Mr. Mercedes – Stephen King

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I was excited for the release of Mr Mercedes as soon as I saw the premise on King’s website last year. When the book came out in June, I was in the middle of reading 2 other books. Then, I started reading the review on here and they were all over the place. This caused me to hesitate and read something else hoping that there would be a more clear consensus after some more time. No such luck. The reviews spanned both ends of the spectrum. It’s great. It’s terrible. It’s only ok. Ugh. Finally, I got tired of listening to all the noise and decided to read it and decide for myself.

What I found was a great detective story with shades of the Dead Zone, Carrie and Psycho. Now, before those of you that have already read Mr. Mercedes start getting your pitchforks and torches ready to storm my house while shouting at the top of your lungs about blasphemy, let me explain. The story is a straight up detective story. If you’re waiting for something supernatural or Twilight Zone-esque to happen, you’re going to grow cobwebs waiting for it. But that shouldn’t deter you from enjoying the story. It still has the interesting characters that King can do so well. Bill is the retired detective not enjoying his retirement and stews over the murder he never solved. When a letter comes through his mail slot from the killer gloating about Bill not catching him and that he should just kill himself, this is the spark that Bill needs to get “back on the case”. Trying to solve the mystery of the unknown killer that happens to “live among us” is where it evoked a little déjà vu of The Dead Zone (minus the supernatural). The sheltered “weird” girl with the overbearing mother reminds me of Carrie (again, minus the supernatural). And, the relationship of the killer with his mother is very reminiscent of Psycho. Even the killer himself feels like someone we all know. The whole time while reading Mr. Mercedes, I had the feeling that I’ve met people like the killer and that he could truly be “among us”. Is the story original? No. Do I care? No. It was an entertaining story with good characters and plot that made you turn the pages and I enjoyed every bit of it. Now does it rank up at the top of King’s best work? I don’t know. If you’re the type of person that whines that everything King puts out these days is not The Stand or The Shining, then you’ll probably find a reason to bitch about Mr. Mercedes. If you’re simply looking for a good story told with King’s flair, pick it up and decide for yourself.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Red – Jack Ketchum

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Avery is a 67 year old veteran of the Korean War and a widow. Red is his dog and faithful companion. His wife bought him when he was a puppy for Avery and is one of the last links to his deceased wife. While fishing in a rural Maine stream one afternoon, he’s confronted by three spoiled punk teenagers with a shotgun. In an attempt to rob Avery, they are enraged to learn he only has a few dollars in his wallet all the way back in his parked truck. They then turn the shotgun on the dog instead. As they walk away laughing for murdering his dog, Avery is distraught at this senseless act of violence. He seeks out redemption. What he finds is that no one is able to help him. Not the police. Not his lawyer. Not the press. A dog is considered property, not a life, and Avery is on his own. In a story of revenge that pits the good old boy with good old fashioned values against a rich, shameless father that protects his spoiled punk kids with his bank account and connections in high places, you really feel for Avery. His losses from the past and present provide a very sympathetic underdog that is only trying to get the family to own up to what they’ve done and make things right. Your heart bleeds as you see how the deck is continually stacked against him.

This was my first Ketchum story and it’s hard not to think of Stephen King’s work when you’re reading a macabre story set in rural Maine. Ketchum, however, has his own style of delivery that is descriptive while not attempting to be a carbon copy of Maine’s more famous horror author. There were a couple of instances in the story where descriptions were muddled, but it wasn’t enough to make the tale less enjoyable. Anyone that has soft heart for a loyal canine will have their blood pressure rise 40 points after the first chapter.

4 out of 5 stars

The Houngan – J.N. Williamson

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A houngan is a male Voodoo priest. Van Cerf is a divorced father of a twelve-year old boy and unemployed. Van is an advertising writer who has struggled finding satisfaction in his work environment from the various employers he’s had through the years. As a result, he finds himself with bills mounting and his confidence at ever finding a job that’s fulfilling, emotionally and financially, dwindling. In a last ditch effort, Van calls upon an ex co-worker, who has taken a job with the DeSilvier Corporation, and discovers that she loves working there, but she tells him that they have so little turnover that they rarely ever are hiring. Undeterred, he drops in an attempt at securing an interview. In what seems to be a twist of fate, he’s able to meet with one of the Vice Presidents, Doyle Munro. After answering some unorthodox questions, Van is hired. He soon learns that the president of the corporation is Horace DeSilvier, a charismatic houngan that prides himself that his company has so little turnover due to their employee-friendly “family” environment. The question is, is that really why the turnover is low or is there something more sinister involved? Is voodoo the peaceful religion that DeSilvier portrays and has introduced to Van or is there more than meets the eye?

Williamson’s writing is very reminiscent of Charles L. Grant, another prolific writer from the 1980s. The Houngan is a slow burn for the first 2/3 of the story as it sets everything in place for the final 1/3. The character development is solid and you’re invested in Van’s plight as he attempts to discover what is really going on at DeSilvier. The ending is just ok. But, The Houngan is a solid read.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Exorcist Road – Jonathan Janz

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Jonathan Janz has always been a good writer. With Exorcist Road, Janz has shown that he has evolved into a great writer. Up until now, my favorite story of 2014 was Gord Rollo’s The Jigsaw Man which was absolutely amazing. Well, Mr. Rollo, you now have some company. Exorcist Road is an expertly written scare fest that will cause you to stay up all night. Half of the night will be spent reading the tale. The rest of the night will be spent trying to sleep with one eye open because Exorcist Road will scare the bejeezus out of you.

Danny Hartman, a Chicago police officer, wakes up his 29-year-old priest, Father Crowder, with a rap on the door in the middle of the night. He explains to Father Crowder that his partner and him were summoned to Danny’s brother’s house and fears that his nephew is possessed. His partner, Jack, also thinks that his nephew is the Sweet Sixteen killer that has been terrorizing the area. What the priest finds handcuffed to the bed in that affluent suburban Chicago home is not of this earth. Is it also responsible for killing 16-year old girls in the area?

Exorcist Road is full of twists and turns and new revelations around every corner, every page turned, and the gripping story refuses to be put down. You’ll cringe and your skin will crawl as the events are slowly revealed in teasing fashion. Janz pulls out all the stops and satisfies. There’s blood. There’s scares. There’s eerie creepiness all packed in what becomes a “who dunnit” mystery that delivers a punch to the midsection. Jonathan Janz has pulled up a chair to the big boy table and I don’t think he’ll be done eating for quite some time. Do yourself a favor and get acquainted with the new face of horror. He just delivered one of the best reads of 2014.

5 out of 5 stars

NOS4A2 – Joe Hill

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I finished NOS4A2 just in time for the holidays and Joe Hill gave me a wonderful Xmas present. Hill’s strong suit has always been flawed characters that can carry a story into the world of fantastic and NOS4A2 continues on with that tradition.

The tale starts out by introducing us to an 8-year-old Vic (Victoria) McQueen, aka The Brat who discovers a unique talent she has while running away from her fighting parents. It seems that young Vic can summon a dilapidated covered bridge to appear while she is under great stress and riding her bike as fast as she can. This bridge can take her to other places across the country as her mind sees fit. She uses this bridge to find lost items by simply thinking about the item. The bridge does the rest. After her journeys, Vic comes out with the lost item, a very vague recollection of what happened and a doozy of a fever and headache. This goes on for a few years and all is well and good until her bridge leads her to Charlie Manx. You see. Charlie has his own special gift. It’s a 1938 Rolls Royce and the ability to kidnap children to take to Christmasland.

While reading NOS4A2, the lines between reality and delusion are wonderfully murky as the story unfolds. Hill’s characters are rich and vibrant, the dialogue crisp and witty, and the story itself is a blend of The Twilight Zone, his father’s earlier works and maybe even a dash of Clive Barker’s fantasy. It’s a tale that’ll keep you thinking and the last 1/3 is impossible not to devour at a breakneck pace.

4 out of 5 stars.

The Girl on the Glider – Brian Keene

imageAn autobiographical short-story that Keene serves up and let’s us see a brief snippet of a painful and haunted period of his life. In what he describes as 99.9% true, Keene relives a painful period of his life where a car accident outside his house claims the life of a young girl. At first, the events haunt Brian as they mix with the personal turmoil that he was going through at the time. In the end, he learns a valuable lesson. The tale he recounts will cause the hair to stand up on the back of your neck and the way he lets you in and allows you to take a peek at his personal life is very powerful. I have yet to see an author allow his readers to see this much of themselves, warts and all. It also gives me a new found respect for a writer whose work I already admire. Thank you, Brian.

5 out of 5 stars

Morbid Anatomy – Tim Curran

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A must read for fans of Lovecraft’s Herbert West – Reanimator or of Stuart Gordon’s wonderful movie adaptation from the 1980s. Haven’t read Lovecraft’s story? No problem. Curran includes that with Morbid Anatomy. Morbid Anatomy is a continuation of Lovecraft’s original story as we follow West to the muddy sludge-filled trenches littered with bloated decomposed bodies of Europe during World War I. Most of the story’s viewpoint is told by Creel, an American journalist who is attracted to the death and destruction war brings. Being assigned near West’s outfit gives Creel more than he bargains for. Curran weaves a blood drenched and maggot infested tale of life on the front lines in rich detail along with West’s special concoction that bring the dead back to life. Detailed descriptions have always been Tim’s calling card and he doesn’t back off the throttle with Morbid Anatomy. The only down side, for me, was that the story didn’t evolve more and I wanted more from Herbert West’s POV. Morbid Anatomy is still a fun journey where you’ll feel like you’re wading through the putrid stench of decomposing corpses. Enjoy!

4 stars out of 5