Horror World Book Reviews
December, 2010

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Pain by Harry Shannon, Dark Regions Press; 2010, 116 pgs; $40

Harry Shannon is an extremely gifted author who can tailor his writing style to reach different audiences.   He can be a superb writer of intelligent, thought provoking dark fiction that chills readers to their bones with its stark realism and paranoid inducing qualities. But he can also blow readers away with his balls to the wall mainstream horror fiction that rivals any Jerry Bruckheimer movie.  And while I enjoy his high-intellect output (his Host of Shadows is excellent), I have to admit to his high-octane work being a lot more fun to read.   To give you an idea of which category Pain falls into, I’ll give you a hint…wear a seat belt while reading this one.

Pain is a Harry Shannon zombie story.  Now before you groan or skip over to read the next review, Shannon hasn’t delivered your typical rose from the dead, mono syllable, brain eating zombie tale.  No, Shannon has thought this one out and has come up with a pretty unique take on these knarly creatures.  

 In Pain, we find ourselves in a remote mountain town with a Doctor, his cheating wife, her lover, a few patients, and black-op soldiers as they are preparing to evacuate the Doctor’s practice at the behest of the government.   Seems there is this deadly virus traveling through the water supply that’s making folks very sick and they have only a short window of time to get outta town before the infected will reach them.  But guess what?  You guessed it, they ran out of time.

What follows is an attack by the citizens of the town who have been infected and become living, breathing, zombie-like creatures.  These living zombies are somewhat lucid, angry, have terrible headaches, and inexplicably need to takes naps occasionally.   But they are quite capable of inflicting pain; in fact, they are ferocious when it comes to that endeavor.

What makes Pain so damn entertaining (other than his fresh approach on zombieism) is Shannon’s characterizations…you really care for these desperate people holed up in their makeshift fortress who are caught up in something that is way beyond their worst nightmares and pay grades.  None of these characters come off as clichés, with a few of them offering up some very unexpected surprises.   Characters die, have sex in inappropriate circumstances, become unlikely heroes, and turn out to be much different than we originally believed them to be. 

Pain is an action packed read that’s as scary as an out of control truck careening down a two lane mountain road.  And that’s because Shannon never steps on the brake in this tale, he keeps his foot on the accelerator giving us one hell of a wild ride.  This novella is so good with its unrelenting action, R rated gore, the occasional dollop of humor, and the plot twist near the end, that I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see it on the big screen.   It sure would be cool if Jerry Bruckheimer takes notice of this one.  Pain is highly recommended.

T. T. Zuma

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The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff; Razorbill Press; 352 pgs; $17.99 HC

Another changeling story? With Keith Donahue’s The Stolen Child and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book in recent memory, and outstanding efforts in their own right, what chance does Brenna Yovanoff’s first novel have since it seems to be pretty darn similar?

The odds are pretty good.

The story – Mackie is a replacement, a being left in place of a human baby when the local monsters who help the town of Gentry trade for him.  He’s broken as a person, not to mention a teenager, which lends it instant credibility as just about all teens feel issues of not belonging at some time in those horrid years.  Allergic to blood and iron, he somehow manages to live until his teen years, something no one expected.  Unlike other stories of its kind, Mackie does realize his past and rails against it in typical teenage ways.  Yes, he has a good family, but do they truly accept him, knowing he’s from monster stock? 

Elements of Jackson’s The Lottery and Collins’ Hunger Games reaping are also evident as families know that one will be chosen every year in order to sustain prosperity but again, it works and works well in this unique spin.  Yovanoff’s style is fluid and real, able to reach both preteen and high-schooler with her depiction of how Mackie struggles to find his identity and purpose in his life that may or may not be destined to last much longer.

YA fiction continues its tsunami-like assault on bookstores and with such a boom, most of it tends to miss its audience and connection to the heart of the young, eager minds. Those writers who display the talent and love to build that bond cannot fake it. Yovanoff is one of those new talents.  Highly recommended for any YA reader – of any age.

-- David Simms

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American Vampire Vol. 1, by Stephen King, Scott Snyder, and Rafael Albuquerque; Vertigo Comics; 2010; 200 pgs; $24.99

Sons will sometimes follow their fathers, but how often do fathers follow their sons?  Well this is one of those times, and the father in question is none other than terror master Stephen King taking a turn at penning a comic book after his son Joe Hill did a masterful job with Locke & Key. Here Stephen once again returns to the vampire well and just in time to save the blood suckers from their glittery, brooding, hunky, misunderstood selves.

But to be fair, King is only one third of the team responsible for this awesome new series, now collected in a graphic novel by Vertigo for easy consumption. This is a beautiful hard cover book, made all the more attractive by the stunning artwork by Rafael Albuquerque. The art is crisp, clear, classic. A lot of horror comics today feel like they’ve got to ape the more scraggly “modern” style made popular by Ben Templesmith in 30 Days Of Night. It’s nice to see an illustrator doing scary as hell art without following that now well worn path.

However, good looks will only get you so far, unless you’re in Hollywood, so let’s get to the meat of American Vampire. Here is where King naturally comes in, but surprisingly he’s playing tag team with another author. More shocking, this other scribe, Scott Snyder, delivers the thrills and chills every bit as ably as Mr. King does. The two trade off and on, with Snyder starting the story with a young Hollywood wannabe actress named Pearl in the 1920s. Naturally very bad things happen to her, worse then the usual Tinsel Town cautionary tales by a long shot. She makes it through the ordeal but not unscarred and not, in the strictest sense alive. King then picks up the tale and sets the action in old west of the 1880s and focuses it around a very nasty vampire cuss, Skinner Sweet. Skinner is as memorable a vampire as any in literature. These two stories carry on, following their own course, but often intermingling and crossing over time and time again in the Roaring 20s.

What makes this book so wonderful is all in its tile. These are real vampires, monsters that pray on the living to sustain their own, evil lives. They are not the wimpified, sex symbol for tweens with budding necrofetishes (sorry girls but a corpse is a corpse, glittery or not). No, these are the creatures of nightmare that they’ve always been and quite frankly always should be. Furthermore, these vamps are very much American. Sure, some of the older ones may have come over from the “old country”, but even those fiends have embraced the American idea in all the worst ways. That said, there is a vibe of old vs. new running throughout the comic. Both Pearl and Skinner are thoroughly American vampires and they want revenge on the old society of blood suckers who have wronged them.     

This new compilation collects the first five issues of the ongoing American Vampire series. It is a complete story arc so it can be read as its own story, but it does whet the apatite for more.  I highly suggest picking this book up and giving it a read. If you get hooked, like I did, then you can wait for the next graphic novelization that is sure to be put together or start collecting the individual issues. Either way its two great ways to catch up with Vampires as the Dark Lords always intended them to be.  

--Brian m. Sammons

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Desperate Souls, by Gregory Lamberson; Medallion Press; 383 pgs; $14.95

Desperate Souls is the sequel to Personal Demons, but you don’t need to have read the first book to follow the story in this one. It’s also obviously only the second in what will most likely be a series of Jake Helman PI novels, and that’s a good thing. Helman is the perfect antihero: an ex-cop who is rough around the edges, straddling the line between legal and illegal, quick with his wits and a gun and carrying a triple load of guilt, bitterness, and bad luck.

Through conversations, thoughts, and flashbacks, we learn that in the previous book, Jake managed to get involved with supernatural forces, resulting in conflicts that led to his wife’s murder and him exacting revenge on those who did it. In the process, he stops a demon and also inadvertently causes a national financial crisis worse than what we’re going through now. In Manhattan, a side effect of this is increased crime and drug trafficking, including the new drug on the street, Black Magic.

This is where Desperate Souls launches from. Jake takes on a missing persons case involving a kid who’s dealing Black Magic on the street corners. Very quickly, he finds himself fighting for his life against machete-wielding zombies, getting shot at, and being attacked in his own office. Worse, he discovers that Black Magic is being peddled by an army of the walking dead, and it’s somehow tied in to the events that led to the death of his wife.

Things continue to go downhill for Jake. His investigation eventually crosses with that of his old NYPD partner, who’s running a new Black Magic task force. It seems the undead aren’t just dealing, they’re wiping out all the competition, leaving hacked up bodies all over the city. Jake struggles to keep his partner from finding out the truth - not only about the supernatural behind-the-scenes goings on, but also his involvement in some murders, murders Jake knew were justified and necessary, but ones he can’t defend legally.

The action never stops as Jake moves from one peril to the next, slowly closing in on his targets even as they close in on him. By the time you reach the finale, you’ll find yourself wondering if Jake will survive to the end of the book, and how many of those closest to him will end up dead. Or turn out to be not what they seemed to be.

Lamberson needs to be congratulated for creating such a perfectly imperfect protagonist. Jake Helman is real, he’s someone you can imagine meeting in a seedy alley or dive bar, a hero who makes mistakes, has emotions, who’s just doing his best to survive against terrible odds. A man who’s willing to take on superior, even supernatural, forces in order to do what’s right. And it’s because of Jake’s all-too-human flaws, and his total believability as a character, that I ended up having trouble with one small aspect of the book. In the final third section, Jake suffers some physical injuries that should have left him in the hospital for days at one point, and left him unable to perform certain actions at another. In both instances, his sudden ability to overcome or ignore these injuries jarred me from the story. It was as if in those two instances Helman was transformed from the believable ordinary guy to movie action hero, a caricature PI instead of the great character we’d had up to that point. It’s possible this was done to set up transformation’s in Helman down the road, but if so, I think they could have been handled in a more believable fashion. However, this could also be nit-picking on my part, and maybe most readers won’t even notice.

Luckily, those minor aberrations don’t detract from the fact that this is a superb book overall. Lamberson has crafted a story - and a series - that rivals anything out there in the ‘supernatural detective’ sub-genre. Put Jake Helman up against Harry Dresden or Carl Kolchak and my money’s gonna be on Helman. Probably the only equivalent would be F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack, if Jack was a recovering coke-head with no money, living in a city that makes Gotham City look like Cancun.

Desperate Souls is the best book Lamberson has written to date, and it definitely has me anxious for the next one in the series. Do yourself a favor and get a copy of this book.

You won’t be disappointed.

-- JG Faherty

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The Dreadful Doctor Faust by Karen Kohler; Bandersnatch Books; 92pgs; $11.99

This novella by the talented Ms. Kohler spins a modern Faustian tale which twists the sold soul with a Frankenstein vibe on its ear. A body washes up on the shore and is taken down below the city.  The victim, Louise, a beautiful young woman lays deformed and tattered, until she wakes by the touch of the “doctor.” Alive, she feels thankful until she feels the bandages and the horror begins.  Louise realizes what she is now capable of and fights back, understanding what the good Doctor has healed her for – vengeance.

Koehler’s story could have been another misshapen, hackneyed version of Shelley’s creation but is far from it. Louise fights her captor yet finds herself transformed as she learns about Faust and his helper, ordered to collect others from the topside.  Her relationship with the doctor turn in unexpected directions but the story works.  At only 92 pages, it feels full and thorough, the world Kohler creates born alive and kicking.

If this is the beginning of a series, its potential is strong for continuation.  Recommended for fans of dark, gothic tales – both well told and fascinating.

--David Simms

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Handling the Undead, by John Ajvide Lindqvist; St. Martin’s Press; 364 pgs; $24.99

The press release reads, “In his new novel, John Ajvide Lindqvist does for zombies what his previous novel, Let the Right One In, did for vampires.” If that were true, it would really be something to talk about. Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in, published in Sweden in 2004)is an amazing novel, and the Swedish movie made of the original work is breath-taking (forget about the Hollywood remake). Lindqvist’s follow-up, Handling the Undead (Hanteringen av odöda, published in Sweden in 2005), is far less ambitious than his breakout first novel, but it is still certainly worth reading. It does nothing to redefine the traditional treatment of zombies in fiction and cinema, but it does not set out to do that, either. As in his earlier work, the story is more about the way ordinary people react to the supernatural situation than it is about the supernatural characters.

One fine day in Stockholm during an unseemly heat wave, everybody begins getting brutal headaches. At the same time electrical appliances go haywire refusing to shut off and resist even being unplugged. That very day, everyone in the area who has died in the past eight weeks or so comes back to life and become the “reliving.” It turns out to be only a couple thousand people, and the phenomenon does not last long. The reliving wander about, mostly inarticulate, reacting to whatever the living’s state of mind is and causing the non-reliving to be able to read each other’s minds. How to the handle the situation (see the title) is addressed on the individual level by a handful of characters the author follows through the episode and in the larger sense by the government. As in his first novel, Lindqvist sets a gentle pace. Unlike his first novel, he seems to get lost in the story in the second act and begins to amble. Handling the Undead seems terribly long, even though it is about half the length of Let the Right One In. It would have worked better at about half its current length and with a somewhat more focused plot. None of the mysteries are solved and the resolution, which seems to be about the mystical existence of the soul, comes as a sermon more than as an evolved outcome of the story. Compared to Let the Right One In, Handling the Undead is a bit of a let-down.

And still I give Handling the Undead a strong recommendation. Lindqvist’s writing style (as well as it can be experienced through translation into English) is more sophisticated and powerful than most genre fiction published in the US. The work requires more of the reader but then the payoff is greater, too. I encourage you to put in the effort.

-- Wayne Edwards

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Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz; Dutton Children’s Books; 251 pgs; $16.95

The truth behind fairy tales can be quite magical to unearth.  Those who have researched who a true life little red or Cinderella or Rapunzel often find that sometimes, along with the truth, follow a trail of bread crumbs which seep into many other lands and cultures.

Adam Gidwitz decided to go in the opposite direction.  The path becomes just a interesting but in decidedly fictional tale of origin.   A delicious digging into the background of Hanzel and Gretel becomes the basis for this appetizing book.
Have you ever wondered how the pair became who they were, before that fateful trek into the woods?   This book chronicles not only their birth and upbringing but their parents’ as well.  The tales leading up to the trail of breadcrumbs are mystical, almost Greek-like in their mythology which lends the “prequel” a feel of authenticity, as if the Brothers Grimm unearthed lost tomes of their legacy for readers to enjoy.  Each section is begun by or followed by a narrator’s sly tone which reads like he is whispering secrets to whoever opens the pages.

Recommended for anyone who loves or grew up with fairy tales.  Hopefully, Gidwitz will continue writing in this vein and inject some “history” into the stories most children grew up with once upon a time. 

-- Dave Simms

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Songs from Spider Street; by Mark Howard Jones; Screaming Dreams; 160 pgs; £ 8.99

Within the frame of a future, desolate Paris, Mark Howard Jones provides a bunch of loosely interconnected  twenty-five dark stories assembled by Screaming Dreams in his debut collection.

Commenting upon the book is not easy. The quality of the tales is extremely uneven and many of the included stories are too short to permit the development of a real plot, let alone the crafting of proper characters.
Some of the remaining tales are a bit too ordinary to impress the average horror fan, others contain some interesting ideas but somehow remain rather unaccomplished.

A disappointing collection, then? Not at all. Jones certainly has a remarkable potential as a storyteller and, although still a beginner, exhibits his talents in some of the stories collected in the present volume.

“Heart is Where The Home Is”, for instance, is a delightful, quite original tale about a mechanical house full of impossible secrets.

In the enjoyable “Muse” an unsuccessful writer acquires fame and fortune thanks to the proximity of a girl that he has kidnapped.

 Graced by an elegant, classy narrative style “Mirrorcle” is a tale of magic, the effects of which  shatter as  the fragments of a broken mirror.

In the fascinating “The Path” a man is obsessed with a path he will never be able to walk on during his life, while in the unsettling, tantalizing “Shards from The House Of Glass” absinthe bottles reveal an appalling secret concerning the disappearance of a famous writer and his lovely wife.
“Cloud Harvest” is a compelling, atypical love story set in a dark atmosphere of riot and social disorders.

All in all the volume is worth reading ,considering both what it actually offers and what it  makes glimpse about the future accomplishments by a gifted writer.

-- Mario Guslandi

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Nightjack by Tom Piccirilli, Crossroads Press; 2010, 321 K.B., $ 4.99

After 2007’s The Midnight Road, Tom Piccirilli declared himself out of the horror writing business (it was a young mans game he proffered) and would henceforth only concentrate on writing noir and crime fiction.  This decision turned out to be a very successful one for Tom who had gone on to author the extremely popular Cold Spot novels (the first of which won an International Thriller Writers Award) and Shadow Season, as well as some brilliant small press novels such as The Nobody and All You Despise.  But now, seemingly out of nowhere, Nightjack arrives on our Kindle’s, an e-novel that is decidedly horror.  And while long time Tom Piccirilli fans are ecstatic over this release, we still couldn’t help but ask ourselves…what’s with that?

As it turns out, Nightjack is not a new Tom Piccirilli novel.  It was written in 2007 just before he tackled The Midnight Road and then tucked it away believing it was not a good fit with Bantam, his publishing company.  But now, with his past novels finding new audiences by selling briskly over the electronic airways, Pic has found a comfortable home for Nightjack at Crossroad Press.

In Nightjack, Pic continues his tradition of naming his lead characters as a reflection of their personalities and in this novel he delivers to us Pace. Though in Nightjack, Pic may have had a bit of difficulty picking a name as we soon discover that Pace’s personality isn’t all that easy to define.  That’s because, as it turns out, Pace is a man of many personalities. 

The doctors in the mental institution he has admitted himself into believe Pace suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder, a condition he acquired after the death of his wife and the brutal revenge murders of those responsible for her death.   Pace checked himself into the institution because it was one of his personalities, Nightjack, who revenged his wife, and Pace is struggling to get control of Nightjack, not to mention the rest of the gang partying inside his head.

While in the institution, Pace makes friends with three other patients who have similar mental problems, and then somehow, they all become involved in the violent rape of another patient.   The thing is, no one is sure which of the patients, or which of their multiple personalities were involved in the assault.   

But all this means little to the wealthy father of the patient that was raped, as the word has come down to them that he wants them all killed.

Believing that he has convinced the hospital staff that he has his problems under control, and with his primary doctor providing an alibi for him at the time of the rape, the institution releases Pace to a half way house where he can then go to work in a fish cannery.

But even before he leaves the hospital grounds, Pace’s three friends break out of the institution with the help of his primary doctor and the four of them begin an odyssey to confront the man who wants them all dead.

Where is all the horror in this you may ask?  Well, the kicker in this story is that Pace and his group of friends may not have Multiple Personality Disorder after all, they may be actually possessed by dead people.  What results is a story line that might have easily been written by someone tripping on acid. 

We witness Pace, the three refugees, and their multiple personalities such as Jack The Ripper, an Mediterranean Princess,  a dead father who’s also a child abuser, a Wild West gunman, a dog, and a whole slew of others as they travel abroad to meet the man who wants them dead.  What follows is one bizarre and sometimes hilarious situation after another, leading up to a wild, drunken party in a fortress located in Greece.  And in typical Tom Piccirilli fashion, you won’t believe how this one plays out.

Nightjack will remind  readers mostly of Pic’s, Choir of Ill Children and November Mourns as it shares a similar sense of gloom and oppressive atmosphere with those two earlier novels.   I also found it also shares many of the plot lines with Headstone City with its mob references, the many mentions of Italian food, and the ability of the dead to converse with the leading man.  Nightjack is at times violent, sexy, and most importantly, it is always entertaining.   This is Tom Piccirilli at his absolute best.  It contains all of the trademark Pic plot elements that we’ve come to love from the author.  It’s got tough guys, tough broads, drinking, gun play, and an ending with a twist that will pop the eyes out of the reader.   And all of this in a storyline that is dark, thought provoking, and as non mainstream as it gets.

If horror writing is in fact a young man’s game, here’s hoping that someone discovers a youth restoring elixir and gives it to Tom Piccirilli as we sure can use more novels from him like Nightjack coming our way.

--T. T. Zuma

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The Girls with Games of Blood, by Alex Bledsoe; Tor; 301 pgs; $14.99

Here we go again. Baron Rudolfo Vladimir Zginski is back from the limbo that is beyond the place beyond the grave and he is out for blood. And women. And cars. Set in the same space as his earlier novel Blood Groove, Alex Bledsoe walks us through another adventure of his unlikeable racist vampire. Did I say racist? I forgot sexist. And elitist. These characteristics might be drawn in to show that Zginski is out of his time and place. That works as far as it goes but it doesn’t go very far. It quickly becomes tedious and unpleasant to read – unless you happen to be a racist, sexist, elitist yourself…maybe then you can relate to the character.

Following themes of the earlier novel, Bledsoe gives the fans more of what they want with a ninety-degree-twist retake on vampire-infected 1975 Memphis. Rudolfo buys a car and tries to engage undead sisters; complications ensue.

There is a plot here, but is serves mainly to hang one graphic scene to the next. Thin plots, all by themselves, are not necessarily enough to sink the ship but they are a weakness. Bledsoe’s writing is serviceable. Sometimes serviceable works just fine but it is not as good as it could be. See what I am getting at? If you pile together enough non-catastrophic inferiorities, before you know it they get together to work a vile outcome. Blood Groove was enough for me. I do not need another round of these characters, even with the introduced twist. Fans of the first book, however, will find this new one very much to their liking.

Alex Bledsoe has written other things, notably the Eddie LaCrosse fantasy novels. Sure, they are no substitute for a vampire story if that is what you are in the mood to read. For me, Bledsoe had a more fully formed and realized work with these fantasy books, especially The Sword-Edged Blonde. My recommendation is to consider choosing the fantasy over the gore.

-- Wayne Edwards

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Strip by Thomas Perry; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ; 352 pgs; $25.95

Six major characters. Six major subplots.  No, it’s not the mystery version of King’s THE STAND, nor is it an any type of apocalyptic novel – it’s a suspense/mystery story that is tighter than a frog’s bum and its scope sticks to one city.  Usually, books of this type work for awhile before one character steals the show, they meld together into one fused plot, or most often, crash and burn into a blithering mess.  Usually.  However, like King and other icons of the literary world, Thomas Perry makes the whole shebang look pretty damn easy.

Included in this intense stew are a strip club owner, a thief, the woman who aspires to be a thief, the guy who’s accused of “thiefdom,” the strip club owner’s bodyguard, and finally, the cop who tries to figure out the whole mess.  To give an example of how crazy and unconventional the roles are defined, Lt. Nick Slosser isn’t a drunken, depressed caricature.  Just ask his wife – either one of them.  Or his five kids – some in each family he manages to keep from the other.  Joe Carver, the wrongly accused man is first seen sleeping in the cab of a crane a hundred plus feet above the ground who then proceeds to cuts all tethers of reality from Manco Kapak’s life as the mobster/club owner struggles to ascertain just what the hell is really happening to him. The bodyguard, who has committed some heinous acts for Kapak, serves as the only mental equal to Carver. To discuss the true plot here would take pages of twists and turns so it will be avoided yet is well worth the effort.  For all of its complexity, STRIP reads pretty well at the beach or on a plane (which is far from an insult).  This book is quite an accomplishment at intertwining and unraveling multiple storylines which weave under and over each other in a dance smoother than any of Manco’s top strippers.

--David Simms

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They Had Goat Heads, by D. Harlan Wilson; Atlatl Press; 134 pgs; $12.95

Another D. Harlan Wilson book. The last book of his I read was Peckinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance and I had a nagging headache afterward for about six weeks. Wilson affects you.

They Had Goat Heads is a collection of short work, and here “short” is the operative word. The collection is 134 pages long and there are forty pieces contained between the covers. This sort of abruptness puts me immediately in mind of Fredric Brown and his exceptionally gifted work. Wilson is not like Brown, though, not at all. At the end of many of Brown’s short-short works, you have a little smile on your lips and sometimes you here a faint whistling sound. The terminal point of Wilson’s short-short pieces are more like a punch in the face, and instead of hearing a whistling sound you taste copper at the back of your tongue.

Most of the fiction in this collection does not really read as stories so much as they feel like flashes, or hallucinations. You might say poetry in some cases. They are odd, that’s for sure, and usually jarring. You can’t see where they are going from the beginning or the middle, and at the end you are often left wondering what happened. As before, like a punch in the face. To elaborate: like an unprovoked punch in the face from a total stranger.

So why would anybody want to read this? Well, look, the writing is refreshing in a difficult-to-pin-down kind of way, and, if you are inclined toward it, these stories do offer the opportunity to ponder their meanings for a very long time. D. Harlan Wilson is an acquired taste, and his writing is not for everybody. But everybody should be able to say at the end of their time that they did indeed read at least one of his books. They Had Goat Heads is a fine candidate.

-- Wayne Edwards

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THE LIVING DEAD 2, edited by John Joseph Adams; Night Shade Books, 2010; 504 pgs; $15.99

From the editor and publisher that gave us the first Living Dead anthology comes another collection of zombie tales. What’s new this time around? Well quite a few of the stories, that’s what. While the first book was mostly comprised of reprinted tales, this book is about half reprint and half all new material written just for this anthology. There are also many new names to be found in undead outing. To be sure, there are still many easily recognizable heavy hitters of horror corralled in this collection, but there are a good number of fresh faces as well, or at the very least, people who aren’t household words in the world of horror. As there were only a scant few stories in this book that I didn’t care for, I think it’s safe to say that some of these new-ish authors may just start generating more buzz than a vibrator in a beehive.   

Some of those big guns that I alluded to are bona fide zombie masters in every sense of the words. Max Brooks of World War Z and Zombie Survival Guide fame contributes a brand new story, “Steve and Fred”. Robert Kirkman, creator and author of the wonderful Walking Dead zombie comic book series also turns in a new tale with “Alone Together” and proves that he can write more than just “them funny books”. Another lord of the undying horde is David Wellington whose Monster trilogy (Island, Nation, and Planet) are three of the best zombie novels out there. David also gives us a new story with his “Good People”. Last, but certainly not the least of these zombie masters, there’s the guy that pretty much jump-stared the whole zombie novel craze, in my opinion at least, with his The Rising, City of the Dead, and Dead Sea books, Brian Keene. Well Brian also turns in a brand spanking new tale, “Lost Canyon of the Dead”.

If you are any sort of zombie fan at all, then those four authors, all doing band new stories, is all the reason you should need to get this book immediately. However as luck would have it, there are plenty of more meaty morsels for you to sink your teeth into with this book in addition to those prime cuts.

John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow, two authors I can’t ever get enough up, do another super-powered team up with “The Price of a Slice”. Sarah Langan was one of those authors whom I heard a lot about but never actually read until a year or so ago when I picked up her novel, The Missing. Since then I have been doing my best to rectify that horrible oversight on my part. Luckily for me, Sarah makes that a tad bit easier with her new story, “Are You Trying to Tell Me This Is Heaven?”  David J. Schow delivers the ghastly goods, as he always does, with his excellent, “Where the Heart Was.” Hmm, you know what, that is the first reprint story I’ve mention so far in this review. Maybe my previous estimate on the percentage of new to old stories found in this book needs to be revised? Regardless, I loved this story the first time I read it many years ago and I still love it now. The last story I’m going to mention, simply because there are too many here to get into (43 to be exact, with the vast majority of them being winners), is Gary A. Braunbeck’s “We Now Pause For Station Identification” about a radio talk show from hell. Or is that in hell? Whatever the case may be, this is a great story and a reprint, but since the original was a limited edition chapbook, it’s great to see it here reaching a wider audience of zombiphiles.

The first Living Dead anthology was amazing. What’s truly amazing about this sequel is that it’s just as good, if not in some ways better, as it gives us zombie lovers a lot of new stories to devour. If you are not quite tired of the zombie invasion going on in horror fiction these days (hey, at least they’re not sexy vampires) then give this book a read. Whether you’re a parishioner in the Church of Romero, or just a passing acquaintance with the walking dead, I am sure you’ll find stories in this book that will touch your still, rotting, and slightly gnawed-on heart in some fashion. I highly recommend this book.

--Brian M. Sammons

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Do-Overs and Detours by Steve Vernon; Dark Regions Press; 2010, 174 pgs.; HC $ 45.00

It’s been said that the most important trait a good folk teller could possess is the ability to entrance an audience to the point where they could actually visualize the narrative.  Of course it’s much easier to accomplish this when speaking as the storyteller has the benefit of facial expressions, tonal quality, and hand gestures to accompany his spoken word.  But for a folk teller to cast his spell with the written word it takes a whole different skill set.  On the written page a successful folk teller has to make the impossible entertaining not only with his wit and an obvious love for the genre, but with a literary styling that is identifiable as his own.

And of course, the best folk storytellers steer their tales with a moral rudder…there’s always a lesson to be learned, an insight to be gleaned, and a bit of introspection to be pondered by the tales end.  In my mind, there are only two contemporary authors’ I would claim to be superb dark fiction based folk tellers and one of them would be Steve Vernon. 

Do-Overs and Detours presents 15 of Vernon’s hand picked tales representing some of his finest story telling from the past 20 years.  The tales in this volume include hard to find stories from long out of print magazines, bankrupt chapbook publishers, never before published stories, and one complete novella.  

The highlight of this collection is without a doubt his novella, The Last Stand of the Great Texas Packrat, Vernon’s tale of a fellow whose book collecting is taken to extremes.  The inclusion of this story will be welcomed by many as this novella had sold out quickly upon its release and is difficult to find even on the secondary market.  Like most of Vernon’s novella work, The Last Stand of the Great Texas Packrat is weird and folksy, chock full of black humor, and so entertaining that it seems to pack in a lot more than its word count could promise.  

‘The Takashi Miike Seal of Approval’ is also an unexpected delight for fans of Venon’s excellent novella, Leftovers.  It is a short story about a mercenary ex-priest taking out his client’s revenge on a homophobic man that was used as the foundation when penning Leftovers.  To say that this story is bloody, as its title would imply, would be a humorous understatement. 

There are several other strong contenders for best story in this anthology.  ‘Gin Bottle Heaven’, a cautionary tale of what can happen to an alcoholic who is granted a free wish while standing underneath a billboard featuring a huge bottle of gin; ‘Rolling Rock’, a tale of possession and a train involving Vernon’s reoccurring character Easter; and my personal favorite of the bunch, ‘Under The Skin, Under The Bones’, a gruesome tale about a supernatural skirmish during World War 2.

Vernon has been on a roll lately with his best selling series of books on true ghost stories in the various Canadian Provinces,  his young adult book, and the upcoming re-issues of some of his earlier novels.  Do-Overs and Detours is a fine and welcome addition to these and for those of us who’ve followed Vernon’s career over the years it’s a great way to catch up on some of his earliest work that has been unavailable until this release. 

For those who have a love for great story telling flavored with folk styling and an existential bent, you can never go wrong with a Steve Vernon tale.  Pick up Do-Overs and Detours and see for yourself why Vernon is not only considered Canada’s hardest working dark fiction author, but one of its best.

--T. T. Zuma

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More Stories from the Twilight Zone, by Carol Sterling (editor); Tor; 478 pgs; $17.99

Who doesn’t like The Twilight Zone? Nobody, that’s who. It was a great show, and everybody I know who likes that kind of thing is a fan and can tell you about their favorite episodes. Even the reboot was all right (not as good as the original, but still pretty good). The show had great writers, many of whom are now legendary figures in the field, and Rod Serling struck the perfect tone with his introductions and wrap-ups. Ah, the good old days.

There have been a number of books collecting stories from the series. A couple years ago, Carol Sterling edited a volume of nineteen original stories to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the television show. That collection was so popular that now there is a new one, More Stories from the Twilight Zone – nineteen more Twilight Zone-ish tales that twist and turn in just the right way. Each tale has its own unique perspective and approach, but they all manage to have the required TZ pitch that holds the collection together and reminds us what Rod Serling accomplished. This new collection continues the celebration the first one started.

Nearly all the stories found herein appear for the first time ever, the sole exception being Peter Crowther’s fine “Thoughtful Breaths.” The list of authors is luminous indeed: Norman Spinrad, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, David Gerrold, John Farris, Nancy Holder, and many others, including an unpublished story by Rod Serling himself. Every one of the entries would have made a great episode, but I don’t have to sell this one to genre fans, do I. If you liked The Twilight Zone this book is everything you expect and exactly what you are looking for.

-- Wayne Edwards

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Black Static 17/18/19; TTA Press; 64 pgs; $3.95 (British)

With its latest issues, Black Static invites one of the best mystery writers, a new British talent, and legendary editor into its pages for spotlight treatments. Each installment includes an interview, several reviews of their work, and occasionally a short piece or excerpt. 
Still the most regular magazine of its kind, and likely the only one of its kind, Black Static includes several short stories, insightful articles by Stephen Volk, Christopher Fowler, and Mike O’Driscoll, and countless DVD reviews (complete with giveaways).

 Mystery in here? Well, if one is familiar with John Connelly, he or she knows how dark that writing can be (Nocturnes, his short story collection HAS been considered outright horror anyway). #17 reviews each of his novels as well as getting deep within the author’s head. 

#18 spotlights new author Peter Tenant, whose APARTMENT 16 brings together the styles of M.R. James and Peter Straub with modern sensibilities. 
Issue 19 focuses on anthologies, specifically those helmed by Stephen Jones, the maestro of modern collections and editor of the Best New Horror series.
Each interview and subsequent set of reviews are as thorough as anything one would find in Cemetery Dance or, well, okay, there aren’t any other magazines to compare Black Static to.  It’s in its own category and sets itself apart from the competition.  Because it’s regular and constant in quality, there’s little chance anyone will ever catch up.    The fiction is, for the most part, top notch – to pick out just one spotlighted story would slight the others.

One of the few magazines worth subscribing to out there in the horror field.

--David Simms

 

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