Archive for the ‘Book Review (Non SF)’ Category

Death Has Many Doors – Fredric Brown (1951)

April 17, 2020

I stumbled upon Frederic Brown’s work as a teen when I came across a copy of his insanely funny novel Martians, Go Home, a book noted as much for its great cover art featuring a bulbous nosed green Martian by artist Kelly Freas and used for many years now as the logo of Toronto Library Merrill Collection. I was immediately taken with his laid back style of writing and sought more. Discussing the author with friends back in those pre-internet BBS days, I was informed that I should also give some of his mystery books a try as well, as he was much more prolific in that genre.

Death Has Many Doors is but one of his noir mysteries featuring the nephew-uncle team of private investigators pounding the pavement in Chicago. The young, handsome Ed Hunter takes center stage as he chases cases with his uncle Ambrose, or just “Am”, a teamup used in a series of Brown’s novels as he did in the earlier The Dead Ringer.

One of the things I like about Brown is his tendency to add things slightly out of the norm and in this case he dipped slightly into his Science Fiction bag by making the suspected murderer a Martian. Of course this needs some explaining.

In the classic noir opening scene we have a lovely girl, the requisite ‘dame’, enter the PI’s office making a claim that she believes she will be killed and wants Ed to help her. The twist is that she believes she will be killed by a Martian who has already phoned her and divulged his intentions. After failing to convince the woman to seek psychiatric help he gets involved despite himself, and sure as you can say “Take me to your leader” the woman soon dies under mysterious circumstances.

With no plausible explanation for her death Ed does a bit of digging into her past and family but that only deepens the mystery as it also reveals that there was no clear motive for anyone to kill her. Things get even more interesting when the ‘Martian’ rings Ed and hires the Hunters to solve the mystery, and provides some good, clean Earthly cash to do the work. If that weren’t enough to entice him, the woman’s knockout, look-alike sister seals the deal until another death only deepen Ed’s resolve.

I have to admit that the reveal for the focal murder ends up being highly contrived, and only hinted in the last few pages. Worse is that the science behind the explanation is also quite questionable. But these stories are all about the ride to the end and given the age and the pulp factor, it delivers the goods. In true gumshoe fashion, there are plenty of cigarettes and salacious bits that are just as smoky, all without being graphic or explicit.

Brown was notable for setting many of his stories with newspaper publishing background, which I believe he worked in at some point, and carnival settings, such as that in The Deep End. For his science fiction, Brown was a master of the short form and I would highly recommend From These Ashes which collects all of his short stories. Science fiction Genre fans will certainly recognize his story Arena, which was adapted for both the original Star Trek TV series (the one with the lizard like Gorn) and as an Outer Limits episode which was slightly more faithful to the story. Whatever your tastes, mystery or science fiction, do yourself a favor and give Brown a try if you haven’t already.

 

Tall Tales of the Weird West – Axel Howerton and R. Overwater [Ed.] (2017)

April 2, 2020

While picking up a bunch of books last year’s at Can-Con I was piqued by the magnificent cover art of Tall Tales of the Weird West and more so the subject matter. While I enjoy a good western movie every now and then, I’ve never read any western literature, nor have I felt particularly inclined to up until then. But throw in the word “Weird” in the title and I was immediately open to the possibilities and so decided to take this one for a ride.

Here’s a quick recap of the stories and a summary.

The First Rodeo  (Jackson Lowry)

When a bunch of rowdy ranchers stop for some grub and a drink at a saloon diner the tall tales about the “first rodeo” start flying as each of the boys try to outdo each other and vie for bragging rights.  But the humble host of this diner has his own version of that first rodeo and he has the boys beat by far. Time wise that is.

 

Bloodhound (C. Courtney Joyner)

A lazy and scared sheriff decides to deputize the young office sweep to capture a killer rather than doing the job himself. Taking the challenge to heart and every ounce of puny energy he can muster leads the deputy on a five day hunt for a prey that is no mere killer. Not even human really.

 

Rosie’s Chicken and Waffles (El Cuchillo)

Barricaded against an attack by a swarm of chupacabras, Zeke can only think of his beloved Rosie. But can he get back to the safety of the woods before they git I’m? Gotta admit, if nothing else this certainly qualifies as a weird story.

 

The Gifts of a Folding Girl (Scott S. Phillips)

A pair of half-wits are held up in a cabin by a posse outside and must rely on some magic dust one of ‘em got from a Navajo gal. Of course with that kind of tribal juju it all comes down to the incantation, so you really don’t want to make a bad choice of words.

 

You Are the Blood (Brady Cole)

Short, rather uninspiring tale about a kid holed up with his “master” vampire as a town of fangsters have Cowboys roll in to clean up.

 

Dinner in Carcosa (Allan Williams)

A post-Depression insurance adjuster finds a barn to hole up in for the night with his companion horse when he is surprised to find an entire family living in a previously missed house right next door. I found it to be a very engaging story but with a rather abrupt ending.

 

Cold Eggs and Whiskey (R. Overwater)

Relying on neither any classic theme or monster, yet is both weird and horrific. A wandering dandy who stays around when a train accident leaves him stranded in a small town. Earning room and board from a widow and her son, a relationship develops. But something is amiss. This slow brewing story has a great ending to a novel ailment. Despite a problematic chronology, it’s one of the best stories in the lot.

 

Death is Daily (Craig Garrett)

A nice story in which ogres both live with and battle mankind. One particular ogre comes to live with a widow and her son – yeah, two stories in a row with a widow and son – as he contemplates whether he has a soul and if he is doomed to damnation. The most lovable ogre since Schrek.

 

The Horse Always Gets it First (Axel Howerton)

Booze runner and his horse on the run are backed into a canyon corner when they come across an alien spaceship. But this is not an alien story at all. But they do find something in the ship that will transform them. This is as much the horse’s story as it is his “master” who, it turns out isn’t his master at all. So says the horse. This one will pull a bit on heart strings.

 

You’ll notice many odd things about this anthology edited by Axel Howerton and R. Overwater not the least of which they both have their own contributing stories. But that is explained somewhat in the afterword including a claim that a large number of authors here (supposedly ‘big names’) have opted to use nom-de-plumes instead.  Regardless, the werewolves, vampires, zombies and others offer a heck of a lot more that befit the “Weird” and I think everyone will find most of these enjoyable.

Published by Coffin Hop Press – the same folks who brought us Rocket Ryder & Little Putt-Putt Go Down Swinging – I should point out that the lovely cover art I mentioned (and shown here) was created by Tom Bagley, is that of the 2nd edition.

It – Stephen King (1986)

February 7, 2020

I’ve done It. Or to be more precise, I’ve read It. I have to admit that as much as I am a fan of the recent two movies by director Andy Muschietti which adapted Stephen King’s voluminous novel It, coming in at nearly 1100 pages of fine print reading the novel seemed a daunting task. But having increasingly read more King these last few years I’ve come to appreciate the author’s talent at delivering engaging prose with interesting and well defined characters that make it easy to read no matter how long the text. Despite the two movies clocking in at over five hours in total I could not clear my mind that there could be so much more hidden creepiness to the story yet to be enjoyed in the ‘brick’ of a novel. I was not disappointed.

Assuming many reading this may already be familiar with the main elements of the films (or even the less successful, but also faithful television mini-series which aired in 1990) I’ll only give a very high level plot synopsis here.

Small town Derry, Maine has been experiencing a repeating historical pattern of child disappearances every 27 years or so. When Bill Denbrough’s little brother Georgie becomes a victim in 1957 Bill becomes fixated on finding out what happened to him. He and six friends slowly decipher Derry’s strange past of missing kids and other anomalous events that have occured there over the years. But each of the kids, Richie, Ben, Stan, Eddie, Mike and Beverly have experienced their own personal encounters with this unknown entity they simply refer to as “It” and which is often seen in the personification of Pennywise the clown.

They finally track and battle It by the end of that year and each goes their separate way until 1985 when the abductions resume and the now adult group make their way back to Derry to rid the town of the evil entity. So powerful is the evil force that they have forgotten most of the memories of that first encounter. Led by Bill, the motley group have formed a bond that is the essence of their power to perceive It while others are oblivious and even controlled by It. But can they still muster the strength to combat It a second and final time?

The characters in this novel are indeed much more fleshed out than in the cinematic versions for both the teenaged kids and their later adult lives. Aspects that are merely hinted at in the films, such as Ben’s success as an architect (and a particular precisely timed habit of appearing at a bar in remote Nebraska) provide some riveting reading. There are multiple horrific tales of town history which are not directly tied to our protagonist group, but which add to the mystique of It and the subjugation of the town. As exclaimed at one point, “Derry is It!”

For those that are fans of King’s other works and the man himself, there are plenty of royal nuggets to enjoy. For one, Bill grows up to become a successful horror writer and King manages to address questions writers like himself are deluged with such as “Where do you get your ideas from?”. Bill becoming neglected and invisible to his parents after Georgie’s death is nostalgically reminiscent of The Body In Different Seasons (later filmed as Stand By Me). There are also building blocks that would later turn up in other stories such as “a cavalcade of creatures darting a shrouded landscape” (The Mist). And the section that describes a sentient 1958 Plymouth Fury (Christine) roaming Derry was a nice thrilling surprise.

And then there are those parts excised from the films as they wander into sexual taboo territory. I’m not just talking about sexual exploration such as the teen masturbation portion, or more to the Bill-Beverly-Ben love triangle which is in the film, but a pivotal point near the finale where all the kids engage. Never saw that coming.

The novel is written from a non-chronological perspective, alternating between the events of 1957 and 1985, but that aspect becomes increasingly interlaced towards the end of the novel when the adults are basically retracing the actions they took as teens. The last section of the novel uses chapter transitions in which a sentence at the end of one chapter is completed in the next where the setting and context are entirely different, yet the sentence remains apropos. What I find most fascinating in this is that comic writer Alan Moore used this technique so effectively in his masterpiece Watchmen whose issues were released between 1986 and 1987- almost exactly the time King was writing It. I can’t help but wonder if one of them borrowed the concept from the other. (To be fair, Moore’s use was superior in the quality of the transitions, also daring to go further by blending more than just two separate timelines.)

Going back to Muschietti’s film adaptations, he has stated that he actually filmed a lot more than what was shown in the theatrical release for both films and that he would someday like to put out an edition with all of those extra scenes. I for one hope that he does so, and now having read the novel can only wonder which missing bits from the novel made it into those extra scenes. To be sure there are favorable points in the film that were never in the script such as Bill’s surprising guilt-ridden confession to the others for why Georgie was really out that day he went missing.

I can go on and on about the novel. Just read It!

Bonhomme Sept-Heures – Evan May (2016)

November 15, 2019

My initial intrigue in reading Evan May’s Bonhomme Sept-Heures was my familiarity with the legend based on the horror movies The Bonesetter (2003) and The Bonesetter Returns (2005)  by Brett Kelly. After attending the premiere of the first film I thought that the character and story were original until I did a little more digging. It turns out that the legend of a stovepipe hatted entity who snatches children when they stay outdoors beyond seven o’clock at night is steeped in Quebec lore. Variations on the legend have this character going from town to town as travelling medical practitioner, hence “bone-setter”, which is phonetically close to “Bonhomme Sept-Heures” in French which, as a whole, loosely translates to “The seven o’clock man”.

That being said, what I expected here was a horror story, pure and simple, much like the movie presentations. However this novel ended up being more of a paranormal fantasy playing out largely as police/detective procedural rather than any real horror narrative.

Our story begins (well more on that later) with a convicted murderer, Adam Godwinson, who is not only a priest but an ex-bookseller. The background to his current incarceration is vaguely explained as an encounter with members of some secretive foundation under the influence of an evil entity – coined “The Infection” – which Adam and crew of youths managed to repress but at the cost of his own freedom. Suddenly out of nowhere David Prentiss, an official of some indeterminate (yet powerful) law enforcement agency visits Adam in prison and offers him immediate limited freedom if he joins the agent to help solve a case of a serial child killer currently on a killing spree in a remote Quebec town.

When Prentiss, Adam, and Jack – a chaperon of sorts to keep an eye out on Adam – arrive in Lac de Thé they are met with a reluctant Sûreté du Québec (provincial police force), distraught citizens, an oddly inquisitive school teacher, a local bigot drunkard, and a skeptical clergyman among others. Later joined by one of Adams former students, now a reporter, the team have to disseminate what little evidence they have to determine if they are dealing with a serial killer or if some mystic force is in play. And as time ticks away they dread that yet another young body may show up.

My one problem with the novel is that almost from the very beginning with the explanation of Adam’s incarceration flashback I sensed that what I was reading was in fact a sequel to a previous story. Sure enough when I checked I learned that May wrote King in Darkness which was published a year prior which described those events completely. Unfortunate as a number of the characters and events are fleetingly reference here which often left me confused without the proper context while adding little, if anything, to this story.  Nowhere in this book is the prequel even mentioned. Neither front or back covers, acknowledgements, or even the author bio make any mention of it which is a shame as I would have read that book first.

I do heartily recommend this book but do yourself a favour and get King in Darkness first to get the most out of this one.

Rocket Ryder & Little Putt-Putt Go Down Swinging – Timothy Friend (2018)

October 17, 2019

The only negative thing I can say about this novella is that it has an overly long and somewhat misleading title. However once I read it and the liner notes that included author’s intent, I understood how it came to be yet still wish a more apropos title was used. I say this because it was only a matter of circumstance that I picked up the book in the first place . But I’m certainly glad I did.

This is a 1950’s era murder mystery that includes Film Noir clichés like a murder, a set of compromising photos of a well-to-do individual, rogue cops on the take, some down on their luck characters, and revenge as a central driving force. What distinguishes it from Film Noir is the decidedly spicy language used throughout. No Hays Code filtering here!

The author also clearly has a fondness for classic day-time kiddie shows like Captain Video, Space Ranger and other bygone low budget silver suited heroes. In this case the titular characters Rocket Ryder and Little Putt-Putt, the star and sidekick of a miserly Kansas TV station have just learned that their TV show has been cancelled and that they are out of job. But that’s just the beginning of their problems.

When our protagonist Scotty Crane (AKA Little Putt-Putt) gets a late night call from Rick Tanner (AKA Rocket Ryder) to meet him he is shocked to find that their former show’s director and longtime army buddy has been murdered. The trail leads to the wealthy station owner and his son, but as is always the case while piecing together the clues, the motives, repercussions and conclusion have a number of twists and turns.

Told from the point of view of Little Putt-Putt, his relationship with Rocket Ryder develops nicely as the story progresses. The sleuthing itself is not that remarkable, however the trail is an interesting one. A minor plot device of Scott also having to keep an eye on his bad ticker (that’s a slang reference to his heart you young’uns!) which he nicknames his “Yobo” was more annoying than adding to the tension, but was not bad enough to take me out of the story.

I really enjoyed the nostalgic feeling reading about a world with Brownie cameras, The Dumont TV network (look it up!) and pump jockeys. This was a short, but enjoyable read of neo-Noir that I don’t come across too often, but would certainly like to read more of. I picked up this book from Myth Hawker books and will be shopping for more.

Death by Umbrella – C. Lombardo & J. Kirschner (2016)

August 20, 2019

You’ve heard of Death by a Thousand Cuts? Well how about death by one hundred horror movie weapons?

Almost since the birth of horror movies themselves have script writers and directors strived to provide yet another novel manner in which people can come to a gruesome end. In Death by Umbrella, authors Chris Lombardo and Jeff Kirschner have taken the pains to document one hundred of their favorite weapons of singular destruction in a range of films that run the gamut from the classics to some of the more obscure titles.

Despite a short bibliography, Lombardo and Kirschner are no mere wannabe scribes being the hosts of the Really Awful Movie Podcast, where they weekly dissect and serve up reviews of all manner of weird, shocking or simply outlandish films both old and new. Along the way they tabulated an assortment of tools, machinery, sporting goods, utensils, and gadgets that have been immortalized on celluloid to elicit screams and shudders as cast members bite the dust.

Whether a fairly knowledgeable giallo afficionado or a horror neophyte, readers will delight in either reliving some of our favorite kills such Damien on his tricycle rampage in The Omen, or discover previously unknown fodder like a shape shifting car in Super Hybrid. Did you know about the shish kebab skewering in Happy Birthday to Me? How about Linnea Quigley’s untimely deer antler demise in Silent Night, Deadly Night? They’re all here, and more. Much more as the authors have graciously added a number of honorable mentions in each of the seven chapters used to categorize the book.

Fittingly Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, one of the masters of low budget death dealing himself provides the foreword as the authors provide witty jokes and astute observations and brief synopsis of the films to accompany the blow by blow of the kills. I was especially glad to see some local favorite films that included Homicycle by Ottawa’s very own Brett Kelly (a film that I happen to be an uncredited extra in) and Crawler by Montreal’s Sv Bell. And yes, there are deaths by umbrella. More than one in fact.

I enjoyed the special emphasis on films featuring multiple odd deaths such as the seven deadly sins enacted by Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr. Phibes while not spoiling some of the more delectable kills in movies such as Audition. I’ve always wanted to see The Town that Dreaded Sundown but more so now that I know there is a trombone-knife kill in it. Reading this tome also raised a few questions such as how did the authors know that strip clubs are not open on Christmas as per their cataloging of the electrified stripper pole in Santa’s Slay? (Research?)

I highly recommend this for all horror fans and to follow up the madness by tuning in on the Really Awful Movie Podcast in which I hope the authors are making yet another list for another book.

 

Night Shift – Stephen King (1978)

March 10, 2019

It’s been nearly four years since I reviewed a Stephen King book (11/22/63) and this time I thought I’d go way back a take a swipe at his earliest short story collections – Night Shift – to see what I’d missed the first time around. Now I’ve often marvelled not only how good a writer he is, – despite some misgivings I had reading him in the 1970’s myself – but what amazes me more is how prolific he is when it comes to developing movie material. Now it’s only natural that a popular writer is solicited for movies as producers know that good or bad  some people will come just for the King name alone, a built-in-profit slice if you will. And I can tell you without doubt that those some producers (big and small) have created both great movies as well as, I’ll be polite and just say not-so-great ones. So no small wonder that this early collection has been rifled for cinematic adaptations over the past forty years. As I read the stories I lost count to be honest so you play the Movie Count game as you read my verse terse run down of the collection.

 

Jerusalem’s Lot

Set in the locale of King’s novel/movie Salem’s Lot this tale told through letters of correspondence and a diary describes the Lovecraftian horrors residing in the area prior to vampires making it their home.

 

Graveyard Shift

Workers in a rat infested mill are offered the opportunity to make a few extra bucks by spending their holiday break cleaning out the basement of their workplace. But things like this never go well and this one doesn’t.

 

Night Surf

A post-apocalyptic tale featuring a small group of survivors who seem to be immune to a natural borne virus having suffered through the prototype mutations virus earlier in their lives. Sometimes it sucks to be immune.

 

I Am the Doorway

The lone survivor of two astronauts that had gone to Venus brought along  something. I’ll just say that I purposefully chose the paperback cover shown as it is derived directly from this story.

 

The Mangler

The Mangler is no human bodied killer but a deity that has taken over a folding machine in an industrial laundry processing factory. But which deity? Depends on the ‘ingredients’.

 

The Boogeyman

Sometimes the Boogeyman is a figment of one’s imagination. Lester Billings was trying to convince himself that it was a real Boogeyman that had killed all three of his kids. Sometimes the Boogeyman is real.

 

Grey Matter

A father turns into beer drinking blob mass and the local corner store hangers-on investigate the entity dividing like cells. Think beer guzzling Jabba-the-Hutt long before there was a Jabba.

 

Battleground

A killer for hire meets his match: miniature plastic toy soldiers. Efficiency and ingenuity meet as the Toy Story army brigade go for the big time killer.

 

Trucks

The revolt of the machines is not in the form of robots, but sentient, murderous trucks and right now they got the occupants of a highway gas stop at their mercy. Much cooler and deadlier than Transformers.

 

Sometimes They Come Back

The recollections of a teacher’s nightmares of his kid brother getting killed come back to haunt him again. But they are very real and this time he fights back.

 

Strawberry Spring

Subtler but very creepy tale of a university campus serial killer. This is part horror and part mystery, another form that King has mastered.

 

The Ledge

A eccentric millionaire forces a man to traipse along a ledge completely around the 43rd floor of a building for love, money and life. One of the three short stories adapted in the film Cat’s Eye.

 

The Lawnmower Man

When a man lets his lawn go for a spell he calls in a lawnmower man to get the job done. But this lawnmower man is directly from Hell. Nothing like the movie which is a good thing.

 

Quitters, Inc.

You think quitting smoking is tough? When you join Quitters Inc, the withdrawal symptoms become the least of your problems. But they do guarantee you’ll quit because the alternatives are too gruesome to even contemplate.  Another segment in Cat’s Eye.

 

I Know What You Need

When Elizabeth meets Ed for the first time, he seems to have exactly what she had in mind. But his uncanny knack for knowing just what she needed could not have warned her of the deadly consequences of his gift.

 

Children of the Corn

The children in a remote rural town have killed all those over 18 and now abide He Who Walks Behind The Rows. And the arguing couple who come across the town of Gatlin are about to meet The Children. The original story that has spawned no less than 10 films (Most reviewed right here).

 

The Last Rung on the Ladder

A heartbreaking story of lives drifted apart and the loss of ultimate trust that a person will be there to set things right. Not a horror story by any means but this is certainly one of the chilliest stories in the collection.

 

The Man Who Loved Flowers

Only two pages but it presents the fasting swing from a peaceful, tranquil love filled mood to one that is the opposite of all that. Packs more than just a punch.

 

One For the Road

Another tale set on dark winter storm night down the road from Salem’s Lot. Two salty locals are forced to rescue a city slicker’s family from the evil we all know too well.

 

The Woman in the Room

A son deals with his mom slowly dying in hospital room wrestling with the thought of easing her pain quickly and forever. Sordid thoughts that millions have probably contemplated.

 

Monstrous Affections – David Nickle (2009)

December 7, 2018

I picked up David Nickle’s horror short collection Monstrous Affections mistakenly thinking he was another author whose work I read in another anthology. Basically I was in the mood for some good horror and wanted to try something other than my ‘go to’ Stephen King pile. While it was a case of mistaken author I’m glad to say the error was a fortuitous one as I enjoyed this collection. I thought that the first entry, The Sloan Men, was easily the best story in the lot and the one story indicative of the great cover art on this book in case you were as curious about that face as I was. (Credit artwork to Erik Mohr).

Here’s a rundown of the stories:

 

The Sloan Men

Meeting your boyfriend’s parents for the first time is always a touchy and nerve fraught affair. Moreso if your boyfriend and his father are actual monsters only you did not know it despite the clues.

 

Janie and the Wind

This Wendigo story is told from the point of view of a rather naive woman made a virtual prisoner on a secluded island by her mate. I did find that the story was creepy at first but loses a bit of its luster towards the end.

 

Night of the Tar Baby

An ex-con has picked up a few tips on mystical powers while in the slammer and raises the power of a Tar Baby to protect his family from evil. But as some members of the family soon find out, a Tar Baby does not discriminate between outside threats and those in the family itself. What is a Tar Baby you ask? Must read this to find out and you won’t be disappointed.

 

Other People’s Kids

Fezkul is a devilish imp that only children can see and who readily do his bidding. Even murder. But Sam is on the cusp of adulthood and this borderline state gives him the rare opportunity to save a popular roadside grill and park from Fezkul. A literal coming of age story that includes a bit of lighthearted comedy.

 

The Mayor Will Make a Brief Statement and Then Take Questions

A one-pager story on the hit-and-run death of a child. But buried (deep) in the mayor’s soliloquy is a subtle hint of unstated paranormal horrors.

 

The Pit-Heads

A tale of life friendship among a group of artists and how embracing vampirism may be beneficial to honing their craft while redefining ‘lifelong’. The pit-heads referred to by the title are the mine entrance sheds in which the take refuge.

 

Slide Trombone

Head scratching tale of a doped up Led Zeppelin cover band that can’t figure out how and why they have a trombone player. And then there’s the trout swimming in the bathtub. I did say it was a head scratcher.

 

The Inevitability of Earth

Another very odd tale of a young dreamers anguished life mission to find his long gone grandfather who just “flew away” one day while his family tries to keep him well … grounded.

 

Swamp Witch and the Tea-Drinking Man

This is clearly a fantasy story of a so called ‘swamp witch’ who has snatched and held a town in time. But her time has come when the ‘Tea-Drinking’ man has made the same bargain with the devil. Fantasy has never been my cup of Tea so it’s not surprising that this was my least favorite story.

 

The Delilah Party

When a sex cult tries to set up an emotionally unstable young boy for a tryst with his long time infatuation, they get more than they bargained for.

 

Fly in Your Eye

Single pager exactly fitting the title with a little shocker for an ending.

 

Polyphemus’ Cave

When a renown gay actor returns home upon receiving a telegram of father’s death the ensuing investigation on the exact circumstances include a circus, a soul-sucking giant cyclops and a circus. Guaranteed to be the strangest coming out story you’ll ever read.

 

The Webley

This would fit nicely in a Stephen King collection as it is a story about some kids in a small town, a gun (the titular Webley) and a dog. My only problem was the too abrupt ending as I really wanted more.

Helix: Plague of Ghouls – Pat Flewwelling (2016)

August 17, 2017

When I completed Blight of Exiles, the first novel in Pat Flewwelling’s Helix trilogy I was just too busy with life events to sit down and write a proper review, much to my regret. But I knew I’d have another crack before long with this, Plague of Ghouls, the second in the series.

The Helix series is based on the lycanthropic Wyrd Council that tries to control and keep secret the existence of contemporary werewolves and other mutants that have sprung up due to some genetic tampering. The shadow group has a hierarchy of sorts and have agents that go on missions to both enlist newfound members and contain rogue brethren.

The first novel introduced our protagonist, Ishmael, who was sacked and thrown onto an abandoned remote resort where both good and evil mutations were pitted against each other, the result of an attempt at a cure gone awry.

This novel is an immediate follow up to the first where the survivors including Ishmael are free again, but somewhat still under the control of the Council. When a series of mysterious deaths occur within short distance of a small town, werewolves are suspected and the Council wants to find out exactly what is going on. Are rogue werewolves scurrying unchecked? If so, any public evidence can undermine the entire secret of their existence which would imperil all members.

We are introduced to a new human character, Hector Two-Trees, an indigenous investigator sent by the Council to probe the murders and determine if one or more of the pack were involved. Meanwhile Ishmael worries if some of his own offspring were involved as well as conspiracy elements within the Council.

Part Horror, part Science Fiction and part Criminal Mystery, the novel is rich with indigenous lore, medical and genetic discourse and good old fashion crime scene investigation. While lycanthropes (and variants) rule there are plenty of other creatures including hyenas, coyotes, wendigo’s and hybrids among them all. It’s all fast paced with characters endlessly transforming or in transitional stages. The interrelationships are complex (as will explain next), with lots of betrayals, back stabbing (literal and otherwise), bad blood (literal and otherwise) and past history among the characters.

My one criticism with the novel is the same problem I had with the first in that it is character heavy. Perhaps it is just a personal peeve but I found there were just too many characters for my liking and trying to remember them all, much less their particular situation or stance at any point in the story was hard to keep track of. Making matters more confusing was the fact that depending on what form some of the characters are in at a particular time, they go by different names and identities. The central characters are well defined which keeps me in the story but I found a number of the minor characters distracting and even intruding on the flow at times. Some of those minor characters were interesting and could have been fleshed out more by paring many of the negligible and less interesting ones.

I found latter half, once everything was more clearly established and the story becomes more focused, to be much more satisfying. So keep with it if you find it a bit slow at first. And do read Blight of Exiles before Plague of Ghouls as you do need most of that background to make sense of the characters despite my still having a few problems in that area.

The ending not only satisfyingly clears up the mystery but does so with a horrific conclusion and cliff hanger that will have me back for the third installment which should be released soon.

Plans Diaboliques – Dany Dagenais (2016)

June 21, 2017

Not my usual reading fare, but in the name of national linguistic unity I thought I’d read a French book for a change and do my part to coalesce the Two Solitudes here in the Great White North. I also needed to reinvigorate those brain cells dedicated to that task as I get to practice my French oral deftness at work but rarely do any reading in the language. I do read French on occasion but not as much as I did in elementary and high school when I hated doing it. At that time I was even forced to read a few novels as part of the curriculum, but hardly the types of novel that pique my interests. Being so out of practice, what I needed was something I could digest in smaller doses like a collection of short stories. Luckily I happened to picke up just that from author Dany Dagenais at a local comic convention last year. Plans Diaboliques contains an entertaining assortment of stories that range between horror, science fiction and just a touch of the bizarre in snippets that are easy enough to understand and teach me a few things along the way.

The pocket sized glossy softcover – who’s uncredited cover artwork should be attributed to Sv Bell judging by some of his previous work – comes in at a moderate 156 pages contains the following eight stories

6 Degrés de Séparation: “6 Degrees of Separation”

A fast paced alien parasite story in which a neck burrowing, tentacled invader hops from one person to another chasing some ultimate unknown goal. As new characters are introduced they just as soon become the next host for the alien and are then used bring the alien one step closer to that goal. But’s that goal remains a mystery during the deadly journey.

Destin: “Destiny”

A simple but entertaining take on a visit to a clairvoyant by a highly skeptical woman. Despite some evidence that the gypsy seems to know personal information the skeptic makes a mental checklist of the typical ploys and tactics used by con artists to garner repeat business. When the psychic dispenses the three staples – Money, Love and Death – the woman is satisfied she is a fake. When some of her predictions begin to become true in a impossibly short time the woman steadfastly she refuses to believe the last ominous one.

La Chose Dans Le Sous-Sol: “The Thing in the Basement”

One of the longer stories in the collection about a man who discovers a … well a “Thing”, in his basement after tracking down the source of a recurring noise. Transitioning from fear to fatherly concern, the relationship develops until the man decides to introduce his new friend to the woman who recently left him, convinced that it was just a misunderstanding.

Le Fossoyeur: “The Gravedigger”

What does a young gravedigger do when he starts hearing shouts and banging coming from the coffin he is about to inter? A highly predictable outcome but the scant few pages make for a fun few minutes of reading.

Le Banquet: “The Banquet”

When little oversized orphan Xavier finally gets adopted by a wealthy couple, it appears like a dream come true. Living in a mansion, lavished with gifts, taking exotic vacations on a personal jet are all perks bestowed upon him by his new parents. But having a personal chef attend to his every culinary whim is the best fringe benefit of living the high life. He can hardly wait for the big annual feast his parents arrange for all their friends.

Une Bonne Journee “A Good Day”

A little magic restores a meat butchers vigor to run his business despite a few bad apple customers who harangue and complain in the face of all his efforts to please. An odd form of revenge in this decidedly weird tale.

Marie-Jeanne “Mary-Jane”

When young Thomas and his girlfriend are caught indulging on a bit of weed by the girl’s father he is surprised that not only is the father not mad, but has a tale to tell of his own drug laced adventures. But the father, barely able to contain his annoyance with greedy and simple-minded Thomas, has a surprise and hallucinatory ending.

La Thérapie de George le Peureux “Scared George’s Therapy”

George has a fear complex that bundles more than a few phobias. In fact his panic spans to just about everything you can imagine. As he pours his heart out to the patrons in a local bar, rather than pity the poor man, they give him a solution. One that changes his life in the literal sense.

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection (available at indiepress.net and look forward to reading his next collection – Slinger Sister – which I also recently picked up. Et je suis sûr que mes compétences en lecture française se sont améliorées.