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

Last Update 12/29/20

The Beast of Nightfall Lodge by S.A. Sidor, Angry Robot, 2019 

Sequel to Fury from the Tomb. Our heroes are off to New Mexico to collect the bounty for capturing a legendary, and currently very deadly creature. Like its predecessor, the writing is light hearted – this is more of an adventure story than a suspense novel despite the gruesome subject matter. Much of the danger does not in fact come from the creature at all but from other humans and the unforgiving aspect of nature. These were both kind of fun but both of them left me wishing for a story with more meat on the bones – more interesting characters and more atmosphere and tension in the plot. 12/29/20

The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus, Tor, 2020  

This is a very long story about the early days of the zombie apocalypse and it’s rather a slog. It should have been at least a couple of hundred pages shorter because it is heavily padded with inconsequential. A few scenes work well, but there is no real focus, no sense of forward progress, and obviously no surprises. There is also considerable political commentary which sometimes becomes painfully didactic. The story jumps backward and forward in time, which is sometimes confusing. There are also scenes where it wasn’t quite clear what was going on. This badly needed a strict editor and it adds nothing to Romero’s quasi-saga. 12/27/20

The Hollow Ones by Guillermo Del Tor and Chuck Hogan, Grand Central, 2019 

First in a series. A relatively new FBI agent is drawn into an occult adventure when she and her partner encounter a body hopping demon with homicidal instincts. She also meets a mysterious man who has lived for centuries and who seems to know how to deal with the creature, one of four of them alive in the world. There are flashbacks to the career of another agent and to the sorcerer’s life as a friend of John Dee. The story moves rapidly and quite well, but the climax involves a deus ex machina that I found really irritating. The entity is captured at the end so I assume there will be a different threat in the sequel. 12/20/20

The Forgotten Queen of Horror by Allison V. Harding, Armchair, 2020         

Despite the title, there is reason to believe these stories from Weird Tales were actually written by a man. In either case, they vary from boring to readable and none of them are particularly memorable. Arguably his/her best story was “Take the Z Train,” which is not included among the sixteen stories gathered here. “The Murderous Steam Shovel” is probably the best of those included, and that title gives you a pretty good idea of the type of story she wrote. Well over three hundred pages, and I’m rather surprised that no one had done a Harding collection earlier. Mediocre as this is, I've read far less interesting collections.  12/10/20

The Hackney Horror by William Meikle, Meikle, 2019 

Sherlock Holmes fights supernatural evil again. He is investigating a murder when he encounters a gang of cultists who can kill by generating a sound that causes brains to rupture. Then they find a crypt containing several bodies from which the brains have been surgically removed. Mycroft informs him that there have been similar cases all over the world. The solution involves Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, though tangentially. 11/23/20

Dead Lake by Darcy Coates, Poisoned Pen, 2020 

This is a reprint of a novella and some short stories previously self-published. The novella is amateurish and boring. A young woman borrows a remote cabin in order to paint a dozen paintings in less than a week for a major exhibition, even though she hasn’t done any work in almost a year. This is completely implausible. She sees a strange man on the property and is terrified – but she goes to bed without locking the door! Hikers have been disappearing in the area but there are no signs of a police investigation. She uses a two way radio to call a radio call-in show! There is a real serial killer, but a dead man has decided to intervene and save her. This was painful to read. The short stories are not quite as bad but have similar flaws. 11/16/2-

The Lost Husband by William Meikle, Meikle, 2019 

Sherlock Holmes is hired to find a missing husband who was working night shift on an underground construction project at the time he vanished. He finds an animated corpse a short time later, which suggests the rest of the plot, and then a small horde of zombies who are being organized beneath the ground by an evil minded aristocrat. Holmes and Watson quietly foil the plot and the menace is eliminated.  This was an entertaining if somewhat lightweight weird Holmes adventure. 11/11/20

Frankenstein's Mistress by Michael McCarty, Grinning Skull Press, 2020, $13.95, ISBN 978-1-947227-56-9

A collection of short stories plus one novella, a sequel to Mary Shelley's famous novel in which the monster gets a - blind - girlfriend. Although there are serious strains sprinkled through these stories, McCarty almost always has his tongue stuck firmly in one cheek and I found myself smirking, if not laughing, on more than one occasion. The subjects include the raised dead, invisibility, strange powers, ghosts, and other familiar and unfamiliar elements drawn from weird and horror fiction. Several of these are collaborations. A good chunk of the book is seeing print for the first time. The author's take on horror stories is a bit hard to describe, sort of if Ron Goulart had collaborated with Stephen King. This was fun. 11/9/20

Kthulhu Reich by Asamatsu Ken, Kurodahan, 2019 (from the 1999 Japanese edition) 

This is labeled a novel but it is actually a series of sometimes related short stories. The stories jump around in time but the loose theme is that the Nazis were experimenting with occult forces linked to Cthulhu both before and during the war. One involves the reincarnation of Hitler. Others involve magical discoveries and occult weaponry. They are ably written but are not as effective as they might have been. There is a feeling of haste in the writing and not much time is spent developing the atmosphere. I have found that Japanese stories influenced by Lovecraft generally do not have the same sense of cosmic horror that is common in western pastiches. 10/31/20

The Age of Decayed Futurity by Mark Samuels, Hippocampus, 2020, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-303-3

I had only read a few of these stories before and spread over quite a long period of time. As a unit, they are impressive and depressing. The tone is generally melancholy and the protagonists often come to a bad end. There are obvious allusions to classic horror and probably others that aren't so obvious. It is not always clear what is real and what is illusion. Plot elements often include dreams - which I generally don't like - and ruined or mysterious buildings and cities, which I generally do. Stories like "The Crimson Fog" draw upon Lovecraft. Samuels seems to be at his best when he is using atmosphere to support the narrative. "Ghorla," "Sentinels," "The Crimson Fog," and "The Man Who Collected Machen" were my favorites. These are the kinds of weird fiction that usually don't appeal to a broader audience outside the genre, but they are definitely the kind that will appeal to addicts. 10/26/20

The Sleepless by Graham Masterton, Mandarin, 1993 

Finally found the one remaining Masterton horror novel that I had not read. A prominent judge and his family are apparently killed in a helicopter crash, but there is evidence suggesting they survived and will killed by someone who was – impossibly – waiting at the crash site. Their daughter’s body is missing and we know that she was taken by the killer. A traumatized insurance investigator comes out of retirement to look into the matter and finds a connection to a mysterious air crash a year earlier from which one body was similarly missing. Meanwhile, there is a riot in South Boston and we catch hints about the watchers, an ancient secret society whose members do not sleep. Quite good though perhaps a trifle too long. 10/25/20

Penumbra One edited by S.T. Joshi, Hippocampus, $20, 2020, ISBN 978-1-61498-309-5

Although this is a hybrid of fiction and criticism, the former predominates. There are several longish stories in this opening issue, which include very entertaining tales by Mark Samuels, Belicia Rhea, Michael Aronovitz, and others. They tend to depend more on mood and theme than on a lively plot. The critical articles are mostly concerned with the usual suspects - William Hope Hodgson, Edith Wharton, John Collier -but also look at some contemporary writers like Simon Strantzas and China Mieville. The three hundred plus pages also include a selection of poetry. 10/20/20

The Agony House by Cherie Priest, Scholastic, 2018

This is a fairly low key haunted house mystery for young adults. Female protagonist solves a perplexing problem connected to supernatural events. The puzzle is fairly interesting and Priest does his usual good job developing her characters. Not as appealing to adults as her other work, but still quite readable. The illustrations, which sometimes include comic book style panels, are by Tara O'Connor and are also good. 10/19/20

Six Guns Straight from Hell 3 edited by David B. Riley & J.A. Campbell, SFT, 2020, $15.95, ISBN 979-8685931115

Another collection of weird western stories involving various elements of the supernatural and just plain strange. As was the case with the previous volumes, the contributors are generally unfamiliar names and it's not likely any of these will be on the Hugo ballot, but the large selection is uniformly well written and ably plotted, and a few of them incorporate intriguing and interesting ideas. I have a special fondness for this genre because I learned to read by means of paperback westerns and I still dip into that genre from time to time. Most of these are serious but some drift toward being whimsical. It's something of a specialized taste and there's not much of it being written, but if you're fond of that subgenre, or just want to try something different, you might want to look at this series. 10/10/2-

The Wolf-Leader by Alexandre Dumas, Myebook, 2017 (originally published in 1857)

Despite the publisher’s name, this was not an ebook. It’s a werewolf novel based on legends that Dumas heard as a child. It follows the usual pattern, with not much overt horror, and a fair amount of adventure. There is also quite a bit of witchcraft and magic in general and one could call it fantasy just as readily as horror. It’s rather slow in spots and some of the characters feel a bit over wrought. Considering his reputation as a writer of adventure novel, this is a surprisingly dull story. 9/6/20

The Hands of Orlac by Maurice Renard, Severn, 1981 (originally published in French in 1920)  

This is the classic horror novel, basis for four movie, in which a pianist loses his hands in an accident and has them replaced by those taken from an executed murderer. But the hands have a will of their own and are soon forcing him to commit violent crimes. His wife tries desperately to save him, but the reader will know very quickly that he is doomed by his situation. A bit ponderous at times and it takes a while for the plot to develop. This is not in print, which I find very surprising given how famous it is. 9/3/20

The Books of Blood Volume 3 by Clive Barker, Berkley, 1984 

Another fine collection, headlined by “Rawhead Rex,” in which an ancient creature finds the modern world a bit too much to handle. Made into a decent low budget movie. There are also stories about a movie theater that becomes haunted by cancer, a morgue shroud that becomes possessed and hunts down a murderer, an uncharted island that is a cemetery for people drowned at sea but never recovered, and a male prostitute who finds himself menaced by a statue that is striving to become human by adopting his appearance and his life. Very strong selection in this volume. 8/19/20

We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone by Ronald Malfi, Journalstone, 2018  

A hefty of short, mostly horror stories by an author we don’t see enough from. Quite a few of these are more than slightly creepy or disturbing. Most of them provide intense looks into the minds of their characters, not all of whom are well balanced. There is quite a wide variety of themes and settings, and the construction varies from one shock horror to very subtle and atmospheric. There were only a couple of stories that didn’t work for me and several that worked very well indeed. This collects, I believe, almost all of his shorter work, and makes me impatient for a new novel. 8/12/20

The Skeleton Melodies by Clint Smith, Hippocampus, 2020, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-286-9

This is, I believe, the author's second collection of short stories. I recall finding the first reasonably enjoyable although none of the stories have stuck in my memory. There are thirteen here, a couple of them original, and all new to me. There is a strong leaning toward traditional horror, although the psychology of his characters is not neglected. Quite a few are not really fantastic, drawing on psychological trauma, murder, ingrained guilt, and other mundane dangers. My favorite is the longest in the book, "Haunt Me Still," a satisfying ghost story. There are touches of dark humor in some of the entries. I've always thought that short stories were the most effective length for horror, and this collection is a good demonstration. 8/10/20

Things That Never Happened by Scott Edelman, CD Publications, 2020, $17, ISBN 978-1-58767-774-8

A new collection of Edelman shorts is always a treat, and this might be my favorite group of his assembled stories. Although most involve supernatural elements or some fantastic element, in many cases that portion is an adjunct to the main story, which is about the protagonist. There may be ghosts or demons but it’s the humans who hold our attention. Mental deterioration, stalkers, and other not entirely unfamiliar characters lurk in the corners. “That Perilous Stuff” is my favorite among these. There is an extensive afterword talking about each story. Very nice throughout. Edelman is one of those writers whose work seems much more impressive when read in batches rather than as isolated stories. 8/7/20

The Books of Blood Volume 2 by Clive Barker, Berkley, 1984 

The second collection in this series includes solid stories. A charity race turns out to have a demon as a contestant, and the world as the prize. A man who tries to force people to confront their deepest fears creates his own. A woman discovers a deadly and self-destructive power. A man traveling through Arizona runs into a parade of monsters, the best story in this volume. There is also a sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” set in modern day France, that was quite good but was marred for me by an unfocused and unsatisfying ending. 8/3/20

The Books of Blood Volume 1 by Clive Barker, Berkley, 1984 

Barker’s debut horror collection instantly made him a major horror figure, although almost everything he wrote in subsequent years was fantasy, however dark. The best in this volume is “The Midnight Meat Train,” which was made into a mediocre horror movie. A serial killer feeds his victims to the creatures that live under the city of New York. “The Yattering and Jack” is an entertaining duel between a man and a kind of demonic poltergeist. The rest are variously entertaining although I found the last entry a bit dull. The six volumes making up this series had a terrific impact when they appeared and most remain effective. 7/20/20

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell by Paul Kane, Solaris, 2016 

A Sherlock Holmes adventure set in the world of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser.  The first half is more traditional, told from Watson’s point of view, and is frankly a bit dull. Then we switch to Sherlock’s perspective and things pick up quite a bit, eventually causing the duo to solve the puzzle that opens the door to Hell. There they discover that Moriarty has become the leader of the Cenobites and is planning an attic on the world of the living. Holmed becomes a cenobite himself in order to stop him. This sounds a lot better in theory than it worked out in practice and there is little sense that the protagonist is actually Sherlock Holmes for the final third of the novel. 7/17/20

Monsters, Movies, & Mayhem edited by Kevin J. Anderson, Wordfire, 2020, $28.99, ISBN 978-1-68057-107-3 

This is an original anthology of stories which, sort of, involve movie-style monsters. I'm a big monster story fan so I was looking forward to this  Most of the contributors are unfamiliar names and it’s no surprise that the better stories are by Steve Rasnic Tem, Fran Wilde, and Jonathan Maberry. They are for the most part familiar themes – by design – although some of the stories manage to find a new twist. They are all certainly well written – not a real clunker among them – but for the most part they did not invoke the desired atmosphere, at least not for me. Your mileage may vary. 7/4/20