Monday, March 30, 2020

Review: THE ROO by Alan Baxter

Struth! Stone the flamin’ crows, this one’s a bloody rippa (both figuratively and literally)!

Side note; I’m an Australian, and whilst the colorful aforementioned colloquialisms aren’t part of my day to day dialogue, they are 100% apt when reviewing this piece of, do I dare so, classical Aussie outback horror? – yeah, it’s that good.

Back to the book; this outback gore stained story of survival horror ticks all the boxes; it’s got the isolation angle, a menacing murderous beast, a high kill count, disturbingly gruesome deaths, and a solid rationale. 

The characters themselves are type-cast country farmers living day by day downing pints at the pub, brawling with their mates, and putting in long hours of hard yakka. Alan Baxter does a great job at  capturing that distinct regional Australia setting and populating it with colorful characters. 

The pub is a key destination, not only serving as the local watering hole which brings the characters together, but it's also one of the places where the horror hits home; the menacing marsupial carves out a nice slice of nightmare here.

The Roo is pitch perfect for horror aficionados, even moreso for fellow countrymen readers. 

Pick Up A Pulp [65]: KILLING QUARRY by Max Allan Collins

I'm a longtime fan of Max Allan Collins' Quarry series. Ever since I read THE LAST QUARRY years ago I've been hooked and have chased down every book to feature the hitman with a heart, devouring them with the same enthusiasm as Quarry devotes to his love life - which is a lot. 

In KILLING QUARRY, we see the return of QUARRY'S DEAL character Lu; a sexy murderess who has Quarry in her sights. Why? The list. We know Quarry's living the life of selective murder, picking and choosing his targets based on the Brokers list of hitmen. Don't be fooled, Quarry isn't performing a service for the public good; there's good money in taking out a hit-team and profiting off the intended victim's paranoia - and that's exactly how this latest installment kicks off. 

As per the author intro, KILLING QUARRY, takes place approximately a year before QUARRY'S VOTE and sees Quarry tracking and staking out another hitman only to discover the intended victim is him! When Lu appears in Kill Bill fashion, showering Quarry in a deluge of blood and brain matter, after having killed her partner who was subsequently trying to kill Quarry, the murky waters of professional murder become even more complex. 

Readers familiar with the series will know what to expect while first time readers (yes, this does read perfectly well as a standalone) will be in for a fun, pulpy ride of bullets, broads, and brawls. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [64]: PLUNDER OF THE SUN by David Dodge

PLUNDER OF THE SUN (first published 1949) is good old fashioned pulp with substance. It takes the reader on a cross continent journey full of mystery, intrigue, broads and bullets - and some murder to liven (or deaden) things a little.

I've been reading books about smugglers recently (see HONG KONG CAPER by Carter Brown) and wanted to delve back into the dangerous world of Al Corby; a grifter with penchant for private detecting (on the wrong side of the law in most cases). As far as re-reads go, this one still felt fresh and was even better the second time around (granted I did read this 5yrs ago). 

The plot is pretty simple and that's part of the attraction, allowing the characters to develop and assume roles in a more fleshed out and realistic capacity. Given the page count (a tick over 200) this is sign of a well written book. 

I won't give much away as it's easy to spoil the mystery to prospective readers but I will say, PLUNDER THE SUN has loads of twists and turns - everyone isn't necessarily who they seem. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Review: THE EYES OF DARKNESS by Leigh Nichols (Dean Koontz)

Despite the hype surrounding this book, Koontz, whilst a decent writer, isn’t a prophet; he didn’t predict the COVID-19 pandemic in The Eyes of Darkness, but he did produce an entertaining, if somewhat too thriller-focused book nonetheless.

In the 1982 edition (the book was first published in 1981), Wuhan isn’t at the center of the deadly virus, rather, Soviet Russia – a change obviously occurred in new editions of the book. However, this component of a broader story doesn’t really come in to play until the later stages; there’s a whole lot of scares before getting to that part.

In the early stages of the book, there’s a Stranger Things vibe going on which fuses the thriller and horror elements to form a well-rounded read about a young woman making a (rather successful) living in Las Vegas who is trying to get on with her life following the unexpected death of her 12yr old son; the deceased who may or may not be responsible for some truly scary poltergeist activity.

As the story progresses, the ghostly theme steadily declines in favor of a Hollywood-like thriller with action sequences aplenty relegating the more enjoyable horror aspect an after-thought.

I didn’t mind The Eyes of Darkness but would've liked the horror to be more prevalent.  

A Paperback From Hell! ISOBEL by Jane Parkhurst

Like the Amityville Horror, Isobel, a mass market paperback horror is ‘based’ on a true story – but it doesn’t read that way, in fact, I wasn’t even aware the events of which this book is based on (1600’s witch trials/demonic cult worshiping, sex with supernatural beings etc…) were the primary source material. Reading Isobel, for what it is; b-grade horror and a product of the mass market 70’s and 80’s boom, makes it all the more devilishly delicious.

Isobel is a young, innocent (though not naive), attractive and devoted church goer circa 1630 who, despite having been paired with her true love to be wed when she comes of age, ends up being betrothed to an old and violent man who makes her life miserable – until, she secretly has an abortion which then leads her down a path of darkness and debauchery – and copious copulation with the devil himself!

This book is a slow burn but the payoff is there. Whilst witchery is on the peripheral, Isobel is more a cult book with some supernatural elements thrown in to spice up the story. I enjoyed every minute. Highly recommend. 

Friday, March 13, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [62]: HONG KONG CAPER by Carter Brown

(first Horwitz edition, 1962)

I've not read any of the Andy Kane books by Carter Brown before as I tend to gravitate to either his Danny Boyd (a personal favorite), Rick Holman, or Al Wheeler series. That said, after reading Hong Kong Caper, I really want to delver deeper into this Parker-like (created by Richard Stark, aka Donald Westlake) character (fingers crossed there's more books). 

Kane, a smuggler and all around go-to bad guy in the underworld for unlawful things finds himself smack bang in the middle in a mission for a million dollars; the bounty long buried in the Kwan Po Bay following a downed pilot in WWII and brought to his attention by the sister of the deceased. If only happenstance wealth could be so simple...

Based on the Carter Brown novelette Blonde, Bad, and Beautiful, Hong Kong Caper is a lot of fun. Kane is an interesting character who doesn't follow the conventional Carter Brown protagonist insofar as his unlawful nature and selfish desire to put cash ahead of wanton women (which are typically stock standard in Carter Brown books), and the plot takes more turns than you'd typically expect from a popcorn pulp. 

I highly recommend Hong Kong Caper for fans of Carter Brown seeking more substance to the standard pulp-hack story. 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Review: ISLAND by Richard Laymon

I like survival horror, especially those stories which emphasize the strange and surreal in a confined setting (shopping malls, isolated islands, abandoned towns etc.) often featuring zombies, mutants, rampant cannibals, and deranged serial killers. Whilst Island ticks two of those boxes, Castaways (written by Brian Keene) or Night of the Living Dead (written by John Russo) this is not.

When a family is marooned on a deserted island previously home to a gorilla sanctuary, their attention immediately turns to food/shelter/and warmth. Giving little thought to the suspicious nature surrounding the unexplained explosion of their boat which seemingly took to the life of the sole member aboard at the time, the troupe steadily turn paradise into home…until Gilligan’s island turns bloody.

The hack and slash serial killer theme runs rampant here as the survivors are steadily and brutally murdered. I don’t mind this as much as the next horror fan but there was something too mechanical and systematic about this to truly enjoy it. Perhaps it was the narrator, one of the male survivors who thinks more with his nether regions that his actual brain, with the story unfolding through the words written in his journal; it felt tedious and read like a young adult story written by someone full to the brim with teenage angst and haywire hormones.

Richard Laymon rarely lets me down but this one was a little underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fun read, but there are much better books out there.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Review: UNSOLVED MURDERS by Amber Hunt and Emily G. Thompson

Much like Cults Uncovered, Unsolved Murders offers up an eclectic mix of murderous morsels of some of the most notorious crimes over the past 100 years. From JonBenet Ramsey to Tupac and Biggie to the Black Dahlia murder(s), authors Amber Hunt and Emily G. Thompson bite off each crime, providing short, sharp, factual and fascinating glimpses into the case to whet the readers appetite. 

With 21 unsolved murders packed into a little over 200 pages, there's a lot to take in, yet the authors write each chapter in such a free flowing and easily readable way that the book never feels overwhelming. 

Be it a crime committed pre DNA, a bundled investigation, or simply a killer who looks to have outsmarted law enforcement, each unsolved murder case is equally as heinous as the one preceding it. How these killers remain free is as much as a mystery as is their identity. 

Unsolved Murders is a great place to start if you're looking to delve deep into the annals of crime. 

Learn more about Unsolved Murders from the publishers website

Monday, March 9, 2020


CHRISTINA HENRY  is the author of the CHRONICLES OF ALICE series – ALICE, RED QUEEN, and LOOKING GLASS – a dark and twisted take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well as THE GIRL IN RED, a post-apocalyptic Red Riding Hood novel, and LOST BOY: THE TRUE STORY OF CAPTAIN HOOK, an origin story of Captain Hook from Peter Pan.

She is also the author of the national bestselling BLACK WINGS series (BLACK WINGS, BLACK NIGHT, BLACK HOWL, BLACK LAMENT, BLACK CITY, BLACK HEART and BLACK SPRING) featuring Agent of Death Madeline Black and her popcorn-loving gargoyle Beezle.

She enjoys running long distances, reading anything she can get her hands on and watching movies with samurai, zombies and/or subtitles in her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and son. - from Christina Henry's website

I was fortunate enough to ask Christina a couple of fairy tale themed questions as part of her Aussie blog tour, you can read the responses to those below, but firstly, if you're not familiar with her books, here's a couple of links to whet your appetite:

ALICE - book #1 in the Chronicles of Alice series

THE GIRL IN RED - a dark modern take on Little Red Riding Hood 

What are you literary influences in horror and fantasy, and why does the combination of fairy-tale and fright work so well?

"J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown, and The Door in the Hedge, Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes and The October Country, Stephen King and Peter Straub's The Talisman, Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me...there are almost too many to list. I think every book I've ever read has influenced my writing in some way.

I think fairy tales and fright are a natural pairing. So many traditional fairy tales rely on terror  - the wolf waiting for Red Riding Hood, the witch luring Hansel and Gretel. Fairy tales are, in many ways, extensions of our childhood fantasies and fears. When we are children we believe in magic and wonder and we also believe that there is a boogeyman under the bed. Finding horror in those stories seems natural. "

What are the top 5 fairy-tales you’re yet to give the horror treatment?

“I never approach stories from the outside in that way. I never think, ‘Oh, I’d like to write a Sleeping Beauty story’ or something like that. My stories always come from a question I have or an image in my head, and sometimes they naturally link to an existing story and sometimes they don’t. After LOOKING GLASS my next two books will be horror novels with no link to existing stories.”

- - - - - - - - - - 

Many thanks to Christina for taking time out of her schedule to answer these questions and to New South Books for arranging the Q&A. 

Read more:

I highly recommend checking out the blogs on the tour: 

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Pick Up A Pulp [63]: THE LAST STAND by Mickey Spillane

The Last Stand (2018, Hard Case Crime) features two standalone novellas by Mickey Spillane unrelated to his Mike Hammer series of which he's better known for; A BULLET FOR SATISFACTION and THE LAST STAND. 

The fact that these two novellas remained unpublished whilst Spillane was alive, only to be brought to print posthumously thanks to Max Allan Collins, says something about the quality of these stories... (unlike some of the recent Hammer books, these two just don't stack-up)

Firstly, A BULLET FOR SATISFACTION is a hardboiled mess of pulp, private eye, and police procedural. The story features a disgruntled, lone-wolf cop who makes the ladies swoon every time he takes a breath, and kills without compassion; Rod Dexter could easily be a Mike Hammer in poor mans clothing. 

The plot centers around a murdered politician with suspicious links to the syndicate. When Dexter looses his badge thanks to this case, he knows the fix is in. The only way he can right the wrong done to him and the murdered politician is by putting bullets in as many bad guys as he can, and bed as many wanton women as he can... 

Despite a couple of hardboiled classic Spillane scenes, A BULLET FOR SATISFACTION was bland and underwhelming; I couldn't connect with the story and the plot never felt plausible. 

THE LAST STAND is a comedy western of sorts with an equally head scratcher of a plot... why this even got published is a mystery to me. 

The plot is pure high school; grown men fighting for the attentions of a women who is happy to go with whichever beats the other to a pulp. 

Lurking in the background are FBI agents on the hunt for a source of power which could turn the weapons race on its head, an Indian who lives off the trinkets discarded by others, and a shaman of sorts who can predict the future (at least by way of guessing the victor of brawls). 

I couldn't find a single redeeming thing to save this novella. 

In summary, the cover art by Laurel Blechman is the best thing about this book. One for the die hard Spillane / Hard Case Crime collectors only. 

Friday, March 6, 2020

Pick of the Month [February 2020]

Where is this year going? Seriously, 2020 is flying by. I can't believe I'm writing about my second book of the month already! It feels like 2019 just switched over. Nevertheless, 2020 continues to present me with a mixed bag of reads, both in an eclectic sense and a quality perspective. 

In February I read 13 books - which seems to be my lucky number, at least in terms of books read per month anyway. Of those I rated just three books 5 stars which is a little low; I actually had more 2 star reads for the month which kinda sucks. 

Enough with the negative, on to the positive; horror once again dominated my best reads list with Carnivorous Lunar Activities by Max Booth III and Nights of the Living Dead anthology edited by Jonathan Maberry and Geaorge A. Romero being standouts but there can only be one pick of the month and that goes to the excellent Voices in the Snow by Darcy Coates

From my review:

Echoing elements of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, Darcy Coates succeeds in scaring the crap out of the reader; creatures hiding in the shadowy corners of dark rooms conjure vivid imagery of Stephen King's Gerald's Game, and an ever present threat of danger, combined with a confined sense of claustrophobia make for one hell of a read.

From the blurb:

Clare remembers the cold. She remembers abandoned cars and children’s toys littered across the road. She remembers dark shapes in the snow and a terror she can’t explain. And then…nothing.
When she wakes, aching and afraid in a stranger’s gothic home, he tells her she was in an accident. He claims he saved her. Clare wants to leave, but a vicious snowstorm has blanketed the world in white, trapping them together, and there’s nothing she can do but wait.
At least the stranger seems kind…but Clare doesn’t know if she can trust him. He promised they were alone here, but she sees and hears things that convince her something else is creeping about the surrounding woods, watching. Waiting. Between the claustrophobic storm and the inescapable sense of being hunted, Clare is on edge…and increasingly certain of one thing:
Her car crash wasn't an accident. Something is waiting for her to step outside the fragile safety of the house... something monstrous, something unfeeling.
Something desperately hungry.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Review: THE DEVIL by Nadia Dalbuono

The fifth book in the Leone Scamarcio series set in Rome sees the lone wolf police detective face off against the devil; metaphorically and literally.  

Andrea Borghese was a troubled young man - so much so, that conventional treatments did nothing to alleviate the mood swings and strange behavior. With his parent's at their wits-end, his mother turned to the church for answers. What she got was nothing short of the supernatural; exorcisms, the devil incarnate, and ultimately death and destruction of her domestic situation. 

With Andrea's murder, Scamarcio treads down a path he's well used to. One that crosses the thin blue line of the law into dangerous territory; a path that not only brings pain to his professional career, but threatens to destroy his personal life and that of his unborn child. 

There's a lot going on in The Devil and it's all interwoven beautifully. I love Scamarico's inner struggle and penchant for self destruction, it's what separates the character from other crime series protagonists and this book, in particular, is all the better for it. 

While new reader friendly, The Devil works on more levels by having an understanding as to how Scamarico and co. got here. I highly recommended starting with The Few and reading all the way through to The Devil. 

- - - - - 

I was fortunate enough to interview the author a while back, you can read that interview HERE

The Devil is published in Australia by Scribe, read more about the book, and others from their website
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