is a good example. The longish story opens with a lengthy discussion of euthanasia chambers established in New York City, which are then completely forgotten for the rest of the story except that one very minor character runs into one near the end, although the narrator is insane and hallucinating by this point so we don't know if that even happened. And the title refers to a malformed man who supposedly supports himself by doing so. But we aren't shown any examples of his work, aren't even provided with an explanation of what that means, and it is irrelevant to the plot, which is about the narrator's delusion that he is to become some kind of monarch. Some of the stories are markedly better - "The Yellow Sign," "The Maker of Moons," "The Ladies of the Lake," and the title story, but overall his stories are loosely constructed and rarely manage to develop any sustained tension. 7/9/21

Blood Relations by Clare McNally, Tor, 1997 

I could almost cut and paste this from another review of the author’s books. Children in jeopardy, warned by the ghost of a child. Female protagonist who is incredibly dense until the evidence is too obvious to ignore. She accidentally learns the identity of her natural mother and takes her kids to live with her for a while. But the mother seems to grow younger with each passing day, the children grow tired easily, and strangers warn her that she should leave. This was the author’s final novel. 7/8/21

The House of a Hundred Whispers by Graham Masterton, House of Zeus, 2020

Although this is a haunted house story, there are not really any ghosts. When their father is murdered in his lonely, sprawling mansion, three adult children and their partners gather to go over the estate. Almost immediately the young son of one of the couple disappears, apparently inside the house. A few days later, one of the adult sons does likewise. When search parties and conventional techniques fail, they consult an expert on hidden rooms - who finds one - and he recommends a couple of people who are familiar with the occult. But one of them is attacked by several ghostly figures and actually pulled into a wall. I won't spoil the explanation by revealing it here, but it's rather different than you might expect and Masterton is, as always, a writer who compels us to read to the end. 7/6/21

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