Friday, November 29, 2019

Review: DUST DEVILS by Jonathan Janz

Dust Devils is a western with strong horror themes, an engaging cast of characters, and a tight linear plot which keeps the pages ticking over in rapid pulse pounding fashion. 

The protagonist and accidental hero, Cody, is a man wronged by the sins of his wife who is forced unwillingly into a world of violence, pain and the preternatural amid a backdrop of a dust covered wasteland inhabited by dangers previously confined to nightmares.  

I love the idea of a travelling troupe of nasties visiting isolated townships and reaping havoc, leaving nothing but death and despair in their wake...yeah that's a little morbid but I do like my horror most macabre and that's the sort of meal Janz dishes up here; a heady blend of vampire and cannibalism, scorched meat, and wet thick blood tapped straight from the vein.

My verdict: 5/5 stars. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

Review: THE INSTITUTE by Stephen King

Gifted kids in turmoil held to ransom by a secret organisation under the guise of serving their country; a sacrifice for the greater good, isn't an exactly original or mind-bending inconceivable concept. Yet, Stephen Kings' latest tome manages to feel fresh, exciting, and new. This despite the flurry of fiction surrounding Stranger Things and the secret experiments carried out on kids from that franchise (see Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond).

Like most books I've read by Stephen King, it's the characters, not necessarily the plot which reign supreme and that's true with the Institute (though the plot is pretty great too). Luke Ellis is a great character who is instantly likable. Whilst gifted with semi-super powers and a ridiculously high intellect, King writes him in a way which is down to earth, making him more kid-like as apposed to the standard hero/savior. The ensemble cast, notably Avery, compliment Luke and make for a nice ying to the evil Institute yang.

I wouldn't classify this book as horror, however there are definitely horror elements, particularly in 'Back-Half' (read the book, you'll understand). Much like Sleeping Beauties (co-authored with son Owen), King distances himself somewhat from the genre he's best known, focusing on character and story first, creepy stuff second.

The verdict? If you're one of Stephen Kings Constant Readers chances are you've already read this, or will soon read it , if you're on the fence; fence sit no more, The Institute is great.        

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Pick Up A Pulp [56]: FLAME by Kenneth Roberts

I'm not really sure where to start with this one. When you read pulps you know there's a 50/50 chance at best of hitting a winner or something remotely resembling a decent book - comes with the territory and I accept that (check out some of the books featured in this series of blog posts). Cheesy dialogue, non-existent plotting, unbelievable cookie cutter characters; these are all part and parcel of the mass produced paperback pulps. Flame, however, is something different. 

Using the above mentioned deficiencies as a baseline, Flame easily falls's that bad. 

With a story seeped in sex (mostly non-consensual), racism, and indiscernible colloquialisms, it's a hard read all round. The dialogue really slows the story, not that there's much actually happening between sexual encounters of the most explicit and deranged kind (I'll refrain from providing details, the world's a better place with this largely left unknown to masses), I had to re-read multiple passage of dialogue to get the gist of the conversation - which in the end didn't really add all that much value to the story (I wont dare use the word 'plot' as there wasn't one) be honest. 

The opening stanza showed potential but it was false advertising; an Amazon-like warrior in the midst of performing an ancient ritual is brutally cut down by a band of slavers hell bent on pillaging the isolated African tribe. Flame, despite her best attempts to fight off the invaders is captured, from that point forward the story takes to a weird form of erotica.   

The verdict? don't pick up this pulp.    

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Paperback From Hell! LYRICA by Thomas F. Monteleone

Oh man, I love the 80's! 80's mass market paperback horror to be more specific! 

Continuing with my dark and twisted journey into the devilish depths of retro horror, I recently finished reading a 'gem' I'd previously discovered wasting away in a back corner of a dusty secondhand bookstore, Lyrica by Thomas F. Monteleone (the same Thomas F. Moneteleone of Night Train fame). 

Published in 1987, the story holds up remarkably well, this despite the need for the reader to suspend their grip on reality, especially when the title character effortlessly inserts herself into the lives of Mozart and a host of other prominent historical figures only to greedily consume their genius for her own form of self preservation. After all, a beauty beyond measure's gotta keep herself in prime condition otherwise she's gonna turn into a serpent-like creature once a month. Without those killer looks she's just a serpent who, well, kills... 

The modern-day (circa 1980's) story line is pretty good in all honesty; there's mystery, a hint of intrigue, an omnipresent sense of danger, plenty of steamy sex, and, do I dare say, romance? Yeah, there's a little before Lyrica absorbs her partners' life force, sorry, 'genius' in a brutal coupling reminiscent of the female spiders who eat their mate. 

This book is quite a departure from The Night Train, but then again, horror as a genre is incredibly diverse so it's no real surprise that the author would mix things up a little in the spooky stakes here.

I'd rate Lyrica 3.5 (out of 5) stars. Well worth grabbing a copy if you find one in a secondhand bookstore. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Pick of the Month [October 2019]

Halloween month is over and whilst Australia doesn't celebrate the event anywhere near as much as our friends in the USA, it is a great time of the year to focus on some spooky and frightening fiction. So it comes as no surprise that my pick of the month is a Halloween-themed read which, while not exactly horror, does bring the chill factor in its own right:

Blood Sugar by Daniel Kraus (published 2019 by Hardcase Crime / Titan Books)

From the opening stanza, I knew this wasn't going to be any ordinary Halloween book; seeped in slang, the story set among squalor, Blood Sugar is at once creative and all consuming. The story is a heartfelt one hidden behind a veil of malicious intent and a twisted form of vengeance. I read this in 2 sittings (would've been one but I fell asleep after a late night reading session), I simply couldn't put it down - one of my top reads of 2019.

Some other reading highlights for October include a couple of paperbacks from hell in Pin by Andrew Neiderman and Hobgoblin by John Coyne - both 80's horror which bring something a little different to the table. I recommend both. Pin was close to taking out my pick of the month. 

October was one of the more varied months for my reading choices; pulp, horror, sci-fi, and crime fiction were all represented which made for some good, and not-so-good reading. Another notable standout was the excellent sci-fi, Delta-V by Daniel Suarez - a space nerds' wet dream. 

I tallied 11 books for the month of October, slightly down on the previous months but around the mark to achieve my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge of 150

Monday, November 4, 2019

A Paperback From Hell! PIN by Andrew Neiderman

Pin is a psychological horror from the decade of decadent depravity - the 1980's; the decade which spawned many of the 'great' paperback horrors sought after on the secondhand market today. 

Shout out again goes to Grady Hendrix and the book I just won't stop gushing about; Paperbacks from Hell, because, without this bible of retro horror, I would've never have stumbled upon the captivating and creepy novel, Pin written by Andrew Neiderman. 

Pin explores (exploits?) a skewed sibling dynamic seeped in sex, seclusion, and secrecy. Following the untimely death of their parents, Ursula and Leon close the curtains on the outside world and wrap themselves in the comfort of their large home and larger inheritance. Outsiders are frowned upon, unless they're not human... That's where Pin, a plastic body, once their father's (who happened to be a doctor) visual aide in his practice, now, a permanent resident and family member/lover...yeah let that sink in...

Jealousy, possessiveness and a deep longing to want and be wanted are the core themes prominent throughout Pin, yet it's the plastic man himself who steals the show - his 'being' somewhat questionable throughout ... Is he actually real or just real in the minds of the grieving siblings?   

Pin is a 'must-read' paperback from hell. I greedily ate up every word and was left feeling satisfied after consuming the final ounce of perversion. I rate Pin a solid 4 (out of 5) stars.    

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Surreal Detective

I love a good detective story, especially those with hard-nosed protagonists, dangerous dames, and a plot pulled from the foxed pages of pulps. Think Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer or Carter Brown's Al Wheeler.

However, today's blog post focuses on something a little different...the surreal detective. Books set in far away places or the past where normalcy is the extraordinary. Robots walk (or have walked) the earth in the 1960's, paranormal activity is common place, and killing is a business shared by both organic and artificial intelligence. 

Some of my favorite books fall into the surreal sub genre of detective/crime fiction. The Collector series by Chris F Holm sees Sam Thornton tasked with collecting souls of the damned, naturally this isn't as straight forward as watching, baiting, and waiting. Especially when some of the souls aren't exactly damned...when questions get asked, all hell breaks loose... Starting with Dead Harvest, this three-book series is a heady mix of urban fantasy and noir - ah, just what the doctor ordered. 

I was fortunate enough to interview Chris on way back in 2014. You can read the full interview HERE

In Empire City, a town bursting at the seams with weird and wonderful science, a robot detective with nerves and a chassis of steel makes ends meet as a tough hardboiled detective. Mack Megaton was the first surreal detective character I read and I instantly wanted more. Sadly, author A. Lee Martinez penned the one novel featuring the robot, The Automatic Detective. I can't recommend this book enough. 

Having just finished re-reading Killing is my Business by Adam Christopher, I couldn't leave this 1960's robot hitman series off the list. Starting with Made to Kill, the last robotic detective off the production line, Ray heads up the Electromatic Detective Agency, an agency which dabbles in murder more than finding missing people - unless said missing persons were scheduled for elimination that is. The 4 book series is a lighter look at a dark side of surreal crime fiction with Ray instantly likable and down to earth.   
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