Start the New Year with some Horror and Horror-ish Reading
Happy 2012, everybody! Enjoy it while you can, 'cuz the Mayan curse is comin' for our asses. Booga booga! Prepare to be annihilated as soon as it's convenient!
Here are some reviews of horror books (and one non-horror book from a writer who's usually associated with horror so I snuck 'im in) I read recently.
Strange, obscure horror novel whose reputation has been growing in recent years. A guy named Richardson is living in an apartment building that's slated for demolition. Only he and three or four other neighbors haven't moved out yet, and they're all rather eccentric (an artist, an excommunicated monk who believes in occult mumbo-jumbo, etc.) Richardson, however, worries that he may be losing his mind, because he hears a whooshing noise like someone swinging a golf club in his apartment, has crazy dreams, and is overwhelmed by a feeling that someone is coming to kill him. His neighbors eventually come to the same conclusion, with sometimes tragic results. Meanwhile, in a parallel story, a man named Willow is tirelessly researching the genealogy of the Tully family, who were once wine merchants centuries before. What the two stories have to do with each other is kept a secret until the last few pages, which is only part of the way this strange novel keeps you bewildered and on edge. The setting is creepy -- a desolate, incredibly cold winter amongst an urban wrecking site -- and the research into the family line is intriguing, and the whole thing has an Argento-movie-esque feel to it. The prose itself, though, is somehow off-putting, a bit too dry and lacking in detail, with characters who are such personality-less cold fish that it’s difficult to get too wrapped up in them. So, it would be a better book if it were stronger in the telling, but there’s enough in what’s there to make it more than worthwhile, with a sense of menace and dread that keeps building throughout.
Another (and much better, I think - Will is a lot less sloppy and more thorough than I am) review of The Search For Joseph Tully can be found at the great Too Much Horror Fiction blog, if you'd like more info.
11/22/63 - Stephen King (Scribner, 2011)
One of King’s best books of the 21st century is a tale of time travel, true love, and the price of both. A high school teacher is informed by his terminal-cancer-ridden fry-cook buddy that there’s a “rabbit hole” to the past (September 9, 1958, to be precise) and he wants him to use it to go back and finish a mission his cancer stopped him from completing -- preventing the Kennedy assassination and, subsequently, all the bad things he believes were caused by it. Our hero takes on the task because he thinks it can fix some other little problems along the way (such as a student’s family tragedy), and while having to live in the past awaiting the Kennedy assassination attempt (he wants to be certain Oswald did it and acted alone) he falls in love with a school librarian and that becomes as important as the mission, if not more so. King does an amazing job of capturing the late 50’s and early 60’s (I wasn’t there, but it sure feels legit and it’s detail-rich), and the stalking of Lee Harvey Oswald is compelling and well-researched. As usual, King’s sentimental folksiness does get the better of him at points; the whole school-play stuff works out too perfectly magical and makes me feel pretty sure that King knows what number The Hallmark Channel is on his cable system. His characters are lovable goofs who never miss a chance to say something corny or sentimental, and it does overload on schmaltz... but it’s top quality schmaltz and King’s so good at it you stay a sucker for it even if you have to roll your eyes now and then. There are some gritty parts, too (our hero falling into the hands of some serious-business-meaning thugs is intense), and even though it’s a really long book (though not overlong, like Under The Dome was, for instance) it stays compelling and fast-moving, and while the romance bit is overdone it ends up being touching despite it all. Not a horror novel by any means, but one of King’s best later-day works.
Southern Gods - John Hornor Jacobs (Nightshade Books, 2011)
When horror author Brian Keene had a semi-heart attack reading this book, and then kept raving about it on Twitter while he was in the emergency room, I knew I had to check it out. Do recommendations come any higher than when they’re delivered as a possible last act on Earth? And the book proves worthy, since it’s the best horror novel I’ve read in a while. A big mob-enforcer type named Bull Ingram is sent to track down the whereabouts of a missing record distributor, as well as a mysterious bluesman named Ramblin’ John Hastur, whose music is played on a pirate radio station that you can only find by luck (and maybe bad luck at that). After hearing a bit of one of Hastur’s dark songs -- which cause listeners to go insane or even come back from the dead - Ingram isn’t certain he wants to find this excessively-creepy musician... but then he gets mixed up with a young mother whose connection to Hastur has put her family in supernatural peril and he doesn’t have much other choice. It’s a very creepy setup (borrowing a little from Robert W. Chambers’ King In Yellow mythos, but there aren’t any scarier sources than that) and even if the apocalyptic-supernatural-battle climax is getting a wee bit familiar in horror novels, it maintains energy and stays compulsively readable throughout. I had a few story ideas of my own in mind that were similar to things Jacob wrote in this book, so at first I was a little ticked off that he’d beaten me to them, but I don’t think I could have written mine as well as he did it, so I’m sure it’s for the best. This book is a must for horror readers, DO NOT MISS IT.
Sometimes when you're a hoarder, you end up with the paperback and the hardback of a book. And what has two thumbs (and a five or six more in boxes somewhere) and definite hoarding tendencies? This guy! So, here ya go...
Letters from the Dead - Campbell Black (Villard Books, 1985)
A couple of single moms vacation with their kids at an old beach house, intending to write a photo book on the beach. The kids, a boy and a girl, both thirteen, are moody and board and not sure if they like each other. Amidst some games in the closet they find an ouija board and use it to talk to a malevolent entity named Roscoe. Yes, Roscoe! Frightened, they avoid the board, but the moms start playing with it and also find Roscoe. It soon becomes clear that Roscoe has plans for the two kids and everybody better get the hell out of that house, but that doesn’t prove so easy. This is an okay horror novel, but just okay; Campbell gives it a good try and he’s not a bad writer but the prose (for a reason I can’t put my finger on, since it’s always competently done) never really draws you in. There are some good ideas in the mix, but it adds up to something a little too mundane and not the Stephen-King-ish fear fest you can tell that Black was trying for. But, like I said, even though it’s not really successful, it’s not a bad try, so it’s worth a read.
Now, one of your Gnu Rear's whatchacall Restitutions should be to follow me on Twitter, where I will tell you funny stuff to help you pee in your pants (and if you don't want peed-in pants, you're no son o' mine!), and I'll also tell you some other good people on Twitter to follow. Basically, I'll just run your whole dadgum life if ya let me. I have good taste and the people I follow are freakin' great. One of 'em is our own KickerOfElves, so that's proof enough that I know of which I speak. It's worth getting yourself a Twitter account just to do that-there-thing! Go forth!