Ginger Nuts of Horror
My previous experiences of Mark Morris are via his Doctor Who novel Deep Blue, and his exceptional novella Albion Fay, which was one of the best stories I read in 2015. I picked up The Wolves of London at Fcon that year, and true to form have just finished it.
And blimey, what a piece of work this novel is....
The tagline on the cover of John C. Foster’s Mister White states “Don’t speak his name.” After reading this fantastically taut and brutal slice of writing I can but heartily agree with that statement and say that if you do, well good luck, you are going to most definitely need it! This isn’t my first encounter with Foster’s creation. That joy was reserved for the original short story as it appeared in another Grey Matter Press’ publication, the anthology Dark Visions Two. This novel builds on that story’s promise and delivers a superb melding of spy thriller and occult horror that crackles with tension and terror.
Set in the covert and shadowy world of espionage, the plot tracks a clandestine operative called Lewis who has the misfortune to utter the words “Who is Mister White?” after viewing a particularly harrowing interrogation clip. What follows is a particularly vicious game of cat and mouse as Lewis and his estranged family attempt to flee the unrelenting and mysterious force that is known as Mister White.
From the word go John C Foster creates a claustrophobic and menacing mood that seamlessly echoes the tension and grit of its twin genre roots. There is a slow burning sense of dread and inevitability to the proceedings as Mister White relentlessly hunts his prey to ground. You just intrinsically know from the first encounter that this is going to be very rough ride for all involved, especially when you are dealing with such a malevolent spirit on your tail.
Foster never really reveals what Mister White is and the titular character is left as a vaguely defined figure that initially crawls and skulks around in the shadows. Little hints and clues are dropped along the way that point towards Mister White as a force that should be leashed and contained but the ambiguity of his origins is more than compensated for by the cold, hard and brutal nature of his intent. Speak his name and Mister White will find you and make you eat your words.
Suffice to say that if you are the sort of person who enjoys “ripping yarns” that leave you breathless with the sharpness and quality of the writing then get stuck into this absolute killer of a book. Top notch entertainment!
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george illet anderson
I’m not sure that Joe Hill is the real God of Hellfire,but with his latest novel The Fireman, . This near future, science fiction thriller sees the world slowly but surely fall apart in response to a fungal infection known as “Dragonscale”. This infection manifests itself initially with beautiful back and gold markings on the persons skin, however, in the vast majority of cases infection will result in the person spontaneously bursting into flames. no one knows where it came from and no one knows how to combat it.
I was given this anthology for free in return for a review, which I hope is helpful for other readers, and constructive for my fellow zombie-fan-writers.
Overall, this is a great zombie anthology, and I don’t say that lightly. If anyone has done the ‘legwork’ with zombie stories, trust me, it’s me. I’ve read countless zombie themed collections and this, by far, is one of the best. Generally speaking, the writing is of a good standard and the worlds of the stories are well established. Several of the writers use unusual protagonists that we rarely, or even never, see in this genre, which adds a depth to this collection that we don’t normally get to enjoy in a zombie narrative. Some writers have dared to challenge the usual conventions of zombie behaviour, and regardless of whether or not you think they’ve pulled off those changes, you have to appreciate anyone who introduces a new element to this beloved monster....
that claustrophobia, and that inevitability of explosive violence that makes even relatively sedate sequences read with pace and weight.
My prior familiarity with Joe Hill is his short fiction - 20th Century Ghosts, By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain, and In The Tall Grass, a brilliantly vicious novella he co-wrote with his dad, Stephen King. I’ve enjoyed them all immensely, and think 20th Century Ghosts is the strongest single author short story collection I have read in a very, very long time, but a combination of mixed reviews of his novel length work, combined with a To Be Read pile that is starting to exert its own gravitational pull, means that The Fireman is the first of his novels that I’ve read.
And so far, it is hands down the best novel I have read in 2016.
It’s been a while since a novel grabbed me this hard by the neck, and even longer since one managed to put me through such a level of constant dread and foreboding. The last time I can immediately recall is Lord Of The Flies - a novel that this book has more than a passing relationship with.
This is a novel that works well on virtually every level, from the conceptual to the sentence by sentence prose. Joe Hill has spoken about his unease with zombie fiction, because, in his words ‘the [financial] 1% are the survivors - they’re the ones with the guns, the supplies, the forts. WE’RE the zombies’. And so, in The Fireman, we’re invited to identify and sympathise with the infected.
It helps that they’re not zombies, of course - fun though that might have been - but rather infected with a fungus which creates rather striking gold and black tattoo like markings on the skin, with the only slightly unfortunate side effect being that once infected, heavy negative emotion (anger, fear etc.) will cause you to spontaneously combust.
The story of the slow collapse of society is told through the eyes of Harper, a school nurse who later volunteers at the local hospital during the initial stages of the breakout. Harper is simply one of my favourite protagonists of recent years - she is smart, funny, capable, empathic, strong, and utterly human. She is an unapologetically wonderful character and yet (for my money) a million miles away from being a Mary Sue - she is also vulnerable, often frightened, and is constantly walking a tightrope between her basic faith in human decency, and the realities of the world as society collapses around her.
There are many powerful and important themes explored in this novel - the multitude of ways that fear and ignorance can lead to violence, the terrifying seesaw of power dynamics in tight-knit group survival situations, toxic masculinity and how it can infect otherwise honorable men, as well as give monsters justification for their worst excesses. It’s also in many ways a novel about faith, one that explores both the extraordinary uplifting and binding qualities of religious belief, and also it’s darker side - dogma, intolerance of deviant thought, and authoritarianism. I can't fairly describe any of this as subtle - it’s far too powerful a piece for that, and Harper too aware a lead character - but it is lucid, nuanced, and plays fairly with all sides of the argument.
But far more important than any of that, it’s just a bloody superb story, in damn near every way. The extended cast - heroes, villains, and all points in-between - are brilliantly and economically drawn, and you feel you know them well in a very short space of time. As noted earlier there is also a sustained level of dread that permeates the entire proceeding, and which led to almost unbearable tension at points. Again I find myself recalling Lord Of The Flies, even 1984 - that claustrophobia, and that inevitability of explosive violence that makes even relatively sedate sequences read with pace and weight.
For King fans, there are some interesting moments - there’s a couple of Dark Tower references, for instance, and some of the characters share names (and characteristics) with the cast of King’s own apocalypse novel, The Stand, and there’s no way that’s a coincidence - but this is far, far more than a simple homage or pastiche. For starters, you could never have read a King novel and none of these references would stick out at all, and it wouldn’t matter a damn, it’s still an absolute firecracker of a novel. But more importantly, Joe Hill is simply a towering talent in his own right, if this novel and 20th Century Ghosts are fair representations of his work. Sure, King’s influence is there, but I’d argue in the horror genre at this point, King’s presence is essentially like Hendrix’s is to guitar - you either take the influence or react against it, but you can't ignore it. The point is, this is not a Stephen King novel. It’s a Joe Hill novel. And the level of talent on display in this glorious, powerful, gut wrenching epic-in-novel-form marks Joe Hill out as an author or rare distinction and quality, with no qualifiers or caveats needed.
I ended up dreaming about this godamn book, and I can’t remember the last time a work of fiction engaged me that strongly. This novel is an absolute tour-de-force, and Joe Hill is clearly a major talent.
Best novel of 2016? It’ll take some fucking beating, I can tell you that.
With his debut novel, John Claude Smith has taken the template for zany drugged-out strange fiction and tore it a new asshole, as the saying goes. I mean, I grew up reading the works of William Burroughs Junior and Senior and Hunter S. Thompson and they were all a bit strange. This book takes the last hulking piece of strange cake.
The premise is a disarmingly simple one- a woman hires a private detective to help her track down her brother who is on a dark and weird scavenger hunt of highs known as "Riding The Centipede. " He is on a literal quest from one location and deed to another to get the little highs that will eventually take him to the ultimate high, one supplied by the master William Burroughs himself.
That is the bare bones break down of this book. It is wallpapered with chases and murder, aliens and insectoids, hallucinations and hookers. It is like Cronenberg's cinematic version of Naked Lunch meets that weird 1979 David Naughton flick, Midnight Madness. It would be a fun, ridiculous romp were it not so damned bleak and dark.
Smith carves his prose from a thick trunk of words. He slithers from traditional structure to experimental lines. His characters are intricate and desolate and completely untrustworthy, except when you need to trust them. There is symbolism and then there are things that are to be taken precisely as they are presented. Sometimes a wound is just a wound, except when it smiles and shows teeth.
Riding The Centipede is available from Omnium Gatherum Press, and Amazon
In the long-awaited sequel to Badass Zombie Road Trip, Tonia Brown brings back some of my favourite characters: Jonah, Dale, Candy, and Satan for another adventure. In this instalment, Dale is in hospital dying from injuries sustained in a car accident and as Jonah keeps watch by his bedside, Satan shows up with a seemingly simple proposition. He will heal Dale as long as he can use Dale's body for two weeks. The devil needs a vacation and must occupy a body while he lives in up in Las Vegas.
Dale and Jonah sign yet another contract with the Devil, and Satan moves into Dale's body. As you might expect, there's more to the Devil's plans than meet the eye, and Dale and Jonah soon find themselves in a fight for their lives as Satan's minions try to kill their evil overlord and plot a takeover of Hell.
I was a huge fan of Badass Zombie Road Trip, and when I found out Tonia was working on the second book, I was a little giddy with excitement. These books are fast-paced, wildly entertaining and some parts are laugh-out-loud funny. She's taken care to develop likable characters (Yes, even in Lucifer) and completely outrageous situations.
It is not entirely necessary for you to read Badass Zombie Road Trip before diving into Friend of the Devil, but I highly recommend doing so. This book has a lot of references to the first, and you won't get some of the inside jokes without prior knowledge of the characters and situations in the first book. Friend of the Devil is not a horror novel per se, although there are a couple of cringe-worthy moments, (like someone having their toes cut off) but it is a hell of a lot of fun. I highly recommend this book to those looking to take a break from the usual creepy carnage horror has to offer.
Friend of the Devil comes out on March 28 and you pre-order here.
This is a book of extreme horror. Please do not purchase if you are easily shocked or offended.
After ten years of marriage, Mike and Emilia's relationship falls apart after Emilia admits to having an affair - an affair with a man who gave her HIV. Once Mike finds out what she's done, he will go to any length to ensure she dies a slow, painful death, just like the one he's sure his wife has sentenced him to.
Kanye West, is to say the least, a character, large of ego, large of self confidence and lover of even larger bottomed girls than Freddy Mercury could ever envisioned, he is nothing if not entertaining. However, if you scrape away the veneer of poor language skills, internet bust ups and a hatred for Taylor Swift that will see him get a swift kick in the peanuts from me, and you will find a much darker soul indeed! A soul so dark that he will stop at nothing to see his plans to not only reanimate the dying corpse of rap music, but the actual corpses of certain long dead rappers come to fruition. Kayne West - Re Animator is a terrifying insight into the mind of music's most deluded practitioner.
I received a copy of the audiobook in exchange for an honest review. I was previously familiar with the story from the limited hardback edition.
And honestly, that should tell you something right there. I was keen to revisit this story in audio form, see how it held up. And the short answer is, very well indeed.
One thing the audiobook version highlighted was how much humor there is here. I think I hadn’t realised just how conversational and jokey Cesare’s prose style was until I heard it spoken aloud. In this regard, narrator Joe Hempel does a superb job - his light ,laconic delivery lands the comedy well, without ever hamming it up or overplaying it. It was a welcome discovery of a layer I hadn’t fully appreciated on my first read through.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the characters - they were as strong and vivid as I remember. Hempel does a superb job with the voices, finding ways to clearly delineate between the characters without overplaying it. I was especially impressed with his handling of Dan Boden. Let’s face it, it’s a nightmare brief for a narrator - portray a character with a speech impediment, induced by a stroke. It’s a gig fraught with peril - underplay it and you lose a vital part of the character, overdo it or slip into caricature and, well, yuck. Hempel navigate this with real skill, delivering a brave and honest performance of Dan that doesn’t minimise the disability, but categorically preserves the humanity and dignity of the character. And sure, a lot of that is there in the writing, but still, it could have gone horribly wrong, and it didn’t and Hempel deserves a lot of credit for that.
Overall, it’s a superb narration of a gloriously fun horror story, and I really enjoyed revisiting the claustrophobic arcade of Zero Lives Remaining.
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Somebody wants answers.
North Devon, England. 1995. A born-again revival meeting in a public building. The usual mix of the faithful, the curious, and the desperate. And one other – an atheist suicide bomber. He's angry. He wants answers. And if God doesn't come and talk to him personally, he's going to kill everyone in the building...
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In this collection, Tony Knighton spells out one of the many reasons why I loathe the City of Brotherly Love. It's disgusting and seedy. Oh sure, some folks think it's great. They dig the museums and the coffee shops and they the hipster shops on South Street. But Mr. Knighton knows what I've always suspected, and what has always shaded my opinion of that historic city. It is crawling with people who want you dead. Violently and painfully dead.
The titular novella is as brutal as it is swarthy. A petty thief steals a cool overcoat and is then put on a collision course with some very nasty people. Hired killers help meter out the journey in blood spatter.
In "Road Trip" a hired killer catches a ride with a friendly fellow who might just teach him a thing or two.
"Hit And Run" is a brick to the forehead, really a short piece that packs such a vicious punch that when you've finished it you may just want to count your teeth.
"Opportunities" explores the sleazy business of arson from an interesting perspective, while "The Gift" is another sliver of harsh reality, wielded like a pipe wrench in an angry man's fist.
"The Scavengers" brings us face to face with dark magic and darker deeds and the climax will stain the carpet of your mind. In the final story, "As Long As You Can," a numbers scheme worker gets cocky and bites off much more than he chew.
Knighton has a deft touch with drawing very realistic characters, they're mostly scumbags but the are richly rendered and quite human. There are reasons they are the way they are, doing the things they do or are about to. Life isn't pretty and not everyone gets to play an honest hand. Knighton lifts the rock that is the city and lets us watch the things that wriggle and scurry as they try to escape that brutal light.
Happy Hour And Other Philadelphia Cruelties is available from Crime Wave Press.
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In this tenth issue of Shock Totem, you will find fiction from Trace Conger, David G. Blake, Thana Niveau, Margaret Killjoy, and eight other fantastic authors. T.E.D. Klein breaks his long silence in an exclusive interview with Barry Lee Dejasu. Paul Tremblay is also interviewed. Plus reviews, nonfiction, and more...
Come see why Shock Totem is billed as “...one of the strongest horror fiction magazines on the market today” (Hellnotes).