Zero, One, Two...

'Zup? Book reviews this time, a little horror, a little action, a little horror-action. Something for everybody... unless you don't like horror or action, in which case, sucks to be you, budreaux, 'cuz we're all out of Rainbow Brite and Junie B. Jones. You might find something on my Twitter feed that's more to your taste... but if you like my Twitter feed you may not actually have much taste, because it's mostly about, like, farting and stupidity and perversion and misanthropy and pee. I had a joke on there about raping lawn furniture today, I mean, Jesus, what am I thinking, writing things like that?

Anyway, the blog-post title comes from the fact that several of the books discussed today are numbered entries into various series, usually the first or second, and then there's one book that has "zero" in the title, so... it's clevertime in Mighty B-hole Land, no? Hey, the only other title I could think up for the post was "Rock You Like A Candy Cane" and I don't even know what that means - I just kept singing it to myself today during the series of violent thunderstorms that were raping the Southland like an unguarded deck chair.


Yeaaaaaah, like you never thought about it.

Okay, anyway, enough of the crazyperson and on to the good stuff...


The Dead Man #2: Ring of Knives - James Daniels, Lee Goldberg, William Rabkin. Adventures in Television, 2011.
Apparently this action/horror series is going to be handled by a series of guest authors after having been created by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin. A lot of action series books did that back in the day anyway (and even before the day, such as the Spider's "Grant Stockbridge") - they just hid the fact behind a corporate author name, while The Dead Man crew is being upfront with ya. But if they all handle it as well as James Daniels has, then I'm all for it, because so far this story's still banging on all cylinders. This time it's a bit of a Shock Corridor scenario mixed with the series' supernatural-Fugitive-like storyline as back-from-the-dead hero Matt Cahill gets caught in a run-down, out-of-control mental hospital. He sneaks in to interview a doctor who had a patient whose symptoms resembled the new powers Matt's been exhibiting, an unsettling ability which causes evil people to appear as rotting zombies. The patient also spoke of a demonic entity he called "Rotting Jack," who sounds a lot like the "Mr. Dark" who's been after Matt. After being subjected to all sorts of bizarre things since he came back from being frozen alive, Matt's trying to figure out if he's crazy or not. His sanity is still questionable, but the situation he's in is crazy beyond a doubt, because the doctor he came to see is now one of the patients, and the patient he was looking for is now something far worse. Evil nurses subject Matt to shock treatments (who knew those could have erotic benefits?) and also want to send him to the "ring of knives," which, as you may imagine, isn't anything you'd want to face. And while Matt may not learn as much about what's happened to him as he'd like, he does get a terrifying view of what will happen to him if he ever gives up his fight against Mr. Dark. Fast-moving and well-written novella continuing what's turning out to be a very good series. You can get them in paperback at Amazon... or in e-book, but don't go for that format -- fight the e-plague and stay loyal to paper! There's something just eeeeyarrrgh about reading pulp fiction on something that doesn't even have pulp in it. There's no such thing as "silicon fiction," so let's keep it that way and stay old-school. It's worth the extra bucks to stay with paper. You will thank me after the EMP. In any case, pick this up and read it soon, because I hear that the third installment isn't far off. But you'll already know that if you follow The Dead Man on Twitter.

The previous Dead Man book is reviewed here.

Population Zero - Wrath James White, Deadite Press, 2010.
I usually say I'm all for zero population growth, but I guess I'm not really all for it because I find the actions of the main character in this hardcore horror novella just a bit extreme. An ecology nut named Todd is so upset at the overpopulation problem facing the planet that he feels he needs to do more to stop it. He starts by offering secret incentives to the clients he meets in his job at the welfare office, trying to get them to abort their pregnancies and get sterilized. When success is limited in this endeavor, Todd -- already warped by extremely horrific childhood trauma -- becomes unhinged and starts taking his plan to gruesome extremes. White is never one to balk from showing extreme violence and gore, and that's certainly on display here (you may not believe what you're reading when you get to pages 92-93! Holy shit!), but as extremely horrifying as this book is, it also has valid concerns about overpopulation, while serving as a satire of extremists like Todd (I've met a few who were almost pushy enough to do the things he does). While it deals heavily with abortion it's not really a pro-choice or pro-life book because it's viewed through the eyes of a character who wants to make that choice for everyone else. Which, come to think of it, is kinda what opponents of pro-choice want to do, too; Todd's just kind of flipped that Godbully coin. In any case, the subject matter and the no-holds-barred presentation of it will put this out of reach for some, but hardcore horror fans are advised to seek out a copy; it's a short book but moves even quicker than its page count, because the pace never lets up.

Wrath has a great Twitter feed that you can follow here and a top-notch blog that you're also advised to check out. And a previous book, Succulent Prey, was reviewed here.

A Gathering Of Crows - Brian Keene, Deadite Press, 2011
Brian Keene's last book for Leisure before they screwed up a good thing (both with him and with the reading public) is the story of a small town's destruction at the hands (and beaks) of some demonic shape-shifters who were originally occultists at the lost colony of Roanoke, which was found deserted in 1590, leaving only the mysterious word "CROATOAN" carved on a tree. I've always been intrigued by that story, and apparently Keene was, too, and came up with an interesting theory that really put the "crow" in "Croatoan." These five dark men descend on the dying town of Brinkley Springs in the shape of crows, and even though they town's already on its way out, they speed things up by murdering its inhabitants in various gruesome ways. They want to feast on their souls, and the souls are tastier when the people giving them up have first been thoroughly terrified. Thus mass carnage happens. A former Amish magus named Levi (who was in Keene's previous Ghost Walk and Dark Hollow) arrives in his buggy to combat them in hopes of saving the town's few survivors, but his magic may not be strong enough to deal with these evil ones. It's not particularly scary, really, but it's action-packed and has plenty of good-vs.-bad magic to keep things interesting. I'd call this horror-based action-adventure instead of strictly horror (although there's no shortage of graphic killing), but there's nothing wrong with that, and the pacing never lags. Keene's writing is solid as always, and I doubt anyone will be disappointed in this one, especially if you like a little fantasy action mixed with your scares. The peek into things Lovecraftian is also appreciated. Leisure isn't supposed to be selling Keene's works anymore, so don't buy the Leisure version if you see it; it's worth a few extra bucks to get the Deadite Press version.

Keene's got a highly entertaining Twitter feed, and pretty-much the best site for the horror fiction industry on the web. One of these days I gotta un-lazy my ass enough to register for that forum... (Yes, I am so lazy that registering for forums is something I procrastinate about. It's amazing that I get posts for this blog written, really...) I also reviewed a previous Keene book here.

Hellrider #1 - Dan Killerman, Pinnacle Crossfire, 1985
First in a short-lived (2 volume) series about a vengeance-seeking bounty hunter, Jesse Heller, a.k.a. "The Man Called Hell" (who I don't think anyone in the book ever calls Hell). He rides around on a Harley, seeking revenge against outlaw bikers who murdered his family (at Bass Lake, which leads me to think Hunter S. Thompson's classic Hell's Angels was a main source for research). On the way he massacres whole motorcycle gangs, even after he's had the snot stomped out of him and been nearly whipped to death by a dominatrix. Heller (excuse me, "Hell") is one of these action heroes who can be pounded nearly to death and - instead of spending a month in the hospital - still throw his gun aside to try taking on a badass biker hand-to-hand. It's not realistic, but I like guns and motorcycles (and dominatrixes) so I'm all for it, even if the prose is sometimes so overwritten that it's completely hilarious. Want some examples? On the very first page you are confronted with this mighty sentence: "Desolation was a burning gift from the Devil to this scorching flatland where the snakes slithered, the scorpions crawled, the buzzards soared and the sun-bleached skeletal remains of cattle betrayed the unforgiving hatred of nature toward this barren anus of suffering and slow death." I mean, does the English language get any more wonderful than "barren anus of suffering"? I think not! In fact, if there had been a third Hellrider book, I would have liked them to call it Hellrider #3: Barren Anus Of Suffering. It is such juxtaposition of words for which the English language was invented, verily. But "It was as if the earth had split open, spewing molten vomit" is pretty damn charmin', too. Occasional hilarity aside, it keeps moving and isn't lacking in action, and you won't be bored.

Rather than post a picture of the next one, I'll refer you to Horror Drive-In where you can see it, just because I like to plug other blogs. Another blog I like, Phantom of Pulp, supposedly covered it but I can't find it anywhere. Maybe you'll have better luck, and even if you don't, you'll surely find other interesting reviews if you check there.

The Happy Man - Eric C. Higgs, St. Martin's, 1985.
Charles, our narrator, gets a new neighbor named Ruskin. Ruskin has a dangerous, hedonistic way about him that Charles finds intriguing, and as the two men bond, Ruskin's evil becomes more prominent, from letting a couple of drunk girls die in a flaming car wreck to loaning Charles elusive copies of the works of the Marquis DeSade. As Charles is drawn into Ruskin's web he becomes more corrupt himself, and thus more welcomed by the sociopathic Ruskin, who seems to view him as a disciple. Charles soon learns that he still has quite a way to go to match Ruskin's level of depravity, though, or his unholy appetites. Intense and artfully-written horror that's kind of like an early take on some of American Psycho's themes, and it's worthy of rediscovery. The narrator's gradual (and well-guided) descent into madness is chillingly handled and makes this an obscurity worth seeking out.

Again, no picture of the next book; mine's the hardback and the cover's the starkest thing ever, all white with plain black letters. But you can see a color paperback cover at another of my favorite blogs, Glorious Trash - go there to read more.

The Necrophiles - David Gurney, Berrard Geis Associates, 1969.
Wow! Amazing that something this sickly graphic could come out in 1969. A group of thrill-seeking British teens looking for new kicks find some very gory crime-scene photos, and, turned on by the gore and morbidity, decide to take things to the next level by breaking into a funeral home and hacking up some corpses. They take pieces of the bodies home and most of them are disturbed by what they've done and want to stop there, but the ringleader, Theo, coerces his friend Johnny to continue their necrophile activities and expand it into a business. Theo interests some wealthy Satanists in paying him to bring them corpses, but after Theo pulls a Burke and Hare trick after a botched funeral-home robbery, his clients decide they want fresher victims... as in, still alive. Johnny wants no part of murder or delivering people to be tortured to death, but he's too weak and Theo's too persuasive and the situation's soon way out of hand. This one's well-written and very dark, and even though it doesn't dwell on the gory details as much as it could (still leaving some room for the reader's imagination to work on implications) it doesn't shy away from the sickness, either; this must have been a really extreme reading experience back when it was first published, because it still packs a punch post-splatterpunk. You'll have to seek out used copies but it's worth the hunt... and worth the republishing if anyone out there has the means.

Vengeance is His: Ninja Master #1 - Wade Barker (Ric Myers), Warner Books, 1981
First in an increasingly-violent series about one of the world's greatest martial artists who, after losing his parents and wife to a few methed-out bikers, decides to uses his skills to help picked-on citizens. First he goes to Japan and trains for nine years to be a ninja (the training is tossed off in a sentence; it reminds me of Steve Martin's plan to be a millionaire and never pay taxes: "First, get a million dollars."). Then he returns home, finds a community being terrorized by a big street gang, and dispenses with them like Death Wish 3 'cept without guns. It's better-written than most and has good action scenes, but they're kept limited to the leaders of the gang rather than taking on many of the street thugs, which would've been fun.

Night Raider: Lone Wolf #1 - Mike Barry , Berkley Medallion, 1973
When narcotics officer Burt Wulff (no relation to the chef) finds his fiancĂ© dead of an overdose, he throws away his badge, tells his partner “I’m going to kill a lot of people,” and sets out to declare a one-man war against the international drug trade. Committed to the idea that he’s already dead, Wulff is completely ruthless, working his way up the chain of drug dealers, beating, shooting, burning, and blowing up any drug trafficker he finds. This is very hard-boiled, nihilistic, and better-written than most vigilante series books, and the series the followed is one of the strangest in the genre, because it was written by sci-fi author Barry N. Malzberg, who had a contempt for vigilante fiction and made his “hero” a psychotic lunatic who would grow more out of control as the series progressed until, guided by self-righteous delusions, he’d start murdering random citizens. The writing is artsier than most and semi-stream-of-consciousness, and it would get sloppier as the series went on (some books even forgot his name was Burt and called him Martin), but this one is a strong start and packed with colorfully-written mayhem.

Assignment Sulu Sea - Edward S. Aarons, Fawcett Gold Medal, 1964
Federal troubleshooter Sam Durell meets a girl from his childhood on a tropic island as he’s called in to discover the whereabouts of a hijacked submarine full of nuclear missiles and stop it from falling into the hands of the Red Chinese. The romantic entanglements between Sam and the girl are just a distraction from the espionage as he uncovers traitorous plots and the crazy plan of a local crime lord. The writing is tight and very descriptive and the story never stops moving, either with realistic action scenes or with intrigue. Another good one from Aarons.

Why do I find this cover so hilarious?

The Avenger - Chet Cunningham, Warner, 1987
First in a Lone Wolf-like action series in which DEA agent Matt Hawke gives up his badge to become a vigilante when his wife is tortured to death by drug dealers. Arming himself and financing his war with requisitioned drug money, he moves in with a 17-year-old hooker and starts wiping out the drug trade. There’s a lot of action, which is well-written (but oddly not knowledgeable, since he’s able to silence a .45 so well it can’t be heard in the next room); Cunningham wrote half of the Penetrator series (all the even-numbered ones) so he knows his way around this genre. There’s enough plot to sustain the action, and you won’t mind much that it’s a little unbelievable (it’s far too easy for Hawke to find people connected to the drug trade and get away with killing them by the score). The brother-sister relationship between Hawke and the hooker is awkwardly cutesy and some of the declarations of purpose are cheesy, but the novel does a good job of holding your interest even when it’s predictable, and it’s better than most. As an in-joke Hawke takes on the alias of “Dan Streib” at one point, who wrote the Hawk series.

Night of the Juggler - William P. McGivern, Berkley, 1975
A psychotic and retarded giant, driven by needs even he doesn’t really understand (he’s so dim he can’t even remember his own name sometimes), abducts a little girl every year on the anniversary of his mother’s death and mauls and kills her. Because he finishes his depraved acts with a slash across the jugular beins, the police have named him “The Juggler,” and they’re desperate to stop him this year. The little girl he snatches has a military expert for a father and he uses his skills to try to find the lunatic before the police can. Some of the secondary-character exposition in the first half is a bit slow, but the hunt for the killer through Central Park that makes up the second half is riveting. McGivern does a great job getting into the murky mind of the killer and showing all of his strange associations and confusions, even making it believable that a person of such low mental capacity could evade the police for so long.

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