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Books for Review should be sent to: Don D'Ammassa, 323 Dodge Street,  East Providence, RI 02914

Last Update 3/30/17

New Moon by William Relling Jr., Tor, 1987 

The first of two supernatural adventures featuring police detective Len Malecke. In this one, a sorcerer who dealt with the dark gods is revived after a century. He can preserve his immortality by performing rites involving the organs of young women, so he begins a Jack the Ripper style reign of terror in St. Louis. The prose is okay but the story just doesnít hold together. The villain is only marginally competent, and the hero foils him by a sudden rush of illogical insight and blind luck. There are small plot holes scattered about as well, including an apparent lack of knowledge about police procedures, college hiring practices, and other incidentals. 3/30/17

Silent Moon by William Relling Jr., Tor, 1990 

Ageless sorcerers have risen to positions of power Ė one in politics and one in religion Ė and they are about to invoke the dark gods and restore them to power over the Earth. A pair of investigative reporters, aided by a retired police officer, uncover the plot and survive attempts to kill them before bringing the plot to a halt. This is loosely a sequel to New Moon and is better written, though rather slow paced. It was Rellingís last horror novel thanks to that genreís collapse in the early 1990s. 3/30/17

Brujo by William Relling Jr., Tor, 1986 

A Native American sorcererís spirit returns to Santa Catalina island and influences all of the animal life to attack the current residents. There is a succession of attacks by wild pigs, various birds, rats, horses, etc. as the protagonists attempt to survive, let alone figure out what is going on. A young boy has unsuspected psychic powers, however, and this provides a clue. His father and friends dig up the dead manís bones and destroy them in order to save the day. Competent but derivative. 3/27/17

The Phoenix Man by Jory Sherman, Pinnacle, 1980 

Scientists clandestinely clone a man who turns out to be a serial killer. When he dies, his spirit is reincarnated in one of the clones, with all of his memories intact. He goes on a rampage that is complicated by a rift between the two brother scientists, a government sponsored hit man trying to cover up their involvement in the project, and the spectre of Death that appears as the clones begin to prematurely age. Disorganized and not very logical. Part of the Chill series. 3/25/17

House of Scorpions by Jory Sherman, Pinnacle, 1980 

The sixth Chill novel pits him against a renegade shaman who has power to control Scorpions and who has a grudge against the father of Chillís assistant, Laura Littlefawn. Fairly predictable conflict follows, although the story holds together much better than do most of the others in this series. The later books feel as though they were hastily written and without much research, and the supposedly terrifying scenes are actually rather bland. 3/25/17

Shadows by Jory Sherman, Pinnacle, 2980

The last book in the Chill series. Chill goes to Mexico to help a dying man whose house is inhabited by a discorporate shadow. A large number of young girls have disappeared in the area over the years and it seems likely this is the ghost of one of them. Things are complicated by political maneuvering within the clientís company which results in a man being sent to spy on him. The shadow seems to be protecting the dying man rather than menacing him, but its appearances on very disturbing. This one was a fair adventure without much suspense of mystery. 3/25/17

The Bamboo Demons by Jory Sherman, Pinnacle, 1979 

Psychic detective Chill travels to the Philippines to track down as aswang, a shapechanger analogous to a werewolf but with more varied powers. He soon realizes that there is a connection between the apparently random attacks and the latest campaign of a group of rebels trying to overthrow the government. They intend to use supernatural creatures as their main weapon. This was considerably better written than the first two in the series, but the ending is very abrupt Ė the climax is less than two pages long Ė and there are some minor plot holes along the way. 3/22/17

Vegas Vampire by Jory Sherman, Pinnacle, 1980 

A step down from the last book in the series, this one pits Chill against a rather ineffectual vampire who has partnered, after a fashion, with a corrupt businesswoman to put her rival out of business. Chill is also singularly incompetent this time and the powers of his assistant, the psychic woman, are inconsistent from one book to the next. I suspect this one was a nod to the Night Stalker television series, although it has no suspense at all given that we even see part of the story from the vampireís point of view. 3/22/17

Satanís Seed by Jory Sherman, Pinnacle, 1978 

First in a series about a psychic detective whose assistant, a Native American woman, is a medium. They are investigating cattle mutilations that turn worse with the deaths of several people in the area, also torn apart. One of the characters Ė we donít know who Ė had summoned a demon and another Ė we donít know who Ė has been possessed. This is all pretty trite and itís not at all well done. The prose is awkward and jerky, the motivations unclear, the characters shallow, and action all takes place off screen as it were. 3/17/17

Chill by Jory Sherman, Pinnacle, 1978

Second in the Chill series, although internal evidence suggests that it was intended to be the first. Chill, a psychic detective, is visiting friends when their daughter falls into a coma. Chill suspects some sort of self aware plant life and discovers that an ancestor annoyed some possessed nuns and made some other enemies, one of whom has been reincarnated. The plot is more complicated than in the official first in the series, and there is more effort to develop the characters, but itís rife with factual errors and authorial shortcuts that grate because they are so illogical. The plot is predictable and a potentially exciting conclusion is botched by too much complexity. 3/17/17

Rites of Azathoth by Frank Cavallo, Bedlam Press, 2016, $19.95, ISBN 978-1944703196

I've been reading a lot of detective fiction lately, so this blend of police procedural and Lovecraftian horror had two hooks to grab me. The protagonist is a female FBI agent who normally never leaves her office where she works as a profiler. That changes when a notorious serial killer escapes and takes up his old hobby with a vengeance. She decides to track him down as her last field case, and to do so, she has to understand his belief system, which apparently involves a great deal of occultism. By doing so, however, she discovers that it is not just nonsense and that there is a secret organization that is devoted to the idea of bringing superhuman forces to power. There is some explicit violence, some dark humor, and a few in group jokes for Lovecraft enthusiasts. The prose was fine although I occasionally wanted more physical description than was provided. 3/10/17

Echo of a Curse by R.R. Ryan, Dancing Tuatara, 2014 (originally published in 1938)

This is an occasionally tedious novel about a woman who unwisely marries a man who believes he is subject to a family curse. There is a mysterious creature that escapes from a freak show, who may be the manís father, who believed in vampires. There are hints of lycanthropy. But mostly this is a romantic triangle which includes the man she should have married, interspersed with scenes of hysterics, possible hallucinations, drunken fits, and other melodrama. Not badly written in terms of prose, but the pacing is dreadful and the story never really picks up any steam even toward the end. 3/9/17

The Sorcererís Chessmen by Mark Hansom, Dancing Tuatara, 2009 

This 1939 novel opens with four men plotting to murder the man courting the sister of one of them because they have been manipulating her fortune for their own gain and do not want to be discovered and imprisoned. One of them shoots the man to death but when they try to dispose of the body later, it returns to life. Their intended victim is a four century old sorcerer who has managed to cheat death. They eventually kill him by burning him to death. Competent for the most part but rather dull. 3/5/17

Freak Museum by R.R. Ryan, Dancing Tuatara, 2013 (originally published in 1938)

Scientifically nonsense but reasonably well written, this is the story of a woman who falls into the clutches of a mysterious organization bent on world power. For reasons never really explained, they also run a museum where they surgically merge human and animals, so that we have an octopus man, an elephant woman, etc. They are not very good about keeping their secrets, and in short order they are forced to take a man captive, then a boy, then kill the local beat cop, all to protect their secret because they are not smart enough to realize that prisoners might signal from the windows of their rooms. 3/3/17

The Ghost of Gaston Revere by Mark Hansom, Dancing Tuatara, 2010 (originally published in 1935)

Gaston Revere believes a flaw in his brain could bring death at any moment. He prevails upon an unconventional surgeon, but the operation only allows Revere to leave his body and manifest himself physical elsewhere. He then menaces his fiancť, her lover, and the protagonist while his body ostensibly lies in a coma elsewhere. This is not quite as bad as the authorís other work, but it shares the same faults, plus the new one of being slow moving, talky, and unfocused. I do not understand why some people think his work is woefully underrated. I doubt he would be able to find a publisher today. 2/28/17

The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello, 47North, 2016, $14.95, ISBN 978-1503951198 

A park ranger finds a trunk containing a diary written by Robert Louis Stevenson. The novel alternates between the present and the diary entries. In the past Stevenson resorted to an unorthodox treatment of his tuberculosis which included injections of a substance composed of wolfís blood. In the present, the ranger is troubled by the presence of two thugs whom he suspects may have some connection to the drug trade conducted by a local biker gang. Both plots thicken and although it takes place off stage, we  are able to figure out that the serum Stevenson is taking transformed people into their evil inner selves Ė inspiring Jekyll & Hyde Ė and is also responsible for the Jack the Ripper murders. Not quite as good as most of the authorís previous work, but with a few powerful scenes. 2/25/17

The Wizard of Bernerís Abbey by Mark Hansom, Dancing Tuatara, 2014 

A mysterious and reclusive man who can use his willpower to dominate others dies. But he has vowed to live on, and it is soon evident that his spirit lingers and is capable of possessing and influencing the living. This was not as bad as the other Hansom novels I have read, but that is faint praise. When he wants a character to know something, they figure it out by staring into anotherís eyes or having flashes of inexplicable insight. I very much doubt that the author knew where the story was going when he started writing it and he certainly didnít bother to outline the plot. Originally published in 1935. 2/17/17

The Beasts of Brahm by Mark Hansom, Midnight House, 2001

Although John Pelan praises this novel, it is tripe. The characters constantly have insightful revelations based on no evidence at all, the story occasionally contradicts itself, there is virtually no suspense, it is violently racist, and the prose is so bad that it is positive painful. A man is found murdered and mutilated and some kind of animal is believed to be responsible. The protagonist immediately suspects a foreigner living in the area, simply because heís a foreigner. He eventually figures out that the man can move the souls of animals into humans, at which point they commit horrible crimes. Itís full of factual errors as well. Predators do not always roar when they attack, for one thing, and hypnotism does not work the way he says it does. Really terrible. Originally published in 1937. 2/11/17

The Black Reaper by Bernard Capes, Equation, 1989 

Capes was primarily an author of mysteries and romances, but some of his short fiction involved the supernatural. Hugh Lamb edited this selection of his work. The prose tends to be long winded and wanders from the point at times, but I was also struck with the lack of imagination in many of these stories Ė which involve death personified, a werewolf, a few ghosts, the Wandering Jew, and other standards. I found this rather a chore to finish. 2/10/17

Those Who Went Remain There Still by Cherie Priest, Subterranean, 2008 

This is a novella set in rural Kentucky. Daniel Boone and his friends were troubled by a flying monster which they managed to disable and isolate in a cave. Generations later, a rural town is upset when an old man dies and leaves a testament saying that his will is concealed in that cave, and that various residents - and some no longer resident - should go there to find out the truth. They find more than they bargained for. This feels more like a fairy tale than a horror story. There really isn't much suspense and the multiple viewpoints don't work well at this length. Mildly interesting, but it doesn't measure up to most of the author's other work.

The Collected Supernatural & Weird Fiction of W. C. Morrow, Leonaur, 2012

Morrow was neither particularly prolific or highly skilled as a writer, but his work was praised by Ambrose Bierce and a few of his short stories are quite entertaining. Despite the title, however, not one of these stories involves the supernatural and only a very few could arguably be called weird. The best involves a mutilated man who gets revenge on his enemy. The best known is ďThe Monster-Maker,Ē which is a sort of Frankenstein story but with a very weak ending. The best story however is "His Unconquerable Enemy" in which a man with no arms or legs escape a prison and kills his enemy, all unassisted. 2/6/17

Promenade of the Gods by Koji Suzuki, Vertical, 2008 

Although there are supernatural elements in this novel, it is really a mystery in which a woman and a friend investigate the disappearance of her husband. It appears that he has been secretly a member of a religious cult. So has a prominent television personality, who has also disappeared. Both reappear briefly, but are promptly abducted. This is more successful as a mystery than as a horror novel, although the success of the investigaters is largely due to circumstances beyond their control. 2/3/17

The Dreaming God edited by Akamatsu Ken, Kurodahan, 2006   

This was the fourth and last volume of a collection of Japanese fiction based on the Cthulhu Mythos. The opening story is mildly funny and plays around with the basic premises of the Mythos. The closing entry is actually my favorite in the entire sequence of collections and the one closest in concept and structure to Lovecraftís own work. Overall, I found this series rather disappointing, partly because at least half the stories were just not well written, partly because so few of them were seriously Lovecraftian. 2/3/17

The Supernatural & Weird Fiction of E.G. Swain & Ralph Adams Cram, Leonaur, 2011

This is an omnibus edition of The Stoneground Ghost Tales by Swain and Black Spirits and White by Cram, both of which collect all of the respective authorís supernatural fiction. The Swain stories are all more or less gentle ghost stories. Some of the ghosts are unfriendly but in only one case is anyone actually harmed. They are minor, but hold up well. Cramís are more over, and most of them also involve ghosts, but the living characters often die or are at least terrified by their experiences. The best is ďThe Dead Valley.Ē  2/1/17

The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn, Gallery, 2017, $16, ISBN 978-1-4767-8375-8

A young boy goes missing and after several days of searching, the local people believe that they are unlikely to ever find him, or at least not alive. He isn't the first to disappear, and a number of animals have also vanished into thin air. A friend of the missing boy decides to find out the truth, but he discovers more than he bargained for when he explores the woods on his own. I don't want to reveal too much here, but there are definitely supernatural events involved, though we don't necessarily get a full explanation. The ending is deliberately somewhat ambiguous and I thought it could have been stronger despite the very melodramatic climax, but otherwise it is suspenseful and fast moving. 1/31/17

Dark Water by Koji Suzuki, Vertical, 2005 

This is a collection of eight short stories by the author of the Ring novels, not all of which are horror. The best in the collection, however, are the supernatural ones, specifically one about a phantom ship, which has a clever ending, and another about the ghost of a little girl who haunts an apartment building. None of them are particularly new or unusual, but they are well constructed and suspenseful, and thatís all I ask from a horror short. 1/30/17

Straight to Darkness edited by Akamatsu Ken, Kurodahan, 2006 

Volume three of a collection of Japanese stories set within Lovecraftís Mythos.  This time the mix is very uneven, with a bad stream of consciousness story and a rather funny one about a woman that returns from the dead. The stories tend to be more traditional horror, and they vary from ones genuinely Lovecraftian to more stories that simply adopted some trapping of the Mythos in order to qualify for inclusion.  The title story is the best in the collection. Humans transform to survive in a monstrous apocalypse. 1/28/17

Alan Wake by Rick Burroughs, Tor, 2010

Novelization of a computer game I had never even heard of. Alan Wake is a novelist whose wife disappears when they go on vacation in a rural area. Many of the local people have been taken over by a mysterious dark force and Wake has to survive their attacks in many cases by finding a light source to defeat them. The writing is fine but the story tends to be repetitive and there is never really an adequate explanation of what is going on. 1/26/17

Dreadful Skin by Cherie Priest, Subterranean, 2007

This is essentially a werewolf story involving Spring Heeled Jack, who comes to America and takes passage on a riverboat. There are only a few people aboard but they include a nun who is aware of the manís nature and determined to stop him. Before the story is over, they are all dead and the boat destroyed. This might have been very suspenseful Ė and I love steamboat stories Ė but Priest chose to tell the tale from so many viewpoints that the mood is constantly being interrupted and at times it feels like interlaced stories rather than a single narrative. Still worth reading but not one of her major works. 1/22/17

Inverted Kingdom edited by Akamatsu Ken, Kurodahan, 2005

The second of four volumes of Japanese horror fiction supposedly based on the Cthulhu Mythos. The stories this time are considerably better and several of them are genuinely Lovecraftian, particularly the title story. There are two novelettes, but the shorter pieces are generally more interesting. ďTerror RateĒ is a pretty good haunted house story but it falters when the Lovecraftian references are brought in. After two volumes of this, I have begun to wonder if the Chthulhu Mythos just does not translate well into the Japanese culture. 1/21/17

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell by Paul Kane, Solaris, 2016, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-78108-455-7   

Sherlock Holmes in the world of Clive Barkerís Hellraiser stories. It opens with a man disappearing from a locked room, but since weíve had a preview of Holmes himself with a puzzle box, we readers have a good idea of where he has gone. Unfortunately, this doesnít feel at all like Holmes and Watson. They eventually manage to visit Hell where Holmes has to battle the dead Moriarty and Watson is briefly reunited with his late wife. Itís not a bad story, but it really doesnít add anything to either of its source series and I found the ending inferior to the build up. 1/19/17

Birthday by Koji Suzuki, Vertical, 207   

This is a collection of three novelettes that are associated with the Ring trilogy.  The first is, I suspect, a chapter left out of the first book because it simply illuminates one of the events that occurred off stage and it has no real plot. The second is a prequel that describes the ghost girlís unhappy adolescence and her brief period as member of an acting troupe. The third is an alternate ending to the third book, in which the protagonistís love interest pursues her own independent investigation of a contagious form of cancer and reaches pretty much the same conclusions. Mildly interesting, but not very good as a standalone book. 1/18/17

Night Voices, Night Journeys edited by Akamatsu Ken, Kurodahan, 2005 

This is the first of four volumes of Cthulhu Mythos stories originally published in Japan. The editor opens the first book with a novella of his own, but itís a really bad story about gangsters in Prohibition Era Chicago and the Mythos elements are tacked on and really irrelevant to the plot. The rest of the stories vary in quality, but most of them are only Lovecraftian in a vague way. The creatures encountered donít feel like the ones in Lovecraft and sometimes the only reference is a mention of one of the fictional books or characters. A few of the stories are reasonably good but I didnít think any of them were particularly Lovecraftian. 1/15/17

Loop by Koji Suzuki, Vertical, 2006

Third in the Ring trilogy. A new viral form of cancer is sweeping the world. A young but brilliant researcher discovers that the only person to recover from it visited a place in New Mexico which is the site of a gravitational anomaly. He travels there and undergoes visions that recapitulate the two previous novels and which prove to him that the supernatural curse became a form of life that mutated into the virus.  This was actually rather boring and not remotely suspenseful. 1/13/17

Spiral by Koji Suzuki, Vertical, 2004 

The sequel to The Ring takes the story in a somewhat different direction. A medical examiner investigates the Ring deaths and concludes that it is a kind of virus. The videotape has evolved into a printed book, and the victims give birth to the reincarnated dead. The newly risen Sadako plans to supplant the current human race with revenants, and there appears to be nothing that can be done to stop her. I found the end somewhat disappointing, but the bulk of the book is a quietly suspenseful story that expands upon the original concept. 1/12/17

Hell's Shadows by Dean Klein, Createspace, 2012, $19.99, ISBN 978-1480279100

This is a haunted house story, but it mixes some of the usual tropes that are inevitable with this sort of plot and some new twists that are just enough to keep it interesting. The new occupants discover that they are not alone, and that their roommates are not among the living. There is an escalating series of menaces and strange events that culminate in what is actually a series of climaxes as the secrets of the house are revealed. There is an occasional lecturing tone that I found rather distracting when it occurred, but for the most part the narrative unfolds smoothly and entertainingly. One of the better self published efforts I have encountered. 1/10/17

The Ring by Koji Suzuki, Vertical, 1991

First in the series and inspiration for several movies. The story involves a videotape which kills anyone who watches it exactly one week later, unless they copy it and show it to someone else beforehand. This premise is somewhat undercut in the sequels. The tape originates through the mental projects of a psychic woman who was murdered by her own father. The story is more a mystery Ė uncovering the secret of her death Ė than horror and while it is interesting in its own right, it has a very different atmosphere than do any of the film versions. 1/9/17

The Night Parade by Ronald Malfi, Kensington, 2016, 15, ISBN 978-1-4967-0386-6 

A strange new disease has changed the world, and may have doomed humanity. It causes hallucinations and interferes with logical thought processes. There may be a cure, however, hidden in the body of a nine year old girl. But her father doesnít want her to be sacrificed even for the greater good and the chase is on. Although the story is exciting enough, I didnít think this was as gripping as was most of the authorís previous work, which is generally much more atmospheric and suspenseful. And Iíve read this basic story a few times before so it was hard to get enthused about it. 1/8/17

Master of Souls by Mark Hansom, Dancing Tuatara, 2010, $20, ISBN 978-1605435121 

This obscure horror novel is essentially Dracula without a vampire, although it does have a ghost. The hero encounters a mysterious man and a wraithlike woman when his ship sinks and he makes his way aboard their vessel. They become obsessed with his fiancť and the woman, an Egyptian spirit, seeks to possess her body. Our hero understandably objects to the procedure. Strife ensues at the end of which the villain is dispatched, the ghost sent back to the land of the dead, and the protagonist gets the girl. Not bad, but the imitation is very obvious. 1/5/17

One-Eyed Jack by Lawrence Watt-Evans, Misenchanted, 2011 

The protagonist of this novel has clairvoyant dreams along with the ability to see supernatural creatures invisible to most of the rest of us. His latest involves a boy who is literally being eaten bit by bit thanks to a creature that pretends to be a ghost of a woman who killed her children, but which is actually something else entirely. The plot is straightforward and well conceived, but I found the pace too slow and some of dialogue protracted and unnecessary. Still a good story, but not as efficiently told as the authorís other novels. 1/4/17

Little Heaven by Nick Cutter, Grand Central, 2017, $26, ISBN 978-1-5011-0421-3 

Three mercenaries are hired to discover whether or not a young man has voluntarily or involuntarily joined a cult in a remote part of Mexico. What seems to be a fairly routine job begins to take on ominous overtones, however. There is a presence in the area which is connected to an unusual stone monolith and which is hungry for victims, which does not have to abide by the physical limits of its prey, and which could be deadly to everyone in the area. I canít reveal much more of the plot without giving away too much, but the story is creepy, suspenseful, and the end is not at all what I had expected. 1/1/17

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