Tag Archives: Peter Straub

The Lee Thomas Burrito (Sort of a Review)

For every big name horror author that you hear about—Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Clive Barker or Brian Keene—there is an extremely unsettling number of lesser known writers who deserve to be every bit as famous or well known for their work. And I get that. Music works the same way. We all know about Johnny Cash, but how many have ever heard the great Jerry Jeff Walker? I love it when I am not only impressed by someone I’ve never read before, but impressed to the point where I must track down and read all I can from them. Lee Thomas impressed me like that.

I had the pleasure of reading Ash Street nearly two years ago, for review. I liked it. For some reason I forgot about Lee Thomas, until we connected online and discovered a mutual affinity for heavy metal. I got some more of his work and devoured them all—greedily. So the verdict would now be that he is amazing. You ought to be reading him. All of his work.

With his debut novel, Stained, Lee introduces us to what will become his recognizable style: strong, character driven with realistic attitudes towards the fucked up things that are going on. Said fucked up things in this novel include an almost viral evil that possesses its victims and then tweaks and perverts their deepest longings. Upon completion, I could barely believe this was a debut novel it was so strongly written. No wonder it won a Stoker! The original printing from Wildside Press is quite rare but worth tracking down.

The Dust of Wonderland takes on a Southern Gothic sort of premise and punches it in its ghostly face.

A man is called to New Orleans under tragic circumstances—his son lays in coma near death and the events that surround it all seem to tie to the frayed psyche of Ken Nicholson, a man who has built his unstable life on a shaking pile of secrets and stones. Things take strange turns and all fingers point to a man long dead. This book ups things a notch. The pacing is superb and the realistic characters and reactions are wonderful. Had Lee been putting these novels out in the early 80’s instead of this millennium, he’d be a paperback bestseller and mentioned in the same frantic fanboy breaths as Straub and King.

After that, I read his superb novel The German. I thought the others were good…this was fantastic! Gripping from page one and it does not let up until the last sentence. Reading like a shadowy memoir of sorts, it tells the sad tale of a small Texas town plagued by strange murders and the mysterious German who seems to be the one they want to be responsible. Straddling the barbed wire fence between To Kill a Mockingbird and The Stranger, The German is a gritty affair but reads smooth and generates a well of emotion and outrage. Simply put, it is one of the finest novels I have read.

His chapbook The Black Sun Set, from Burning Effigy Press, is a nifty cocktail; one part noir and two parts metaphysical horror. A chilling post card of sorts.

His collection Like Light for Flies shows us what Thomas is capable of in a shorter word count. The stories are eclectic and smart, some copping an early Barker vibe and a few holding a severely classic voice. You’ll read about a man and his dog and how they try to save the world from monsters from another dimension. There is twisted noir with supernatural shades. Plenty of shocks and cringe-inducing images, all handled with deft precision.

And there you have it, a sort of Lee Thomas burrito. A brief encapsulation of what I have read, save for Butcher’s Road, which I have not yet finished but will review upon completion.

Be on the lookout for my interview with Lee very soon!

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King Revives Our Favorite Demons

When I was 12, I experienced a horrid accident in which I lost the ankle bone and part of my foot in my left leg. Being summer in Michigan meant that it was nearly always 100% humidity, and hotter than Satan’s buttcrack. And me with a monstrously heavy, hot and unwieldy plaster cast from my toes to mid-thigh. It was a pain, to be certain. So I kept myself distracted through reading.

I’d already read through my mother’s entire collection of Sidney Sheldon novels, and went in search of something to take my mind off the infernal itching beneath my cast as my leg healed from surgery.

Tucked way to the back of the bookcase in the living room was a novel that intrigued me greatly.  I’d previously read Thomas Tryon’s Harvest Home, which was gross and creepy, and utterly delicious. This book had a very similar cover. I had never heard of the author, some guy named Stephen King, but I snuck the book back to my bedroom and set out to read.

The Shining scared the living crap out of me. I found myself, for the first time in my young life, unable to put the book down. Every waking moment was spent with my nose burrowed in the margin, the stench of mother’s chain smoking redolent in the pages and the ink.  I didn’t care. Little Danny Torrance was the most compelling character I’d ever encountered, and his story caused me to sleep with lights on for months afterward.

King made the executive decision to follow up Danny’s story with Doctor Sleep.

We meet up with a slightly older Danny in the aftermath of events at the Overlook Hotel, which, if you’ll remember, died a fiery death when the faulty boiler exploded, taking Danny’s father, Jack, with it. But not the horrifying *things* that dwelled there. Oh, no sir. They followed Danny and Wendy to their new home somewhere in sunny, warm Florida. In this way, we know that “redrum” can’t be far behind.

Jump to a future in which Danny is a burned out alcoholic drug addict, drifting from town to town, trying in each location to begin again. His attempts to outrun his personal and all-too-real demons ineffective.

It’s not long before his imaginary childhood friend, Tony, begins appearing at odd times, and Danny, now just Dan, dreads what it might mean.

It’s risky for any author to create a sequel to a much beloved novel, especially thirty-some years later. If the original is meant to be a standalone, the decision to create a follow-up can be seen as “selling out,” trying too hard to cash in on former glory. I would use as an example Black House King’s follow-up to collaborative novel The Talisman which he co-wrote with ghostmeister Peter Straub. Black House  sadly fell short of capturing the originality and flavor of The Talisman. That’s the same risk King takes with Doctor Sleep.

Thankfully, it pays off. Big.

King jumps forward quickly in time from Danny as a child, to Dan as a highly dysfunctional adult.  But the reader is allowed to see that trajectory which also allows us to take the ride along with him, and invest emotionally in the character’s seemingly endless plight.

King is a master of character development, and is at the top of his game in Doctor Sleep. Rather than allowing his protagonist to wallow in his self-pity for the entirety of the book, he brings in another character, a young girl named Abra, who has a Shining stronger than Danny ever did. And she is being pursued by a cult named The True Knot.

Allowing Dan to focus on something and someone outside of himself, it brings him to sobriety, because, like Chef Dick Halloran coming to his rescue decades before, only he knows what she’s going through, and has to save Abra.

King also writes children in peril better than anyone. Think of Jake in the Dark Tower series, or Travelin’ Jack in The Talisman. And of course, Dan was that character in The Shining. To be able to follow Dan into adulthood, where at last—at least we hope as we fervently flip through the pages—he’ll gain closure over his horrifying past, allows the reader to likewise experience closure. First, though, we, along with Dan, will have to deal with the dead woman from the Overlook’s Room 217 and several other nasties that are likewise pursuing Dan, intent on finishing long ago business.

Doctor Sleep is another shining star (pun intended) in King’s catalogue, and well worth reading.

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