Category Archives: Horror Fiction Review

The Girl Next Door – Jack Ketchum

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Ketchum was a man way ahead of his time. In 1989, he wrote The Girl Next Door. There was nothing on the shelves remotely like it by other authors. There was nothing as brutal, as gut-wrenching, or emotionally draining as The Girl Next Door. This kind of fiction wouldn’t see the light of day for another 10-20 years and no one has done it as well as Ketchum did almost 30 years ago.

Meg and her sister Susan’s parents are killed in an automobile accident. They come to live next door to 12-year old David. Ruth, a single-mom whose rough-around-the-edges demeanor always made her home inviting to David and his peers. You could sneak a beer, take a drag off a cigarette and she wouldn’t care. When the girls move in, David begins to have a crush on Meg. But as time passes, it is apparent that all is not well in the household. Meg begins to confide in David of Ruth abusing her. David can’t believe it. Ruth? The mom that was so fun to be around? Soon David discovers that the stories are true and they’re only the beginning of a long, downward spiral into horrific abuse and madness, and all he can do is watch it unfold in front of his very eyes.

The Girl Next Door is loosely based off a true story that took place in 1965. Just knowing that makes the world seem like a darker place. These types of stories weren’t told on the news back then like they are now. This was a time where skeletons were kept in the closet and people turned a blind eye from things they deemed to be “none of their business”. Ketchum’s story has a twisted, Lord of the Flies quality to it. Adults were trusted by children to always be right and do the right thing back then. Watching the children join in on Ruth’s madness towards the girls twists your guts with a chef’s knife. You can’t look away and just when you think it can’t get any worse…well, I’m sure you can finish that sentence yourself. The Girl Next Door is a story that will haunt me for the rest of my life. It’s that powerful.

 

5 Steel Doored Torture Chambers out of 5

 

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Episodes of Violence – David Bernstein

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I absolutely blew through Bernstein’s Episodes of Violence. I literally couldn’t put it down. There was just something about this tale that sickened me and rocked me to my core. After taking some time between finishing it and writing this review, I believe it’s simply that the story of these teenage losers going around and systematically killing for fun felt way too real. We all know kids like this. No, not necessarily first-hand knowledge that the scumbags across the street are offing random people. It’s more like that you could see these kids fly under the radar because people don’t necessarily notice them. They’re undesirables, loners, not someone that the masses pay attention to. Bernstein uses this to his advantage and paints a picture that hits a little too close to home. A little too real. A little too believable. That’s the beauty of Episodes of Violence. Be prepared to be uncomfortable when you read EoV. Be prepared to look at your neighbor kids across the street with a little more scrutiny. Are they just a bunch of misfit potheads that raise a little hell or is there more too them? You might want to make sure the doors are locked, just to be on the safe side.

 

5 Bashed Mailboxes out of 5

 

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Something Violent – Kristopher Rufty

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Dr Phil meets Natural Born Killers. Sound like an odd combination? It totally works in Rufty’s Something Violent. When Jody and Seth are out on their killing sprees, they are all business. But their marriage has hit the rocks. Where do the serial killers turn to when they can’t fix their marriage on their own? They kidnap the famous marriage counselor to the stars, Ron McClure. Ron isn’t the first man to fall victim to Jody flaunting her lucious body in public. Too bad he didn’t see the taser she had hidden under her skirt. No he finds himself knocked unconscious, shoved in a trunk, and wakes up ducttaped to a chair in some unknown basement. When you counsel Hollywood’s elite, you come across some crazy clientele. But nothing could have prepared him for Seth and Jody.

Something Violent worked for me. The premise is just crazy enough to make you shake your head, but Rufty plays the whole thing straight and makes the streaks of black comedy work. As the demented couple unfurl their story to the counselor, the human element comes through. Sure they’re warped as it gets, but in a very odd way, you start to feel for them, care about them. That’s what makes the whole thing work. If all they are is monsters kidnapping a doctor, all you would have is the shock value without any substance. Rufty shows how nutcase like Seth and Jody can be three dimensional. Brilliant. Kudos to Rufty for making this a fun, page-turner.

 

4.5 Purple Wigs out of 5

 

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Subhuman – Michael McBride

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Subhuman by Michael McBride. Wow! Where to start with this one?? There is so much good stuff going on between the covers of McBride’s latest offering, and first in the Unit #51 series. You have various experts in their respective scientific fields anonymously brought together to a location in Antarctica that shows remnants of being at one time an old Nazi outpost. Mega-rich venture capitalist, Hollis Richards has brought them all here to help him unlock the mystery of misshapen humanoid skulls found in an underground lake deep below the ice. These types of remains have been discovered before at locations around the globe and thought to be a genetic mutation. But Richards knows better. He knows that the knowledge to build these ancient pyramids and temples didn’t come from man alone. It came from the sky. He knows this because he was visited many years ago when he was a child in the middle of the night, and he’s been searching for them ever since. He knows that underneath the Antarctic ice lies the clues to an ancient civilization that predates anything we’be ever discovered before and his assembled band of scientists are going to help him prove it.

Subhuman is an extremely intelligent tale told with heaps of atmosphere and great characters. McBride has really done his homework to create this one. The science is straight out of the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens, yet is hard to refute. Fringe? Yes, but completely believable in McBride’s expert direction. It has a textbook quality to it, without losing you by talking over your head. Any alien horror story set in Antarctica would be impossible to do without having comparisons to John Carpenter’s The Thing, and thats perfectly fine with me. The Thing is easily on my top three of horror movies ever and I welcome a story with some of those same shades that I love so well. McBride delivers. The hostile and lonely location. The fridgid weather that leaves you feeling like you’re ten minutes away from freezing to death. The allure of the discoveries waiting to be made underneath the ice. Such great stuff. And the characters don’t disappoint either. Richards comes across as the lovable combination of Bill Gates and Richard Attenborough’s Dr. Hammond in Jurassic Park. The scientists all feel realistic with their quirks, yet don’t come off as a cardboard stereotypes. if you can’t tell, I’m pretty geeked about this book. You should be too. It’s amazing and I’m excited that it’s the first of a series. I can’t wait until spring for the next one.

 

5 Misshaped Skulls out of 5

 

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Blanky – Kealon Patrick Burke

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Steve doesn’t think his life can get any worse. His nine-month-old baby girl mysteriously dies in her crib. His grief stricken wife, Lexi, can’t bear to be around Steve and the house where their daughter died. So, she moves back in with her parents, leaving Steve all alone to face the misery by himself. Then the mysterious baby blanket shows up out of the blue. Where did that come from? Didn’t that become lost when they were clearing their daughter’s room of all the belongings? What is going on? Are we starting to see a man’s frayed ends of sanity?

Blanky is a boot kick to the solar plexus as the reader sucks wind, trying to find respite from Steve’s all-encompassing world of grief. The thought of losing your only child, just as their life got started, is a parent’s worst nightmare. To have to go through that grief alone would be hell on earth. Burke doesn’t let up. He provides what looks like an escape hatch for our protagonist and then promptly smashes his fingers with the lid when he tries to use it as an exit. Another thing that I’m impressed with is Kealon’s word choice throughout the story. He flexes his wordsmith muscle without coming across as frivolous or arrogant. A dark, disturbing story that was perfect with Halloween around the corner.

5 Hidden Baby Teeth out of 5

 

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Bone White – Ronald Malfi

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A man shambles down out of the hills of northern Alaska and into the only diner in the tiny, fly-speck sized town of Dread’s Hand. He sits down at the counter and casually orders his favorite, hot cocoa. The waitress is trembling as she brings it to him. As Joe Mallory is enjoying his drink with dried blood all over his shirt, he suggests to the waitress that she contact the local law officer, that he has finished burying five bodies in the hills and he’d like to turn himself in.

Paul Gallo watches the news report back in Maryland of the Dread’s Hand murders and immediately takes interest. His twin brother, Danny, disappeared in the remote town over a year ago and no one has seen or heard from him since. He quickly flies out there to see if his brother is one of the dead and to finally get some answers. However, the residents of Dread’s Hand aren’t much for strangers in their town and Paul Gallo doesn’t belong there.

So far, Bone White is my favorite read of 2017. Malfi does an incredible job at painting the bleakness of the desolate Alaskan town and the haunting foothills that stretch out from it. My emotions ranged across the spectrum as I read the story. There aren’t many places that are truly isolated anymore. Dread’s Hand is the exception and Malfi plays it up like a maestro. The whole time I was reading Bone White, I kept having visualizations of 30 Days of Night. Shoddy cell phone coverage, vast expanses of nothingness, residents few and far between and no one is interested in helping Paul solve his mystery. All the while, in the background, you can feel the dread and danger mounting, but still out of reach. You know something is coming, but what? If you have yet to become acquainted with Malfi’s work, I highly recommend it and Bone White is a fantastic place to start.

5 Crosses in the Yard out of 5

 

* This ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Halloween Carnival, Volume Two – Brian James Freeman

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With Halloween right around the corner, let’s jump into this collection –

Mr. Dark’s Carnival – Glen Hirshberg

A Montana ghost story thats got some nice creepiness. David is a college professor that teaches a class that explores folklore and his favorite part of the course is the folk tale of Mr. Dark’s Carnival. For many years, it has been rumored that the mysterious carnival pops up in a rural setting and only a few select people get chosen to attend. David has never met anyone that has personally been to the carnival and doesn’t believe it truly exists until he gets his ticket. A great ghost story that has a murky ending.

4 out of 5 stars

 

The Facts in the Case of My Sister – Lee Thomas

David’s estranged sister, Joyce, is in the hospital from an “accident”. The prognosis isn’t good and David has doubts that her injuries were from an accident. When Joyce and he were kids, David taught himself how to do magic tricks from a book he got. Joyce was always his willing audience and participant. Now, David pulls out a trick from his past to learn what really happened to Joyce.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Mischief Night – Holly Newstein

Willard had a good life, a loving family and wife, and looked forward to his retirement. He was never a drinker after growing up with a nasty old drunk for a father. In what seemed like a harmless way to celebrate his retirement, the bottle grabs ahold of Willard and doesn’t let go. On Mischief Night, Willard meets a troubled teen that stumbles into his basement. Can one man’s bad decisions help alter the path the youngster is headed down?

4 out of 5 stars

 

The Ghost Maker – Del James

Halloween has it’s own set of scares when you’re a mob hit man. You have to be on your toes, even if you’re the grim reaper. Great voice that makes for a fun read.

5 out of 5 stars

 

The Pumpkin Boy – Al Sarrantonio

Jody is a latchkey kid for half an hour every afternoon until his mom gets home. He knows he’s not supposed to be outside and he follows that rule. Until, one day, he sees the Pumpkin Boy walking past his window and he can’t believe his eyes. For police detective, Len Schneider, Jody’s disappearance is bringing back old, haunted memories that he’s been trying to lock away for 18 years. What started out as a promising novella, fell flat for me with the ending.

3 out of 5 stars

 

Overall, a nice little collection with mostly hits than misses. Well worth the time.

4 out of 5 stars