Friday, December 8, 2017

The wild west and wilder werewolves

The Wolves of El Diablo

Eric Red


Short, Scary Tales Publications

August 1, 2017

4 stars

Tucker, Fix and Bodie are three 19th century American outlaws in the desert and mountains of Mexico. They have already fought a gang of werewolves to save a small village for little profit. So they are about to rob a train to make up for that loss of profit margin. It looks like an easy job but they are unaware that there is a troop of Mexican Federales abroad guarding a shitload of silver. On top of that, the sister of the leader of the werewolves they killed is hunting them down for revenge. Outlaws, soldiers, werewolves and silver is not the kind of mix that will ends in any way but terror and violence.

Eric Red's The Wolves of El Diablo is a sequel to The Guns of Santa Sangre where the outlaws meet The Men Who Walk Like Wolves for the first time. I have not read the first book and there may be some back story in it that might help in this one. However not reading it didn't lessen my enjoyment of the second book. The author gives enough background so you can understand what took place previously and whiz through this enjoying every minute. If your idea of a novel is action packed and full throttle adventure then that is exactly what you will do. There is a very cinematic feel throughout the book which makes sense considering the author's day job as screenwriter. The action scenes are as descriptive and tight as one would want. But what I like is how, mixed in with the endless action, we get some actual character development. The three outlaws are about as three-way bromance buddies as you can get. There is a tough but honorable captain who is out of his element when confronted with the supernatural. There is even a bit of a romance with Tucker and a girl from the village, However that girl is definitely not the weeping willow type and holds her own through all the shooting and attacking. But the real star of the novel is Azul, the she-wolf. We get an lot of back story for her that explains her obsession and viciousness. This is all top notch pulp adventure. The author keeps you interested in what will happen and makes you care about what will happen later to the main characters. For while the novel does have a satisfactory ending, there will definitely be a third one. I'm looking forward to it.

Eric Red writes tight horror and tight suspense. The Wolves of El Diablo has both. It is basically a western in wolves' clothing. Red writes visually. He envisions each scene and communicates it so well that you can see it too. For this type of novel it is what makes it works. But when a writer writes like this you don't need to ask if they can write and ask for their credentials. You just enjoy it. . He don't need any stinkin' badges.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Weirder than weird

This Town Needs a Monster

Andersen Prunty

Grindhouse Press

May 16, 2017

4 out of 5 stars

When super weird author Lance Carbuncle says a writer are weirder than he is. You gotta pay attention!

In Andersen Prunty"s very weird and borderline pornographic / erotic horror work, we find unambitious in-a-rut 40ish Brad Renfield (interesting last name reference by the way) talking to his often suicidal and only friend Travis, both residents of Gethsemane, Ohio. Remind me never to go there. In a early flashback, they are discussing a rash of suicides that happened in Gethsemane decades ago. It woke the town up but afterwards the residents went back to their dull sometime hateful routine to which Travis responds, "This town needs a monster".

In This Town Needs a Monster, Brad finds one is a beautiful young sociopathic girl named Dawn. Brad is quickly trapped in a world of violence and sexual deviancy that is above anything he ever imagine. He even tries to leave but Dawn's hold goes beyond blackmail. There is a dark hold she has on him and that is what ignites the story.

I'm not sure how to put this. The novel has levels of extreme violence and sex that even shocks me and that is saying a lot. It is also quite strange since Prunty's last novel, Squirm With Me was a more subtle work that was surprising in its quiet mundane style. This new novel is a step back into Andersen's more horrific works. But a regular theme youfind in many of his books is the older person who is snatched out of his aimless life into something that is both horrifying and exhilarating. It leads one to wonder if the real monster is the horror of the unfathomable or the aimless meaningless regular life.

In some ways, the violence and brutal sex is too much. I think he did it better in Sociopaths in Love and I sort of miss the quiet mundane horror of Squirm with Me which brought it closer to what we see as reality. But there is no one who writes like Andersen Prunty and it is impossible to maintain a neutral stance when bombarded by this new novel. I wouldn't necessarily make this my first Prunty read but those who know what to expect from him should definitely dive into the muck.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A journey into urban weird

Secrets of the Weird

Chad Stroup

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

Pub. Date: July 11, 2017

Ratuing: 5 out of 5 stars

Sweetville sounds like a place I'd want to visit but wouldn't want to live there. At least that is true for the part of Sweetville that Chad Stroup explores in Secrets of the Weird. At first it doesn't seem all that different than the shady parts of any city that include the downtrodden, hopeless and outcasted. It has its share of people who choose a marginal and conventionally frowned upon lifestyle. We got neo-nazis, drug addicts, name it. They make what is the skids of Sweetville. But then we get to find out about those residents who don't necessarily fit our own world. We have an odd cult called The Withering Wyldes whose emaciated bodies seem anything but natural. A transforming Angelghoul who sells a drug called Sweet Candy and feeds upon human flesh. A dwarf plastic surgeon who seems to love his job too much. If the city of Oz was created by Williams S. Burroughs it might be something like this. The author's depiction of this normal yet not normal city is a strong aspect of the book. It seems like an environment meant to be visited again. I thinks we are only getting the tip of the iceberg and what a tip it is.

Then something happens. With the interesting city building taking place, Stroup throws us a curb ball . Amidst the insanity a personal story develops. Trixie is a boy who is really a girl. The first sentence of the book set her dilemma up. "Trixie loathed her penis". Trixie is quite a character. She struggles through some of the roughest of situations slowly making her life tolerable yet knowing she won't be really accepted in society as she is. Kast, the plastic surgeon who is allied with The Withering Wyldes, has offered her a dubious solution and she is reluctant to go the full mile. Then a boy shows up, Christopher who is a member of a punk band called The Civilized Cannibals. He is one of the good guys and it would be nice to say he accepts her how she is but then we wouldn't have a story.

Now we come to the intriguing issue of the novel. There really isn't too much of a plot here. The real story is Sweetville and the interaction of its denizens. Yet Trixie plays a key role and brings us the real human condition of the story. Stroup does a very good job creating a character who may elude some readers unless they actually are personally intimate in the trials and emotions of being transsexual. The author makes this all work. Though the heart of the narration is third person and seen though the perceptions of several characters, there is plenty of back story received through the pages of Trixie's diary. Stroup also adds interludes through magazine ads and articles that give us a stronger glimpse of the topsy turvy consumerism in Sweetville. They tend to be more amusing than revealing. I wish I could say both city building and personal story comes together but I'm not sure they do. They seem disjointed when brought together but they are both very strong and I kept reading for both.

Secrets of the Weird is often more like a painting than a novel. It is a both landscape and portrait. One cannot help becoming immersed in this urban world with its body horror and psychedelic terrors but you also feel for the character of Trixie. If there isn't a slam bang thank you ending, you still are dumbfounded by the time you get there. I previously described Sweetville as the city of Oz as seen by Burroughs but perhaps it's more like Cannery Row as written by Phillip K. Dick. I think Stroup's influences for this novel are a bit of all four but for a debut work it has a lot of individual brilliance. While I had minor issues with the book, in the last analysis I cannot give such a strong first novel anything but 5 stars. Perhaps the true secret of the weird is that it is nothing without a strong dose of humanity

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe..."

Kind Nepenthe

Matthew V. Brockmeyer

Publisher: Black Rose Publishing

Pub. Date: August 1, 2017

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Kind Nepenthe may have one of the most interesting settings of any recent novel of the supernatural. It is placed in the Humboldt County marijuana fields where matrijuana farming is sill a questionable occupation that is uncomfortably shared by the outcasts and the marginal hippie entrepreneurs. Pot farming is still illegal in California but the Washington and Oregon legal market promises a profit. This is a story about struggling for that second chance, elusive dreams and ghosts. While the ghosts hover over everything and eventually deliver the terror, it is the living that brings most of the pain and heartbreak.

Rebecca, her boyfriend Calendra and her 4 year old daughter Megan have left behind everything to take a job growing marijuana for a shady pot grower called Coyote who tends to promise more than he can deliver. His land was bought from the estate of a deceased biker named Spider. Down the road lives another aging biker, Diesel Dan, who has spent time in prison for Meth crimes and lost most of his family land to Coyote but feels he can pull it together for his 21 year old son and his son's pregnant girlfriend. His son though is making the same bad decisions his father did and is harboring anger over the loss of the family land not to mention the money Coyote still owes him and his father for farm construction work. There is a darkness around them all and little Megan is closest to it as she sees and talks to the ghosts that inhabitant the area.

As horror novels goes, this is a slow burner steeping in character building and the weaving of the threads that connect them. But Matthew V. Brockmeyer builds up the social and psychological tension so well that you might even miss a few of the more subtle supernatural chills. By the time the terror and the violence starts, you are caught up emotionally with these beautiful losers. Rebecca is basically the main protagonist. She is disillusioned with "getting off the grid" and is beginning to see that her boyfriend's plan of making enough to buy land of his own is just a pipe dream. More disturbing is her daughter's habit of talking to no one visible and playing with the dead bodies of the crows that litter the fields. Calendra tells Rebecca they will soon have enough to leave but doesn't tell her that he and Coyote are aware of a presence that keeps them rooted to the pot farm.

All the characters are flawed in major ways. It would be easy to say none are likeable but that would not be necessarily true. Of the adults, Rebecca is the most likeable and easy to identify with. But no one except perhaps Coyote is really evil. They all have their dreams even if they don't know how to fulfill it and keep it. What is intriguing about this story is that it is arguable whether there needs to be a supernatural aspect to it at all. It is dark and haunting in a very natural sense culminating in a multiple scenes of violence feeds off the dilemma they made for themselves. Yet the supernatural aspect does fit and it allows us to be concerned for the only really likeable character, Megan, who is the only one in the book involved in this dead end scenario for no reason of her own and has the most to lose.

Brockmeyer has created an fascinating world in his Humboldt County setting. It is a land of dreamers and outcasts, wannabe hippies and washed-out hippies, weary bikers with dreams and a younger and aimless generation enmeshed in drugs and guns. Among this the author adds a supernatural terror which starts slow and eerily but comes in full play by the end. Yet it is the characters in this dark tale of just-out-of-reach redemption that makes it work. You don't often come across a debut novel that is so unique in the horror field, one that speaks of scarred humanity so elegantly. For that reason alone, Kind Nepenthe deserves five stars.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Podcast: Book review and discussion for Joe Hill's Strange Weather with David Agranoff

This is the third dual audio review and discussion with author/reviewer David Agranoff and myself. . This time, we are discussing the four novella collection by Joe Hill titled Strange Weather. .Enjoy!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Smack in the middle of The Pine Barrens

Savage Woods

Mary SanGiovanni

Publisher: Lyrical Ynderground

Pub date: September 25, 2017

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

New Jersey's Pine Barrens sounds like the kind of place I would want to visit. Being a West Coaster I find it hard to think of New Jersey having forests but I guess they do. The Pines Barrens is a place of legends known mostly as a perennial burial ground for mafia type clean-ups and the stomping ground for The Jersey Devil. In Savage Woods, Mary SanGiovanni by the stroke of a pen visits the Pine Barrens, particularly a fictional (I presume) seven hundred acres part of it called the Nilhollow. Instead of the usual devil, the author brings forth a more interesting terror that speaks of ancient forces in nature and it works to some extent.

Julia Russo is running from her abusive ex-boyfriend and her path takes her into the Nilhollow. State trooper Peter Grainger is an officer that had contact with Julia and her boyfriend and has helped her out often. It appears he has taken a liking to her and when her car and the car of her boyfriend are found in the Pines Barren, he expects the worst and goes looking for her. But her homicidal boyfriend is the least of the dangers she and the trooper are about to meet.

We are given a prologue regarding two brothers that introduce us to the horrors of the Nilhollow which leads into Julia's misfortune and the subsequent search. From there on it is pretty much action. Lots of body parts are strewn around and there is a sufficient sense of awe and terror in the creatures of the Nilhollow. Yet the story never really takes off as far as the characters go . It is mainly because Julia isn't really that interesting a protagonist. She comes across as the perennial victim and when she is thrown into the supernatural, I guess we are to believe the heroine appears from within her. it just doesn't gel. Peter is still Prince Lancelot and the transforming I expect of Julia to an independent character never quite takes place.

But the novel is saved by the spirits. Her pantheistic forest spirits are quite interesting and among them is a suitably evil devil. There's a little Machen hiding in these malevolent sprites. Overall, it is a good idea with some very nice plotting but the main characters are just not interesting enough to carry it. As a quick horror read, I do recommend it. I'm just not sure how long you will remember it.

Friday, November 10, 2017

An island I wouldn't want to visit

Return to Q Island

Russell James


Publisher: MLG Publishing

Pub Date:  September 5, 2017

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Return to Q Island is the sequel to Russell James' excellent horror/disaster novel Q Island. I was surprised to find a sequel was written because the first book was fairly tight and conclusive in the story it told. Yet here we are and it's quite a good sequel, in many ways better than the first. But more importantly, you do not need to read the first to enjoy the second. Once the setting is rehashed we begin with anew protagonist and a new setting. Return to Q Island can be easily read as a stand-alone book.

So what is the setting? A ancient and vicious virus has ravaged Long Island, New York turning people into violent creatures . Their bite, and the spores that explode from their corpses once they are killed, can infect others. The government has quarantined the entire island, hence the nickname Q Island, leaving even the uninfected to survive on their own. Barely recovering addict Kim Mitchell, along with her alcoholic mother Nicole and her selfish uncle are one such family huddling in a shell of a town trying to survive. Kim is pregnant and about to give birth to her child not knowing if it will be normal or, as they call the infected, Paleo. Kim's brother Patrick is in Connecticut and has not had contact with his sister and mother for months. He decides he will return to Long Island and attempt to find his family even if it means he too will be stranded with no way to get back to the mainland

Return to Q Island is horror of the post-apocalyptic science fiction type. But mostly I see it as an adventure novel. The excitement of the read is in Patrick's attempt to rescue his family which leads to plenty of harrowing incidents and terrifying discoveries. There is also the clear hint that the Paleos may be changing and Kim's new child may have something to do with it.

As seen with Q Island and the recent Cavern of the Damned. Russell James' forte is the horror adventure novel. This book is a pretty damn good example of it. There is the tense feel of an epidemic/apocalyptic novel and it never really lets up on the horror of the situation. Patrick starts out naive but weathers through some nightmare occurrences and comes out as the unexpected heroic type. Kim does not start out promising but motherhood seems to agree with her and she become an essential character as the plot develops. There are also the expected villains, some of them maybe being a bit too stereotypical. The book's main strength is its creativity once we get past our strong heroes and cookie-cutter villains. What may sound like a zombie novel by any other name takes a few turns here and there and stays original and interesting

Overall, Return to Q Island is a nice addition to the apocalyptic and...dare I say it?... zombie sub-genre. Highly recommended to those who like daring deeds and post-apocalyptic style adventure.