A Shrill Keening – Ronald Malfi

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My first forray into Malfi, outside of a short story or two, and what an excellent choice to start with. Carl is a patient locked up in a psychiatric hospital for the murder of his wife which he has no recollection of doing. At night, he starts dreaming of leaving for the hospital to wander on an ocean boardwalk of a deserted sea resort. Night after night, he meets the same mysterious drifter who gives him a set of numbers and a silver key along with a set of instructions that make no sense. Confused and trying to decide what is real and what is dream, Carl swallows the key. The next morning in the hospital, he passes the key and the real adventure begins.

A Shrill Keening is a shadowy trip into the unknown. As Carl attempts to piece together what is real and what isn’t, we share his confusion along the way. The clues slowly are put into place like a puzzle that is still to incomplete to comprehend what is going on. Malfi does and excellent job at leading us down a path that eventually reveals a Lovecraftian ending. Good stuff.

5 Silver Keys in the Toilet out of 5
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The Hallow – Keith Deininger

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I purposely waited a couple of days to review Keith Deininger’s The Hallow. I wanted what I had just read to sink in; to chew on it and roll it around. The Hallow is a trippy, drug-induced journey into the life of James after his car breaks down and he has to resort to walking everywhere. He begins to notice strange things that he never noticed while driving the same streets. His roommate Vance and him stumble home one afternoon drunk and discover a strange girl in their house. She gets up and goes into James’s room and lies on the bed. When James goes in there, she’s dead.

Things get really trippy after that and Deininger has a really staccato way of storytelling in this one where you go back and forth, starting and stopping that really makes it difficult to understand what it going on. This is my first story by Deininger and the guy can write, but the delivery, in an attempt to show the disjointed events transpiring for our protagonist, makes the story more muddy than trippy and prevents it from being enjoyable.

2 1/2 weird trees out of 5
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Cold As Hell -David Searls

                                                                             
Another first read of an author as I’m finishing up 2015 with a flurry of reads. Searls knocks this one out of the park. Craig is finishing up Christmas shopping with wife, the twins and his Uncle Buster. We’ve all been there. It’s freezing cold in an outdoor mall and all you want to do is get inside somewhere warm. But for Craig, the twins want to go on a ride of a outdoor kiddie train and his wife leaves him there to wait for them while she goes off to shop some more. Craig has a hundred bucks on the game and is freezing his tail feathers off. As the kids go off, he checks his watch and sees that it’s 6:42. He decides to step inside a bar for a moment to catch the score and to warm up while the kids are on the ride. He begins to get confused as his thoughts start to begin tripping over one another. He looks down at his watch and it still says 6:42. 
Cold as Hell is a fun trip into the surreal as you try to decipher what is going on. I’m looking forward to more from Searls. I think he’ll be a name to remember.
5 frostbitten fingers out of 5

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Broken Sigil – William Meikle

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Internal Affairs officer, Joe Connors is responding to a police officer shooting his partner when he came out of a house waving his gun at the officer and raving like a madman. The officer that was killed also happened to be his ex-best friend. The reason for being an ex-friend is because he ran off with Joe’s wife years ago before she died. As Joe investigates the inhabitants of the apartment house, he discovers that this house is very unique, very few are like it. In fact, very few in the world exist. But this New York brownstone does.

Meikle does it again with Broken Sigil. In only 50 some short pages, Meikle is able to weave a multi-layered tale that mixes the Twilight Zone with 1940s noir films and the marriage is absolutely beautiful. Joe has hints of Bogie without being a carbon copy cartoon and it works nicely. You can feel the desparation in the characters as they cling to lost loves.

5 bloody Maltese Falcans out of 5
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Savage Species – Jonathan Janz

imageSavage Species is one of Janz’s first books and when I say his inner-Layman shows, I mean it. Blood drips from the pages as we’re introduced to the opening of the state park, Peaceful Valley. Peaceful Valley was developed on top of an unknown and elaborate cave network. What dwells in those caves is whole horde of razor toothed windigoes that are enormous. When one steals Emma’s baby, a group goes into the caves after it, including her abusive husband Eric, and her builder, who happens to also be obsessed with her, Sam. In the state park, the windigoes come out in full force and unleash a blood bath. A group that was staying there flees into another area of the cave system in an attempt to escape from them.

While the story has a unique setting and premise, it is straight-on Layman inspired. I say this complimentary. Truth be told, I have a hard time with Layman. The unrealistic and silly plots are only made worse for me by the sex-starved characters. Don’t get me wrong. I am not a prude and I love blood and sex. I simply have a hard time buying a character getting turned on as he’s running for his life as all of his friends have been chewed to pieces by a horde of monsters. I also realize that this type of storytelling has a huge following. While it’s not my cup of tea (or a bottle of Sam Adams), Janz actually does this kind of storytelling very well. If you’re a fan, you’ll enjoy (and be impressed by) his prose and extensive vocabulary.

3.5 underground monsters out of 5
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Long Black Coffin – Tim Curran

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Damn, damn, damn. Now THAT was how you do horror. Tim Curran’s Long Black Coffin actually gave me shivers – yes, shivers – and that’s something that hasn’t happened in a very long time.

Long Black Coffin is a working class ghost story set in a small town in Wisconsin. Johnny Breede is your typical mid-twenties guy trying to figure out what he wants out of life while he puts in his time down at the lumber yard. He lives with his sister in their parents old house. His mom ran off, long ago, with some swinging dick and his dad sat and drank his life away. Johnny is no dummy. He’s intelligent and has street smarts. Him and his buddy, Kurt, like to drink too much, get high too much and ponder life too much. Kurt has his own demons. His abusive old man wrapped his lips around a loaded shot gun, one night, in the front seat of his black 1967 Pontiac GTO and pulled the trigger. When Kurt gets drunk, he tortures himself with wondering why Vic killed himself and, lately, he’s been doing it more and more often. In fact, it feels like something in the GTO is calling him.

What makes Long Black Coffin great is the storytelling. Curran does a masterful job telling the story from Johnny’s POV. Its a blue-collar, non-nonsense approach that elevates the story to being a 5-star masterpiece. It makes the characters extremely realistic and full of depth. The fact that he can throw in a handful of chills along the way, makes it a fun ride.

5 tires burning rubber out of 5

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