Had Potential

PARIAH by Bob Fingerman (2010 Tor Books ./ 365 pp. / tp)

Everyone from ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY to FANGORIA has been raving over this one. Despite being a zombie fanatic, I'm about at my limit with zombie novels, but had to see what all the fuss was about.

Fingerman (author of the well-praised vampire novel, BOTTOMFEEDER), paints a grim picture of post-apocalyptic Manhattan: the novel basically takes place in a single apartment building, and much time is given to the few survivors who dwell within. Thankfully, there's much well-done humor here, and a couple of characters are quite interesting, especially an Italian guido named Eddie who lets his penis do all the thinking, and Mona, a strange, quiet goth girl who is able to walk among the zombies without being touched (hence our title character).

The zombies are described with all the grue horror fans love, and as a stand alone novel it's a decent read. I'm not sure if Fingerman is planning on another story, but PARIAH does read like part of a larger picture, and the end left me wanting. We're not told where the zombies have come from, and we're still not clear why the zombies are afraid of Mona.

Fingerman is a fantastic writer, continually keeping the reader's interest and bringing on the creeps just when you think the laughs might get out of hand. But with so many questions left unanswered, and being a second novel (or a series) isn't mentioned (or hinted at), I can only give this a middle-of-the-road recommendation.

Dragons invade the Hood...

KING MAKER: THE KNIGHTS OF BRETON COURT I by Maurice Broaddus (2010 Amgry Robot Books / 385 pp. / mmo)

I'm a SUCKER for gang-related tales, be it WEST SIDE STORY, THE WARRIORS (both Sol Yurick's grim 1965 novel as well as the campy 1979 film version) or 'hood-classics such as MENACE TO SOCIETY and COLORS. By taking something like MENACE TO SOCIETY and mixing it with the legend of King Arthur, Maurice Broaddus has delivered an addictive read that's all its own.

About 20 years after his father (Luther) is gunned down by neighborhood rivals, King James White comes on the scene in an ever-decaying, drug-ravaged Indianapolis. What makes King stand out from other street people is his desire to see his neighborhood come together, as well as his unusually mature demeanor. Guided by the mysterious, riddle-talking homeless man Merle (the same man who had been at Luther's ear during his reign), King's first story follows his struggle to see who can be trusted and who should be avoided. Broaddus has a large cast here, but as someone who grew up fascinated with Mario Puzo's over-stuffed GODFATHER novels, I became aquainted with the different crews and characters here quite quickly. And we get some real interesting hood-dwellers, especially as the supernatural elements unfold (one duo, Michaela and Marshall, often consume those who stand in their way, "DAWN OF THE DEAD" -style).

As the inner-city turmoil mounts, a nasty form of heroin hits the streets and leads to a climax that's as action packed as it is violently horrific. And while this is a gang-themed novel, the focus is on its individuals and how they react to what they see in their own groups as well as their enemies' (although I'm betting we'll see more from full gang-standpoints as the series continues).

As with any novel hosting a large cast, there's some characters introduced that I'd like to see more of: Detective Octavia Burke was raised in the 'hood, yet she's a street-smart, strong role model not only for the local women but to all who think there's no future. Hopefully we'll see a lot more of her (the manner in which she relates to her hard-headed, caucasian male partner provides some of the best and more thought-provoking dialogue in the book).

KING MAKER's strength is its ability to stay true-to-life even when the fantasy components come into play; the reader has enough time to get invested in the urban drama yet won't find anything goofy when dragons, cannibals, and mystics are hinted at and eventually encountered.

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to where Broaddus goes from here (this Angry Robot edition also features the first three chapters of the next novel, and promises the next 2 novels will be released in 2011). Highly recommended.

Blog Updates

Some recent blogs for those who told me they wish I'd just keep blogging here:

(A look at Chris Curry's book on gore film pioneer H.G. Lewis)


(Just HOW BADLY can one film rip off DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979)? Here you go...)

(After 22 years, I finally got to meet my favorite artist, GARY NUMAN, and also saw the show from the front row!)


Now THIS is a sequel...sort-of

First thing's first: If you didn't like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, chances are you're not going to like the sequel. I've been amazed at how many horror fans hated it, causing me to state in my review, "I think people forgot how to use their imaginations."

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 actually takes place around the same time of Katie and Micah's ordeal in the first film (hence it acts as a prequel and a sequel). The story centers around Katie's sister, who is just home with a new baby boy. Along with her husband, step daughter, nanny, newborn son, and their pet German Shepherd, they become targets of the violent demon from part one, and a little more background is given as to what's making this thing tick.

There's plenty of jumps, scares, and spookiness going on (much in broad daylight, too), and I like how the film blends in perfectly with part one. I don't know if I would have enjoyed it as much had I not seen part one first, so if you haven't seen either I strongly recommend starting with the original (and if you're already a fan, I'm happy to say the ending is a PERFECT, totally unexpected creep-out).

While it's true that this can be looked at as more of the same as what came before it, it's also true that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 brings the goosebumps like few other sequels before it have.

Smart, Funny . . . and Weird

NEW WORLD MONKEYS (2009 Three Rivers Press / 292 pp. / tp)

After reading about this in a 2009 issue of Writer's Digest magazine, I was lured in by the quirky premise: but thanks to my heavy reading schedule, I missed the original hardcover release. The trade edition came out this past September, and I'm glad I finally had the chance to check out Mauro's highly-praised debut novel.

Duncan and Lily have been married 5 years. Already on the verge of separation, Lily decides to spend the summer at an inherited Victorian home in the small upstate town of Osterhagen in order to work on her dissertation. Duncan--recently put in charge of a make-him or break-him ad campaign--plans to visit on the weekends but remain in the city during the week to get the job done.

The tale takes a strange turn right from the get-go when our couple run over a wild boar on their ride upstate. Stuck under the front of their Saab, Lily puts the boar out of its misery with a tire iron when Duncan hesitates to do so. They place the animal in a nearby ditch, and shortly after settling in the new home they learn the boar was actually the town's mascot...and that it has a jealous owner.

While Duncan puts together a controversial ad campaign in the city (he attempts to sell blue jeans using a Vietnam theme and two porn-looking asian models), Lily begins her studies at the Osterhagen library, only to be distracted by a peeping Tom named Lloyd. Fascinated by his techniques, she actually befriends him and begins to join him on excursions. The relationship between these two is the highlight of the novel.

Duncan's growing paranoia about his wife deepens when he attempts to start a gardening project in their new backyard, only to unearth human bones they learn belonged to Lily's great grandfather's nanny: the couple become obsessed with pieceing together the skeleton as well as the story behind it: all the while they're trying to keep their secret of killing the boar under cover, the boar's owner's annoying poodle starts to show up in their back yard, digging around their bone find. Eventually, Duncan takes care of the poodle in an attempt to make up for his mishandling of the boar situation.

With some serious small-town tension that brings several classic horror stories to mind, nearly endless dark and sarcastic humor, and three of the richest characters I've had the pleasure of reading in many moons, NEW WORLD MONKEYS is a love story that's anything but sappy; Mauro cleverly uses odd relationships, unusual situations, and rich symbolism (as well as Lily's past) to study a couple on an uncertain course. The final chapter is a surreal, beautiful end note that had me longing for more.

Even if literary novels aren't your thing, NEW WORLD MONKEYS is a best bet if you're seeking something truly out of the ordinary. I'll most certainly be reading this one again.

A Hunt You DON'T Want to Miss

WOLF HUNT by Jeff Strand (2010 Dark Regions Press / 252 pp. / hc)

Despite me not being a big werewolf fan, there's been plenty of good werewolf novels around lately. Jeff Strand's latest is no exception.

George and Lou, two low-level gangsters, are hired to deliver some guy named Ivan from Miami to Tampa to a crime lord. Ivan also happens to be caged. The thugs have been told to be careful because their captive is a werewolf. Naturally, Ivan manages to escape, and what follows is one of Strand's goriest (and, surprisingly, funniest) stories to date (especially if you have a sick sense of humor like me).

What makes WOLF HUNT different from other werewolf novels (at least the several I've read) is Ivan: even before he turns into a wolf (which he can do at will), he's one tough, sarcastic cookie who makes even George and Lou look like two wussies. Getting to know him a bit before his transformation prepares the reader's mind: if this guy is THIS hardcore as a human, just wait till he turns into a monster. And MAN does this SOB get busy in the splatter department...

WOLF HUNT's dialogue is quite funny (just check out chapter three's discussion between New York and Florida animals as well as a few of Ivan's rants) and the use of explosives toward the finale added some classic slapstick to the (nearly) non-stop action (the mention of a "classic Centipede machine" being destroyed almost made me wet my drawers).

Even with all this humor, the scenes of Ivan (in werewolf form) attacking get quite intense and there's several instances where the thrills work quite well.

Cemetery Dance Magazine said (several years ago) that "No author working today comes close to Jeff Strand's perfect mix of comedy and terror." With a large stack of books now under his belt, his latest, WOLF HUNT, continues to help that statement ring true. It's surely one of his all-around best, and the stage is even set for a sequel...

(If you still can't get enough Strand/wolfness after reading this, seek out his hysterical 2006 White noise Press chapbook "Werewolf Porno/Sex Potion #147.')

A Nice, Quick Thriller

VERMILION DRIFT by William Kent Krueger (2010 Atria Books / 305 pp. / hc)

This is the 10th novel from Krueger featuring private investigator Cork O'Connor (a former sheriff), but the first I've read. I'm always weary coming into a series late, but thankfully Krueger gives much back info on O'Connor and for the most part I didn't feel lost for a second.

Still recovering from the murder of his wife, O'Connor is hired to look into threats being made against a mine that the government is planning to store nuclear waste in (the mine is named Vermilion Drift). While checking the mine out, he discovers 6 dead bodies; 5 turn out to have been dead for over 40 years, but one is the body of a woman he had also been hired to locate. The plot thickens when it's discovered two of the corpses have bullets in their heads that came from a gun O'Connor had inherited from his father.

VERMILLION DRIFT is a decent thriller, and a very good mystery. There's plenty of twists and several times the story went where I least expected it. Add a plus for a couple of very suspenseful scenes, as well as a well done ending. Krueger's prose is quick and clean, and also a bit more literary than much of what's found in your standard mainstream thriller.

"The Bonnie and Clyde of Horror" Strike...

IN SICKNESS: STORIES FROM A VERY DARK PLACE by L.L. Soares & Laura Cooney (2010 Skullvines Press / 106 pp. / tp)

Soares and Cooney's first collection features eleven short stories (5 from Cooney, 6 from Soares), followed by the title novella written by one truly demented husband and wife team.

Cooney gets the party started with 'Wasps,' a nifty little ghost story, which is followed by 'The Hirsute You,' a dark look at love that uses hiaku poetry to fine affect; 'Puppy Love,' a tale dealing with the ghastly training of a dog, is my favorite of Cooney's creepers, while 'A Crown of Mushrooms' features the legendary Rasputin living in the modern day, back to fulfill a long-awaited wish. 'Number 808' is a short but sweet revenge story that I didn't think was going to be a revenge story until the final sentences. Good show.

Soares' section begins with 'Little Black Dress,' about a 20 year-old conservative woman who undergoes a dramatic change after finally wearing a sexy witch costume to a party; A man returns to his long-lost daughter (and neighborhood) in 'Second Chances,' only to discover he has actually been summoned by something living under a nearby beach; a slightly off-balanced scientist and a missing link named Billy fuel "Mating Room,' one of the more disturbing tales of the collection. 'Head Games' features recently discovered, highly intelligent simians pulling a reversal on a couple of unfortunate explorers, while 'The No! Place' begins as a domestic abuse/revenge tale then turns into a wicked, unending nightmare. Soares' last short, 'Private Exhibition,' is a study in physical and personal wounds, and will surely leave a mark on your psyche.

The title novella, IN SICKNESS, takes a look at Zach and Maddy, a married couple who are both dealing with personal demons: unable to leave their home, Maddy (continually hitting the bottle) continues to see the ghosts of her miscarried children, while Zach attempts to hold their marriage together despite his demanding, pregnant mistress as well as another, far worse habit he has picked up on the side. Easily the darkest entry here, Soares and Cooney's collaboration is a first-rate horror yarn that (in the end) manages to display one couple's love in the face of supernatural and human terror (although it's an end fans of mainstream romance stories probably won't appreciate!).

With eerie cover art by Valerie Kahn-Dorato and some disturbing interior illustrations from Michele Sizemore, IN SICKNESS is a fine introduction to the "Bonnie and Clyde of horror,*" a duo I hope to see much more from. Definitely check it out.

(*- as referred to by author Brian Keene).