Ginger Nuts of Horror
The Soul Standard is a very bleak and often quite brutal novel. Sure, it's technically an anthology, a grouping of four novellas by four different authors. All of them se tin the same city, different districts. All of them rife with criminal activity, unscrupulous rule and a bevy of unlikeable people. It's dystopian and unsettling.
Caleb Ross opens with Financial District: Four Corners. His is a story of a morally unstable banker, who is promoted to the job of keeping his boss happy at all times, at any cost. It is a story ripe with organharvesting, the past careening headlong into the present and the fact that sins are not as easy to remove as say a jacket. It's an unpredicatble and seedy ride.
Red Light District: Punhos Sagrados is the second offering. Written by Nik Korpon, it is the tragedy-laden tale of a boxer. He is one the down slope of his career but committed to getting the big one under his belt, making enough money to get his mentally ill wife the care she needs and hopefully, set them on the path to a normal life. That's the plan, until he meets Carissa, the lounge singer with the organ-picking side line, who stirs feelings in him that threaten the derail his entire train.
Richard Thomas delivers a bleak saga drenched in sadness (it's what he does, man) entitled The Outskirts: Golden Geese. A criminal with an illness has to come to terms with the life he has lived, the consequences of his actions and how to slap a thick enough bandage on the keep the future from bleeding out. Chillingly honest and despairingly sad.
We cloe out with Axel Taiari's Ghost Town: Jamais Vu. A burdened man's quest to find his missing child is complicated by the fact he cannot recognize faces, to give away more than that would be criminal. Raw and brittle like the bones of the hand, this one is one that will stick with you.
Shared universe shit is hard to pull of. I've never been one who cared for it, but when it's done and done well, it can be a great thing. This one succeeds. The writers involved while not all possessing the same style or vision have somehow alligned their talents into a lumbering monster that steps heavily from the exam table, pulls the cables from its neckbolts and shambles into the night of your brain. You'll play on the events of this book for some time.
The Soul Standard is available from Dzanc Books.
Hot on the heels of novel ‘The Final Cut’, Jasper Bark and Crystal Lake publishing are also publishing ‘Run To Ground’, a novella backed up by ‘How The Dark Bleeds’ from ‘Stuck On You and other Prime Cuts’, and a supporting essay further exploring the underlying mythology called ‘The Qu’rm Saddic Heresy’.
Run To Ground is, at it’s heart, a story about fear - fear of responsibility, fear of commitment. Graveyard groundskeeper Jim Mcleod (and I mean, what kind of a name is that?) has a severe commitment phobia and a kink that would test the tolerance of the most open-minded fetishist (and it’s probably not what you think).
The story is in many ways vintage Bark - twisted humor, challenging adult content, gleeful splatterpunk, and lurking underneath it all, a genuinely original and disturbing mythology. As with ‘The Final Cut’, there’s a ton of elements at work, and the story swings between those different elements with pace, Bark’s characteristically wry, readable prose propelling the reader along. It’s a story that doesn’t compromise on either the comedy or horror elements, refusing to ‘pick a side’, and that tension creates some genuinely unsettling moments, especially as the narrative develops and the connection to the underlying mythos becomes apparent.
Overall I enjoyed my time with ‘Run To Ground’ - Bark has a dark, twisted, intelligent imagination, and Run To Ground is as good a jumping on point as any to see what all the fuss is about.
The backup story is was one of my favourites from ‘Stuck On You’ - a jet-black journey into the fractured mind of a very disturbed individual, with a heavy, no-holds-barred, Books Of Blood era Barker vibe. The academic essay at the end was also a lovely touch, showcasing Bark’s versatility and putting a little more meat on the bones of the mysterious Heresy that haunts these tales.
Run To Ground is a funny, but also surprisingly serious splatter-horror romp. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
As a Stephen King fan of more than thirty years I still look forward to seeing what this continually inventive author will come up with next. This last few novels has seen King hit another very rich run of form with “Joyland”, “Revival” and the surprise sequel to “The Shining”, “Doctor Sleep” amongst my favourites. Apart from his long running fantasy sequence “The Dark Tower” King isn’t much into sequels and so this trilogy which began in 2014 with “Mr Mercedes” took King’s many fans and the publishing world by surprise. Officially known as “The Bill Hodges Trilogy” (although I don’t know anyone who calls it that) King announced very early on that it was three books to be published a year apart. “Mr Mercedes” became one of his biggest recent hits and was a very successful crossover into crime fiction which won the author the prestigious ‘Edgar Awards Best Novel’ and a ‘Dagger Awards’ nomination. Not bad for a horror writer.
It’s a beautifully crafted story, probably too slow for many tastes, but I enjoyed this prison world immensely.
The new novel by MR Carey “Fellside” crept up on me rather unexpectedly; I had never heard of it until stumbling upon it on a random Amazon search. I had been a huge fan of his earlier zombie/post-apocalyptic novel “The Girl With All The Gifts” (TGWATG). This cracking read came to my attention when it was shortlisted for the rather excellent James Herbert Award for debut horror fiction, which was eventually won by Nick Cutter’s “The Troop”. Readers who don’t know the books nominated here really should check it out, Josh Mallerman’s “Birdbox” is another stunner on the same list I adored. The fact that Carey was featured on that ‘debut’ shortlist was rather misleading as he had published many other novels under his pseudo name Mike Carey and was the author and resident writer of many comics, graphic novels and screenplays. For such a prolific writer he has certainly flown well under my radar until I read TGWATG.
a twisted Tales of the Unexpected that delights the reader with its playful use perverse horror.
Horror is a funny old genre; you can get as much satisfaction from a cerebral work of fiction such as Chris Kelso's Unger House Radicals as you can from a good old fashioned piece of pulp horror. It's what makes the genre so vibrant. And just when you think you have read it all, along comes horror's very own rapscallion Jasper Bark with a novella that will have you squirming with uncomfortable glee, as you reach for the sick bucket. Run to ground by Jasper Bark is a book that wears its pulp horror roots with great pride.
Jim Mcleod ( yes that Jim Mcleod) is a man on the run, from his past and his responsibilities. He has taken refuge in the village of St Leonards, where he lives and works in the local church's graveyard as a groundskeeper. Yes, Jim Mcleod has been transformed into Groundskeeper Willie. He keeps himself to himself and only counts Sloaman and the Church's vicar Reverand Power has the closest things he has to friends. Things have been going pretty well for him until a scientist shows up and wants to test his theory about the action of the moon's pull on the effect of the earth's morphology. Soon Jim is running for his life from creatures hell bent on ripping his world apart.
Run To Ground is best described as a fun-filled piece of glorious piece of over the top extreme horror. Bark is a sick man, not content with giving the characters of this book a nasty death; he has also given Mcleod one sick personality trait. I was genuinely chilled at the perverse things that my namesake got up to. Where he gets these ideas from I have no idea but I am glad he does. Mcleod is not an easy character to like; he is a coward and a fool, yet despite this you still root for him, even though you want to grab him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him.
The narrative mixes a breakneck pace with ancient monsters and even more ancient secrets, all capped off with a perfect twist in the tale with cameos from some of my dearest friends, I couldn't help but love this story. However, don't let this put you off, as the high writing as this fun filled monster caper is riotous read from start to finish. Run To Ground is a twisted Tales of the Unexpected that delights the reader with its playful use perverse horror.
Writing reviews should be easy, especially after almost seven years of doing it. A varied and widespread reading within the gene should prepare a reviewer for almost anything the genre throws at them, or so I thought. Yes, there has been the odd struggle with a bothersome sentence or a poorly worded paragraph, but in the main the reviews have come fairly easily. That was until I came upon Unger House Radicals by Chris Kelso, it is a book that made me question my abilities both as a reader and as a reviewer. It pushed me to the limit, knocked my confidence for six and cost me close to 12 hours of deep thought just to get the opening paragraph of the review down on paper. It's a book that will prey on my mind for a long time, but is this for good or bad reasons? Did I find the book challenging, or was the book just a challenge?.....
I think this anthology is great. The theme is wonderful – 10 stories, each by a different writer, each corresponding to one of the (most commonly accepted) 10 Commandments. If I bought this book, I would consider it money well spent. Each story is different from the last, and each writer has put their own spin on their theme. Some stick to a biblical tone, whilst others interpret their individual commandment in a more abstract way.
Before I get into my thoughts on each specific story, I want to go ahead and say that every single one of them is very well written, and the book as a whole has clearly benefitted from a careful editor. Most anthologies that I’ve had the pleasure to review have unfortunately and noticeably contained spelling and grammar mistakes, but this anthology is mostly devoid of such errors, which makes for a ‘smoother’ reading experience. Additionally, there is no ‘weak’ story in this collection – they’re all of a great standard. Picking favourites is a lot harder to do with this anthology than most others, as I think the writers and their stories are all on par with each other, but I particularly enjoyed Dionysus (Jeff Gardiner), Confessions (Stuart Young), and The Tangled Web (Jasper Kent).
What we have with this anthology is a collection of very enjoyable stories, by a collection of very talented and intelligent writers.
You read it here first: there is a new kid on the block in the world of YA horror. I was mightily impressed by this debut novel of Amy Lukavics “Daughters Unto Devils” that I am already looking forward to her second book “The Women in the Walls” is slated for a September 2016 release. And the good news: it sounds like another horror thriller.
I randomly stumbled upon Lukavics on a random Amazon search and the striking cover caught my eye as did the smart and the rather different sounding plot. I read a lot of YA, and it’s rare to see a horror/ghost story set on the plains of the pioneer era American outback. This American author’s website is called “Inky Creepings” and she is aiming herself at the teen horror market. Which is a great thing as there isn't a lot of great teen horror around at the moment. "Daughters Unto Devils" is a breath of fresh air for both the teen reader and maturer reader of horror.
A hypnotic coming-of age set in a town that’s a little bit different
I was really looking forward to Joshua Gaylord’s ‘When We Were Animals’ (WWWA) as I was a gigantic fan of his literary zombie novel ‘Angels are the Reapers’ (RATR) from 2010 which all said and done is my favourite zombie novel of all time, and I’ve read a lot of them. Joshua wrote RATR under his pseudo name ‘Alden Bell’ and an earlier non-supernatural novel ‘Hummingbirds’ under his real name. So with this new novel, which isn’t necessarily supernatural, he seems to mix and match his real name and what I thought was his genre alias name. So this guy has serious style and WWWA has just been released in paperback in the UK.
A book of horror philosophy about the end of the world, the alt-right, and an AI from the future that wants to torture you. Yes, you.