The following reviews were written for Science Fiction Chronicle, but most were never used. They conform to the short format of that magazine.
You Don’t Scare Me by John Farris, Forge, 4/07, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-85064-6
I’ve felt for a long time that John Farris was underestimated as a horror writer and his newest hasn’t changed my mind at all. The protagonist is a young girl who was abused by her murderous stepfather, who eventually committed violent suicide. But he’s not quite dead. There’s a netherworld where suicides remain and from which they can sometimes influence the world of the living, and he’s heavily into influence, and vengeance. There are times when the rules governing the netherworld appear to be contradictory, but otherwise this is a tense, scary story with likeable protagonists and a thoroughly unlikable villain.
Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, Miramax, 1/07, $13.95, ISBN 1-4013-6020-3
The middle volume of the trilogy that began with Night Watch, translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield. The first volume also appeared as a film on DVD a while back. The premise is that of contemporary fantasy mixed with horror, an alternate version of modern Moscow in which the creatures of the night act out an age long battle between light and darkness. This time we see things from the point of view of the bad guys and gals, primarily a witch who makes the mistake of falling in love with a member of the opposite side. A bit turgid at times, but exciting for the most part.
Dead City by Joe McKinney, Pinnacle, 11/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-7860-1781-3
Zombie stories in the mode of the Living Dead movies seem to be enjoying a resurgence of late, including this debut novel in which the dead return to life in the aftermath of a devastating series of hurricanes in Texas. There’s a rationale for the revival, but as is the case with most similar novels, it really doesn’t matter. The story is about a battle for survival against hordes of relentless and very hungry creatures. A few awkward bits of dialogue, but for the most part this one holds up quite well and should satisfy your taste for gore and carnage.
Stage Fright by Michael Paine, Berkley, 11/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-21282-3
Although I’ve enjoyed the previous novels by this author, his latest never came together for me. The plot involves a theater student who is interested in ghost stories connected to theaters, and who eventually involves a number of people in an abandoned playhouse where the ghosts are real. Results predictable. Part of the problem is that the story just took too long to get going. The first third of the novel is talky and not much happens except for occasional interludes in which we see that the carved figures are more or less animate, but even then some of the images are more funny than frightening. Has its moments, but not enough of them.
Ghoul by Brian Keene, Leisure, 2007, $7.99, ISBN 0-8439-5644-5
Brian Keene is the author of a growing body of horror fiction filled with odd and often memorable grotesqueries. His latest from Leisure is, as you might expect from the title, the story of an eater of the dead, possibly the last of his kind, inhabiting a local graveyard and forcing the caretaker to cooperate with him. This particular ghoul has developed what is, for his kind, a perversion; he kills and eats the living as well as the dead. Some real good writing, but as a whole, this one didn’t work for me. The ghoul loses some of his aura of horror when he engages in conversations with the caretaker, and while the kid characters were interesting, none of them fully engaged me.
Scavenger by David Morrell, Vanguard, 3/07, $24.95, ISBN 1-59315-441-0
Although this one isn’t SF or fantasy, it makes use of the theme of virtual reality and is a sequel to the very marginally fantastic Creepers of a year ago. In this one, a crazed genius who designs video games makes his latest the real thing which a half dozen contestants involved in a hunt across a landscape filled with traps and physical barriers in a desperate race against time. The pace is frenetic throughout and it would make a superb motion picture. Minor caveat. The author seems to think, incorrectly, that the millennium came to a close at the end of 1999 rather than the actual date at the end of 2000, but it’s a minor annoyance.
The Darkening Garden by John Clute, Payseur & Schmidt, 2006, no price listed, ISBN 0-9789114-0-7
This is a limited edition hardcover with essays by the author on thirty terms associated with horror fiction, explaining the origin, meaning, and application of the term. The entries are illustrated by black and white drawings of varying quality by a large number of artists. The thirty illustrations are also available separately as a set of postcards. Clute’s commentary is also fascinating and the book itself is well presented and presumably quite collectable.
The Terror by Dan Simmons, Little, Brown, 1/07, $25.99, ISBN 0-316-01744-2
The title of this new, unusual horror novel refers to a ship of the same name, and the experiences of its crew. Several of the characters including the primary protagonist did in fact take part in an expedition to find the Northwest Passage during the 1840s, and the entire complement of both ships died there under circumstances that are still something of a mystery. Simmons uses this background to tell two stories. The first and in many ways more compelling is the struggle for survival of the expedition when their ships are trapped by the ice for literally three years, during which period they discover that much of their food has been improperly prepared and is contaminated. There is the constant threat of mutiny and the pure severity of the physical environment to contend with. The second story involves a preternatural beast, something like an oversized polar bear, which is preying on the crews, picking them off one by one, a creature somehow linked to a mysterious, mute Eskimo woman who shelters with the marooned mariners. It’s a long novel, and sometimes the recapitulations of events we’ve already seen slows the pace, but it’s also very suspenseful and – as is always the case with Simmons – extremely well written.
Harbingers by F. Paul Wilson, Forge, 2006, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31276-X
Repairman Jack is back, and this time the story changes things dramatically. He has finally decided to assume a real, though forged identity in order to be with the woman he loves and the child he has fathered, but things never go quite that easily. An apparently chance encounter with a mystical military group reveals the truth, that Jack has been chosen as a key player in the battle between Order and Chaos, the latter represented for the moment by the powerful and evil Rasalomn, whom we have met in earlier novels. His reluctance to get involved with them on a regular basis proves to have some validity, but this time he’s playing with forces even his skills cannot master. Fast paced and exciting, but as things spin out of control in Jack’s life, it feels as though elements in the novel were doing the same. The result is a story that comes to a stop but doesn’t really end.
Someone Like Me by Tom Holt, Orion, 2006, $5.99, ISBN 1-84149-446-1
Tom Holt takes a rare excursion into the serious with this odd little horror novella. A race of mysterious, furry, humanoid creatures have appeared and begin preying on humans. Although they are believed to be just animals, when our protagonist finally traps one, he discovers that it is just as intelligent and capable of speech as he is. A very atypical work for the author.
Slither by Edward Lee, Leisure, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5414-0
I usually enjoy Edward Lee’s gore filled, over the top, sexually charged horror novels, but he missed me with this one. A group of characters, not one of whom I found at all admirable, end up on an island infested with oversized, predatory, gruesome worm creatures which turn out to have been brought there by soldiers from another planet. There’s a little bit of mystery until we figure out what’s going on, but it’s all routine from that point on, and the gore and sex both seem a little too premeditated and self conscious.
Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris, Berkley, 2006, $23.95, ISBN 0-425-21203-3
I’ve always had a soft spot for psychic detectives, and Charlaine Harris’ new series gives the form a new twist. Her protagonist is a young woman who can sense dead bodies, and when she realizes that there are two bodies in a grave that should only contain one, her discovery leads to a police investigation. Unfortunately, her arcane knowledge and other background details make her the leading suspect in the murder of a child, and she and her brother have to discover the identity of the real killer, and prove it, before circumstantial evidence mounts even further against them. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the killer hasn’t finished his work.
Vampire Apocalypse by Derek Gunn, Black Death Books, 2006, $14.99, ISBN 0-9767914-8-X
Although I suspect this is self published, it wasn’t a bad effort. A collapse of the global economy leads to barbarism and chaos, and that’s just what the hidden vampire community needed to emerge and try to seize control. The inevitable battles result, with some humans siding with the undead, and a band of courageous rebel fighters seeking to restore the old pecking order. Lightweight but written well enough to maintain your interest, particularly if you like your vampires evil. Note added 4/25/07. This was not self published after all, although I've never heard of the publisher.
The Keeper by Sarah Langan, Harper Torch, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-087290-8
Darkness Wakes by Tim Waggoner, Leisure, 11/06, $6,99, ISBN 0-8439-5794-8
The Water Wolf by Thomas Sullivan, Onyx, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 0-451-41226-5
They keep telling me that horror fiction is dead, but there’s an awful lot of it appearing, although not always under that label. Maybe it’s undead rather than really dead. Anyway, these four examples all make a very good case for the viability of the genre in whatever form it is marketed. Sarah Langan’s debut novel bears considerable superficial resemblance to Stephen King, and to the better aspects of his writing. The setting is a small town in Maine where something odd is happening, something perceptible at first to a single woman whose altered situation is perhaps a reflection of the trend of the community as a whole. Some haunting stuff here and no trace of the uncertainties found in most first novels. A definite keeper – pun intended. Breathes new life into what might have been a mediocre replay of an old plot. Waggoner’s newest novel also has a small town setting, but the action is even further circumscribed to the Ptolemy club, an arcane group who appear just to be another secretive social club but whose newest member discovers that they have a darker purpose. You’ll probably be ahead of the protagonist most of the time, but that won’t water down the suspense of getting there. Finally we have the most original of the batch, whose action takes place everywhere from Egypt to Ireland. A researcher gathering evidence to debunk a popular legend discovers that there is more truth to it than he realized, and finds himself at the edge of an entirely new and unpredictably dangerous world. I liked this best of the lot, but the quality is impressively high in all four titles.
Bestiary by Robert Masello, Berkley, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 0-425-21280-7
Most of the time you can tell where a story is heading after only a few chapters. That’s not true in this case. Although I could see subtle links among the various subplots in this novel, sequel to the author’s earlier and rather better Vigil, I wasn’t able to figure out how everything was going to be tied together until quite late in the book. There’s an Iraqi expatriate who has a collection of animals which he believes to be legendary creatures but which actually are survivors from the age of dinosaurs, there’s a mysterious body recovered from the La Brea tarpit by a team of scientists, there’s a band of super patriots planning some big violent event, and a disabled veteran plotting blackmail, along with a handful of subsidiary plots. Everything moves along quickly and convincingly, except that there are some brief intrusions by a leftover from the previous book which are not explained in this one at all. If you haven’t read Vigil, you might end up scratching your head, wondering what exactly was going on toward the end.
Slawter by Darren Shan, Little, Brown, 2006, $16.99, ISBN 0-316-01387-0
Book three in the Demonata cycle. A couple of youngsters think it’s going to be great fun to be on the set of a new horror film, but that’s before they discover that the special effects are going to be particularly chilling. The small town where the project is underway hides a gateway to the demon world, and the creatures from that realm are about to rewrite the script to their own liking. This one is surprisingly creepy for a book aimed at younger readers.
Wings to the Kingdom by Cherie Priest, Tor, 10/06, $14.95, ISBN 0-765-31309-X
Cherie Priest has an unusual take on the ghost story in this new novel. Old Green Eyes is the resident ghost, a kind of spectral caretaker, in a Civil War battlefield. He’s just ambiguous enough to be dismissed as tricks of fog and light and he never offers to harm anyone. But things change. Discernible ghostly figures – clearly the spirits of those who died more than a century earlier – have begun to appear and by their manner they are demanding that the living take cognizance of them. And to make their needs clear, they need someone who can act as a bridge between the living and the dead. This one is closer to The Ghost Whisperer than Brian Lumley’s Necrofile books, but without the sappy sentimentality and rigid formula. Priest offers an interesting supernatural puzzle, and colors her picture with some eerie sequences. Not so much a novel of horror as just a supernatural mystery.
Blue Is for Nightmares by Laurie Faria Stolarz, Llewellyn, 2003, $8.95, ISBN 0-7387-0391-5
White Is for Magic by Laurie Faria Stolarz, Llewellyn, 2004, $8.95, ISBN 0-7387-0443-1
Silver Is for Secrets by Laurie Faria Stolarz, Llewellyn, 2005, $8.95, ISBN 0-7387-0631-0
Red Is for Remembering by Laurie Faria Stolarz, Llewellyn, 2005, $8.95, ISBN 0-7387-0760-0
This series of young adult psychic detective novels is a bit old but they’ve just been reissued as a box set, and I’d never seen them before, and they’re not at all bad, so here’s a belated review. Stacey Brown is a teenager who has unusually vivid dreams, disturbing in fact, particularly when they show her murders that haven’t yet happened. All four books are essentially variations on this same theme, but there’s movement in the frame story as she makes friends, finds a boy she likes who also has unusual dreams, faces tragedy and danger, and grows more confident. Despite the teen cast of characters, the books are sufficiently sophisticated to entertain older readers, and at times they are genuinely suspenseful. And don’t think that recurring characters are immune to the murderers.
Stones Unturned by Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski, Ace, 10/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01446-1
The Menagerie is an alliance of people with superhuman or supernatural powers, ostensibly gathered together to fight evil. In the second volume of their adventures, one of their number is being subverted by a demon from another universe, tempted by his lingering resentment of his outcast past to dabble with the dark side of his particular force. Will he see the light in time to save his soul, or will he turn traitor and bring about the defeat of the Menagerie? It’s a superhero novel without the comic book trappings and with considerably more suspense and atmosphere than most.
The Shadowkiller by Matthew Scott Hansen, Simon & Schuster, 1/07, no price listed, ISBN 0-7432-9473-4
I don’t believe I’ve ever read a novel about yetis or the abominable snowman that I enjoyed very much, and this debut work unfortunately fits that mold completely, although it is certainly not badly written. We see some of the action through the yeti’s eyes – which I think was a tactical error since it dissipates much of the suspense. The yeti is unhappy because it blames humans for the fire that destroyed the rest of its kind, and now this superhumanly strong and fast killer is prowling the woods in search of revenge. The usual unpleasantries follow, much of the violence taking place offstage, and by the time I had mustered some interest in the characters, I was just slogging toward the finish line. I think Hansen might well write some good fiction, but this wasn’t one of them.
Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge, Cemetery Dance, 10/06, $40, ISBN 1-58767-147-6
I am sometimes suspicious of limited editions because I wonder why the author didn’t sell to a major market if the work was that good. This new title happily proves me wrong because I think it’s the best novel by Partridge that I’ve read to date. The setting is a small town with an unusual Halloween ceremony. Each year a pumpkin headed figure emerges from the Earth and engages in a contest with the male teenagers. They seek to kill it; it seeks to reach the sanctuary of a church. The pumpkin creature has never won but this year’s is particulary inventive. Arrayed against him are teens intent on winning, because they believe that to be the key to success and escape from small town existence. But their elders are concealing an even darker secret, and even if you figure out what it is before the author reveals the truth, it won’t steal any of the excitement from this very fine novel.
Lost Echoes by Joe R. Lansdale, Vintage, 2/07, $13.95, ISBN 0-307-27544-2
Vintage is labeling this just as “fiction”, but don’t be misled into believing it to be mundane suspense. It involves a young protagonist with an unusual psychic ability. Some sounds trigger psychic visions of the past, the echoes of the title, almost always connected with some act of violence. He discovers this ability as a child and takes efforts to suppress it, to conceal it from others, although secretly he employs an elaborate system to escape its effects. As a young man, who is reunited with his childhood sweetheart, whose father died under mysterious circumstances, and he is slowly drawn into an investigation that is connected to a series of brutal but cleverly concealed murders. The texture of the novel is so distinct and smooth that readers will find themselves accepting the improbable as if it was ordinary. As always, Lansdale creates a cast of distinct characters, and places them in a skillfully but economically described setting that seems as real as the world around us. This is right up there with the best of his work.
Isis by Douglas Clegg, Cemetery Dance, 8/06, $20, ISBN 1-58767-089-5
Wild Things by Douglas Clegg, Cemetery Dance, 8/06, $20, ISBN 1-58767-156-5
Both of these are small, limited edition hardcovers, the first containing a single novelette, the second four shorter pieces. The novelette is part of the author’s Harrow series and is a sequence from the life of Isis Claviger, who appears elsewhere. In this, a series of unhappy events during her childhood culminate in the accidental death of her favorite brother, killed while trying to rescue her from a fall. The hall where they live is an ancient place, home to a variety of subtle magics, and she takes advantage of this to secretly bring him back from the dead. Following a series of unpleasant and unsettling episodes, they are parted once again. The novelette is extremely effective and left me with several lingering images. The collection is ostensibly horror, but at least two of the stories don’t really deserve that label, although all four are well written. “The Wolf” is probably the weakest; I had figured out the surprise ending about half way through. “The American” has a similarly predictable twist at the end. Both of these are original in this book. “A Madness of Starlings” is more rewarding, the story of a man’s descent into an odd sort of insanity. Best of the lot is “The Dark Game”, a non-fantastic story about a prisoner of war who turns the tables on his captors.
Night Wars by Graham Masterton, Leisure, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5472-2
Back in the 1980s, Masterton wrote a trilogy about the Night Warriors, everyday people who assumed superhuman powers and comic bookish alternate identities in the world of dreams, where they battled various supernatural creatures who existed on that plane of existence but who could affect people even at that remove. He returns to that setting for this new book, in which a pair of nicely drawn and suitably evil entities are fought and eventually defeated by an unlikely combination of people. Although I’ve never considered this series as belonging among his best work, Masterton has never written a novel that didn’t drag me in no matter how hard I resisted.
The Glass Houses by Rachel Caine, Jam, 2006, $5.99, ISBN 0-451-21994-5
Although this is the first in a new young adult series about vampires, it’s not a standard vampire romance like most of the rest. The small town where it is set is secretly run by an aristocracy of the undead, but they’re the nasty kind and good people stay indoors and out of the way when night falls. Claire is an unpopular girl who looks for an apartment off campus, and discovers the need for allies when the bad people come looking for her. Not written down and often genuinely suspenseful.
Watchers in the Night by Jenna Black, Tor, 11/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-765-35451-9
A private investigator discovers that there are good and bad vampires. The good vampires don’t drink human blood, but unfortunately that means that they aren’t as powerful as the bad vampires, who do. Worse, a single feeding could turn one of the good ones to the dark side forever. When her ex-lover shows up, announcing that he’s now a good vampire, the PI has to deal with the startling revelations of the supernatural, with the danger that his presence means to her, and with her still lingering feelings of affection for a man who is now undead. A better than average though not particularly original vampire romance.
Monsters edited by Jennifer Osborne, Ballantine, 2006, $29.95, ISBN 0-345-48685-4
This is a picture book glorifying eight of the classic Universal monsters – namely the Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and its Bride, the Mummy, Invisible Man, Wolf Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. The stills are all in black and white, of course, but there’s a good selection of each and they’re very well reproduced. Short essays are included by Rick Baker, John Landis, and others, providing some additional background details.
Midnight Premiere edited by Tom Piccirilli, Cemetery Dance, 11/06, $40, ISBN 1-58767-146-8
It’s been almost twenty years since one of my favorite horror anthologies, Silver Scream edited by David Schow, first appeared. Like this new collection, the theme was horror movies, stories set in and around the business of making of watching films. Tom Piccirilli has put together a similarly diverse and entertaining collection, drawing in part upon professionals in that field like Mick Garris and scream queen Linnea Quigley. There are excellent stories here by Gary Braunbeck, Brian Hodge, Gerard Houarner, John Shirley, Ray Garton, and Ed Gorman, just to name a few, and that doesn’t mean that the other ones aren’t nearly as good because they are. One of the few higher priced limited edition collections that is worth the price tag.
New Moon by Stephenie Meyer, Little Brown, 2006, $17.99, ISBN 0-316-16019-9
Blue Bloods by Melissa De La Cruz, Hyperion, 2006, $15.99, ISBN 0-7868-3892-2
Both of these are young adult vampire novels. The first features Bella Swan, who made her debut in Twilight, the first in this young adult vampire series. In the opener, the teenager fell in love with a mysterious young man who turned out to be a vampire, a good one fortunately, although there was a nasty one with a similar interest in her. Now they’re free to pursue their relationship, but how can a living girl carry on a romance with one of the undead, no matter how nice he is. And why can’t everyone just leave them alone. I didn’t find this one as interesting as the first, probably because the romantic situation has become a common one in adult romance fiction. Meyer does write quite well, however, and she’s one of the most promising of recent new young adult writers. The second title is, however, the more interesting of these two. It also uses a familiar theme, the first awakening of vampiric urges, in this case experienced by a teenaged girl in New York City who is the descendant of a strain of vampires who first came to this country on the Mayflower. Her discovery of her true nature coincides with the mysterious death of another girl. Are the two connected? Although I’m not a big fan of stories with likeable vampires, this one definitely held my interest.
The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff, St Martins, 2006, $21.95, ISBN 0-312-35748-6
Like detective fiction and romance novels, the classic ghost story or haunted house story is written pretty much to a formula. Fortunately, it’s a formula that never really loses its punch. This first novel sounds like the screenplay for a bad horror movie. Five oddball college students are drawn together when they are forced to spend a vacation period alone in a sprawling college building. Almost immediately things begin happening which implies that they are not alone, impossible things which could only have an explanation involving the supernatural. The interplay among the characters is the focus but that doesn’t mean that the author hasn’t done a good job of developing external suspense as well. And she has a few surprises in store for the reader as well. A nice job.
No Dominion by Charlie Huston, Del Rey, 12/06, $13.95, ISBN 0-345-47825-8
Although I prefer my vampires evil and creepy, I do have a degree of fondness for vampire detective stories This is the second outing of Joe Pitt, an unofficial vampire investigator, who suppresses the occasional out of control undead in order to protect the secret of the existence of a vampire subculture. When one of his kind goes berserk, Pitt decides to find out why, and that leads to the unraveling of a series of mysteries and revelation of a threat that endangers the status quo. Yeah, it’s old hat and you’ve read it all before. But Huston does a really good job of establishing just the right mood for the narrative.
Hell on Earth by Mike Wild, Black Flame, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-386-5
This appears to be the first in a new series from this publisher, presumably based on a role playing game. Caballistics Inc. is a private organization hired by the British government to protect the public from supernatural threats. In this case, that takes the form of a fallen angel who is bringing the death back to life, and not playing nicely. More adventure than horror but has some good twists. The series has the potential to become quite interesting. Time will tell if it lives up to its promise.
Alone on the Darkside edited by John Pelan, Roc, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 0-451-46105-3
The horror market continues in the doldrums, but there are a few bright spots now and then for readers. The latest is this collection of stories, mostly by lesser known or newer writers in the genre. Very good stories by Lucy Taylor, Paul Finch, and Gerard Houarner lead the way, with thirteen other not-to-be-ignored stories following. The stories range from the subtle to the grotesque and are nicely varied in theme, style, and subject matter. More evidence, if we needed any, that horror fiction is usually at its best in shorter forms.
Prince of Twilight by Maggie Shayne, Mira, 10/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-7783-2279-3
The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason, Signet, 1/07, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-22007-3
Retrieval by Jeanie London, Tor, 10/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-35422-5
There are so many romance novels with supernatural themes lately that it feels as though horror fiction is going through a mini-revival. The first two of these are vampire novels. Maggie Shayne has done these in the past and she’s one of the best at mixing these two particular genres. This one has an unusual love triangle, one corner of which is Dracula, who has lived through the ages waiting to be reunited with the second corner, his dead wife whom he believes will be reincarnated. The final corner is a contemporary woman, whose body is partially possessed by the dead woman. The Gleason novel is the first in a projected series about a family of vampire hunters in 19th Century England. A young woman employed in that role has to deal with conflicting emotions when she falls in love with one of the undead. Nice atmosphere but the dialogue is uneven and occasionally awkward. Finally we have one of the more unusual romances, or novels in general, that I’ve encountered lately. The setting is the netherworld between the living and the afterlife, yet another battleground between good and evil, and also a place for strained romances. The romantic elements were a bit clunky at times, but the background material and setting are both quite interesting.
Death’s Dominion by Simon Clark, Leisure, 10/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5493-0
British horror writer Simon Clark mixes horror with SF in this novel of a future in which the dead are reanimated as workers for the living, a theme with George R.R. Martin and Kevin J. Anderson have already dealt with more effectively. Predictably, the dead don’t much like their new status as organic machinery and eventually a leader arises among them who decides that it’s time for some payback. A few effective scenes but nothing I hadn’t read before, although Clark’s emphasis is certainly more on mood than on the social implications.
The Becoming by Jeanne C. Stein, Ace, 12/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01456-9
Anna Strong is the protagonist of this new series, a woman attacked by a rogue vampire and left hovering somewhere between the living and the undead. In her former life, she was a bounty hunter, and in her new existence, those skills come in very handy. The flood of Anita Blake and Blade clones appearing in book form recently doesn’t seem to have crested yet but it can’t last much longer. There are just too many of them. This particularly title isn’t one of the outstanding ones either, though the series may become more interesting as the background gets filled in and elaborated. Readers who have problems with books written in the present tense should avoid it as well.
Breeding Ground by Sarah Pinborough, Leisure, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5741-7
This one has a good old fashioned “B” movie plot, and is in fact a variation of the It’s Alive movie sequence in which mutant infants attack their parents. All over the world, women begin giving birth to monstrous, inhuman creatures who kill adults, threatening to wipe out most of the human race and turn the survivors into breeding machines for their kind. Carnage and panic follow in short order as various characters struggle to survive, let alone fight back. A fast paced thriller with a few really creepy moments. Pinborough’s best outing to date.
From Black Rooms by Stephen Woodworth, Bantam, 11/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-440-24253-6
The Natalie Lindstrom series switches imprints with its fourth title, the previous ones having appeared as Dell books. Lindstrom is trying to change as well. She has been working with the police up until now, channeling the spirits of murder victims in order to solve their homicides and getting into trouble, psychic and otherwise, in the process. As this book opens, she is trying to use her talents for less dangerous purposes, but it doesn’t take a particularly perceptive reader to know that this isn’t going to last. Psychic detectives are a long standing tradition in horror fiction, but these are packaged as thrillers and should reach an entirely new audience. Woodworth does his usual fine job of walking the fence between the supernatural and the real world, with the usual satisfying results.
Stephen King: A Preliminary Bibliography of the World’s Most Popular Author by Justin Brooks, Cemetery Dance, 2006, $25, ISBN 1-58767-153-0
This very long bibliography – well over five hundred pages – contains everything you could possibly want to know about Stephen King’s publishing to date, including things you might expect like books, stories, articles, screenplays, and poems – but other things as well including puzzles and recipes. There are plot summaries in most cases and detailed publication information, all arranged chronologically, and including a few titles still forthcoming. There is also an interesting section on unpublished works, including completed novels which King has not released, incomplete works, rumored works, and so forth. Brooks has obviously done considerable work to produce one of the best works of its kind I’ve seen.
Bad Circuits by Engle & Barnes, Brilliance Audio, 2006, $9.95, ISBN 1-4233-0826-3
This is the second audiobook I’ve listened to from this writing team, who specialize in horror stories for younger readers, although there’s not much horror to them. This one was better than the first, which is not saying much. There are multiple readers and, this time, they actually make some effort to put some feeling into their lines. The plot isn’t too bad. Two youngsters who are perpetual rivals for the first place award in the science project competition engage in espionage and battles that nearly end in catastrophe. One of them – the good kid – uses plans left by his now missing father to build an artificial intelligence which – predictably – decides that it’s too good to be a servant. There are some minor plot holes – like wiring a microwave so that it prepares breakfast just in time for the boys to rise, but with no provision to actually move the food physically into the microwave in the first place. More serious is the whole premise of the malevolent robot brain, which tells the bad boy how to build a bomb, but then wastes time trying to decode a lock on the bomb rather than simply build a new one itself. Most serious of all is the moral message. The “good” boy has been cheating all along, building something that someone else designed. The authors make a big point that he is trying to keep his rival from discovering that he cheated. But later in the book, the same kid refuses to spy on his rival, because that would be cheating. Huh?
The Transforming Draught by Thomas L. Reed Jr., McFarland, 2006, $35, ISBN 0-7864-2648-9
I’m not sure I completely buy the author’s conclusions in this analysis of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but he makes some interesting arguments and the associated material is valuable in its own right. His thesis is that the novel was actually an allegory on alcoholism, which was very prevalent at the time Stevenson wrote his classic short novel. The sidelights on the temperance movement and other trends of that day are informative and sometimes fascinating. Stevenson himself believed that he was addicted to wine, so there’s a strong case to be made for this interpretation.
Witchery by Amber Benson and Christopher Golden, Del Rey, 9/06, $13.95, ISBN 0-345-47131-8
The latest in the Ghosts of Albion series by former Buffy cast member and the prolific Christopher Golden. The two main characters are charged with the magical protection of England against evil supernatural forces, and are aided in that task by the spirits of various prominent historical figures. That aid might not be enough, as one battles a bad case of demonic possession while the other tries to figure out who is kidnapping young women – human and fairy – and where they have been taken. This one falls somewhere between horror and fantasy, with elements of both. The plot takes quite a few unexpected twists and should keep you guessing right up until the end.
My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding edited by P.N. Elrod, St Martins, 10/06, $13.95, ISBN 0-312-34360-6
I should have seen this coming. The title gives you a good idea of the main theme of this new anthology, and thankfully it’s loose enough that the authors were able to present a pretty varied selection of stories. I’d give top honors to Esther Friesner, Charlaine Harris, and Susan Krinard. Given the inspiration, it’s not surprisingly that there is a good deal of humor here, but there are serious pieces as well, providing variation in tone as well as plot. A couple of the stories are predictable early, but for the most part they’re well written and sometimes genuinely clever.
Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft by Mindy L. Klasky, Luna, 10/06, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-89607-7
A young woman discovers a hidden room in which is stored the paraphernalia of witchcraft. When her initial experimentation leads to the ability to make herself very appealing to men, she decides to explore the further possibilities of magic, virtually becoming addicted to it. This could have been a dark and serious story along the lines of Dark Sister by Graham Joyce, but instead it’s a light, romantic fantasy. Not nearly as good as her more serious novels, but an entertaining romp through familiar pastures.
In the Dark of the Night by John Saul, Brilliance Audio, 2006, $36.95, ISBN 1-4233-0435-7
Saul has been criticized for using the same themes over and over again, with some justification, but the continued popularity of his books suggests that readers are perfectly willing to revisit them as long as they’re varied in presentation and entertainingly written. I thought this was actually one of Saul’s better efforts, even though it’s predictable. A family moves into an old, long empty house and their kids uncover some mysterious objects that turn out to have an occult connection. Their attempts to get answers to their questions feed upon themselves and a casual interest mounts toward a dangerous compulsion. The surprises aren’t as surprising as they might have been, but the central mystery is intriguing and Saul creates some plausible characters to subject to his supernatural dangers.
Driven to Death by Engle and Barnes, Brilliance Audio, 2006, $9.95, ISBN 1-4233-0882-4
If this kids’ story of the supernatural is typical of what young readers actually enjoy, I despair of the next generation of readers. It’s a hash of ridiculous situations, implausible events, unexplained side trips, and a few minor factual errors. The premise is that two brothers run afoul of a phantom automobile which is actually the transmogrified dinghy of the Flying Dutchman. They are implausibly tricked into trading their father’s car for it, which somehow means that they themselves are to be imprisoned on the Dutchman, but they escape by winning a contest, except that the contest has no rules and they never actually win it. The authors provide a somewhat inaccurate explanation of the custom of shanghaiing sailors and the rules governing the supernatural events are arbitrary and changeable. The story is read by a multiple cast of readers, none of whom make much effort to bring the stilted prose to life, and the older brother’s part is read by someone who sounds understandably bored with the entire thing. Oh, and there’s not even a hint of suspense.
Dead Man Rising by Lilith Saintcrow, Warner, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61671-0
The second Dante Valentine adventure, a variation of the Anita Blake style of fantasy/horror, finds our supernatural bounty hunter facing a new challenge. Someone has been systematically murdering psychics, presumably not very good ones since they never saw it coming. And as if that wasn’t enough, her dead lover may have returned from beyond the grave, and the Devil is looking for him. Not quite up to the level of the first in the series, but a nice solid story of its type.
Twilight of the Dead by David Bishop, Black Flame, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-384-9
The third in the Fiends of the Eastern Front series keeps up the pace. The German army has been defeated and is retreating from Russia, closely pursued by the enemy. The vampires who formerly preyed on the Russians have now switched sides and are claiming their victims from among the German soldiers. Some of the latter have accepted that the war is lost, but they are less willing to accept the continued existence of their undead former allies. To defeat them, both sides must make common cause against a danger that threatens all of humanity.
Lovecraft’s New York Circle edited by Mara Kirk Hart and S.T. Joshi, Hippocampus, 2006, $15, ISBN 0-9761592-9-5
Collected Essays: Volume 3 by H.P. Lovecraft, Hippocampus, 2006, $20, ISBN 0-9748789-8-7
Collected Essays: Volume 4 by H.P. Lovecraft, Hippocampus, 2006, $20, ISBN 0-9761592-1-X
I’ve read the Lovecraft essay collections before, but it’s nice to see them in trade paperback editions. These two volumes cover his essays on science and on travel, both edited by S.T. Joshi. In many ways I think Lovecraft was a better essayist than fiction writer. The new one for me is the first, which is in two parts. The first is excerpts from letters by one of the members of the Kalem Club, of whom Lovecraft and Frank Belknap Long were members, and the second is a selection of writings by various members. The editors have managed to remove the less interesting parts, presumably, and what remains is an interesting portrait of a very unusual group of people. Some of them more interesting than HPL in fact.
The Nightmare Frontier by Stephen Mark Rainey, Sarob, 2006, $50, ISBN 1-902309-61-8
Sarob is a British publisher of limited edition titles, mostly horror fiction I believe, of which this is their latest title, also available in a much pricier deluxe edition if you are so inclined. Although this is horror, it could also be considered SF. An entire American town is transported into a kind of limbo where the human citizens are hunted by creatures from another dimension. The unusual premise allows the author to be very inventive in creating his menaces and in describing the fate of the people who find themselves in a situation beyond their understanding, but one which they must deal with if they hope ever to escape back to the familiar. Good stuff. Too bad its high price will probably limit its availability.
In the Dark of Night by John Saul, Ballantine, 2006, $25.95, ISBN 0-345-48701-X
John Saul has made a career writing solid, if not particularly innovative, horror novels, both supernatural and otherwise. His latest is in the same vein, the story of a family who move into a long deserted house where something evil has been waiting for fresh victims. When they uncover a cache of mysterious artifacts left by a former resident, the gateway is thrown open for a fresh round of horror. What starts as a mystery evolves into something more deadly as the influence of the evil presence infiltrates their dreams and begins to affect their actions, setting the stage for a rerun of a series of horrible events that happened several years earlier. A well done if rather predictable novel of the haunted place rather than a true haunted house story.
The Lady of Serpents by Douglas Clegg, Ace, 9/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01438-2
Although I usually applaud when an author veers from his usual work to write something entirely different, but I confess that this, the second volume in a dark fantasy series by horror writer Clegg, is not my cup of tea. A young man living in a typical fantasy world lost everything, including his life, but returned in the form of a vampire. He becomes a leader of the society of the undead until he is captured by a sorceress who wishes to use him as a slave for the amusement of her guests. The vampire refuses to accept his fate and instead unleashes another magical creature, even though that action is potentially even more dangerous.
Roman Dusk by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tor, 9/06, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31391-X
St Germain is back for another adventure in ancient Rome. Once again he’s in trouble with the authorities, not because of his undead nature but because of purely human jealousies. Accused of treason and other crimes, including the seduction of a young woman, St Germain discovers that he has a new enemy, one even more powerful than the Roman Senate. The expanding Christian church is flexing its muscles and striking out at anyone who doesn’t embrace their faith. As always, Yarbro evokes her historical setting with exceptional skill. St Germain’s adventures have begun to be rather repetitive, but there is a large enough gap between volumes that this is rarely noticeable.
Nightwatch by Sergei Lukyanenko, translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield, Miramax, 2006, $11.95, ISBN 1-4013-5979-5
Coincidentally, the day I read this I first saw previews for the film version, which looked mildly interesting. The novel itself is quite good, casting some familiar themes from American supernatural fiction in a considerably different light. Hidden within ordinary humanity are a race of superhumans, people with supernatural powers, who have split into two societies, one ostensibly good, the other evil, although that’s too simple a description. When a single boy with unprecedented powers appears, his existence threatens to affect the balance of power which has enabled the two sides to keep themselves hidden from the rest of us. The unusual setting is intriguing, and the translation is quite good. It’s apparently the first in a series.
Bound in Hell by David Thomas Lord, 2006, $14, ISBN 1-57566-765-7
This is the latest in Lord’s series about vampires and gay sex, a combination which he handles with considerable taste, although obviously some readers may find the premise unpalatable. The two gay undead lovers have converted a police officer, but the result is not what they expected. More of a novel of struggle among various personalities than horror, despite some otherwise familiar situations.
Shelter by L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims, Leisure, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5706-9
I had already read quite a few short stories by this writing team so I was interested to see what they would do at book length. The results are about what I expected. Although this is essentially the story of a haunted place, a crumbling old home that is in the process of being restored and which has sealed compartments and hidden secrets, the authors use the familiar setting and situation as the setting for some quite suspenseful sequences. Some of the demon lore was distracting at times, but for the most part this is a wild and blood curdling ride.
The Dream Dealers by Jeffrey Thomas, Black Flame, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-383-0
Freddy Krueger of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series returns again in this new and actually quite readable tie-in. Someone has developed a way to record dreams, and that provides a new avenue of attack for Freddy, who haunts nightmares and uses them to manifest himself. I always thought this was the best of the various supernatural horror film slasher series, the only one that actually involved some thought, and the novels have also been consistently better than most franchise series. And Thomas has proven himself to be an interesting writer, particularly at shorter length, and here demonstrates his ability to take an existing theme and do something new with it.
Candles Burning by Michael McDowell and Tabitha King, Berkley, 2006, $24.95, ISBN 0-425-21028-6
I was a fan of the late Michael McDowell's horror fiction, which became increasingly strange and less horrific, but no less compelling. I gather that approximately half of this manuscript was completed prior to his death, and Tabitha King wrote the remainder without benefit of any notes left by McDowell, so we'll never know how close her ending was to the one he intended, although she does seem to tie everything together. The story focuses on a young girl whose father is kidnapped and murdered, and who is left in charge of a self centered southern belle. A number of circumstances clearly supernatural lead them to a refuge in Pensacola, Florida, which is – I suspect – the point at which the story becomes less McDowell and more King. This is a novel of the supernatural – with ghosts and other arcane events – but it's not horror. It is, however, one of the most fascinating books I've read in some time, filled with bizarre characters and odd situations.
American Morons by Glen Hirshberg, Earthling, 2006, $24, ISBN 0-9766339-8-1
My only previous acquaintance with Glen Hirshberg is a single story, not included in this collection, which I cannot recall at all but which I made a note to re-read after finishing this surprisingly good collection of mostly dark fantasy and suspense stories, drawn from Cemetery Dance magazine and even less accessible areas. That's a loss to those readers who miss him because these are uniformly excellent, although they don't always fall into clear genre limits. I'd say the title story and "Safety Clowns" were my favorites, but I might name two other stories if you ask me a week from now. There are so many lingering images that it's difficult to say which will have the most lasting impact.
Monster Nation by David Wellington, Thunder's Mouth, 10/06, $13.95, ISBN 1-56025-866-7
In Monster Island, David Wellington showed us a world overrun by zombies. In this prequel, we find out how it all started. The contagious cannibalistic plague has begun to spread across America and the military has been called out to stop it. Part of the story is told from the point of view of a military officer involved in the efforts to physically contain the problem, and part from that of a woman with amnesia whose hidden memories may include the secret to how it all began. More than just a literary version of the George Romero books. The author creates an atmosphere of impending defeat and suspense that is more unsettling than the grisly carnage of the average zombie film.
Black Dawn by Peter J. Evans, Black Flame, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-382-2
This is the final volume in an odd series. Durham Red is a mutant whose body now functions effective as a vampire. When she wakens from suspended animation in the distant future, she discovers that her memory has given rise to a religion, as well as earning her a host of enemies. She flees into outer space, finally taking refuge on a non-technological planet, arriving just in time to become a suspect when some apparently superhuman creature begins committing murders. Not always entirely plausible, but the story moves along quickly and the suspense is enough to make the reader forget the minor details.
The Essential Tomb of Dracula Volume II, Marvel, 2005, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-1461-0
The Essential Tomb of Dracula Volume III, Marvel, 2005, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-155807
The Essential Tomb of Dracula Volume IV, Marvel, 2005, $16.99, ISBN 0-7851-1709-1
This was one of the Marvel comics I never read when I was younger. After making my way through four volumes in retrospect, I'm just as glad that I didn't. The stories seem even more repetitive than Marvel's other titles, and less good humored. Their attitude toward Dracula is ambivalent. He starts as a genuinely evil creature, but in many of the adventures he is not nearly as bad as his enemies, and sometimes we feel genuine sympathy toward him, if briefly. They're much more supernatural adventure stories than horror, and I never felt as though the Marvel Dracula was the same one Stoker created.
Slime After Slime by Mark McLaughlin, Delirium, 2006, $16.95, ISBN 1-929653-81-6
You can have a good time just reading the titles of the stories gathered together in this collection of humorous horror stories. There are gems like "Claws of the Internet Witches" and "Dracula Has Risen from the Sofa", puns like "The Agony of Claude Bawls", or gross outs like "Vulture Soup for the Soulless" and "Deck the Halls with Guacamole". Most have been published frequently and a handful appear in the author's earlier collection, Once Upon a Slime. McLaughlin has a really sick and twisted sense of humor, as evidenced here. I like that in a writer. Definitely not just another collection of weird stories.
More Than Life Itself by Joseph Nassise, Telos, 2006, $8.95, ISBN 1-84583-042-3
This novelette is at its most powerful when it is describing a man tormented by the decline and imminent death of his only daughter. When a mysterious apparition suggests that he make use of an ancient ritual which can save her, but only if he is willing to commit seven murders, he is initially horrified as well as skeptical. But then the opportunity to commit the first arises almost by chance, and it works, so he finds himself firmly set on the path of homicide to save her. But there is a catch. There's always a catch. You'd think even fictional characters would know that by now.
The Complete Stephen King Universe by Stanley Wiater, Christopher Golden, and Hank Wagner, St Martins, 2006, $21.95, ISBN 0-312-32490-1
This updated edition incorporates King's more recent work including the Dark Tower series. As you may know from the earlier book, the most interesting part of this study is probably the way in which the authors interrelate the different King works, showing how they function in relation to one another and providing insight into the author's mind set. There are lots of little side bits – trivia about certain stories, some black and white photographs, etc. – but the discussion of the stories themselves are the core of this entertaining and informative book.
World of Hurt by Brian Hodge, Earthling, 2006, $40, ISBN 0-9766339-7-3
One of the more unfortunate consequences of the collapse of the horror market a few years back is that there is considerably less Brian Hodge fiction readily available. This new short novel is part of a recurring cycle of stories he has worked on sporadically during his career, and is one of the author's most ambitious projects. The protagonist was legally dead for a period of time, during which he acquired specific knowledge about the afterlife. What he discovered there was that Heaven and Hell are not anything like what we've been led to believe, and that death might be a trap rather than an escape. I don't want to spoil the surprises in this, but there are plenty of them.
Demon Thief by Darren Shan, Little Brown, 2006, $15.99, ISBN 0-316-01237-8
The second of the young adult Demonata series shows us more consequences of the opening of a doorway between our world and that of the demons. Our hero is a kind of Buffy the Demon Slayer in a blend of horror themes and action adventure. I like this considerably better than the author's earlier vampire series, which became very repetitious early on and only occasionally recaptured the liveliness of its opening volume. So far this series is holding up somewhat better.
Benighted by Kit Whitfield, Del Rey, 9/06, $14.95, ISBN 0-345-49163-7
What Richard Matheson did for vampires in I Am Legend, Kim Whitfield does for werewolves, or shapechangers, in her first novel. Sort of. The setting is a world in which lycanthropy is an almost universal trait. When the moon is full, most of the population changes into blood thirsty, ravening beasts. A handful of people are immune, and they are treated even during the daylight hours as an oppressed minority. What follows is a mix of murder mystery, satire, horror, and thoughtful speculation, and one of the more interesting first novels of recent years.
The Farm by Scott Nicholson, Pinnacle, 7/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-7860-1712-0
Scott Nicholson has established himself as a seasoned practitioner of Stephen King style small town horror, and his newest is not only no exception, it's probably his best book yet. The protagonist is a young woman who marries into a rustic family and comes to live in the remote town where they have been long established. As the days pass, she grows increasingly aware that there is something wrong in the community. There was a mysterious disappearance, rumors of a deadly scarecrow, and other signs of something evil coming. I won't tell you what it is but it's nice and creepy and you won't be disappointed.
Wolf's Trap by W.D. Gagliani, Leisure, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5702-6
I read and reviewed this novel about three years ago when it appeared from a small press, but it's worth noting that it now has a mass market edition. The author mixes werewolves with serial killers this time. His hero is a police officer who conceals the fact that he's a lycanthrope. When the latest murder spree starts, he discovers that there are worse monsters than the supernatural ones. Taut, exciting, and innovative.
In Darkness It Dwells by Joseph Laudati, Medallion, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 1-932815-70-2
The Lucifer Messiah by Frank Cavallo, Medallion, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 1-932815-87-2
Medallion Press has been issuing a number of horror titles recently, and although none of them have proven to be real page turners, there haven't been any turkeys either. The first and longer of these two recent releases concerns a small time film maker who has created a magical puppet that has links to supernatural evil. The plot develops slowly but logically. I think the book is a bit too long for its story, but it held my attention. The second title has a less interesting plot but is better written. A man reappears after having disappeared for several years, apparently having aged not a single day while he was gone. Shortly afterward, a string of brutal murders shocks everyone, particularly those who realize the two events are not unrelated.
Captive Moon by C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp, Tor, 8/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-35401-2
The third in this ongoing werewolf – or more properly shapeshifter – romance series has an amusing set up. An animal trainer has one of his tigers stolen, and when the police in Germany announce that they have captured one, he naturally assumes that it is his. In fact, it's not even a real tiger at all but a shapechanger. Conveniently, the trainer is as well, but inconveniently the two of them belong to different, hostile tribes. As the two are forced by circumstances into cooperating against a common danger, they find that they have other things in common as well.
Carnival of Maniacs by Stephen Hand, Black Flame, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-380-6
The latest Friday the 13th tie-in book is helped along by a wry sense of humor. Someone has found Jason's body and is auctioning it on Ebay. Who would bid on it and why? As if that wasn't bad enough, Jason's mother has returned from the dead and she's not in the best of moods either. Lots of slashing and dashing as the gruesome twosome seek to up the body count in this not entirely serious extension of the series.
Black Pockets and Other Dark Thoughts by George Zebrowski, Golden Gryphon, 2006, $24.95, ISBN 1-930846-40-1
I had never actually thought of George Zebrowski as a horror writer, and in fact several of the stories here are also science fiction, but he does have his dark side and it shows up frequently in this selection of nineteen stories. Most of the horror is psychological, and in fact the stories are grouped into personal, political, and metaphysical sections. Very few of them are creepy in a traditional genre sense, although "A Piano Full of Dead Spiders" might make your skin crawl a little. They are all unsettling though, whether they're in a familiar setting or in outer space. Of particular interest are the title story, original to this collection, "Jumper", and "The Soft Terrible Music". Horror stories for people who don't like horror fiction, but also for those who do.
Unnatural Selection by Tim Lebbon, Pocket Star, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-4165-0783-3
An interesting media tie-in here. Tim Lebbon adds a new adventure of the comic book and now movie hero, Hellboy, a benevolent demon who works for a special branch of the US government. Mythological creatures are springing up all over the world, and it takes a demon to deal with them. And then there's the question of who is acting behind the scenes to create the crisis. Not to be taken too seriously, but a lot of fun.
The Blood Red Army by David Bishop, Black Flame, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-325-3
This is the second in a series set on the Eastern front during World War II in which some of the fallen soldiers rise as vampires, all of whom have Romanian ancestry. In this installment, vampires rise from the dead during the siege of Leningrad, adding another level of terror to civilians and soldiers alike. Despite the melodramatic situation, the novel is surprisingly restrained most of the time and far more interesting than most other game tie-ins.
The Forsaken by L.A. Banks, Griffin, 7/06, $14.95, ISBN 0-312-35235-2
White Wolf's World of Darkness series burnt out my sensibilities on novels of battling vampire clans a few years back, but I've begun to recover, and L.A. Banks is one of the better reasons to do so. Her vampire world is much richer and more complex, and her undead characters more interesting. This one feels more like a fantasy quest than a horror novel, set following the death of a senior vampire and the subsequent turmoil. Occasionally a tad too melodramatic for my tastes, but overall a satisfying book.
Tall, Dark and Dead by Tate Hallaway, Berkley, 2006, $14, ISBN 0-425-20972-5
Although I prefer my vampires to be villainous, I've enjoyed the comedic vampire romance novels of MaryJanice Davidson, and I haven't been surprised by the emergence of several imitators in recent months. This one is in something of the same mode, although a bit more serious. The protagonist runs an occult bookstore, and at least one of her clients – to say nothing of her ex-husband – are vampires. There is also a band of witch hunters in the area. A very eclectic blend of humor, light romance, and suspense, reminiscent at times of Tanya Huff's excellent vampire series. Hallaway is potentially an author to watch.
Pandora Drive by Tim Waggoner, Leisure, 4/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5625-9
Waggoner's new novel is a sort of rift on Stephen King's Necessary Things, but twisted in a different direction. The agent of disaster this time is a young woman whose dreams have magical powers. Although she doesn't intend to harm anyone, her talent results in a sampling of other people's dreams, and what she takes from them becomes real. And that includes what she finds in their nightmares. Some satisfying bizarre images and situations follow, but I almost think the author should have gone further.
Ghosts of Albion: Initiation by Amber Benson and Christopher Golden, Subterranean Press, 2005, $40, ISBN 1-59606-0289-X
The two authors sold a series, Ghosts of Albion, to the BBC, featuring a pair of protagonists whose secret job is to protect the British Isles from supernatural attacks. Benson directed and the twosome have subsequently written the first in a proposed series of novels using the same premise. This hardcover edition contains three scripts from that series, and although I usually find scripts less interesting to read than straight prose, in this case in did make me considerably interested in the series itself.
The Turning by Jennifer Armintrout, Mira, 6/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-7783-2298-X
This first novel is also the first in the series, Blood Ties, and it's a vampire romance. As such, it pretty much follows a formula. The protagonist is a young woman who has recently been converted into a vampire by one of the most evil of the undead in the world. Her sire has a mortal enemy who is more benign, but whose purpose in life is to hunt down and exterminate the offspring of his long time enemy. Our heroine, caught in the middle of a battle between powerful, ageless creatures has to survive encounters with them both, adjust to being a creature of the night, and avoid exposing herself to the living. What better time to find romance? The prose is mildly awkward from time to time, particularly in the dialogue, but for the most part it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do.
The Vampire's Seduction by Raven Hart, Ballantine, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-47975-0
It feels like I get at least one vampire quasi-romance novel almost every day lately. This one is a first novel by an almost certainly pseudonymous writer. The primary focus is the battle of wills between two long lived vampires, one of whom has built a prominent public life over his secret stable of voluntary blood donors. The other is an older, less benevolent creature determined to undermine his enemy's comfortable life. Not badly written, but I found it very difficult to care much whether or not the "good" vampire survived.
A House Divided by Deborah LeBlanc, Leisure, 5/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5730-1
Deborah LeBlanc writes comparatively quiet horror novels, of which this is the third. It is basically a haunted house story, with an amusing twist. The house in question is so large that a developer has split it up into subsidiary units, which might meet the needs of its tenants but which pisses off the longer term residents, a family of ghosts. It's tough being a landlord with tenants you can't evict. As always, LeBlanc does a good job building tension and creating an unsettling atmosphere. I'd be interested to see what she could do with a more ambitious plot.
Angel Fire by Chris Blythe and Steve Parkhouse, NBM, 2006, $17.95, ISBN 0-9549944-0-X
Twilight: Dragon Cemetery by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim, NBM, 2006, $14.95, ISBN 1-56163-460-3
The first of these two graphic novels is a quirky, introspective gothic chiller mixing drugs and popular culture with Gothic traditions and hints of the supernatural. It's in color throughout though deliberately dark, almost washed out at times, to reflect the mood of the piece. The author indicates that it is designed to not look like comic books, but I'm not sure if it can bridge the gap to a significant number of non-graphic readers. The second title, also in full color, is true to comic book roots. Set on a planet that no longer rotates, it is filled with exotic, sometimes bizarre characters, and bits and pieces of twisted humor. Less intellectual by far than Angel Fire, but in many ways more entertaining.
Bloodstained Oz by Christopher Golden and James A. Moore, Earthling, 2006, $35, ISBN 0-9766339-6-5
Two of the better practicing horror writers team up for this short novel set in the aftermath of a colossal storm in Kansas. Three separate groups of people have encounters that are grim reflections of events from the Wizard of Oz, emeralds, scarecrows, and so forth. An evil force has been set loose on the Earth and no one is safe. The imagery in this is extremely effective and several scenes are vivid and suspenseful. As a whole, I was slightly disappointed though, because the evil is just a bit too powerful to leave any room for suspense, and the ending seemed abrupt and incomplete.
Dark Side of the Moon by Sherrilyn Kenyon, St Martins, 5/06, $19.95, ISBN 0-312-35743-5
Kenyon's Darkhunter series of vampire romance adventures has been appearing as paperback originals for some time. Their success has led to this, the first to appear in hardcover. The protagonist is a reporter who is down on her luck and looking for a big story to get her back at the top of her profession. Her investigation of the hidden world of vampires was only supposed to be about wannabes who pretend to an undead lifestyle, but she learns that there is more to the stories than just pretense. She becomes emotionally involved with an immortal shapeshifter, a being whose purpose is to protect humanity from supernatural evil, but he takes a particular interest in protecting this one specific human.
Deathbringer by Bryan Smith, Leisure, 3/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5677-1
There seems to have been a small surge in zombie books of late, and here's another one. The setting is a small town where the dead mysteriously begin to return to life, escaping their graves and attacking the living. The usual carnage follows, competently described but offering nothing particularly novel except that there is a nefarious man in town, a man who may be responsible for the risings and who may have even larger ambitions. Standard horror fare with occasional intense scenes.
Kindred by John Passarella, Pocket Star, 6/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-8480-0
Ghost stories have been making a slow but steady resurgence, sometimes traditional, sometimes not. John Passarella's latest takes some elements from the ghost story and mixes it with new ideas in this story of a woman who is drawn into an investigation of the murder of her twin sister. Predictably, she faces danger herself as she moves closer to the truth, but unpredictably she had an ally, the spirit of her dead sister, who can communicate from beyond the grave. Good solid storytelling, a convincing mystery, and stretches of genuinely gripping suspense.
Kong Reborn by Russell Blackford, Ibooks, 2005, $7.99, ISBN 1-59687-133-4
I was expecting some kind of sequel to King Kong when the movie was remade, but I hadn't expected it to take quite this form. Russell Blackford, who has dabbled in SF before, sets this story a couple of generations later, with Denham's grandson involved in the cloning of Kong, followed by an expedition to Skull Island. The second half of the book is the high point, a nice mix of lost world and contemporary thriller.
Failure by John Everson, Delirium, 2006, $19.95, no ISBN
This is the first in a new line of chapbooks from Delirium, and it is handsomely produced and signed by the author. The plot is a simple one. A would be sorcerer hopes to capture the soul and power of a dead witch by performing a ritual which involves doping four teenagers and having them engage in bloody and perverted sexual antics, following which the surviving female becomes supernaturally pregnant, eventually giving birth to a demon child. One of the other teens rebels at what has happened to them and there's a violent and bloody climax. As with all of Everson's work, the prose is impressive. Unfortunately, in this case the unexceptional plot seems to be just the excuse for a parade of sex and gore. What little we know about the characters is almost entirely negative, so frankly I didn't care what happened to any of them.
Necroscope: The Touch by Brian Lumley, 6/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31609-9
It's been a few years since the last Necroscope book appeared, but Lumley and Harry Keogh are back, the latter only in a fragmentary sense since he's dead. Part of his soul has found a new home and a new protagonist, who begins experiencing odd and inexplicable visions. Before long, he is pitted for personal and moral reasons against three supernatural beings who have a grudge against God. To win, he must forge an alliance with one of the oddest sets of allies ever to be assembled in fictional form. Fans of the series will not be disappointed, and newcomers can pick this one up without having read the earlier volumes – and might be tempted afterward to look for those as well.
Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris, Ace, 5/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01400-3
Sookie Stackhouse returns for her sixth adventure, set in a Southern flavored variation of the kind of parallel contemporary world found in the Anita Blake and other series. When one of her undead relatives dies, or whatever the proper term might be, she is named as heir, but when she begins investigating the details of her benefactor's passing, she discovers that there were lots of people, and unpeople, who had sufficient motive to perform the deed. Vampires, were-creatures, and dubious humans interact in this, one of the more exciting entries in the series.
The Tales of Inspector Legrasse by C.J. Henderson and H.P. Lovecraft, Mythos Books, 2005, $20, ISBN 0-9728545-1-7
A single story by Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu", is the basis for calling this a collaboration, which is quite a stretch. In that story, Lovecraft introduced Inspector Legrasse, however, and Henderson has added seven more stories of his confrontation with Cthulhu's minions, none of which have been previously published insofar as I can tell. They're actually fairly good pastiches, particular "Locked Room" and "Nothing to Fear But Dust". Legrasse gets a light facelift during the course of the book, as Henderson provides additional depth and adds to his personal history. A nice addition to the occult detective sub-genre.
Hook House and Other Horrors by Sherry Decker, Silver Lake, 2006, $12.95, ISBN 1-933511-09-5
I had only read slightly less than half of these stories before, so it was quite a surprise to discover how uniformly good they are. Decker deals with standard genre icons, vampires, witches, ghosts, and such, but she recombines and reimagines them in often startling new ways. The title story, "Chazzabryom", and "Gifts from the North Wind" were my particular favorites. The blurbs imply that there is a feminist slant to the stories, but I didn't feel there was any intrusive agenda, though Decker's viewpoint often differs dramatically from that used by other writers. I'm not familiar with the publisher so I don't know how widely distributed this will be, but it merits some searching.
The Conqueror Worms by Brian Keene, Leisure, 5/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5416-7
Brian Keene's latest is a very mixed bag, and reads more like an old style SF disaster novel than horror, although the explanation for the endless rain that transforms the Earth is supernatural. The story is told from the point of view of an aging widower who survives on a flooded mountaintop, with a long interlude retroactively explaining the previous experiences of a new arrival. The novel is filled with grotesque images and scary scenes, but I had some problems with the book as well. First was the long flashback, which just never quite meshed atmospherically or narratively with the frame story. The second is more serious, and I'll put a spoiler alert here, although the author pretty much tells you the end during the first few pages anyway. The problem is that right from the outset, it is pretty obvious that no one could possibly survive, which makes it difficult to attach any emotional tags to the characters. My third problem is with the ending. I don't mind inconclusive endings, and in fact often enjoy being able to speculate about what happens next. The problem with this one is that too many things are left unconcluded – the fate of the characters, the survival of others, the details of what caused the problem, the nature of the creatures – so much so that I couldn't speculate because I didn't have enough data points to develop a theory. A frequently impressive book that just falls short of being a really great one.
Grimm Reapings by R. Patrick Gates, Pinnacle, 2/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-7860-1640-X
Back in 1990, R. Patrick Gates gave us a very good rendition of an old horror theme, Grimm Memorials, in which an evil witch seeks to extend her life by stealing the body of innocent neighbors. After a considerable gap, the first book has been reprinted and the story extended with this sequel, in which her spirit returns from the dead, this time in an attempt to possess the body of the original victim's child. Gates always writes a good, convincing story, but I think the collective horror community has been to this particular well just a few too many times. I liked it enough to read to the end, but I never worked up much concern about the ultimate fate of the characters.
War Lord by John Shirley, Pocket Star, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 1-4165-0343-9
John Shirley wrote the novelization of the film, Constantine, in which a man with occult powers battles the forces of ultimate evil. Now he has produced an entirely original sequel featuring an even more ultimate evil, a demonic god known as the War Lord whose followers seek to bring him to power on Earth. I wasn't impressed with the original story and film, but Shirley has more latitude this time and the story makes more sense and is considerably more interesting. It doesn't quite escape its comic book origins and it's far from the author's best work, but most readers should find this entertaining.
Cell by Stephen King, Scribers, 2/06, $26.95, ISBN 0-7432-9233-2
Stephen King's new novel is, alas, not among his better ones. One day terrorists send a pulse through cellphones that turns everyone who uses them into raging, mindless zombies. We see this all unfold, initially in Boston, as three survivors try to make their way north, looking for the family of one and a safe haven for all. Alas, the zombies begin changing within days, developing a mass mind, telepathy, levitation, and other powers, apparently evolving toward a mass mind. The major flaw for me is that the odds are stacked so impossibly high against our heroes that I never had any hope that they could succeed, and when they do finally change the course of things, that particular events just didn't convince me. Almost as discouraging is the lack of finely developed characters that has always been a high point of his work. A moderately entertaining thriller but nothing to write home about.
Vampire Transgression by Michael Schiefelbein, St Martins, 5/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-312-33021-9
The first two volumes in this series were published by Alyson, but were popular enough that the author has moved to St Martins for the third. They're vampire novels, obviously, and historical ones, somewhat in the fashion of Anne Rice, but with an additional twist – the gay thematic material. There is a unique set of rules for the undead here. Vampires must live alone and not associate with others of their kind and there is an elaborate method by which a human victim can be chosen to replace his master, after which the older vampire must leave the world for a mystical other realm. The protagonist in this case decides to break both rules and remain with the man he loves, but there are others who insist that the ancient laws remain unbroken. Don't be put off by the gay themes. The novel is well written and sufficiently original to distinguish itself from the competing volumes.
Shadows in the Asylum: The Case Files of Dr. Charles Marsh by D.A. Stern, Emmis, 2006, $14.95, ISBN 1-57860-204-1
A student on an archaeological expedition to dig up native American artifacts gets more than she counted on when discorporate spirits put in an appearance. The entire book is presented as a series of interviews, journal entries, and other documents pertaining to her incarceration and treatment at a mental institution, but unlike most epistolary novels, in this case each page is essentially a photocopy of the actual documents, sometimes handwritten, sometimes with parts missing or annotated. The device works pretty well in this case although after a while the reader is likely to be well ahead of the story that is being unfolded.
Dark Shadows: The Salem Branch by Lara Parker, Tor, 7/06, $12.95, ISBN 0-765-30457-0
Although I was never a fan of the Dark Shadows television series, it is undeniably a milestone in vampire lore, particularly because it featured one of the very first non-evil vampires – a trend which has now been taken to its ridiculous extreme in contemporary romance fiction. How someone can find it romantic to imagine sex with a corpse, no matter how handsome, is beyond me. This novel, by a former cast member, follows the series, which ended with Barnabas becoming mortal once again. Now the roles are reversed as another evil vampire threatens everything he has gained, requiring him to journey back to the Salem witch trials in order to prevail. I liked the novel a lot better than the TV show, particularly the ironic plot.
Monster Island by David Wellington, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006, $13.95, ISBN 1-56025-850-0
Criss Cross by Evie Rhodes, Dafina, 2006, $14, ISBN 0-7582-0872-3
Dogs of War by Steve Ruthenbeck, Batwing Press, 2005, $16.95, ISBN 1-891799-26-6
These three novels involve three different standard horror settings. The first, and best, is a zombie story along the lines of the Living Dead movies. Much of the world has been transformed into zombies, and commando teams from among the still normal travel about on missions to recover medicines and other scarce supplies. There's a nice twist. One of the zombies has somehow managed to retain his self awareness and sense of identity, giving the reader a decidedly unusual viewpoint. Next up is one of those stories in which the protagonist is psychically linked to a serial killer. It's quite well written, suspenseful, mysterious, and with realistic portrayals of the characters, good enough that I managed to ignore how familiar the plot was. Finally we have a story of werewolves. A group of American commandos are dropped into Europe during World War II, but the enemy unit they encounter has an unusual secret weapon – they're all werewolves. The author spends lots of time describing the physical battles, which reminded me of the 2002 movie, Dog Soldiers. Not particularly suspenseful, but plenty of action.
The Hunter's Prey by Diane Whiteside, Berkley Heat, 2/06, $14, ISBN 0-425-21035-9
This collection of erotic vampire stories originally appeared as an E-book a few years back. Personally, I don't consider the possibility of having sex with a corpse, no matter how well dressed, good looking, or pleasant they might otherwise seem, but I guess that's just me because there's a cemetery full of them in romance novels lately. These are a bit more explicit, and the prose is generally quite good. There's just not much story in any of the stories.
Headstone City by Tom Piccirilli, Bantam, 2/06, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58721-8
Tom Piccirilli continues to do things in the horror genre that no one else has tried. His newest is a blend of the supernatural with a traditional crime novel. The protagonist accidentally killed a policeman while driving a cab, served time in prison, and has now been released, faced with the enmity of a mobster. But he has another twist in his life, because he can see and speak to the dead. The author keeps us guessing about who's who and what's what throughout the novel, which has more twists and turns than a New England side street. I'm not sure if this is his best novel, but it often felt that way while I was reading it, because it never relinquishes its grip once it has its claws in you.
The Loveliest Dead by Ray Garton, Leisure, 1/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5648-8
Ray Garton has consistently written well above average horror novels ever since he entered the field, many of which have been notable for their variation from standard horror tropes. This time he's more conventional, but no less interesting. After the tragic death of their young son, the Kellar family moves into a new home, where they are troubled by the appearance, and disappearance, of phantom children from the yard, and a mysterious fat man who can pass through physical barriers unimpeded. The manifestations grow more dramatic as they learn more about the history of their new home. Frequently chilling and with a very nice climax.
Broken by Kelley Armstrong, Bantam,5/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58818-4
The unlikely protagonist of this quite impressive thriller is a pregnant werewolf living in the contemporary world whose investigation into the theft of an artifact linked to Jack the Ripper opens a magical portal to 19th Century London, through which the Ripper and a couple of supernaturally powered associates come forward in order to track down new prey. Guess who? Our hero, of course. Armstrong has a gift for this particularly mixture of werewolves and magic and gives it a fresh touch in each new book. This one is probably her most intensely suspenseful, and proof that it is possible to write a werewolf story that isn't just a reprise of another one. One caveat, however. I believe that it has been known for quite some time that none of the supposed Ripper letters were authentic.
Freaks by Annette Curtis Klause, McElderry, 1/06, $16.95, ISBN 0-689-87037-X
I believe this is Annette Klause's third young adult novel, the first two of which I recall liking quite a bit, but her latest is her strongest. Abel Dandy has been raised during the late 19th Century in a sprawling amusement park called Faeryland, and most of his friends are freaks who work there as exhibits. When Abel finally runs away he finds that the outside world is a very strange place, but even after he begins to adjust, he is troubled by mysterious dreams about a girl he has never met. A magically empowered ring, a girl with unusual powers, and an exciting adventure follow. Very suspenseful, and Klause invokes period America quite believably.
Twisted Branch by Chris Blaine, Berkley, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-20524-X
Here's another novel of the Abaddon Inn, an imaginary haunted bed and breakfast in Cape May, New Jersey, this one written by Elizabeth Massie under the Blaine house pseudonym. The Inn is being refurbished again, but the new owners are distracted by their son, whose behavior is erratic and ungovernable. When an ex-teacher seems to have a talent for getting the boy to behave, they hire him as an in-house schoolteacher, which leads to his residence in the Inn. The creepiness starts later and slowly, but oddly enough I found that part of the plot almost intrusive, because I was so interested in the relationships among the characters that it almost seemed unnecessary. The tension builds after that and the journey to the end is exciting and, because of the strength of the characterization, quite emotional.
Phantom Nights by John Farris, Tor, 12/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-34688-5
The time is 1952, the setting the American South, where racial prejudice still manifests itself in differential treatment, even when the subject is murder. Mally is a black woman who is raped and murdered by a prominent white politician. Shortly before her death, she befriended a mute teenager whose home life is undergoing a crisis despite the sympathetic actions of his older brother, who is acting sheriff. When Mally's father shows up, using his medical expertise to prove that her "accidental" death was anything but, evidence points to the man responsible, but not sufficient to bring her to justice. But there's another force at work, because Mally's spirit has lingered, communicating only to her mute friend, and preparing for her final act of vengeance. I've always enjoyed Farris' work, which is often deceptively understated but which invariably delivers strong emotional impact and a satisfying climax.
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