Some brand-new pulp horror fiction, and some older stuff for those who like to haunt used bookstores (i.e. pretty much anybody who'd be reading this-here blog). Enjoy!
The Dead Woman: The Dead Man #4 - David McAfee (Adventures in Television, 2011)
The supernatural action continues in this fourth installment as axe-wielding hero Matt Cahill continues his quest to stop the demonic Mr. Dark. This time he drifts into the small town of Crawford, Tennessee, where he meets a woman who's also died and returned to life with the same evil-spotting powers Matt has. And those powers will come in handy in the Crawford area, because a serial murderer called The Blake County Killer has been in operation there for years, and is about to get busy again. Unfortunately you'll probably guess who the killer is pretty early, and since this entry's more focused on mystery than action, that compromises things a bit. Other than a scene were Matt gets the snot kicked out of him, the book's almost three quarters done before the real fighting starts. McAfee's writing style is good, though, and keeps the novella interesting even when not a whole lot is happening, and the predictability isn't really his fault -- the series has gotten a little too comfortable with the formula and there's a rut starting. Matt sees zombie folks, Mr. Dark shows up to taunt him, Matt thwarts him, then moves on so it can happen again somewhere else. Hopefully subsequent books in the series will shake things up a bit and break the familiarity, and McAfee's writing is good enough that he deserves a chance to be one of the ones who'll do that. These books are coming out so rapidly it probably wouldn't hurt things if they slowed the production schedule a bit and fought off the formula a bit. But even though this entry had a more mundane storyline than usual, it's still well worth picking up, and it ends on a note that promises more trouble for Matt in #5, Blood Mesa. I haven't picked that one up yet, but now that it's available in paper, I'm gonna.
Afraid - Jack Killborn (Grand Central Publishing, 2009)
Breakneck pacing is maintained throughout this scary-ass, no-holds-barred horror novel; I don't know how Kilborn manages to keep the intensity so high without numbing the reader to it, but he pulled it off. Quite a feat. A secret government helicopter crashes in an isolated rural community in Wisconsin, unleashing five experimental "red-ops" soldiers. Formerly serial killers, they've been genetically enhanced to be stronger and have hightened senses, and were given extensive training in the killing arts via microchips planted in their heads. The purpose of these super-soldiers is to demoralize and terrify the enemy through horrific terrorist actions, and they don't really mind that they're not on enemy soil; they proceed to murder every man, woman, and child they can find, often bringing slow death through extreme torture. A few survivors of their predations - including a sheriff, a firefighter, and a single mother and her son -- try to escape the hunting predators as they stalk the town, which has had all electricity and communications cut off. Kilborn isn't afraid to kill off major characters so you don't know who's going to survive, or what shape they'll be in (almost everyone is in need of medical attention), nor does he balk at gore or depravity; his killers are some sick, ruthless sonsabitches who know no limits. Our heroes are constantly in danger, with tense situations coming one after another, but it never wears you out or gets boring. The only drawback is the way people pass up opportunities to kill the psychos. Several times they manage to knock the killers out and then just tie them up instead of cutting their throats; I know that keeps the story going but it does make you want to yell at the protagonists a bit. That aside, this is a definite page-turner and won't let down any reader who can handle this level of violence. Recommended.
The Exorcism of Angela Gray - Norman Thaddeus Vane (Belmont Tower, 1974)
Freaky little horror novel about a coven of devil worshipers who sacrifice girls to a ram, who usually ends up raping them to death. One strange girl -- the Angela Gray of the title -- manages to survive the ritual and ends up impregnated by the ram and is just a wee bit unhinged by the process. An amateur reporter notices her selling her paintings of evil rams and takes the odd little hippie home and has sex with her. Eventually Angela dies, but since he's still seeing her around town, the reporter tracks down the coven to try to figure out what's going on. And that's not necessarily a good idea. Very trashy and strangely written; the author seems to be preoccupied with clumsily inserting "clever lines" (most of which sound like he read them on bumper stickers or tee shirts) into the dialogue, so things sometimes come across as a vaudeville skit. Other times the prose is so deep purple that I expected the book to start playing "Smoke on the Water." Great cover, though, and if you pick this book up, trashy was probably what you were looking for. And at 166 pages of fairly large print (and many of 'em black at the end of short chapters) it won't take much of your time so we can't be too harsh with it.
Hat tip to The Groovy Age of Horror for tipping me to the existence of this book!
Rest In Agony - Ivar Jorgensen (Monarch Books, 1963)
Blah pulp horror in which a kindly uncle dies in great pain and leaves behind an obscene book which is sought by a cult of devil worshipers. The narrator and his sister (who are overjoyed to find out she's adopted because she and her brother have always been borderline incestuous) try to unravel their uncle's secret life and stop the cult. The author's a pen name shared by two sci-fi authros, one of them Harlan Ellison. This isn't him, but it's definitely a sci-fi author because no one else would have come up with the tiresome, overblown pageant of horseshit that ends this warped little mess. The Satanic rite stuff is so breathlessly fanciful that it's damn near unreadable, and it makes this short (125 page) pulp novel seem a lot longer than it is. A dud.
Deeper - James A. Moore (Berkley, 2009)
Unworthy follow-up to one of H. P. Lovecraft's best stories, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," this has our narrator, a boat captain, taking a college professor's expedition out to dive on a reef near the town that used to be Innsmouth. They're studying the "deep ones," the Dagon-spawn fishmen who've tainted the bloodlines of Innsmouth citizens. The writing's not bad (the narrator comes across as pretty much of an asshole who doesn't know he is one; either that's skillful writing or Moore doesn't know how this guy's going to be perceived, but either way it's effective) but Moore doesn't display any understanding of what made Lovecraft's story work at all; there's no creepiness or terror here, and it plays out more like an action novel, with a two-fisted hero fighting monsters. Some of the narrative gets annoying (it's overly conversational, with the narrator asking questions on your behalf and then answering them, way too often) and the monsters become familiar, just an enemy to fight. There are also ghosts and ghost ships thrown in, which gets silly. Not really a horror novel despite the monsters, but not really boring, either.
The Cement Garden- Ian McEwan (Berkley, 1978)
Reminiscent of Julian Gloag's Our Mother's House, and themed similarly to Lord of the Flies, this is a weird novel of a family of children who decide that the best way to stay together after their mother dies is to put her corpse in the basement in a trunk full of concrete, then carry on without her. Soon the house is filthy, the kitchen's full of rotting food, the youngest brother is cross-dressing and then reverting to infanthood, and the eldest sister and brother are carrying on an incestuous relationship. Short, well-written, and odd.
To Walk The Night - William Sloane (Dell, 1937)
Genre-bending novel that is simultaneously a crime/noir novel, sci-fi, and horror. In the form of a narrative of a man telling his best friend's father how his son committed suicide, this novel deals with a mysterious woman who may or may not be human. When the friends find an old college professor of theirs burning to death in an observatory, they're surprised to learn that he was married. His wife, named Selena, is very beautiful, very intelligent, apparently psychic, and emotionally dead. She seems to find the ways of humans rather alien, and no one is sure where she came from. She bears a resemblance to a missing retarded girl, but it seems impossible that there could be any connection. The son falls in love with her and marries her, but eventually starts to discover some very strange secrets about her, and why she has no past. Very intelligent and well-written, high-concept novel that mixes different genres brilliantly and keeps the reader guessing all the way. Worth of rediscovery.
Comes the Blind Fury - John Saul (Dell, 1980)
Another in Saul's long line of scary children horror novels, this one deals with the spirit of a blind girl who was teased until she fell off of a cliff, only to come back about a century later to get revenge on a new batch of mean kids. When a new family moves into the blind girl's old house, she possesses the family's daughter and makes her believe that the ghost is her only friend and then, using the live girl (who's also teased, because she has a limp), the ghost causes accidents that kill any mean children. She also wants to kill the girl's new baby sister. Saul's prose is so simplistic that his work often reads like a young adult novel, and the story's pretty predictable, but some creepiness does come through in spots, and he's not afraid to write a downer. No masterpiece, but not a bore, either.
The Landlady - Constance Rauch (Popular Library, 1975)
A young couple and their toddler daughter rent out the lower floor of an old house and soon find out that their landlady is a creepy old nasty-tempered bitch who's completely mad and has meddled in and ruined the lives of all her previous tenants. Weird things happen, such as a grotesque old pornographic doll showing up in their daughter's crib, and someone sneaking around the house at night, scaring their daughter with perverse acts. Also, an old lady in the village is found knifed to death, which may have something to do with the landlady. Essentially, they're in one of those nightmarish situations that Bentley Little sometimes writes about. The book's a little hard to get into, because even though the prose is intelligent, it has some stilted quaintness to it that sometimes made me wince. I'm glad I stuck with it, though, because after about 50 pages the creepiness starts kicking in and it gets good. The solution is twisted and the influence upon it is pretty obvious, but it works well enough. Seek this one out.
The Grave-Maker's House - Rubin Weber (Avon, 1964)
A violent graveyard caretaker murders an old man and nobody in town will do anything about it because he may turn on them next. A schoolteacher's conscience gets the better of him and he decides to fix the injustice, which may get him and his family killed. Nothing at all special (other than the title and the lurid hand-sticking-out-of-the-dirt cover art) but it's a quick read. The main reason you might want it is the cover and since I've scanned that for ya, quest over.
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