Bullets and Fire – Joe R. Lansdale

imageRevenge is best served…hard and fast! And that’s exactly how Lansdale dishes it up. A short story about a guy looking to do whatever it takes to join a gang. We quickly learn that his motivation is to get inside the gang to enact revenge on the very thugs that are responsible for his brother’s murder and led to their grief-stricken father to commit suicide. While the story may be predictable, it’s a fast-paced and enjoyable adrenaline ride with Lansdale’s writing style being it’s strength.

4 out of 5 stars

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The Sound of Midnight – Charles L. Grant

imageI introduced myself to Charles Grant’s writing a little over a year ago. I started reading his novels in chronological order and The Sound of Midnight is his 2nd in a series that takes place in his twisted little town of Oxrun Station. For those of you that haven’t discovered Grant yet, think of Stephen King’s Derry where strange things always seem to happen. The Sound of Midnight was published in 1978 and his writing was progressively getting better with each novel. His atmospheric dread or “quiet horror”, if you will, was always there. However, the problem that I have had with his writing, up until now, has been the helpless, dim-witted female characters and the annoying, chauvenistic male characters. Charles Grant’s The Curse was a perfect example. His “Hour of the Oxrun Dead” still had it, but was better. With The Sound of Midnight, the female character is better yet, but the male character still holds on to some of those annoying characteristics.
With that out of the way, The Sound of Midnight is an eerie tale of mystery. Dale’s parents were killed and left her a mom & pop toy store in Oxrun Station. Her boyfriend is a teacher at the local HS. One day, Dale is sitting by a pond in the park and is thunked in the head with a rock. She comes to and finds that one of the boys that frequents her toy store is face down in the pond with a few of his classmates looking on. This begins a string of strange deaths that take place and that involve fire and water. Dale and her boyfriend Vic find themselves in the middle of it and the local police chief isn’t liking it. With no one to turn to and not knowing who they can trust, its up to the two to find out what is going on and what it has to do with the town’s children before Dale and Vic end up being next.
As I’ve said, The Sound of Midnight is full of atmosphere that builds up in almost a hazy, dreamlike way. The characters still hold on to a little of those annoying characteristics that seem to be prevelent in many of the novels from the 1970s – helpless females that want to run away from every problem, chavenistic males that try to be way too funny and cute in everything they say, etc. But, to be fair, not nearly as much as Grant’s earlier works. This helps the reader to be able to focus on the story and it is Grant’s best one up to this point. I look forward to seeing his further progression as I go through his catalog of Oxrun tales.

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Passenger – Jack Ketchum

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Passenger was a fast and furious story that followed my copy of Jack Ketchum’s Red. And what a hell of a story it was for the first three-quarters of it. The ending however took a severe right turn causing it to go from an amazing five star read to a four to a four and a half star read. We’ll call it a 4.25 star read. Janet is a defense attorney whose car breaks down on the highway. In her effort to get a ride to the repair garage, she hitches a ride with a woman that happens to remember her from high school. When the woman starts asking Janet questions from their old school days and following each one up with a pull from a whiskey bottle she kept in the glove compartment, along with a pistol, you knew that she’d hitched a ride with the wrong person. This is just the start of her day. Where it goes from there will blow you away. Again, for the first three-quarters of the story, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Time stood still as I devoured Passenger. Ketchum unwound a tale that was so horrifying, and yet so engrossing, I couldn’t put it down. Unfortunately, the ending came so far from left field that it seemed like Ketchum couldn’t decide how to end it and this was what he came up with while being under the infuence of something stronger than whiskey. To me, it didn’t seem to fit the story and thats disappointing since it was such a barnburner of a tale up to that point. Passenger is still worth the read simply for the the first three quarters. Its Ketchum in a groove that shows how good he can be. And who knows? Maybe you’ll like the ending.

4.25 out of 5 stars

Wolverton Station – Joe Hill

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Hill can make even the most unbelievable believable. And this one is a doozy. Is your business floundering? Then Saunders is the man to hire. He gets paid very well to gobble up the little mom and pop stores all in the name of profits and pleasing the shareholders. But, on a train ride out of London, he learns what it really means by eat or be eaten. Wall St meets a twisted children’s fairy tale. If you don’t take it too seriously, Wolverton Station can be a fun story. If you can’t check your head, it’ll come across as silly.

3 out of 5 stars

Earthworm Gods II: Deluge – Brian Keene

imageAlthough sequels are rarely as good as the original, Earthworm Gods II: Deluge was close. Keene follows the same format as the first book. The first third takes us back to the flooding mountain in West Virginia where we’re introduced to Henry, who is trapped in the top of a grain silo and escapes to meet up with our survivors from the first Earthworm Gods. In the second third, we meet another band of survivors in a catamaran yacht. The two parties meet up with each in the climactic last third of the book. Along the way, we’re greeted to more Lovecraftian-inspired monsters and themes as Earthworm Gods II evolves from a monster movie feel to one of a Lovecraft-inspired world of fantasy. Keene also ties in LeHorn’s Hollow from his book, Dark Hollow, as well as slight references to characters in his zombie novels The Rising and City of the Dead. The only downside, to me, were the characters. While Keene still delivered the goods, the characters in the first EG, Teddy and Carl, were superb. Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with the characters in EG II as much as I did with the ones in the first one. That’s not saying that the characterization was poor. It’s more of a tribute to how good those two were in the first story. All in all, I’m liking what Keene is doing with his saga and can’t wait to jump into the next one to see where it leads.

4 out of 5 stars

Lords of Twilight – Greg Gifune

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Lane Boyce, racked with guilt and sorrow after a scandal causes him to lose his job as a teacher and then his marriage in the scandal’s aftermath, relocates to the remote small town of Edgar in northern Maine. There, Lane attempts to overcome his emotional grief and find a meaning and purpose in his life. What he finds in the middle of a Nor’easter snow storm is neither. Is he part of an extra-terrestrial experiment or is he losing his mind?

Gifune does what Gifune does best. He delivers a tale of madness seen from the inside out. But, which is real and which is imagined? As you try to decipher between the two, Greg sends a creepy shiver down your spine in a disturbing wave of dread and unease. The ending cuts it a bit short for me and that’s the only reason I don’t give Lords of Twilight a full 5 stars. But, it’s been quite a while since I’ve had that gripping knot of fear while reading and it was deliciously intoxicating. I thank you for that, Mr. Gifune.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Sow – Tim Curran

imageCurran is the master at describing a scene. By the time he’s done setting it up, you can not only see it in your mind, you can smell it, taste it, hear it, and feel it down in the marrow of your bones. Sow is no exception. My gag reflex was on autopilot as he made me experience all the nastiness of the sow and it’s living conditions. But Sow is not simply an exercise in grossing you out. The story is a clever take on pregnancy, haunted houses and witchcraft and Curran weaves them all together in an expertly crafted brew that will stay with you long after you’ve put it down. So sit down at your breakfast table with that delicious plate of crispy bacon and enjoy Sow. I dare ya.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars