Ginger Nuts of Horror
Sadly living in the UK means there aren't that many magazines dedicated to the horror genre that are readily available to not only us fans, but the passing general public. The majority of the magazines that are available to us are either esoteric in their dedication to being very much the same with each issue, never daring to step out of their comfort zones in terms of either articles or the fiction that they feature. Or they require a level of treasure hunting that would even put Indiana Jones to the test just to find their subscription page.
The fact that Scream Magazine continues to be a highly entertaining read, issue after issue and that it has managed to find its way onto the high street via HMV is testament to both the quality and the popularity of the magazine. The latest issue of this fine magazine is no exception...
Kristopher Triana has given us a nifty basket of weird and gritty fiction with Growing Dark. I always like reading the blurbs a book garners, I just do. But when you get a blurb from Jon Mikl Thor, A-hem! Jon. Mikl. Thor of the metal band Thor and the fabulously Z-grade horror film, Rock n' Roll Nightmare, well, Sir, you're playing for keeps!
There are ten stories that make up this collection. We begin with "From The Storms, A Daughter," a very dark tale of a town in the soggy grip of a black rain, that brings about strange events and stranger beings. Followed by "Eaters" which shows us an new solution to that darned Zombie problem. In the titular story, a boy is dragged into manhood and the outcome is far more savage than anyone expected. "Reunion" give us just what the title promises, but shades blacker. "Before The Boogeymen Come" is a shadow comic piece about those creatures of the closet and how they strive to secure their claims. "The Bone Orchard" is a weird western sort of tale, set in a brothel where things get strange as a black substance with a voracious appetite comes to call.
The rest of the stories that make up this collection are fine sharp blades but it's the end piece that really kicks the boot in. "Legends" give us a pair of dead movie stars tracking down demons... Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin hunting evil. It is a wild and wholly fun story.
Triana writes well, succinct and lean but with enough of an eye for detail and a good strong wield of the pop culture reference. My God, He mentioned Billy Joe Shaver in a story and I nearly swooned, for real! At times reminiscent of early Lansdale while sometimes toeing that chalk line that the splatter punks drew on the asphalt. But Triana struts his stuff confidently and doesn't much care if you care or not.
Growing Dark is available from Blue Juice Books
Or purchase a copy from Amazon
David James Keaton is almost like the Quinton Tarantino of Dark/Madcap/Noir-crimey fiction. But a little less of a pompous asshole. He crams more dialogue and cultural reference--pop and other--into a book than anyone. A lot of the time his books threaten to buckle under the weight of their own ridiculous bravado but the keep trucking and make it to the finish with a smug satisfaction.
With Pig Iron, Keaton treats us to a Western. From the title play on the Marty Robbins classic "Big Iron" to the tumbleweed blowin' winds. But rest assured, this ain't your pappy's Zane Grey material here, No Siree. This is a dusty wasteland full of grungy egg suckers and violent sociopaths, living dead horses and vampiric outlaws. It's a place where water is worth more than gold and guns are not all they're cracked up to be. It does have some of the age old templates of the western trope, there's long lost love and revenge. There's brawlin' and shootin' and spittin'. But make no mistake, this is a book by David James Keaton. This means when you start to settle in and get a bit comfortable, you're apt to get spurred.
The writing style might catch some off guard, Keaton writes fairly lean but throws a lot at you. He likes to hurl fistfuls of stuff at the wall and see what sticks. That is how his style has always struck me, with Pig Iron he seems a little more toned down. Not quite as jumpy but still manages to hold on to that uniquely cinematic style that has become a sweaty calling card.
With his collection Stealing Propeller Hats From The Dead , Keaton assembles a greatest hits record of stories that feature the undead, gleaned from various places. "Greenhorns" is an icy tale of deep sea fishing and treachery, while "...and I'll Scratch Yours" tells the bizarre tale of the utilization of undead body parts in helpful ways. "Do The Munster Mash" is a lovely tale of summer and the boardwalk with undead canines and fraudulent behavior. "What's Worst?" is a dead baby joke turned short story and Zee Bee & Bee is an updated version of his account of the genius-yet-ill-fated zombie themed bed and breakfast.
"Three Days Without Water (Or The Day Road kill, Drunk Driving and the Electric Chair Were Invented" is the story that would eventually blossom and mutate into the novel Pig Iron. And as a bonus, we're given "Send More Paramedics: The Zombie Movie Drinking Game."
I can say in all honesty that there is no one who writes quite like David James Keaton, take that as a good or bad thing. His style and subject matter can be divisive and most likely a love it-or-hate it sort of thing. I happen to love it.
Stealing Propeller Hats From The Dead is available from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, While Pig Iron was available from Burnt Bridge Books. I am not certain of the status of this books availability but if you like wild fiction and weird westerns, it is totally worth your effort to track down.
THE HEART AND SOUL OF HORROR FICTION REVIEWS
The Bear Who Wouldn't Leave is J.H. Moncrieff's debut novella published by Samhain Horror in May, 2015. In this book, Josh is a 10-year old boy still trying to accept his father’s death. It’s been a couple of years since his dad died and Josh and his mom have made a decent life for themselves. Eventually, Josh's mom gets remarried to a man named Michael, a man we learn early on is not a nice guy. In what we think is an effort to get Josh to like him, Michael gives Josh a creepy looking teddy bear named Edgar, and it quickly becomes apparent that Edgar is not your average bear. Josh wants nothing to do with the bear and immediately hides Edgar in his closet. Unfortunately for Josh, Edgar doesn't like it in the dark closet and the more Josh tries getting rid of the bear, the angrier Edgar becomes.
In what may be his last black cover book and is definitely his first full-length novel, horror author Matt Shaw takes on his most ambitious project to date and pulls out all the stops to bring his readers the most grotesque book he’s ever written. Read on to find out if he succeeded.
Having only started contributing to the Ginger Nuts website for a little over half a year, the general impression you might get is that I haven’t really read that much. Six or so book reviews doesn’t exactly indicate a quick reader now does it? The truth of the matter is that whilst I have read a shed load of books this year not all were horror and more than half were not published this year. If I did a full breakdown on all the great books I’ve read this year then this list would easily be three or four times the size so I think I’ll concentrate on the ones published this year.
It also doesn’t help that whilst being a quick reader this is counteracted by me being abysmally slow when it comes to writing reviews. Writing this “Best of” allows me to redress that, so without further ado, and in absolutely no discernible order whatsoever, here are the ones that really caught my attention and floated my horror boat this year.
So I guess this is a tradition now. Here’s my year end round up. First, housekeeping; this is based on what I read for the first time in 2015, not necessarily material released in 2015, so bare that in mind. The categories are similarly arbitrary, and in part reflect what I have and haven’t been reading this year in terms of form (and of course, these are the opinions of just one tired, forgetful, slightly deranged indie writer, so please don’t be offended by omission or, indeed, surprised by eccentricity - both are inevitable).
One of England’s stranger seaside traditions is that of the Punch and Judy show. Ostensibly a Victorian pre-runner of Tom and Jerry cartoons and their violent slapstick, this puppet show revels in its ability to dish out abuse and trauma to its cast of characters. Which is apt as this is precisely what J.R. Park puts his characters through in his deliriously brutal and dark revenge novel “Punch.”
You have to feel sorry for Phil, his boss is an idiot who is a slave to performance projections rather than the cold hard reality of the job at hand. His daughter is rebelling against his split with his wife, in the only way that a daughter can, and to top it all off his patients are mysteriously dying on him. which sadly, isn't a great thing for a crisis team psychiatric nurse practitioner.
However, a chance meeting with a tenebrous Daniel opens Phil's eyes to a conflict that is raging just beyond the veil a conflict that could see the end of us all. To win, we must destroy The Night Clock.
If there is one thing that this reviewer truly enjoys is a good wainscot fantasy.......
Tribesmen is a jet black shot of espresso straight to the heart - a visceral, bloody, intense novella with lightning pacing, deft characterisation, and brutal violence.
I have to admit, I was a bit nervous going in. I’m a fan of Cesare’s work to date, but having read the synopsis of the book, I guess it’s fair to say I had some concerns. When a story talks about a film crew in a remote location, and implies bloody violence, and with that title.. Well, let me put it this way - the ‘30’s King Kong is a hell of a movie, but the racial politics sucks. And I went in with concerns. Without providing any spoilers, for my money Cesare dealt with those concerns admirably, providing a neat twist on what I’d been expecting, as well as a wry commentary on what has gone before in the genre.
And with my liberal guilt assuaged, I was freed up to just enjoy the ride.
And what a ride.
The characters are superb - just the right side of larger than life, appropriately inflated egos with equally appropriate inverse proportions of the talents involved. Cesare has a deep rooted love of genre and filmmaking that shines out through all his work, but perhaps never brighter than here, as he plays with the boundaries of found footage horror and exploitation cinema. It’s knowing, fiercely intelligent writing, but never pretentious or overwritten - he wears his knowledge lightly, and deploys it carefully, adding authenticity without ever taking the focus away from where it should be - the characters and the story.
The story itself is a belter - the relatively quick running time meaning there’s not an ounce of fat. The pacing is relentless, as events quickly spiral totally out of control. There’s references to Cannibal Holocaust, Lord Of The Flies, and no doubt others I missed, but this is no mere pastiche. Cesare has his own tale to tell here, and tell it he does, with skill and an admirably iron stomach. The reveal of the central conceit was very well handled, and the subsequent twists and turns kept me guessing right up to the finale - no mean feat, given the kind of tropes in play.
Tribesmen is a real beast - fierce, passionate, bloody, smart. It is emphatically not for the weak stomached. But if you like your horror rare, there’s a lot to recommend here. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Purchase a copy here