Horror World Book Reviews
June, 2006


MASQUES 5 edited by J.N. Williamson and Gary A. Braunbeck
Review by James R. Beach


It's been 15 years since the last Masques anthology came out. A lot of things in the Horror field have changed. When the last volume was published in 1991, Horror was on a decline. Now it's surely on a bit of an upswing. Horror in the small press is flourishing, with talented new authors breaking in every day. Many established authors are also making strong comebacks having survived the lull. Perfect timing for a new collection from this landmark series.

So the first question has to be: who's in it? Known for a nice variety of big names, solid pros and strong newcomers, Jerry Williamson has assembled an impressive lineup again - Well established authors like: Ray Bradbury, Richard and Richard Christian Matheson, William F. Nolan, the late Ray Russell (with the only reprint in the bunch - an uncollected gem), Jack Ketchum, Poppy Z. Brite, Ray Garton, Thomas F. Monteleone, Mort Castle, Tom Piccirilli, Gary A. Braunbeck, Barry Hoffman, Ed Gorman, John Maclay, P.D. Cacek, Joe Nassie, and Jerry himself. Solid up-and-comers like: Kealan Patrick Burke, Tim Waggoner, Geoff Cooper, Christopher Conlon, Judi Rohrig, Thomas Sullivan and Lucy A. Snyder. A nice, well-rounded list of writers

The second question is: Is it any good? You better believe it is! Standout tales - "In A Hand or Face" by Gary Braunbeck, "Stirrings" by Kealan Patrick Burke, ""How Sweet It Was" - By Tom Monteleone, ""Ghost In Autumn" - by Christopher Conlon, "Waters Dark and Deep" by Tim Waggoner, "In The Empty Country" by Ron Horsley - honestly there are too many good ones to mention! There is a nice variety of dark tales - Ghost stories, non-supernatural Horror, Suspense, Westerns, Twilight Zone-ish tales - something for everyone in here. All of which focus on the theme that predominated the series - the darker side of the human condition.

This is a very solid collection and a nice tribute to the late Jerry Williamson. Kudos to Gary Braunbeck and Gauntlet Press for getting this one out. With cool cover art by Clive Barker and signatures by all - including Williamson - this one is one that you probably want to grab while you can as there are only 500 hardcover copies being done. Who knows if this one will ever see a paperback release. The Masques volumes always had a tough time finding their way to the mass-market after their small press debuts. When they finally did, they were trunctuated versions.

Highly recommended!

Gauntlet Press

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TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME by Brian Keene
Review by Mark Justice

The Rapture is a Christian belief that predicts God will call the faithful up to Heaven, leaving the faithless to endure seven years of tribulation under the reign of the Antichrist. It's a concept that developed in the 1800s - relatively recent in terms of Christianity -- and gained momentum around the turn of the last two centuries. The popularity of the best-selling LEFT BEHIND series of novels and the ubiquitous comic book tracks by Jack Chick have kept The Rapture in the public eye.

Now comes Brian Keene with TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME, in which the author sticks with the popular interpretation of The Rapture.

During evening rush hour a massive trumpet blast is heard around the world and millions of people disappear.

The result is horrifying without resorting to the supernatural: Planes falls, cars collide, people riot and cities burn.

In fact, other than the precipitating event and a brief occurrence near the end of the novella, Keene eschews the supernatural for the humanistic. The story primarily follows three characters: Steve, a non-practicing Jew; Charlie, a gay agnostic; and Frank, an atheist. The trio struggle along clogged highways to make their way to Steve's house, so he can reach his wife.

It's established early on that Steve's wife is a believer, so her fate won't come as a surprise. Besides, TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME is about the journey, not the destination.

Keene provides perhaps the tightest writing of his career in this novella, displaying again the mature voice first demonstrated in TERMINAL, alongside the savage intensity that fueled CITY OF THE DEAD. It's the story of a handful of characters trying to come to terms with a worldwide catastrophic event and the resulting change in everything they know.

Whether you count yourself as a believer or not, TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME will touch a nerve with its portrayal of loss, the promise of terrible events to come and the hint of the possibility of redemption.

Necessary Evil Press

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DUSK by Tim Lebbon
Review by Nate Kenyon

Noreela is dying.

Centuries after the Cataclysmic War that saw the Mages exiled to parts unknown, the magic that used to rule the land and fuel the great machines has disappeared. Noreela is now ruled by corruption and decay, its cities and towns populated by a hardened and drug-addicted people who have lost all hope in the future. Much of the truth and the mystery in legends both great and terrible have faded away into history.

And then an unstoppable killing force called a Red Monk rides into a small farming village looking for a boy named Rafe Baburn, and slaughters everyone in sight. Red Monks are a breed of ancient fighters trained to destroy all magic, and this one is after Rafe because magic supposedly lives in him once again.

Only two survive the attack: Kosar the thief, and Rafe, both of whom escape to Pavisse, a larger nearby city. There they find more allies in their sudden, desperate flight; a witch named Hope and Kosar's old flame A'Meer, who is secretly a Shantasi warrior trained to protect magic. It isn't long before they must run once again from the Red Monks who converge on the city, and they are joined outside Pavisse by two more strangers, a librarian named Alishia and a fledge miner named Trey.

This small band of misfits sets off across the dusty lands with an overwhelming force of Red Monks on their heels, and they must somehow dodge thieves and shades, tumblers and Nax, and ultimately the Mages themselves, to try to find a way to keep Rafe alive until magic returns to Noreela.

Dusk is not your typical sword and sorcery. This is a horror writer's fantasy novel. It is dark, vicious and bloody, at turns brutally violent and sexually graphic. It is also a breathtakingly beautiful novel, with one of the most remarkable and unique settings ever created. Sure, there are elements of the familiar, with the Red Monks on horseback chasing the one who will supposedly save the world, the struggle of good vs. evil in many remote and exotic settings with strange creatures and magical results; but the details that set Noreela apart from anything that has come before it are so fully imagined that the pages literally come alive in a reader's hands.

Dusk is not a quick or an easy read. Many different characters and viewpoints are introduced, and there are periods where a lull in the action might put off someone looking for something simple and mindless. Lebbon takes the time to flesh out the environment, describing the cultures of several different races, from the fledge miners who live underground to the whores and dealers on the streets of Pavisse, and this time is well spent indeed. Noreela is a completely foreign world and yet it feels very familiar, a living, breathing presence, a character in and of itself. The rest of Dusk's characters are fully fleshed out and complex, rather than one-dimensional heroic figures.

The only minor quibble some readers might have with Dusk is its ending, which is both shocking and potentially frustrating for those looking for everything to be tied up into a neat little package. But the ending has its purpose; the novel is nicely set up for its sequel, Dawn, coming in 2007.

Lebbon is a recognized master of the horror story, winning a basketful of awards and many rabid fans in the process. Dusk should expand his readership dramatically, but more importantly, it showcases his range and skill in introducing the horrific into whatever he chooses to write. The result is an edgier, nastier and ultimately more satisfying fantasy novel for those who have tired of a certain boy wizard and his legion of imitators. One of the best novels of the year, and highly recommended.

Bantam Books

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READ BY DAWN hosted by Ramsey Campbell
Review by Mario Guslandi

It's a pleasure to welcome "Bloody Books" a new small UK-based imprint devoted to short horror fiction., a genre which seems always in danger to become extinct in favor of the ever-present novel, the obsessive target of any horror writer. Praise also to the international character of this short story anthology, featuring authors from England, Finland, America, Scotland, Canada and Australia.

It is unfortunate, however, that the publisher omitted to give any biographic information about the book's contributors, so it's hard to identify who's coming from where, especially because most of the writers are still relatively unknown.

The collection is "hosted" (not actually "edited") by horror master Ramsey Campbell, who also contributes "The Place Of Revelation," an enigmatic piece of fiction exploring the various layers of the world reality as they are disclosed by a perceptive uncle to his recalcitrant nephew.

In his introduction Campbell, nice guy that he is, has a kind word for each of the included stories, but, as it's always the case in any anthology, some stories in "Read By Dawn" are positively awful, some just ordinary, and only a bunch are worth mentioning. The latter group ,in my opinion, amounts to a dozen, which is not bad at all in a volume assembling twenty-seven tales.

"The Colour In The Jar" by David McGillveray, is an urban nightmare with a certain after-taste of supernatural, just a light touch. Jeff Jacobson's "Last Day On The Job" is the literary equivalent of one of those disaster movies so popular years ago, describing a suicidal apocalypse in Chicago (no explanation of the phenomenon is provided…).

In the powerful and tense "The Bridge Chamber" by Rayne Hall three kids exploring the tunnels under an abandoned bridge experience sheer terror, whereas in the nasty "Payday" by the Bryce Stevens hunters become hunted in a scenery of urban horror.

"The Little Girl Who Lives In The Woods" by Ralph Robert Moore is a very dark, cruel tale about the hidden truths of human existence, blending the reality of spoiled innocence, loneliness, violence and hunger for love.

Well depicted madness and violence make "The Kilesku Trow" by Stephan Pearson, a story very hard to forget, even for a callous horror addict. With "For A Steal" Stephanie Bedwell-Grime provides a warning to naive burglars of what type of horrible punishments they may deserve.

"The Woman Who Coughs Up Flies" by David Turnbull is a slightly surrealistic horror tale featuring an old woman and her beloved, drug-addicted grandson, while the original "Special Offer" by John Llewellin Probert constitutes a vivid , effective report of how a merciless organization helps people to get rid of their debts for just a little price…

In my way of thinking the book's real stand-out is Scott Brendel's "The Seventh Green At Lost Lakes," a superb story written in an elegant, easy style displaying the horrors hidden beneath an un usual golf course.

All in all a good, promising debut for this new horror imprint which deserves our encouragement and support.

Bloody Books

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A GARDEN OF VIPERS by Jack Kerley
Review by Julie Knudson

Jack Kerley’s third book, A GARDEN OF VIPERS, continues the Carson Ryder detective thriller series. Ryder and his partner, Harry Nautilus, are tracking a killer whose motives are as baffling as his methods. While pursuing their quarry, the detectives stumble upon betrayal within their own department, and an uber-strange family that surpassed the dysfunctional mark a very long time ago.

Ryder and Nautilus follow the strange path of victims to the doorstep of the Kincannons, an elite Mobile family known simultaneously for their charitable acts and their self-serving manipulation. Career aspirations, love interests, greed and sibling rivalry all work together to concoct a strange give-and-take between Ryder, his girlfriend DeeDee, and some of Mobile’s most powerful shmoozers. But a colleague reminds Ryder that a generous appearance may mask ulterior motives – a lesson his girlfriend learns too late.

Like many successful gumshoes, Ryder is cursed with a less-than-successful personal life. In Kerley's previous work, THE DEATH COLLECTORS, Ryder found an unlikely lover in TV reporter DeeDee Danbury. In A GARDEN OF VIPERS, Danbury is wooed by the wealth and promises of another suitor, only to be duped herself.

Conspicuous in his absence is Carson's lascivious nutcase of a brother, Jeremy, who lent a great deal of comic relief to the first two books. I can see, though, why Kerley left him out of GARDEN. In the previous two books, Ryder turned to Jeremy for help in solving his cases. Trotting out the same old routine would have put Kerley into a very formulaic kind of a role, which would be unfortunate, because his writing is better than that. But I do hope to see a bit more of Jeremy in Kerley’s next work; I really did miss that little psycho.

It’s easy to jump into the series without reading the earlier books, but fans of the first two novels will surely notice Kerley has found his voice in this one. One thing I love about Jack Kerley’s writing is his ability to completely transport me to Mobile, Alabama. The notion of setting is never obtrusive or overdone, but subtle touches along the way instill Kerley’s work with a deep sense of place. He also does a good job of sustaining the suspense from beginning to end, and the various plot lines come together with enough “aha!” moments to keep readers turning the pages.

Penguin

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WAKING LAZARUS by T.L. Hines
Review by Nate Kenyon

Jude Allman is a medical mystery. Having been declared dead not once, not twice, but three times during the course of his life (drowning, lightning strike and hypothermia), he has come back each time without a single physical complication. This has earned him more than his 15 minutes of fame along with a sea of followers searching for salvation, and eventually poor Jude escapes to Montana, where he changes his name and tries to hide away from the relentless pursuit of those who want to clasp hands with a miracle.

But whatever is seeking him out won't stay dead either. In Jude's tiny town of Red Lodge, something evil has come out to hunt.

Still in hiding, Jude is tracked down by a woman named Kristina, who slowly begins to bring him out of his shell. Clearly he's been meant for something-why else would he have been brought back from death's cold clutches, given a taste of the other side and an ability to catch glimpses of the future?

The taste of copper is a sign that one of these visions is on its way, and Jude has been avoiding them as much as possible. But when someone close to him goes missing, he must fight for a life he suddenly believes in once again and uncover the identity of the man who calls himself the Hunter.

Waking Lazarus is an impressive debut novel with a fabulous premise. It is firmly placed in the Christian fiction realm, which may scare off readers who don't normally seek out the spiritual. And that's a shame, because although there are well-placed references here and there to scripture (Hines knows where his bread is buttered, after all), Waking Lazarus reads more like a mainstream thriller than the usual Christian fare. Ultimately this is a story of love and redemption, with a protagonist who is both unusual and familiar at the same time. Jude Allman doesn't want what life has thrust upon him, but he must ultimately choose to accept it for the betterment of himself and mankind.

Hines writes very well, populating the novel with unique characters and interesting plot twists. Some might guess the identity of the killer early on, but that doesn't seem to matter much, because the book still hums right along.

Ultimately, Waking Lazarus is a fast read that offers a few fresh twists on a somewhat tired genre. If you like Christian-based suspense (or don't mind a few references to prayer woven into an otherwise sleek thriller), it may be just the thing for a long, cold night.

Bethany House Publishers

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STATES OF GRACE by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Review by Patricia Snodgrass

States of Grace is without a doubt one of the finest novels I've read in quite a while. Set in Reformation Era Europe, Quinn chronicles the adventures and intrigues surrounding the vampire Saint-Germain and his human lady, Piers-Ariana, a young musician who is both one of his patronages as well as his mistress.

Over the centuries, Saint-Germain has amassed a fortune. He owns several printing companies as well as ships and other properties. But it's one particular press, Eclipse Press from Amsterdam that has directed the local ire of the Inquisition. Saint-Germain has learned over the centuries to be circumspect in his actions. He is generous and compassionate, in order to develop a reputation as a kindly benefactor. The cloak of generosity has worked well for him; however, it is now attracting the wrong people. People who wouldn't hesitate for an instant to out him as a heretic as well as a vampire and confiscate everything he owns, including his lovely Piers-Ariana. Not to mention that whole stake-burning thing.

The plot is far more complex than this, and it's easy to get lost in the intrigue. This is a novel that simply cannot be read in a day or two. It is not an action packed thriller, although the ending will come as a surprise.

States of Grace must be savored slowly, like a high quality wine. It is rich and heady in plot and sensory imagery. Yarbro describes costumes and scenes in rich intricate detail, talks about places that are so vivid you can see them. The reader learns about conspiracies and dramas through a series of letters and other communiqués that add depth to the story. Yarbro makes a great case in making the count a vampire. It is rumored that the real Saint-Germain lived 2000 years. But we all know that's impossible. Right?

There are two minor drawbacks to the book. Yarbro uses some heavily Latinate words that are appropriate for the text but the reader might not know what they are. I advise keeping a dictionary handy just in case. The other drawback is that the novel is set during the Renaissance and Reformation Period. It is a fascinating time but also difficult time period if the reader hasn't had much European history.

Regardless, I absolutely loved this book. It's a great read and I highly recommend it.

Tor Books

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