Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Mr. Mercedes

Stephen King is definitely the Alfred Hitchcock of the literary world. It’s likely he could take an inner city phone book and turn it into a riveting novel. Mr. Mercedes isn’t a phone book, but it sure as hell ranks up there with some of Hitchcock’s greatest hits. In fact, one might say that Mr. Mercedes is King’s Psycho.

King rocks the suspense/thriller genres here. Taking a step away from the deeply supernatural fare he’s known for, he proves that he is, without doubt, one of the world’s top writers. That he continues to come up with fresh material and interesting stories is further testament to his prowess. But he doesn’t leave the horror out, either. In fact, there’s one scene that will be impossible to get out of my head, probably for the rest of my life.

Mr. Mercedes tells the story of retired cop, Bill Hodges, who has taken to heavy drinking and flirting with suicide night after night since he left the force. Before he left, there was one particular unsolved case that haunted him, and continues to do so months and years later. An unknown subject stole a Mercedes and rammed it into a crowd of hundreds of local unemployed people, killing eight and injuring many others. The perpetrator was never caught, and that is what bothers Hodges the most. When the killer reaches out and taunts Hodges in the hopes of pushing the overweight cop past the mental tipping point, it instead revives Hodges’ passion, and renews his intent to take Mr. Mercedes down, even if it’s the last thing he ever does.

Hodges sets out to bring a killer to justice, and in the process manages to fall in love and care about not only himself, but others as well. Especially his estranged daughter, whose absence from his life is one of his greatest failures. Now though, he seeks redemption, and believes he can only find it by catching the murderer. Along the way, Hodges gathers an odd, ragtag team of crime solvers: a school-aged neighbor kid who happens to be somewhat of a genius, and a bipolar woman who turns out to be an incredible asset, despite her mental challenges. This latter character might remind you of Chloe from 24. In another comparison, this team is very much like characters from The Drawing of the Three, volume two in King’s epic Dark Tower series. In young Jerome we find shades of Odetta, and in bipolar Holly we find pieces of Eddie Dean, the young heroin addict.

The antagonist, on the other hand, is one of the creepier King has ever put on paper. One might compare him to Pennywise the Clown, only without the makeup and killer smile. However, Pennywise’s evil intent is alive and thriving here. There’s even a vague reference in this book, as well as nods to several other King books.

Without giving anything away, it’s worth your while to take your time with this book, in spite of the overwhelming urge you’ll likely experience to zip through to the stunning conclusion as quickly as possible. King handles tension and horror as masterfully as ever and his character development is in tremendous form. We find ourselves rooting for the underdog protagonists, despite the many mistake both sides make that puts everyone’s lives in peril.

Mr. Mercedes is available in hardcover through Scribner and is the first in a trilogy centered on the murders that take place in this first episode. Finders Keepers, the second volume, is slated to be released in early 2015.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Red

Let me start by saying that I’m an animal lover. In particular, a dog lover. I have had dogs in my life off and on since early childhood, and currently have two that I spend most days with (and fight over bed-space at night). So I will tell you now, this was a hard read.

Don’t get me wrong. Red is a relatively short novel, originally published in 1995. The writing is not difficult, in fact it’s deceptively smooth and pulled me in within just a few paragraphs. But the subject matter is, for me, quite painful. This is the kind of horror story that makes me uneasy, not just because I became emotionally involved with the characters, but because this is the everyday horror that is seen all around us. There are no ghosts, no boogeyman, no mutated alien creatures or even the walking undead. This is a story of casual human cruelty, written from the point of view of a man who has already weathered many tragedies in his life.

Avery Ludlow is in his sixties, living in a house filled with memories—both good and bad—and the dog his wife had given him for his fifty-third birthday. Then one day three boys interrupt him by the river where he’s fishing. He can smell the gun oil on their brand-new shotgun, and knows immediately that these aren’t hunters. They’re rich kids who don’t care about the river and the fish or the old man and his old dog. And just out of boredom and spite, and a terrifying sense of entitlement, they shoot the dog.

This is the beginning of the story, of the loss of the dog, Red, and what Avery determines he must do to make things right. There is no flowery language or drawn-out descriptions to be had here, but I was swiftly immersed in the simple quiet beauty of this man’s life, and brought to tears by the terrible things he had to endure.

I am glad that I was cautioned (by several people) about the subject matter of this novel. But even more, I am glad that I read it. I would whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone. It is an amazing tale of love and remembrance, about a man who would certainly be worth knowing.

Jack Ketchum is a Bram Stoker Award winning author, the 2011 World Horror Convention Grand Master, and winner of the Best Screenplay Award at the prestigious Sitges Film Festival in Germany for The Woman.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Butcher’s Road

Set in 1932, Lee Thomas’s stunning and tragic novel, Butcher’s Road, manages to mix gang warfare, small-time criminals, and alchemy into a heady cocktail of darkly sinister whodunnit the likes of which I hadn’t read in some time.

It is the story of Butch Cardinal, a small-time hood, who never mixes in the big nasty stuff—until the day he becomes an unwitting pawn in a strange and brutal shell game, where the red rubber ball is in fact an occult article that can provide a powerful service. Butch, a former wrestler, is forced to run and not trust anyone or anything to be as it seems.

Along the way, Thomas gives us a fantastic cast of characters: the aforementioned Butch, a deep and flawed man, living most of his life in a cloak if denial and shadows of guilt. Rabin, a hit man like no other you’ve ever encountered, so brutal in his craft I kept waiting for him to break out a dental drill and ask if it was safe. Hollis, another former wrestler and club owner who provides solace and an anchor for Butch when the wasters get rough. You will meet the “Alchemi,” a mysterious group of men with special talents who are also after Butch. These well-drawn folks and lots more can be found in Butcher’s Road, as they weave in and out of the grimy neighborhoods and suburban crime-boss estates, seedy hotels, and damp alleys.

From Chicago to New Orleans, Butcher’s Road is a long and winding road, unpaved and rough at times…but what a satisfying journey it is.

Butcher’s Road is available from Lethe Press.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alien: Out of the Shadows

I can honestly say that my favorite scary movie is Alien. I was blown away by the sequel, Aliens, as well. So I was very excited to hear about the release of Alien: Out of the Shadows, by Tim Lebbon, an official canon novel that takes place in the interim between those two movies.

First and foremost—Ripley. She is smart, strong, brave and bad-ass. She is also scared, filled with survivor’s guilt, and humanly flawed. She is one of my favorite heroines, and this book gives you the opportunity to get to know her better.

The basic premise of the book is that Ripley’s EEV is picked up by a mining operation ship in orbit around yet another deadly, inhospitable planet. While mining for trimonite, a rare and sought after mineral, the miners stumble onto another ancient derelict spaceship. Besides the dead and petrified remnants of those who had once flown this ship and the ruins of an advanced culture where the ship crashed, they also find the preserved alien eggs that started the havoc in the first movie.

This is a fairly fast-paced story, and a lot of people die—badly. There is a lot of tension, and the feeling of holding your breath as you hurry to find out what happens next. I was a little worried about how it was going to end (without fundamentally altering Ripley or anything that happens at the beginning of the second movie) and still be able to get caught up with the action and characters. Turns out I didn’t have to worry. While I might wish that some things could have turned out differently, I wouldn’t want to change the continuing story.

It’s my understanding that there will be two more official tie-in novels released this year, and based on this first one I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting them all. I would definitely suggest this to any fans of the Alien universe.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Phoenix Island

There has been a great deal of hype surrounding this, the debut novel from John Dixon.

It was optioned for (read that as: it inspired) a CBS TV show before it was even published, which is quite the impressive feat. Now, because I believe in honesty above all else, I shall take a few lines to give you a brief flurry of thoughts on Intelligence, the show inspired by this novel.

I watched the pilot, actually about 26 minutes of it, before I called it a day. I was so excited, having finished the book, but after seeing what the network delivered I was annoyed. By “inspired,” the creator really means “Hey, I think the idea of a super chip we plug into someone’s brain and it makes them superhero-y is badass; I’m taking it and writing an anemic show about governmenty spy-like action crap and giving it that NCIS pallor, and then I shall sit in my trailer and count my anticipated millions. Muwhahaha!”

I found that disheartening. The incredibly drawn characters and tension notched up with painful precision is gone, replaced with CGI effects and stiff acting. So yeah, I didn’t like the show.

I loved the book, so let me clarify why I choose to air my possibly unpopular view of the show as a preface to my book review. It’s because the book is THAT good and it deserves to be read and win your heart on its own merits. If you watched Intelligence and bought the book expecting to read that sort of pap, you’ll be disappointed. Well, unless you happen to also have taste, then you’ll probably be wisely won over. Or if you bought the book, read it, and then tuned into the show expecting to have your ass handed to you a week at a time. Guess what? More disappointment.

I do this as a measure of disclosure. The show might be good if you like that sort of thing. I don’t. I’m not a fan of much in the way of modern TV shows. The book is great. It deserves to be known as that. Enough ranting. Now, about Phoenix Island

The novel starts with the grim introduction of young Carl Freeman, a boy with a lot of problems but a big heart. He does the wrong things for the right reasons and finds himself on the other side of the judge’s bench.

Through further mishaps and circumstances, Carl finds himself sentenced to time on Phoenix Island, a sort of military boot camp from hell/juvi prison. He and the other troubled youth are subjected to degradation and horrific mental tortures under the guise of toughening them up, which really is a device for weeding out the stronger personalities.

As the story progresses, friends are made as well as enemies. There is brutality and dissension. There is fear and realization. And by the time we reach the stunning climax (think Lord of the Flies meets the first forty minutes of Full Metal Jacket) there is serious emotional conflict.

I have been purposefully vague about the major plot points, mainly because when put up against the depth and realism of the characters and the human progression of their journey, I feel the less you know going in, the better the experience will be.

I will, however, give you some things you have to look forward to: fighting, pigs, sharks, bugs, fighting, bad jokes, sweat, fighting, medical experimentation, fighting, and growing up, in more ways than one.

Phoenix Island is one heavy book. The prose is tight and smooth. Very real and easy to read. If this is Dixon’s debut, sign me up for anything he puts out.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews, Television, TV Show Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Violet Eyes

Billy and his friends are on vacation on a little island in the Florida Keys when they are attacked by a huge swarm of flies that bite. They run through the jungle and find a small hut where they take refuge. In the middle of the night, Billy’s girlfriend Casey realizes she can’t hold it until morning, and goes outside to go to the bathroom.

This time, hundreds of spiders attack Casey, tearing her apart with her teeth. Later, only Billy manages to escape.

Rachel has escaped her abusive husband Anders, and now lives in a small town in the Everglades with her son Eric. As they try to build a new life together, Rachel has no idea that the town she chose is about to be overrun by a plague that has never been seen before. Rachel and Eric becomes friends with Billy who, although nice, acts strangely at times. Tormented by terrible headaches he can’t explain, he gradually withdraws, until Rachel realizes it’s been quite some time since they had seen him. In the meantime, the townspeople are being bitten by an infestation of flies, sickening some and killing others.

Then the spiders come. Hatching from the larvae left by the flies, the spiders encase animals, people—even houses in their webs. Rachel and her new boyfriend Terry decide it’s time to get out of town, but run into trouble when her ex-husband Anders shows up. Soon after, all hell breaks loose, and time is running out to get out of town before the government shows up and annihilates the town along with the insects.

I love “bug horror,” and this is one of the best I’ve read. Fun, creepy, and gross, Violet Eyes, written by Bram Stoker award-winning author John Everson, made me squirm many times while reading. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jack & Jill

I was quite excited to have been offered a chance to review Kealan Patrick Burke’s forthcoming novella, Jack & Jill. I’ll admit up front that this was my first read of Mr. Burke’s; but I’m happy to say that this will certainly not be my last.

The odds are good that you know the nursery rhyme of Jack and Jill. This novella is a darksome meditation on that, with a contemporary glimpse into how such a metaphor could play out in a familial setting.

From the outset, it is clear that the narrator, Gillian, has gone through some tough times in her life, and they are taking their toll on her home life. She spends so much time sleeping that she’s less and less involved with her family; her husband Chris is growing weary of how tired and unfocused she’s been acting, her 9-year-old son Sam is often left neglected, and her teenage daughter Jenny ungraciously rebels by keeping herself isolated from everyone.

Meanwhile, it is in these times of sleep that Gillian dreams—and in these dreams, she is visited by her dead brother John—and by an unforgettably creepy image of her father, wearing a plastic bag around his decomposing head and with rusty coat hanger hooks for hands.

On the surface, Jack and Jill is a moody tale of a woman haunted by her past, with some particularly vivid and hallucinatory dream sequences, but it’s also about the horrors that can stem from too much introspective reflection and miscommunication. As an occasional “intronaut,” myself, I could easily identify with Gillian’s pneumatic outlook on the world around her, and how easily the imagination can play with perception. Mr. Burke perfectly captures this mindset in his portrait of Gillian, and with it created an edgy, dark, and melancholic tale.

There was something else particularly noteworthy about Mr. Burke’s narrative. A writer friend once told me to stay away from opening a tale with a dream sequence, because it’s a clichéd hook; I would argue, having read this, that it should be avoided unless you know how to do it just right—which he clearly did.

Jack & Jill isn’t all familial drama, however; make no mistake about it—this is a horror novella, period. The dream sequences were literally nightmarish, and done with such frightful detail that there were times where I actually exclaimed aloud at what I, the detached voyeur, was helplessly witnessing. It’s also worth mentioning that there was one sequence toward the middle that, while I won’t spoil it, I’ll just say has got to be one of the most disturbing scenes to take place in a bathroom (this side of the Overlook Hotel or the Bates Motel). This novella was creepy, through and through.

I wound up finishing Jack & Jill with my cheeks puffed out and my breath escaping slowly. I’d had no idea where it was headed, much less with any idea of how I wanted it to end; because of this that, I was a little mixed about its ultimate destination, but I was more than a little satisfied with the journey there.  Jack & Jill was a harrowing read, riddled with emotion and elegantly told with dark beauty.

Jack & Jill will be published in e-book form this December. It was previously a print-to-order limited edition hardcover from Cemetery Dance.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Losing Touch

Losing Touch, Christian A Larsen’s debut novel, wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Regardless, I was quickly caught up in the storyline and clear writing, and taken to an ending I didn’t see coming but thoroughly enjoyed.

Morgan Dunsmore is a normal, everyday guy dealing with normal, everyday things—such as being unemployed and trying to make the bills, keeping a happy home-life with his wife (also unemployed due to an injury) and raising two kids. He does what a lot of us would do. He tries to put a positive spin on things, and stop thinking about the things he can’t change. But then things begin to change in ways he could never have foreseen, and can’t control at all. At first.

Losing Touch is a story that’s part mundane reality and part learning to face the scary unknown. In the real world, just trying to take care of all the things that need taking care of can be exhausting and frightening; add to that the fact that Morgan is beginning to disappear physically as well as figuratively, and what you get is a convoluted path through a man’s moral dilemma. If you can go anywhere you want to go, and nothing can keep you out…how far will you go before you lose yourself?

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

The Hungry 3: At the End of the World

Sheriff Penny Miller is back! This time she and her zombie-fighting gang have made their way to an isolated town in the mountains, hoping to hunker down in a ski lodge and regroup. But nothing is ever easy during the zombie apocalypse, and their situation is made worse when the lodge owner steals their ride and all of their money, leaving them stranded.

Although they are not as exposed as they were before, they still aren’t safe from the zombies making their way slowly up the mountain. Penny and her friends must find a way to protect and fortify themselves, as well as convince skeptics that danger is heading for the town.

The previous books in the series—The Hungry and The Hungry 2: The Wrath of God—were fun and exciting, and The Hungry 3: At the End of the World is no exception. The entire series is great, and unusual in that a woman is the badass leader of a survival group. She’s not weak, but she does show her emotions in protecting and caring for her “family.” Penny is not someone to piss off.

Authors Booth and Shannon have once again drawn me in to their world, and kept me reading far into the night. I know that The Hungry 4 is in the works, and I can’t wait.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back Roads & Frontal Lobes

Nothing thrills me more than discovering new authors. New to me, to be precise.

Brady Allen intrigues me with his unapologetic attitude and willingness to stand tall and stalwart while brandishing his opinions with honest intellect. This is a trait one sees very little these days, when it is all too fashionable to lay with the herd and suckle at the teat of popular opinion. This made me wonder about his literary output, so I reached out and got a copy of his collection.

Back Roads & Frontal Lobes is as amazing a collection as it is puzzling. Not a single tale here is what it appears to be. Most flirt with horror but are more about the human condition and attitudes of characters. There are shades of noir and bizarro, but the stories are most often darkly surreal and more terrifyingly realistic than should be allowed. This collection is a unique stampede of unease, stamping and snorting discomfort. I mean that complimentary, of course.

Opening with “Slow Mary,” Allen gives us a strange tale of road kill and revenge. But it was actually the second tale, “Not Over Easy,” that won my dark heart. That story follows its bizarre protagonist through a series of troubling and odd scenarios to a conclusion that is just as puzzling as the opening. “Devil and Dairy Cow” is a hallucinatory tale of a girl, a teacher, and a rainy recess where the shit hit the diabolical fan.

In the title story, a man on the lam makes a stop in Death City and finds he likes it. “The Last Mystical Vendor” has exactly what you need even if everything you know tells you otherwise. And in “The Taste of a Heart,” a motel room is the stage for an exceedingly sinister game between a man and a woman.

“Six Miles to Earth” is a highway roadshow; Tarantino by way of Russ Meyer. “Burger” is a nasty side-road monster mash. “Ballad of Mac Johnstone” concerns the courtship between an aging bluesman and death. “Road Kill (A Love Story)” brings us to a man who feels compelled to remove dead animals from the roadside and the chain of unfortunate events that come about because of it. And “Praying” exposes the insectile ways we have.

Of all of the stories, however, “Rounding Third” was the one that smacked me in the face and then continued to do so. A tragic and all-too-real slice of reality. If it doesn’t make you cry—God help you.

If early Joe R. Lansdale left you gobsmacked, then you MUST read this cat! Allen is versatile and fearless. He doesn’t give much of a damn if you get what he’s doing or not. He’s writing to get it out and if it happens to bring enjoyment to someone, cool. If not, oh well, he’s doing it anyway. And I’m glad for that!

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment