Category Archives: Horror Fiction Review

The Queen of Bedlam – Robert McCammon

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McCammon is simply amazing. The man takes a decade off from writing in the prime years of his life when many authors hit their stride. You’d think when he came back there would be some rust he’d have to knock off the wheels. Nah, he comes out of the gate with a fury and a vengeance and the first slab of goodness he throws on the table is Speaks the Nightbird. Speaks is so unique in that it provides us with such a wonderful story and characters in a setting that isn’t typically done by the masters of horror. The setting is late 17th century in the Carolina colonies and we’re introduced to a young lad with a penchant for questioning everything. A curious teenage colonial Sherlock Holmes, if you will. I won’t get into the details of Speaks. By now, you should’ve already read it. If not, get your butt off this review and go read it…immediately!

Now, for the rest of you. If you loved Speaks the Nightbird, as much as I did, then you will not be disappointed with Queen of Bedlam. We find Matthew a little bit older, a little bit wiser, and in a new setting. New York City circa 1690s. A town with 5000 inhabitant, all with dreams and aspirations for wealth and prosperity in the new world. But, not all is well in the fledgling colony. A murderer is loose and carving up his victims, one by one, while leaving his calling card, the shape of a diamond carved around the eyes of the murdered. The constables are clueless, but what would you expect from the unqualified blow hards that were appointed by their friends in high places? Matthew, now a clerk for a local magistrate, stumbles across one of the victims moments after he was butchered by The Masker, the name the killer has received from the local start up news sheet. He is plunged head long into the mystery of identifying the unseen murderer. Matthew’s “problem solving” skills are also noticed by Katherine Herrald, the head of a newly started detective agency that has come from London to NYC. Matthew accepts the invitation to join the agency and must pass certain tests to show that he is worthy of the position. What he finds is that there are many mysteries floating around, including the identity of the Queen of Bedlam, an unknown woman who was dropped off at a progressive asylum with the instructions to never try and discover who she really is. For Matthew, all paths seem to lead back to this mysterious woman who is locked up in her own mind. Who is the Masker and is she connected to the murders somehow? Will our young detective get to the bottom of this or will he find himself on the business end of a blade?

The Queen of Bedlam is a wonderful roller coaster ride through the historical world McCammon has created. Matthew is such an engaging character. You constantly root for him around every twist and turn. You cringe and hide your eyes when he’s thrust in harm’s way. I can’t express how good McCammon is at building this colonial world of mystery. One of the questions I do get is “but is it horror?” If you’ve ever read McCammon’s earlier works that put him on the horror map during the 1980s, you know that his “horror stories” all had horrific elements in them, yet they were so much more. The same is true with the Matthew Corbett series. Don’t get caught up in being able to pigeonhole the tales into a nice, neat category. Simply read it. I can’t make it any more plain than that!
5 Carving Knives out of 5
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Exorcist Falls – Jonathan Janz

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Janz has done it again. I’ve been crowing about how great Exorcist Road was ever since I turned the last page two years ago. Much to my delight, Janz is continuing where he left off with Father Jason Crowder exercising young Casey Hartman’s demon from his teenage body. Unfortuanately, the demon didn’t go away. Neither did the Sweet Sixteen Killer. Now it’s up to Father Crowder to finish what he started and bring the killer to justice and dispose of the demon once and for all.

Exorcist Falls also contains the first story, Exorcist Road, between it’s covers. This makes it convenient for those that haven’t read it yet or who would like to reacquaint themselves with it since it’s original publisher, Samhain Publishing, closed it’s horror doors earlier this year. Janz’s writing is superb and you’ll find yourself amazed at the vocabulary this guy has. I’m not too proud to admit that I used the DEFINE feature on Kindle many times and I’d like to think of myself as well read. Not only is his word choices spot on, but his characters really make the story come to life. Danny Hartman is as despicable as they come and the demon, Malephar, is no cherub. I also enjoyed how the story had me guessing the whole way as it’s evolution was revealed one page at a time. And lets not forget the red stuff because Janz sure didn’t. There are definitely some scenes that will make even the strongest constitution weaken and cringe. All in all, an absolute blast to read and I’m happy to find out from the man himself that there will be a third installment in the Exorcist series. I’m all ready to hit the pre-order button just as soon as it pops up on Amazon.

5 Demons Controlling a Razor Blade out of 5
This ARC was provided in exchange for an honest review.
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Take The Long Way Home – Brian Keene

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During rush hour traffic, a loud trumpet sound blats across the landscape with ear-deafening volume. Auto accidents, plane crashes, and fires ensue. For a carpooling foursome, they end up as one of the casualties and after the dust settles, they find their driver with half his head missing due to a length of pipe from the truck ahead of them poking through the windshield and shearing off his cranium. Now Steve, Charlie, and Frank are trying to shake off the shock of what happened and make their way home. They discover that, when the trumpet sounded, people all across the world disappeared. Where they went, no one knows, but many different rumors are being circulated. As the trio attempts to stumble home, they learn about the duality of man’s behavior during a crisis in an up front and personal way.

Take The Long Way Home is Keene’s version of a what might happen on Judgement Day. It blends King’s The Long Walk with the Bible and makes for an enjoyable read. As always with Keene, it’s about the characters, and he drafts very personable ones. The journey is worth the price of admission here and the unsettling feeling of nervousness of what is lurking around the next mile marker is thick, making this a real pager turner.

4 Guardian Angels out of 5
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Blue Demon – David Bernstein

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The Blue Demon is a cartoon character that Dan used to watch when he was a child. The cartoon only lasted three years, but when he stumbled upon the series many years later, he immediately wanted to share it with his son, Cal. Cal loved it and this became something that father and son could bond over. The Blue Demon exacted revenge on the enemies of those it protected, at least that’s how story goes. The rumor has it that the Blue Demon legend was around long before the cartoon came out. So, when Dan happens to find a limited edition Blue Demon action figure from back in the day, little did he know how true the legend was.

Bernstein’s story reads like an episode of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories from back in the Eighties, except this one has teeth…and claws. He does a nice job keeping the story moving without becoming too hokey. The plight of Cal growing up is one that’ll tug on your heart strings and that breathes life into a story that you can figure out fairly easy what the outcome will be. With Bernstein’s wonderful characterization, you won’t care because the fun was in the journey and not the destination.

4 Amputations out of 5

This ARC was provided in exchange for an honest review.
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Emerging (Book Two, Subdue series) – Thomas S. Flowers

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Book 2 of the Subdue series, Emerging, picks up where Dwelling (book 1) left off. The remaning members of the Suicide Squad are holding on by a thread. Johnathan is still haunted by his dead friend and has turned to the bottle to cope with it all while his marriage crumbles. Jake is losing his faith and is about to lose his job as a priest. Bobby is still homeless running away from the evil that he becomes every 30 days when the moon is full. And Maggie, poor sweet Maggie. For reasons unkown to her, she is compelled to purchase a house in Jotham that her and the other members of the Suicide Squad visited when they were kids. Also unknown to her, and the rest of the Squad, is why they all can’t remember the horrors that happened to them when they entered the house so many years ago. With every member’s sanity teetering on the edge, Maggie gets ahold of them and requests that they all come visit her at the Jotham house. Unfortunately, the evil that they can’t seem to remember still resides in that house on top of the hill and it’s waiting.

Emerging is more of the same good formula that made Dwelling such a page turner. The characters are realistic and flawed. Flowers’ descriptive storytelling has me feeling like I’m the sixth member of the Suicide Squad, but I’m stuck watching the horror unfold and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it to warn the others. That’s good stuff. The slow burn writing style reminds me of Charles L. Grant, and that’s not a bad thing. Some might say that the story bogs down in the middle with not much going on and they wouldn’t be completely wrong, but I’m ok with it. Again, I like how Flowers builds things up in anticipation of the payday at the end. Also, some might say that Emerging can be read by itself without reading book one, Dwelling, and I would disagree. Sure, you COULD do it, but why would you want to? This is a three-part story and you’d be coming in at the middle without fully knowing what happened to lead up to book two. No thank. I’m fully vested in this series and you should be too. If you haven’t read book one, do it. And once you’re done, grab Emerging and keep immersed in the horrors that the Suicide Squad have fallen into.
4 1/2 Red Eyed Demon Cicadas out of 5
I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Highwayman – Craig Saunders

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I admit it. When it comes to my reading, I’m a completionist. For better or for worse, I finish what I start. I can’t remember the last time that my little idiosyncrasy has bitten me in the butt as hard as it did when I read Craig Saunder’s Highwayman. So many times I wanted to quit this mismashed bore of a story. But no. I trudged on through the mud of staccato bursts of sentences, multiple points of view storytelling that seemed to lead to nowhere, and a hazy plot that was about as entertaining as watching metal rust. Was it all bad? Not totally, but close. There were, indeed, parts where he’d get the ball rolling and I’d start to get into it only to come to a screeching halt and a new chapter of mundane happenings would be in front of me. I’m sure there’s a decent story somewhere in Highwayman. Maybe I don’t get what Saunders was trying to create. But, what I read a tedious lesson in patience with no payout for my troubles. Sorry, but I can’t recommend Highwayman to anyone.

2 Talking Deer out of 5
This ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Dwelling (Book One of the Subdue series) – Thomas Flowers

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The Suicide Squad is the name a group of adolescents from the 90’s gave themselves after getting their hands on the comic book of the same name. Ricky, Maggie, Bobby, Jonathan, and Jake’s lives were changed forever that September morning when terrorists rammed their jetliners into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Ignited by patriotic fever, the boy’s enlisted to go fight in the desert. Their lives would never be the same. Ricky is killed in combat, leaving his now wife, Maggie, all alone. Jonathan lost a leg in the same attack that killed Ricky and suffers from PTSD and guilt for not being able to save his friend. Heavy drinking doesn’t seem to help the PTSD or the haunting vision of the dark creature he saw just before rocket was fired at their Humvee. Bobby is now a homeless vet that brought back more than haunting memories, and it rears its ugly head when the moon is full. Jake is a minister that has lost his faith due to the nightmares that followed him back from Iraq. The war has shattered all of their lives and they can’t seem to deal with it on their own. But the remaining members of the Suicide Squad are being called back to a mysterious house on a remote Texas prairie in the small town of Jotham. Do the answers they seek to rid themselves of their nightmares reside in the house, or are their current nightmares just the tip of the iceberg to whats about to come?

First and foremost, Dwelling is Book One of a trilogy and it reads as such. If you’re trying to decide whether or not to give Dwelling a try based off of reviews like this one, keep that little nugget in mind. I’ve read a handful of reviews from people bitching that the writing was good but nothing was solved or wrapped up by the end of the book, therefore they hate the story. People, people. Do a little research. Yes, Dwelling is open ended. Yes, you’ll have to continue to read the rest of the series to find out what happens. That’s why they call it a trilogy. Why am I ranting here? Because, I think that Flower’s has received some very unfair (and very silly) criticism for the way he wrote Dwelling. Look. It’s a very good book. The writing and pacing is amazingly mature for a newer author. The characters are well fleshed out and their problems that center around PTSD and loss from the war makes for a compelling read. The fact that Flowers is a vet himself comes through nicely in his writing. It adds that dose of realism that many authors lack when they write about a place that they’ve never been to. Dwelling is shadowy and haunting that feels all to real when you’re reading it. Yeah, there’s some shades of Stephen King’s It permeating through the story, but show me a chilling, coming-of-age tale that you can’t compare to It? There’s definitely a nod to King, but Dwelling is definitely it’s own monster. I’m looking forward to jumping into Book 2 – Emerging – and continuing the saga of The Suicide Squad. Won’t you join me?
4 1/2 Rocket Launchers out of 5
I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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